Early 18th Century Ireland: The Plantation System
1641 Charles I's policies cause insurrection in Ulster and Civil War in England.
1649 Cromwell invades Ireland.
1653 Under the Act of Settlement Cromwell's opponents are stripped of land.
1689-90 Deposed James II flees to Ireland; defeated at the Battle of the Boyne.
1704 Penal Code enacted; Catholics barred from voting, education and the military.
In 1603, before the Battle of Kinsale, about 95% of land in Ireland was owned by Catholics; by 1701, less than a century later, only 14% was owned by Catholics, an aggregate transfer of 81% of all productive land in Ireland. Further, the percentage of non-Irish in the population had been increased from 5% to 25%. It is possible that the Crown expected the Irish and British cultures to merge eventually (with English culture predominating, naturally), but of course this did not happen. Instead, the Plantations divided Ireland, apartheid-like, into two hostile camps, a socio-economic tinder box virtually certain to eventually explode.
--In one camp was 75% of the populace: Poverty stricken, landless, ethnically Irish (Gaelic-Irish or Norman-Irish), Gaelic speaking, Catholic, and powerless; these descendants of pre-17th century natives thought of themselves as Irish, not English, and were more hostile than ever before towards their English conquerors.
--In the other camp was 25% of the populace: Affluent landed gentry, ethnically British (English or Scots), English speaking, Protestant (Anglican [10%] and Presbyterian [15%]), and politically dominant; these immigrants thought of themselves as the Crown's colony in Ireland, not as Irishmen (although within a few generations they began to regard themselves as a "Protestant [Irish] nation").
"Penal Laws" (a.k.a. the "Popery Code") which, apartheid-like, created a three tier, Anglican controlled society in which (1) Catholics (75% of the population) would be totally excluded from property and power, and (2) Presbyterians (15% of the population) would remain subordinate to Anglicans.
Ch. 7. Protestant Takeover: 17th Century "Plantations" (1608-1691).
The Battle of Kinsale, along with the "Flight of the Earls", marked the end of the old Gaelic order, and established England as conqueror of Ireland. What followed next -- the 17th Century "Plantations" -- were perhaps the most important development in Irish history since arrival of the Celts. They divided Ireland apartheid-like into two hostile camps.
Under these Plantations -- the Ulster Plantation (1609), the Cromwellian Plantation (1652) and the Williamite Plantation (1693) -- 81% of the productive land in Ireland was confiscated from the native Irish (Gaelic-Irish and Norman-Irish alike, but invariably Catholic), and transferred to new immigrants (invariably Protestant) from Scotland and England. The Plantations impacted Ireland in two major ways. First, they introduced into Ireland a new community -- eventually 25% of the populace -- which differed radically from the natives not only in religion, but also in culture, ethnicity, and national identity. Second, in Ireland's overwhelmingly agrarian economy -- where land equaled wealth and power (and vice versa) -- the Plantations caused a massive transfer of wealth and power to non-native landlords, whose backbreaking rents then thrust 85% of the natives into crushing poverty and degradation. The Plantations are the root cause of the class warfare (rich landlord versus poor tenant) and religious/cultural clashes that have plagued Ireland since 1610.
Plantations were the medieval equivalent of "ethnic cleansing" in that -- in theory at least -- all occupants of confiscated land were to be evicted and resettled in Connacht where they would be less of a military threat. Anti-Catholic animus played a role in the Plantations, but other motivations were more important. For the new immigrants, the principal motivation was fertile land at bargain rents. For the Crown, Plantations would deprive dissident Irish lords of the land that was their only real source of power; and further, there would be established within Ireland a loyal non-Irish minority which would served as an unpaid police force to keep dissident Irish in check. Halfhearted attempts at plantation had been made under Mary in the 1550s, and under Elizabeth in the 1580s, but neither had instilled the pro-English mind set sought by the Crown. But after the "flight of the earls", the time seemed right for a serious plantation program.
Although nominally directed at the aristocracy, the Plantations also devastated peasants, who suffered the loss of their property rights under the ancient Gaelic law of gravelkind*, which previously had virtually guaranteed them a decent living from the soil. It turned out that peasants were needed for hard labor, so many of them, despite the original "resettlement in Connacht" plan, were allowed to remain as farm laborers or tenant-farmers, but at low wages or backbreaking rents that thrust them into abject poverty. Predictably, both in resentful peasants and in their Gaelic lords, there developed a 285 year obsession -- sometimes violent, sometimes political -- to overturn or modify the confiscations via "land reform", a term which (depending on time and place) might mean anything from a complete reversal of the confiscations to a modest improvement in tenants' rights.
The first 17th Century plantation (the "Ulster Plantation") involved confiscation of three million acres (about 30% of the island), all in six counties in west and central Ulster. The Ulster confiscations were directed almost exclusively at the Gaelic lords and their supporters who had been defeated at Kinsale: O'Neill, O'Donnell, O'Reilly, O'Hanlon, O'Doherty and others. The official plantation indirectly encouraged the much heavier unsponsored migration of working class Presbyterians from Scotland to Counties Down and Antrim. These migrations permitted eviction of native Catholics in favor of new Presbyterian settlers, whose descendants remain dominant in Northern Ireland even today**. The Ulster Plantation has been described as England's only successful colony in Ireland.
The Norman-Irish lords -- now called "Old English" to distinguish them from "New English" settlers and the "Gaelic Irish"-- were largely unaffected by the Ulster Plantation; but soon, on a large scale, they found themselves victims of New English "discoverers" whose business was to find defects in native Irish land titles, resulting in land forfeitures to the Crown (plus commissions for the discoverers). Then in 1625 James I, who was thought to be a secret Catholic, was succeeded by Charles I (r. 1625-49). Charles was not particularly anti-Catholic -- his wife was Catholic -- but the "Old English" deemed it prudent to cooperate in a deal proposed by Charles. At Charles' urging, they contributed 120,000 to Charles for his war with Spain, and Charles agreed to modest reforms known as "the Graces", the most important of which was a law (already on the books in England) confirming title in any person who had possessed land for 60 years or more. But after accepting the cash, Charles yielded to pressure from Parliament and reneged on formalizing "the Graces".
The Rebellion of 1641 sought to redress a variety of grievances, including the "Graces" grievance, by exploiting a bitter power struggle between Charles and the English Parliament. By way of background, for centuries Parliament had been wresting more and more power from a reluctant Crown, creating an ongoing conflict. (Supporters of the Crown were called "Royalists", supporters of Parliament were "Parliamentarians".) When Elizabeth died in 1603, James VI of Scotland, a Stuart, acceded to the English throne as James I. This gave Scotland and England a single king, even though the countries remained independent. But this actually escalated the conflict, rather than reducing it. Now, superimposed on the Royalist-Parliamentarian conflict were warring factions of religious zealots: Presbyterians (who dominated in Scotland) versus Anglicans (who dominated in England), not to mention Catholics (who enjoyed considerable empathy from the Stuart monarchs, some of whom were Catholic). When the Puritans won a narrow majority in the House of Commons, Charles (supported by the Anglican church) literally found himself on the verge of a civil war against Parliament, which already was arranging military support from Presbyterian Scotland.
Sir Phelim O'Neill led the Rebellion of 1641, which began with skirmishing in Ulster, during which as many as 12,000 Protestant non-combatants were killed. The rising actually was rooted in disputes over land -- no surprise here -- and to a lesser extent over religion, but O'Neill insisted that his forces were simply supporting the King against a belligerent Parliament. This pressured the "Old English", who had Royalist leanings, to join O'Neill's Gaelic forces in an uneasy alliance, the "Kilkenny Confederation". Soon, no Irishman could avoid taking sides, creating surprising alliances: some Catholics supported Parliament, while some Scottish Presbyterians joined O'Neill's Royalists. Even the Pope got involved; he dispatched to Ireland a papal nuncio, Cardinal Rinuccini, who persuaded the rebels to reject a proposed compromise because it did not restore Catholicism to its pre-Reformation position in Ireland. The rebels mounted a seven year insurgency which, if all had gone smoothly, might have led to a permanent accommodation with a divided England. In fact, however, the principal effect of the rebellion was to trigger the English Civil War, in which the king and parliament finally went to war with each other. Parliament's army, led by Oliver Cromwell (a Congregationalist member of Parliament) defeated Charles in a two phase war. Following a trial, Charles I was beheaded (1649) and the monarchy was abolished.
In 1649, Cromwell brought his army to Ireland and quashed the rebellion with a savagery that has become legendary. After town of Drogheda had surrendered, Cromwell's troops massacred 3,500 residents, including unarmed women and children. At Wexford, he perpetrated a similar massacre. Cromwell regarded the massacres as appropriate retribution for the deaths of the non-combatant Ulster Protestants in 1641. The rebellion was soon over.
Cromwell and his Puritans spelled disaster for all Catholics, but particularly for the Norman-Irish (a.k.a. "Old English"). Puritans were virulently anti-Catholic, and England's traditional tolerance for the "Old English" (vis-a-vis "Gaelic Irish") quickly became extinct, with both communities now treated as Catholic enemies of England. It was during the Cromwellian era (1649-60) that anti-Catholic animus reached its highest level in Irish history. The "New English" enthusiastically embraced the government's anti-Catholic policy, not only because they were anti-Catholic, but also because it preserved their privileged position.
The Cromwellian Plantation followed the war. It was the largest and most acrimonious of the confiscations, reducing Catholic ownership of land another 37%, from 59% to 22% Whereas the Ulster Plantation had confiscated land principally from the Gaelic-Irish, the Cromwellian Plantation took land largely from "Old English" Catholics (who had joined the rebellion hesitantly and only to show their support for the king), and transferred it to Cromwell's soldiers (in lieu of back pay) and to investors in the war effort. By the mid 1660s, the Cromwellian and Ulster Plantations had created a huge landlord class, including the oft-vilified absentee landlords, whose rental income often permitted them to lead lives of leisure, while backbreaking rents had thrust the native Irish into abject poverty, with 85% of the populace living at subsistence level. This laid the foundation for class warfare -- rich versus poor, or more accurately, rich Protestant landlord versus poor Catholic tenant -- which later erupted as the "land wars".
In 1688-90, the old line Irish (the descendants of the pre-17th Century Irish, including both Gaelic-Irish and Norman-Irish Catholics) arose again when they took sides in a war between two claimants to the English Crown. They supported the hereditary and rightful claimant, James II, against the man who had deposed him, William of Orange. In England, James was seen as representing both Royalists and Catholics, while William represented the Parliamentarian and Protestant factions. In Ireland, though, this particular war, unlike the Rebellion of 1641, was seen unequivocally as a war between Catholic and Protestant. Ironically, the Pope supported William, because a James victory would only add to the power of the already worrisome King of France, Louis XIV.
Again, some English history is essential. With Cromwell as the dominant figure in Parliament, the English throne had remained vacant since Charles I was beheaded in 1649. When Cromwell died in 1658, however, the Puritans began to lose control, and in 1660 they resolved their differences with the Royalists through a series of compromises known as the "Restoration". Under it, the Stuart monarchy was restored, but subject to a power sharing agreement with Parliament. Charles II (son of the beheaded Charles I) was brought back from exile to take the throne. The Anglican Church was reaffirmed as the "established" Church, but Charles II, whose father had been executed in part because of religious differences, saw fit to accord Catholics a high degree of tolerance (or benign neglect).
In 1684, Charles II was succeeded by his Stuart brother James II. James, who had converted to Catholicism in 1671, and was an advocate of an absolutist monarchy, unnerved the establishment. In his brief four year reign as King, James II alienated virtually every power base in England through a series of measures designed to increase the power of the Crown and to increase the civil rights of Catholics. James' most ominous initiative was recruiting a predominantly Catholic army in Ireland, and then partly transferring it to England. When a son was born to James in 1688, thereby insuring a Catholic succession, a plot known as the "Glorious Revolution" was hatched to overthrow James II.
James' grand-daughter Mary, and her Dutch Protestant husband, William of Orange (who was also James' nephew), accepted the invitation of several English notables to invade England, to overthrow James and to accede to the throne. When William arrived in England in November 1688, his partisans arose in rebellion in Yorkshire and elsewhere. Meanwhile James' forces deserted, and James himself fled to France. The coup d' etat was bloodless. In 1689, William and Mary were declared joint sovereigns, William III and Mary II. James II had been ousted after only four years.
But James' Catholic army in Ireland remained intact; and in an effort to regain his rightful throne, James promptly began recruiting new Irish and French troops from his exile in France. He shrewdly exploited Irish resentment over land, promising old line Irish that if his war was successful, they would recover their lands and power.
The first confrontation arose when James sent Catholic troops to Derry (then a Protestant city) to replace the existing Protestant garrison. Derry's leaders decided to welcome the new troops in the customary way, but this was highly controversial among Derry's inhabitants. Then 13 apprentice boys took matters into their own hands, seized the keys to the city gates, and slammed the gates in the faces of King James' troops. A lengthy siege of Derry followed, but William's troops finally arrived to relieve the inhabitants. Apprentice Boys Day is still a major Protestant holiday in Northern Ireland.
In March 1689, James arrived in Ireland to take charge of his army (25,000 strong). He also presided over a new and largely Catholic Parliament, which voted to overturn the earlier plantations. In June 1690, William of Orange and his army (36,000 troops, mostly non-Irish) arrived to do battle.
At the Battle of the Boyne (July 1, 1690), William's army handily defeated James' forces. In military terms, it was not a decisive victory, since Irish losses were small and their army lived to fight another day. But James immediately fled back to France, thereby (in European minds) effectively abandoning his claim to the throne.
Under Patrick Sarsfield, the Irish (with some French support) continued the fight for more than a year before suffering a devastating defeat at Aughrim. Finally, Sarsfield negotiated an honorable surrender embodied in the Treaty of Limerick (1691). Because William was anxious to move his troops to Flanders for the war against France, and also because he wanted to put behind him any challenges to the legitimacy of his reign, the Treaty was surprisingly generous to Catholics. It provided (1) that Catholics would have the same religious liberty enjoyed under Charles II, and (2) that those still resisting William, if they took an Oath of Allegiance, would be pardoned and allowed to keep their property, practice professions and bear civilian arms. Sarsfield demanded that these concessions apply not only to his own troops, but also to the entire Catholic community: It was "the first thing insisted upon by them, and agreed to by us", according to one of William's negotiators. But when the formal Treaty was presented to the English and Irish Parliaments for ratification, this latter provision -- the infamous "missing clause" -- was omitted, thereby facilitating the enactment anti-Catholic Penal laws, over the objection of King William.
The Treaty also contemplated that Sarsfield and more than 10,000 Irish troops would leave Ireland for the Continent. They did so -- the celebrated "flight of the 'Wild Geese'" -- and became legendary soldiers in the armies of France and other continental powers.
There ensued the third and final wave of 17th Century plantations (the "Williamite Plantation"), which reduced Catholic ownership of land from 22% to 14%.
(the "Williamite Plantation")
Short term, the plantations were enormously successful for England. In 1603, before the Battle of Kinsale, about 95% of land in Ireland was owned by Catholics; by 1701, less than a century later, only 14% was owned by Catholics, an aggregate transfer of 81% of all productive land in Ireland. Further, the percentage of non-Irish in the population had been increased from 5% to 25%. It is possible that the Crown expected the Irish and British cultures to merge eventually (with English culture predominating, naturally), but of course this did not happen. Instead, the Plantations divided Ireland, apartheid-like, into two hostile camps, a socio-economic tinder box virtually certain to eventually explode.
--In one camp was 75% of the populace: Poverty stricken, landless, ethnically Irish (Gaelic-Irish or Norman-Irish), Gaelic speaking, Catholic, and powerless; these descendants of pre-17th Century natives thought of themselves as Irish, not English, and were more hostile than ever before towards their English conquerors.
--In the other camp was 25% of the populace: Affluent landed gentry, ethnically British (English or Scots), English speaking, Protestant (Anglican [10%] and Presbyterian [15%]), and politically dominant; these immigrants thought of themselves as the Crown's colony in Ireland, not as Irishmen (although within a few generations they began to regard themselves as a "Protestant [Irish] nation").
"Catholic versus Protestant" has been the convenient shorthand to describe divisions within Ireland, but this is overly simplistic. The important dividing line was between a conquering people (who happened to be British, English speaking and Protestant) and a vanquished people (who happened to be Irish, Gaelic speaking and Catholic). The conquerors then confiscated the land and wealth of Ireland, thus creating the class warfare which has long plagued Ireland: rich landlord versus poverty stricken tenant. No one would deny that religion, ethnicity, language and culture were and still are important components in the mutual antagonism -- particularly in segregating an individual into one of the two camps -- but the sheer longevity of these hostilities is attributable to enduring disparities in power and wealth.
END NOTES TO CHAPTER 7.
*Under gravelkind, land was the common property of society, subject to preferential rights of families who worked or lived on it. And although the Gaelic lord held nominal title to land, he did so as trustee for the community, i.e., he had no power to transfer or to extinguish the community's rights in such land. But when English courts ruled that gravelkind was illegal, it followed that confiscations from the Gaelic lords also terminated peasants' rights.
**Created in 1920, Northern Ireland consists of six counties: Armagh, Londonderry (originally Coleraine), Tyrone and Fermanagh (all planted counties), plus Antrim and Down (which received major unsponsored migrations, but were not planted). The historic province of Ulster comprised all of these six counties, plus three counties now in the Republic of Ireland: Donegal and Cavin (both planted counties) plus Monaghan (which never was planted).
Ch. 8. Penal Laws, Ascendancy and "Union" With England (1692-1800).
For more than 100 years after the Treaty of Limerick (1691) -- a period later called the "Age of Penal Laws" or "Protestant Ascendancy" -- Ireland was a powder keg of social unrest due to a repressive and apartheid-like society in which a small Anglican minority (10% of the population) used its ownership of land and its control of government to deny power, influence and civil rights to Catholics (75% of the population) and to a lesser degree to Presbyterians (15%). Nevertheless, despite serious tensions that constantly threatened to erupt into widespread violence -- rich versus poor, landlord versus tenant, Catholic versus Protestant -- Ireland was able to avoid open revolution. Then in 1782 England, while still reeling from the American Revolution, permitted Ireland to evolve into a semi-autonomous (but still repressive) "Protestant Nation", a peaceful transition that contrasted dramatically with the violent Revolutions in America (1775-83) and in France (1789-99). Finally, the Rebellion of 1798, a modest and wildly unsuccessful rising led by Presbyterians, triggered a 180 degree change of direction: The Irish Parliament disavowed its autonomy and entered into a "union" (merger) with England (1800) that nearly destroyed Ireland's separate identity.
Almost immediately after the Treaty of Limerick (1691), Anglicans took decisive action to further strengthen their dominant position. Notwithstanding the Treaty, the Irish and English Parliaments, both dominated by Anglicans, enacted a series of "Penal Laws" (a.k.a. the "Popery Code") which, apartheid-like, created a three tier, Anglican controlled society in which (1) Catholics (75% of the population) would be totally excluded from property and power, and (2) Presbyterians (15% of the population) would remain subordinate to Anglicans.
Catholics and Presbyterians alike were required to tithe to the Anglican Church of Ireland, but were officially barred from government employment and military commissions. Catholics alone were barred from elective office, from entering the legal profession, from bearing arms, and from owning a horse worth more than five pounds. Upon the death of a Catholic landlord, his property by law went to his sons in equal shares, unless one of them converted to Anglicanism, in which case the Anglican son received the entire property, along with the right to immediately wrest management from his parents. Catholics were prohibited from purchasing realty, except leases of less than 31 years. (Between 1701 and 1778 Catholic ownership of land further declined from 14% to 5%). Catholics were barred from educating their children (except in schools proselytizing for the Anglican religion). Catholic bishops were banned from Ireland (under penalty of death by hanging, disemboweling and quartering). The last of the Penal Laws, enacted in 1727, denied Catholics the right to vote.
In enacting the Penal Laws, the Parliament of England was motivated almost entirely by anti-Catholic animus, but the Parliament of Ireland had additional motivation: preserving the privileged position of the New English "haves" vis-a-vis the native "have nots". William and Mary initially opposed the "Penal Laws" as violative of the Treaty, but religious freedom for Catholics was not the highest priority for William, and the Crown soon acquiesced. Except for the Cromwellian era (1649-60), the period 1692-1740 was the most anti-Catholic in Irish history. However, anti-Catholic animus peaked in the mid-1730s, then gradually subsided over the next 130 years, as anti-Catholic laws were gradually repealed, one by one.
The Penal Laws helped create the misnamed "Protestant Ascendancy", which would have been more accurately called "Anglican Dominance". Under it, all of society, and certainly all of government, was dominated by an elitist aristocracy consisting exclusively of Anglicans. The stereotypical Ascendancy gentleman attended Trinity College, lived a hard-drinking, party-oriented life of luxury in a "big house", pursued a respectable professional career in law, government, education or the military, and above all, collected high rents from his Irish tenants. But he also was insecure. His prosperity and privilege were rooted in land confiscations which, if the old line Irish ever regained control, were likely to be overturned. And he knew full well that British troops were critical in keeping the old line Irish in check.
The vast majority of Catholics lived and worked on the farm in abject poverty, degradation and despair, with no way out. Their diet consisted almost entirely of the newly introduced potato, plus milk (with a herring once or twice a year). Shelter, if any, was a mud hovel with leaky roof and no windows or chimney. Even Catholics who labored full time lived in worse degradation than the poorest beggars elsewhere in Europe. A handful of Catholics achieved middle class prosperity in business -- and their numbers grew as time went by -- but they were exceptions. In terms of compliance with law, Catholics were made criminals under the Penal Laws because they refused to turn in their "illegal" priests, and the draconian injustice of these laws engendered in them a culture of disrespect for the law generally.
Presbyterians congregated in Ulster, where typically they adhered to the culture (and religion) brought over from Scotland by their ancestors. Close knit and industrious, they responded to discrimination by distancing themselves from Ascendancy culture, becoming a self reliant community within the larger society. The typical Presbyterian pursued a middle class livelihood in the linen business or in farming.
Anglicans and Presbyterians soon found themselves in serious conflict. The principal problem was that the "established" Church of Ireland, and its Anglican members, treated the Presbyterian Religion as a second class religion, and its members (who generally were less affluent than Anglicans) as second class citizens. Although Presbyterians were treated far better than Catholics -- there were no restrictions on the right to own realty or to bear arms -- they were required to tithe to the Anglican Church of Ireland, and were prohibited from holding government office or military commissions. Many emigrated to America where their descendants served with distinction in George Washington's Revolutionary army.
The Ascendancy also resented Mother England's insistence upon treating Ireland as a subservient colony, useful primarily for enhancing the prosperity of England. British trade legislation, which typically discriminated against Ireland, was particularly grating. For example, in order to protect English manufacturers, the English Parliament prohibited the export of Irish woolen goods to any country except England, where prohibitive duties made such trade unprofitable. This legislation literally destroyed the Irish woolen industry, to the dismay of merchants of all religions. The Ascendancy lobbied constantly for a more balanced alliance, something akin to an equal partnership, provided it could be attained without losing England's military protection. But no serious effort was made to address this problem in the first half of the 18th Century, and even within the Ascendancy, discontent was rampant.
In the latter half of the 18th Century, the Western World was permanently changed by two major "revolutions": (1) The Industrial Revolution, in which labor saving machines, both on farms and in factories, permitted the "necessities" to be produced with far less manpower, thereby freeing surplus manpower to be used in the production of non-necessities, and (2) A series of violent populist revolutions -- exemplified by the American Revolution (1775-83) and the French Revolution (1789-99) -- which erupted against colonial empires and undemocratic governments. Ireland was not totally exempt from either revolution.
The Industrial Revolution, which began in England in the 1760s, bypassed most of Ireland, but it took root and flourished in and around Belfast, which became the linen center of the world, and the industrial center of Ireland. For the northeast, industrialization meant prosperity, along with stronger export and economic ties with Britain, but it also brought the start of urban problems commonly associated with industrialization: overcrowding, pollution, communicable disease, etc. By late century, Ulster Protestants – particularly Presbyterians – had become more convinced than ever that "Ulster is different from the rest of Ireland", based on the indisputable facts that (1) whereas the rest of Ireland was 80% or more Irish-Catholic, Ulster had a British-Protestant majority, or near majority, with Presbyterians outnumbering Anglicans by far, and (2) whereas the rest of Ireland remained largely agrarian, Ulster to a significant degree had become industrialized. This culture of "separateness" persisted into the 20th Century and drove the partition compromise of 1910-22.
Throughout all of Ireland in the 1760s, the long simmering tensions -- landlord versus tenant, rich versus poor, Catholic versus Presbyterian versus Anglican -- began to surface, primarily in rural areas. Secret societies were formed which became governments unto themselves. They ignored duly enacted law and established their own agendas -- primarily anti-landlord, secondarily anti-government and/or anti-tithe – which were enforced through organized violence, principally against landlords and their allies. (The violence euphemistically was called "land wars" by some, "agrarian outrages" by others.) Membership tended to be from a single religion, but religious warfare did not erupt until later in the century, when Catholics and Protestants began to compete for leases. Public attention fell principally on the Catholic societies, the "Whiteboys" and "Defenders", but Protestant societies, the "Hearts of Oak", "Steelboys", and "Peep o' Day Boys", were equally effective.
Some policy makers thought there might be a partial legislative solution to the unrest. In the 1760s, the "Patriot" movement led by Henry Gratton (an affluent and pro-business Anglican), professing loyalty to the King but demanding greater autonomy for Ireland plus concessions to Catholics, emerged as an influential minority in the Irish Parliament. As a result of Gratton's advocacy, a few of the Penal Laws were repealed in the 1770s.
The American Revolution erupted in 1776, triggering obvious comparisons between the situation of the American colonies and that of Ireland. It also forced the reassignment of British troops from Ireland to America. This led to the formation of the "Irish Volunteers", a militia (consisting almost entirely of well armed Anglicans) which ostensibly was formed to defend Ireland but which was used adroitly by Gratton to intimidate the British government.
In 1782, while still negotiating a surrender in the American Revolutionary War, England handed Gratton his greatest achievement. "Gratton's Parliament" (backed by the armed "Irish Volunteers") persuaded the British government to amend English law (including Poynings's Law) to give the Irish Parliament full legislative independence, including the right to enact its own trade and tariff policies. Conventional wisdom among Ascendancy gentlemen was that Ireland had been transformed peacefully into a nearly autonomous "Protestant Nation", but this was a gross exaggeration, since the Crown had retained all executive power, including power over patronage, plus the right to veto legislation of the Irish Parliament.
Legislative independence nevertheless was a triumph for the Protestant Ascendancy, which had long sought greater legislative autonomy, particularly in matter of trade. The Ascendancy thus reacted with pride and satisfaction which manifested itself in visible signs of sovereignty such as an independent Bank of Ireland, a separate Irish postal service, and new government buildings including the Custom House and the Four Courts.
But independence for a Parliament responsive only to the Protestant Ascendancy did little or nothing for the angry lower and middle classes, either Presbyterian or Catholic. Presbyterian tenant-farmers, generally middle class, had grievances over the mandatory tithe, certain penal laws, a wide variety of landlord abuses, and a non-representative Irish Parliament. Poverty stricken Catholics had all these grievances, and many more. Thus Catholics and less affluent Presbyterians, who together made up 90% of the population, found themselves on the same side of the major issues of the day: land reform, Parliamentary reform, elimination of the tithe, and repeal of those penal laws affecting both. Religious differences historically had precluded joint political action, but some radical reformers were beginning to see potential in a Catholic-Presbyterian political alliance.
In 1789, the French Revolution impacted Ireland like a bomb, igniting existing tensions and pushing Ireland toward similar violent revolution. In France, the peasant and middle classes had risen up to topple the government (and to behead the king and queen), to oust the established Church (and to confiscate its property), to abolish tithes, religious discrimination and privilege, and to institute a democratic republic dedicated to liberty and equality. (The French Revolution's first stage was widely admired; but its later stages, particularly the infamous "Reign of Terror", were almost universally deplored.) Now it was becoming clear that the status quo in Ireland could not be maintained, and that radical change was inevitable.
Among intellectuals, Parliamentary reform topped the list of demands for change. Not only were Catholics legally barred from serving, but only freeholders (owners and life tenants in land) could vote, and voting districts were not of equal size or population. Some voting districts -- called "pocket boroughs" or "rotten boroughs" -- had only one or two eligible voters. Among 300 seats in Commons, a majority -- more than 150 seats -- were controlled by only 30 landowners. Ironically, this worked to benefit the Crown, which used patronage jobs and pensions to induce the individuals in control -- called "undertakers" -- to undertake to enact the Crown's agenda. At any one time, between one-third and two-thirds of the Irish Parliament was receiving a salary or pension from the Crown.
Theobald Wolf Tone, an Anglican of modest social standing and the founder of radical republicanism in Ireland, was profoundly influenced by the French Revolution. To Tone, the key to a better Ireland was Parliamentary reform (i.e., a popularly elected one-man-one-vote legislature), and the key to Parliamentary reform was an alliance between Catholics and less affluent Presbyterians. Ultimately, Tone's vision for Ireland was a democratic republic, patterned after the post-revolutionary French Republic; it would be totally independent from England, governed by a popularly elected one-man-one-vote type legislature, and free from religious discrimination and preferences. In 1791, with the assistance of Napper Tandy, Tone founded the Society of United Irishmen, which originally was formed as a "debating society" peacefully advocating Protestant-Catholic cooperation to achieve parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. United Irishmen quickly gained wide support from Ulster Presbyterians, and modest support from some Catholics.
The post-revolution French government declared war on England in 1793. Hoping to secure the loyalty of rebellious Catholics, the British government pressured the reluctant Irish Parliament to repeal some penal laws and to grant Catholics the right to vote* (1793).
But unrest did not subside. Instead it escalated in the form of sectarian violence. The "Battle of the Diamond" (1795) near Armagh, which pitted Presbyterian Peep o' Day Boys against Catholic Defenders, left 20 dead. That same evening, Ulster Protestants formed the "Orange Order", a society of affluent and middle class Protestants who pledged support for the Protestant Ascendancy and confrontation with Catholics. Over the next few months, thousand of Catholics were driven out of Ulster by widespread and systematic violence.
About 1794, Tone crossed over the line, converting from advocate of peaceful Parliamentary reform to violent revolutionary. About the same time, the United Irishmen became a para-military force. In 1796, Tone convinced France to invade Ireland as part of its war effort against England. A French fleet carrying 14,000 troops set sail for Ireland, but as luck would have it, bad weather prevented a landing, and the fleet returned to France.
All of the powder kegs now seemed ready to explode at once. An anti-government revolution (ala the French Revolution) seemed imminent. Religious warfare already had erupted at Diamond, and seemed likely to spread. Rural violence against landlords was escalating. And a second French invasion of Ireland was expected at any time.
The government responded with a campaign to disarm the populace (1797). Initially the campaign was directed principally at Ulster Presbyterians -- Catholics already were legally prohibited from bearing arms -- but later it was expanded to include all but a handful of counties. The campaign was conducted by General Gerard Lake, who used brutal tactics with little or no restraint. Suspects against whom little evidence existed, many of them innocent, were flogged and tortured to force them to reveal information, hundreds were forced into the British navy as slave laborers, and numerous houses were burned. Lake's campaign was spectacularly successful in disarming the populace, particularly in Ulster, but it also inspired rumors -- widely believed by Catholics -- that disarmament was the first step in a joint campaign by the Orange Order and the Irish government to solve the "Catholic problem" by massacring the entire Catholic population of Ireland. Tone's followers shrewdly exploited the rumored massacre to persuade some local Defender units to merge into, and became the Catholic wing of, the Presbyterian dominated United Irishmen.
In 1798, Tone and the United Irishmen again persuaded France to invade Ireland. The plan included coordination of the French invasion with a series of local rebellions. When an informer disclosed the plot, the rebels were forced to start early. The insurrection in Ulster, led by Henry Joy McCracken, was almost entirely Presbyterian, while the ones in Dublin, Kildare, Carlow, Meath and Queen's were nonsectarian. All of these risings were serious matters, but because disarmament had been successful, all were efficiently quashed.
The rebellion in Wexford was far more serious, one of the bloodiest confrontations in Irish history. Wexford was an unlikely prospect for insurrection -- no more than 300 United Irishmen and Defenders were operating there -- but violence erupted when Protestant Volunteers, directed to enforce the disarmament order, began flogging Catholics and burning their homes even before the date specified for surrendering arms. Then a Catholic killed a soldier who had burned a barn, and government forces retaliated by burning down another 160 houses. Fully believing that a massacre of Catholics was imminent, Catholics rebelled. Led by Father John Murphy, and armed with little more than pikes against government forces with muskets, the rebels initially took Enniscorthy, then sought to expand into Wicklow. Mass atrocities occurred on both sides. In the end, the rebels were routed at Vinegar Hill (1798). Some historians regard Wexford as an extension of Tone's United Irish rebellion, but elsewhere in Ireland, the perception was that Wexford was a Catholic war against Protestants. This triggered bitter religious animosities, and destroyed (perhaps forever) Tone's dream of a political alliance between Catholics and less affluent Presbyterians.
The local uprisings all had already been suppressed when French warships arrived (with Wolf Tone aboard) and were forced to surrender. Tone was captured, convicted, and sentenced to death. Tone demanded to be shot while wearing his uniform, like a soldier and prisoner of war; the government insisted on hanging him, like a common criminal. He died in prison apparently from self inflicted wounds, almost certainly a suicide.
Despite the effective suppression of the local risings, England's Prime Minister, William Pitt, considered Irish unrest one of the greatest threats to England in history. Thus he revived a long discarded idea. He sponsored legislation (entitled "Act of Union") calling for the "union" (or merger) of England and Ireland into a single "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" with a single Parliament. To garner Catholic support, Pitt promised Catholics the right to sit in Parliament ("emancipation"); but out of 658 seats in the new Parliament, Ireland would have only 100, and Catholics could expect to fill 70 to 75 seats at most.
Pitt's proposal was one of the most far reaching in Irish history. If adopted, it would totally reverse the Gratton Parliament's most popular achievement, legislative independence. Gratton vigorously opposed union, as did Ulster Presbyterians, the business community, parish priests and nationalists; in favor were the British government, Catholic bishops and absentee landlords. The proposal certainly would have failed in a popular vote or in a representative parliament, but the vote fell to the non-representative Irish Parliament.
When the "Act of Union" was voted on the first time (1799), it failed by only five votes; later (1800), after Pitt's deputy in Ireland had bribed some members by offering peerages and lifetime seats in the British House of Lords, the measure passed the all-Protestant Irish Parliament, and was quickly ratified by the English Parliament. In a betrayal of Catholics, Pitt's promise of Catholic emancipation was defeated in a separate follow-up vote, leading Pitt to resign. After only eighteen years as a semi-autonomous country, Ireland, by the vote of its own Parliament, had been subsumed into England.
END NOTES TO CHAPTER 8.
*A follow up bill granting Catholics the right to sit in Parliament ("emancipation") failed, however.