This book is designed primarily for use by Sixth Form students taking modules in Irish
history. I believe that it will also be of value to undergraduates as an introduction or primer
to Ireland under the Union. In writing this book I have taken a chronological approach,
however ideas and themes are also to be found within the narrative. The first chapter
outlines the main events and themes before the 1790s and readers may skim over this
initially. However, both the Introduction and Chapter 1 will need to be revisited with more
care at a later stage. The last chapter is an overview of the Union and ties together some of
the issues that are addressed in earlier chapters.

Since the 1980s the teaching of history in British secondary schools has by-and-large
neglected the study of the classic nineteenth century giants: Pitt, Liverpool, Palmerston,
Peel, Gladstone, Disraeli, Salisbury and Chamberlain. To a degree Asquith and Lloyd
George have been similarly ignored except as war leaders. I am therefore conscious that
much of the British material is alien to many British students, many of whom have been fed
on a diet of the twentieth century monsters, the Wild West or ‘Medicine from Plato to NATO’.
Ironically it is more likely that British students will have looked at aspects of the “Irish
problem” (because it was frequently in the news) much in the same way as they might
have studied the Arab-Israeli conflict. British issues cannot be divorced from Irish affairs
(nor from the great sweep of European and North American development). A
comprehensive understanding of Irish affairs will enhance a student’s knowledge of British
history in addition to covering a crucial period of Irish history in its own right.

Primary sources and extracts are included; additionally explanatory sections on the Ulster
Plantation, Fenianism, Obstructionism and the Orange Order are to be found in Chapters 1,
5, 6 and 9 respectively. These various boxed sections can be read independently of the
main text. The most important names, events, laws and concepts have been denoted in
bold type when first mentioned or else when they first have a major significance. I would
suggest that students go out of their way to look up and appreciate the significance of these
terms; teachers and lecturers may need to emphasise and dwell upon some of them.
Students should also be prepared to utilise these (when relevant) in their essays and

A book that runs from the rebellion of the United Irishmen (1798) to Irish independence
(1921) will naturally have the Union as its main theme. It would be too easy to see the
period simply as one of the evolution of Irish nationalism. There are many other themes
that are to be found in the years of the Union; most of which intertwine with nationalism.
These are however valid themes in their own right. They enrich and cross-fertilise
nineteenth and much of twentieth century Irish history. The most important of these are:

The relationship between constitutional nationalism and insurrectionary republicanism which
was never a simple polarity but more of a complex and ambiguous interaction within the
spectrum of nationalism as a whole.
The evolution of unionism that appeared to die in 1921, but in its Ulster form thwarted and
stymied nationalism.
The dynamics of the Irish economy that to a degree survived, evolved and in the case of
eastern Ulster prospered.
The complexities of the religious and land issues which are themes in their own right as well
as being aspects of nationalism and unionism.
The issue of emigration without which the social and political development of not only
Ireland but also Britain and the English-speaking world (North America especially) would be
very different.
The social laboratory of Ireland in which numerous British governments abandoned
laissez-faire policies and pursued state-sponsored solutions, some of which eventually
filtered through to Great Britain.
The use of political theatre, by which Irishmen were able to capitalise on the issue of the
moment (generally a set-back) and make the most of the circumstances through successful
publicity. By-and-large this was a nationalist phenomenon, but one of its most spectacular
applications was the unionist gun running of 1914.
Closely linked to political theatre is the issue of myth making. In politics what actually
happened is often less important than what people have perceived to have happened.
One of the themes of this book is the emergence of Ulster Unionism whose fortunes rose
inversely to those of unionism as a whole. Within this phenomenon is the dynamic of the
Ulster presbyterian tradition, without which Ulster protestant cohesion would not have
become a viable political and social force.
Amongst the most erudite and readily available books on Ireland within the period
concerned is Roy Foster’s Modern Ireland 1600-1972. This is perhaps the most accessible
for students, it has the advantage of covering a wider period than the years of the Union, a
detailed chronology is included together with brief biographical portraits, some aspects of
narrative are excluded however. George Boyce’s Nineteenth Century Ireland, The Search
for Stability develops many themes of its own, as does Alvin Jackson’s Ireland 1798-1998.
The latter however is perhaps outside the price range of students but is a useful tool for
departmental and library use. More recently (paperback 2004) Jackson has published Home
Rule, An Irish History 1800-2000. This excellent study of the home rule phenomenon does
not cover other aspects of the Union and coverage of the first seventy years of the
nineteenth century is necessarily light. Whilst unsuitable for many Sixth Formers this should
be essential reading for undergraduates and the more capable A Level candidates
especially as it is a comprehensive historiographical essay as well as covering Jackson’s
own researches. FSL Lyons’ magisterial Ireland since the Famine though first published in
1971 has stood the test of time and is essential reading for anyone who considers himself a
student of Irish history. Patrick Buckland’s booklet Irish Unionism (1973) is still the best
introduction to Irish and Ulster Unionism. A more comprehensive bibliography is listed at
the end.

Most British history textbooks have sections or chapters devoted to “the Irish Problem”. In
particular I would single out the old but stalwart Collins series “Britain in Modern Times”,
most of which have a comprehensive chapter on Irish affairs. Additionally I have found the
two Flagship histories of Britain that cover the nineteenth and twentieth centuries published
by Harper Collins useful; these have excellent sections on Ireland and place Irish events
and preoccupations in the context of British politics. For an overall view of British history in
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the relevant chapters of Kenneth Morgan’s Oxford
Illustrated History of Britain give a comprehensive introduction to the topic.

In the late nineteen thirties TW Moody and Owen Dudley Edwards modernised Irish
historiography, putting it on a more rigorous and exacting footing. This was in part a
response to the understandable subordination of much of Ireland’s historiography to the
stresses and strains of the imperial and national struggles of previous years. They instituted
a new approach through their own teaching and the journal that they founded: Irish
Historical Studies. It was through this publication that the most cogent challenge to this
revisionist approach was raised by Brendan Bradshaw (“Nationalism and historical
scholarship in modern Ireland” in Irish Historical Studies xxvi, 104 November 1989)
Bradshaw’s counter-revisionism claimed that the nationalist dimension had been
underplayed – explained away by a clinical liberalism. There was a feeling that the Moody
and Edwards school had pursued the evidence-based approach too rigidly. Revisionist
scholarship has set and maintained standards and Irish historiography is now sufficiently
mature in today’s post nation-building period. Irish historical study can now benefit from a
variety of insights including that of a less Dublin-oriented approach; these include local
studies and an appreciation of the Ulster perspective.

For ease of reading and to ensure an uncluttered text I have largely dispensed with
traditional references and footnotes. Occasional reference is made to the most seminal
works in the text and some explanations are provided in a minimal number of footnotes.
Statistical sources have been cited however.

A capital letter has been used to denote a political party or movement (i.e. Liberal, Unionist
or Nationalist), a lower case letter has been used when referring to a particular point of
view or attitude (i.e. conservative, unionist or republican).

1. BEFORE 1798

The medieval period
The formal relationship between England and Ireland began in the 1170s when
Anglo-Norman barons became involved in warfare between warring Irish chiefs and kings.
Throughout the history and prehistory of these islands (the term ‘British Isles’ is a sensitive
one to many Irishmen) cross channel intercourse has been frequent and widespread. What
was new in 1170 was the power of the English crown to intervene so as to curb the
freelance ambitions of its barons. The English kings had the strength to assert and initially
impose their authority. By the later middle ages however they had found that lordship was
a relatively empty claim. The authority of the English kings as Lords of Ireland had been
eclipsed by that of the native Gaelic Lords and the descendents of the twelfth century
Anglo-Norman adventurers. The former had established dynastic links and alliances with
the latter; an uneasy mutual understanding had developed often to the detriment of the
English crown.

The Tudors
By the late fifteenth century formal English control had shrunk to the area around Dublin
(the Pale) in which conditions approximated to that of the Anglo-Welsh or Anglo-Scottish
marches. The situation was changed by Tudor assertiveness: in particular Henry VIII’s
claim to kingship (as opposed to Lordship) and the contemporary English Reformation.
Gradual and often hesitant attempts at colonisation (or plantation) and conquest occupied
the rest of the sixteenth century. Only at the very end of Elizabeth’s reign (1603) was the
conquest of Gaelic Ireland completed and actual royal authority extended to the whole

The seventeenth century
The seventeenth century revealed that much of the Elizabethan conquest and Jacobean
plantation of Ulster had been insufficient to secure stability and had opened up many new
areas of conflict that revolved around land and religion. Before Tudor times Anglo-Norman
lords and Gaelic chiefs had coexisted in an uneasy mutual understanding. The influx of new
settlers and protestantism destroyed the relative stability of the status quo. Few of those of
Anglo-Norman descent (the Old English) took to the new protestant religion; both they and
the Gaelic Lords found their loyalty to the English crown tested to breaking point as religion
became the determining factor of political and legal identity. In the sixteenth century the
Old English managed by-and-large to hang on to their allegiance to the Tudors. In the late
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries loyalty became increasingly defined by religion. The
Gaelic Lords - and to an increasing extent the Old English population - opted to preserve
their catholicism and land by identifying with the Counter Reformation and the catholic
powers of Spain and France. (These kingdoms, like Scotland in the early fourteenth century
or France and Germany in more modern times, utilised Ireland as another front in their
international strategic struggles with England and then Britain).

Reconquest at the end of the 1640s by Cromwell and again by William III at the beginning
of the 1690s effectively deprived the Old English and Gaelic catholic magnates of any
significant land ownership and therefore of political power and influence. Thus the old ruling
elites who had been in rebellion against the protestant state lost control of their land. The
new landowners were the protestant political masters and settlers of the late sixteenth and
more especially the seventeenth centuries. Just as many of the old catholic elites had
become imbued with the convictions of the Counter Reformation, the protestant settlers and
new landowners subscribed to the certainties of the Reformation.

These certainties and mutual incomprehensions had been reinforced by the brutality and
myth-making potential of repeated rebellion and conquest, which exhibited some of the
worst excesses of the contemporary European wars of religion. In the case of Ireland
however two factors differentiated it from that of the rest of Europe.

The new landed ruling class did not share the same religion as the majority of the
population. Political and religious toleration was virtually unknown in early modern times; in
nearly all areas of Europe religious minorities were deprived of civil and religious liberties,
in the case of Ireland the catholic majority were subordinated to a political system that was
not only imposed but was imposed by an alien Anglo-Scottish minority. With the advent of
Enlightenment and French Revolutionary doctrines this was to create friction; this was to
have an ever increasing significance as the nineteenth century heralded the involvement of
the masses in political protest and eventually in the democratic process.

The sixteenth and seventeenth century conquests were partly based on religious certainty
but were also based on political insecurity. These two phenomena were well illustrated by
the characteristics of Ulster presbyterianism. The protestantism of the seventeenth century
Scottish settlers in Ulster was much more intense than that of their English (anglican)
counterparts. It was based on a dynamism of personal conviction often accentuated by the
trauma of persecution in their native Scotland and by an uncompromising frontier outlook
when settled in Ulster. This calvinist siege mentality (together with a conscious work ethic)
provided the dynamic of survival for the Ulster protestant community. The presbyterians
underpinned the English settlers in Ulster creating a critical mass of protestants in the north
of Ireland that was to have a lasting impact on the political demography of the whole island.

The Plantation and Settlement of Ulster
Until the beginning of the seventeenth century Ulster had been least affected by attempts at
English rule and conquest. It remained physically isolated behind natural barriers of forest,
river and mountain. Moreover the north and east coasts had gravitated towards western
Scotland. An Ulster-Scottish axis was therefore a well-established phenomenon by 1603
marked by frequent cross channel population movements that involved both the Western
Isles and the lowlands.

The Elizabethan conquest was then confirmed and strengthened by James I and VI, the
theme of ‘plantation’ or colonisation was continued on a greater and more successful scale
than in the previous century. Sizeable Anglo-Scottish communities were planted in western
and southern Ulster under royal licence to fill the vacuum left by the flight of the Ulster
Gaelic earls (1607). Moreover as well as this official plantation much spontaneous Scottish
lowland immigration had flowed into eastern Ulster exploiting the narrow gap of the North
Channel used in previous centuries by the highland Gaelic speaking MacDonnells from the
Isles. This demographic shift placed a fiercely independent presbyterian population in
Ulster, that strengthened and stiffened the English (and therefore anglican) planters who
had also been settled in Ulster. Despite tensions and differences of outlook the protestant
Scottish and English settlers in Ulster began to develop a degree of cohesion that gave
them a distinct identity when compared to the much more thinly spread English inhabitants
in the rest of Ireland.

By-and-large the Anglo-Scottish planters occupied the lower and more fertile land. They
were required to build towns, fortify strongholds and furnish tenancies for farmers and
artisans from England and Scotland. Although substantial numbers of all classes settled in
Ulster, the full quota of immigrants was never achieved, the major “undertakers” were
obliged to take on more native tenants than was originally envisaged. This, together with
the upheaval of massacre and warfare in the 1640s, accounted for incomplete plantation in
western and southern Ulster. Protestant settlement was far more complete and thorough in
Antrim and Down, those counties planted by private enterprise and nearest to the
southwest of Scotland. In the latter part of Charles II’s reign religious disruption in southern
Scotland led to renewed migration to Ulster, thus reinforcing the Scottish covenanting and
presbyterian tradition in Ulster (see Chapter 9).

The eighteenth century
The conquest of 1690/91 ushered in a century of anglican ascendancy; by-and-large the
landowners belonged to the established anglican church which accounted for about half of
the protestant population. As well as providing most of the land owning (and therefore the
administrative, professional and legislative class) the Church of Ireland population
contributed a varying number of shopkeepers and artisans in the towns of the south and
west, mostly in Dublin and Cork. In Ulster the larger anglican population contributed to a
far more homogenous and all-class group being represented in all walks of life. This and
the concentration of presbyterian numbers gave the Ulster protestant population a solidity
and confidence quite in excess of its numbers. Despite living alongside their presbyterian
neighbours relations were not always harmonious between anglican and presbyterian; the
presbyterians were treated as dissenters and found themselves denied the privileges
monopolised by anglicans; the payment of tithe was a particular bone of contention.
Presbyterians were conscious that they were the bedrock of protestant control of Ulster and
were one of the most substantial elements underpinning protestant rule as a whole, they
therefore resented their second class status. This was one of a number of factors that led to
the radicalisation of the Ulster Presbyterians, many of whom resettled in North America in
the hope of finding greater political and religious freedom as well as better economic
prospects. Presbyterian radicalism also meant the French Revolution was greeted with
enthusiasm in Belfast and some elements were inspired by the Society of United Irishmen,
some found themselves in rebellion in 1798. Moreover, the “democratic” nature of the
presbyterian church contrasted with the hierarchical nature of the episcopal anglican

If the Ulster Scots found themselves as second-class citizens the Roman Catholic population
were third class citizens – or rather subjects. A piecemeal battery of Penal Laws excluded
them from public life and the exercise of their religion was inconvenient and at times
difficult. When compounded with the decline of Gaelic society, a rapidly rising population
that lacked the safety valve of a domestic agricultural and industrial revolution, major
social and political tensions were bound to develop. To a degree some catholics developed
commercial interests in the towns for much the same reasons as the presbyterians of Ulster
had – exclusion from society, politics and local government. It is too simplistic, however, to
compartmentalise anglicans as solely the rulers and landowners; presbyterians as the
successful farmers and middleclass; and catholics as the poor and destitute. Landless
Anglicans existed, as did poor presbyterian tenants and prosperous and influential catholics.

For most of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy the eighteenth century was a golden age: they had
wealth and had political power and influence through the Irish parliament at College Green
or through the administration in Dublin Castle. They could wield political power in an
eighteenth century sense or else benefit from the wheeler-dealing of parliamentary
management and place-hunting. Their confidence and security was underpinned by their
cross channel links with their cousins in the aristocracy and landowning classes of England.
Their confidence is best instanced by the architectural magnificence of their palaces and
mansions and by the classical orderliness of the Georgian town houses and terraces in
Dublin and the lesser towns.

This confidence was paralleled by a paradoxical “intense feeling of insecurity”. The post
1691 ascendancy suffered a degree of physical isolation: in the words of the twentieth
century poet Richard Murphy “Landlords corresponded with landlords across bogs”; there
was also an awareness of actual and potential political vulnerability. Their political,
economic and social position was dependant on penal legislation against catholic and (to a
lesser extent) against dissenter together with the fact that the 1691 settlement was
underwritten by the British state. The fact that the confidence of the ascendancy was partly
dependent on a cross channel “big brother” highlighted not only an insecurity but also a
sense of resentment, best instanced by Jonathan Swift who riled against the corrupting
influence of “English” control. The more intensely politically active tended to be both
“protestant” in a hard-line sense but also “patriotic”. Normally this meant identification with
the exclusive anglican political nation, but sometimes (as with Swift) a championing of all
things Irish: “Burn everything English except their coal”.

Despite what has just been said for much of the eighteenth century the Anglo-Irish
ascendancy were prepared to trade their potential political power to the managers of the
English Privy Council, or to the particular ministry’s Lord Lieutenant. In fact the Irish
parliament was subordinate to the business managers of Whitehall to a greater extent even
than the MPs at Westminster. The Irish administration and legislature normally did the
bidding of London even if London was obliged to expend both energy and wealth to achieve
its ends. With the American War of Independence the government in London was obliged to
concede a greater degree of political power to the College Green parliament and between
1782 and 1798 “Grattan’s Parliament” appeared to have achieved a degree of real
legislative independence. The Repeal of the “Sixth of George I” and the amending of
Poyning’s Law meant that the Irish crown and parliament were defined as a law-giving
authority in their own right who did not have to play second fiddle to Westminster.
Moreover legislation could originate in Ireland. However the power of the monarch and of
the London Privy Council still remained, as did the troubled relations between the Dublin
Castle executive and the College Green Parliament.

The Anglo-Irish ‘Patriots’ were conscious of their distinctive identity and whilst loyal to the
crown were proud of their Irishness (and their protestantism). By-and-large this amounted
to no more than a local patriotism that resented the assumption of superiority by the
English. Though the efforts of the Irish political activists Flood and Grattan did produce
changes including the relaxation of the Penal Laws, the late eighteenth century parliament
failed to meet the expectations of the population as a whole, some of whom were becoming
imbued with revolutionary and reformist expectations derived from the French Revolution.
The relatively moderate and Enlightenment-oriented enthusiasms of the Society of United
Irishmen had polarised by 1798 when a strange amalgam of idealistic and reformist
patriotism became mixed up with real radicalism, revolutionary fervour and a catholic


The economy
Ireland’s population doubled between the mid-eighteenth century and the Act of Union, it
was probably slightly less than 5 million by 1800. As the eighteenth century progressed
there was an increasing dependence on the potato and the pig in those areas that lacked a
varied economy. A dangerous reliance on the potato made the poorer western and
south-western areas susceptible to Malthusian disaster (major famines had occurred in
1728-9 and 1740-1, the latter perhaps creating more death and destitution than the Great
Famine of a hundred years later).

By-and-large those areas of highest population density were the poorest and most
dependent on the monoculture of the potato. Other areas developed a greater diversity of
agriculture and in parts of eastern Leinster and in eastern Ulster there were industries
largely though not exclusively based on linen. The protestant craftsmen of the towns and
those in rural domestic linen production (Armagh, Antrim and Monaghan) increasingly found
themselves clashing with upwardly mobile or land hungry catholics. In Armagh in particular
this was to lead to the emergence of sectarian tensions and the foundation of the Orange
Order in response to catholic incursion in 1795. Land hunger was a perennial eighteenth
century and early nineteenth century problem throughout the island that led to faction
fighting and secret rural societies (i.e. Whiteboys, Oakboys and Ribbonmen). This also
involved the more sectarian Defenders (catholics) and the Orangemen previously
mentioned. For various reasons Ireland did not benefit from an eighteenth century
industrial revolution, though eastern parts of both Ulster (in particular) and Leinster were
touched slightly by British industrial development. In the nineteenth century Belfast
experienced an industrial revolution as large as any experienced in any of the northern
English cities.

Political tensions
There were a variety of late eighteenth century hidden tensions that emerged in the 1780s
and 1790s, some of an economic nature but others primarily political. As early as the 1720s
large numbers of Presbyterians had left Ulster to seek religious freedom and to better their
economic prospects. There was a population boom perhaps amounting to 20% in the last
two decades of the century leading, amongst other issues, to increased sectarianism and
land hunger. These were accentuated by economic fluctuations in Irish domestic industry.
Furthermore the crisis of the American War of Independence had enabled protestant
‘patriots’ (loyal but independently minded) to wrest a degree of political power from
London. Moreover amongst the American rebels were many first and second generation
‘Scotch-Irish’ whose actions were observed by their Ulster presbyterian cousins. A German
mercenary fighting against the rebels wrote “Call it not an American Rebellion, it is nothing
more nor less than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion.” The American War precipitated
the French Revolution and general European war. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and
the idealism of the French Revolution led to impatience at the pace of reform by the Society
of United Irishmen. Frustration and resentment at a failure to maintain rising economic and
political expectations was compounded by the increasingly heavy taxation demands
necessitated by European war.

Catholics had been admitted to the franchise in 1793 but the College Green parliament had
shown a significant degree of reluctance to ameliorate the general inferior position of
catholics. Increasingly the more traditional and “protestant” elements of the parliament
were at odds with the reformers and the extra-parliamentary United Irishmen.

The United Irishmen had started as a nationalist debating society in 1791 largely in tune
with the tradition of Irish constitutional opposition. Increasingly however it took on
republican aspects (a logical development given the influence of the radical presbyterian
nature of the Belfast branch). In addition certain United Irishmen – Wolfe Tone in particular
– developed links with the Defenders, an overtly sectarian secret society. If the republican
drift of the United Irishmen was understandable this sectarian development was not. It
contradicted the rationalist and enlightened origins of the movement, though it can be
explained by United Irish frustration at the reluctance of College Green politicians to
dismantle the Penal Laws. Furthermore if a revolution was to come about somebody more
than middle class intellectuals were needed; a mass movement was also required. Two of
the strands of Irish Nationalism are from here on apparent: republicanism and catholicism;
seldom however were they to be easy partners.

Mention has already been made of the presbyterian radical if not “democratic” tradition and
approval by some of the American and French Revolutions. Celebrations of the fall of the
Bastille through demonstrations and by the Belfast Newsletter predated the formation of the
United Irishmen and illustrated the liberal if not radical side of presbyterianism. A radical
outlook did not mean that most or all presbyterians were republican or revolutionary.
Despite their second-class status many were still conscious that they had stood side-by-side
with their anglican neighbours against catholic besiegers a hundred years earlier. Apart
from a few United Irish survivors few would identify with the excesses of French
Revolutionary Jacobinism or the catholic jacquerie of south Leinster by the late summer of
1798. The prayer of the Rev Sinclare Kelburn perhaps best sums up the attitude of the
alienated but non-revolutionary presbyterian: “O Lord, if it be possible, have mercy on the

Doc 2i
Dr William Drennan, an Ulster Presbyterian, wrote enthusiastically of extending the new
United Irish Society from Belfast to Dublin:

“A society having much of the ceremonial freemasonary, so much secrecy as might
communicate curiosity, uncertainty, expectation to the minds of surrounding men, so much
impressive and affecting ceremony in its internal economy as without impeding real
business might strike the soul through the senses. A benevolent conspiracy - a plot for the
people – no whig club – no party title - The Brotherhood its name - the rights of man and
the greatest number its end its general and real independence to Ireland and republicanism
its particular purpose.”

Quoted in NHI iv p294 taken from Drennan letters (ed DA Chart), (Belfast 1931)

Frustration with progress at College Green, together with opportunism and idealism
fostered by revolution abroad and economic uncertainty raised the political temperature,
expectations were also heightened and then dashed by the brief vice-royalty of Earl
Fitzwilliam in early 1795. Fitzwilliam attempted to bring about full catholic emancipation and
to purge the Dublin administration of placemen and powerbrokers. He was himself
dismissed within eight weeks and had shown himself to be politically inept. Undoubtedly he
had exceeded his brief, but his rapid repudiation also perhaps indicates a degree of panic
by Pitt’s government. Whatever the interpretation, in Roy Foster’s words “the fat was in the
fire”; reformers were frustrated and conservatives were frightened. The headlong career of
the United Irishmen from evolution toward revolution was matched by tough and
provocative measures by the government - in particular by General Lake. As well as
regular troops, the Yeomanry (formed in 1796) were widely employed to excess. Such
actions had two effects: they succeeded in pre-empting a coordinated United Irish and
Defenderist rebellion; but they also provoked insurrection through the draconian nature of
the arrests.

Fitzwilliam’s attempted reforms and those concessions to catholics made by College Green
since 1782 had led to a general collapse in protestant morale; each amelioration of a
catholic grievance undermined protestant authority in the localities. (See the reference to
protestant insecurity, isolation and vulnerability in the previous chapter). An extreme
aspect of this was that some landlords in Armagh (i.e. William Blacker) and elsewhere in
Ulster joined the nascent Orange movement partly in response to legislative changes but
also due to Defender depredations. At this time defenderism was spreading from the
countryside to the artisans of the nearby towns.

Doc 2ii
Wolfe Tone, an Anglican who had once contemplated a career in the British colonial service,
contrasted the differences between the English and Irish:

“Animated by their unconquerable hatred of France, which no change of circumstances
could alter, the whole English nation, it may be said, retracted from their first decision in
favour of the glorious and successful efforts of the French people: they sickened at the
prospect of the approaching liberty and happiness of that mighty nation: they calculated, as
merchants, the probable effects which the energy of regenerated France might have on
their commerce….

But matters are very different in Ireland, an oppressed, insulted, and plundered nation. As
we well knew, experimentally, what it is to be enslaved, we sympathized most sincerely
with the French people, and watched their progress to freedom with the utmost anxiety; we
had not like England, a prejudice rooted in our very nature against France. As the
Revolution advanced, and as events expanded themselves, the public spirit of Ireland rose
with a rapid acceleration. The fears and animosities of the aristocracy rose in the same, or
a still higher proportion. In a little time the French Revolution became the test of every
man’s political creed, and the nation was fairly divided into two great parties, the
Aristocrats and the Democrats, who have ever since been measuring each other’s strength,
and carrying on a kind of smothered war, which the course of events, it is highly probable,
may soon call into energy and action.”

The ’Ninety-eight rebellion.
Tone, probably the most republicanly-minded of the leading United Irishmen, made three
attempts at French intervention in Ireland. In December 1796 violent storms dispersed a 36
ship French fleet with 14,500 troops bound for Bantry Bay. Though United Irish morale was
heightened by this attempted French intervention, the French themselves were somewhat
disillusioned by the lack of local support. Their subsequent landing of 1,100 men under
General Humbert at Killala met with initial success, but was too small and too late to affect
the course of the piecemeal rebellion of the summer of 1798. The main French invasion
force arrived much later in October only to be captured in Lough Swilly (with Wolfe Tone on
board) by a British fleet.

The authorities were already taking decisive action against the United Irishmen before
Houche’s Bantry Bay expedition. By the early summer of 1798 they had arrested most of
the Directory of the United Irishmen. An ill-disciplined but effective military, yeomanry and
militia had destroyed much of the rebel organisation in Leinster and Ulster, its two strongest
areas. Ironically the Houche and later the Humbert expeditions were aimed at the coasts of
west Munster and north Connacht, the areas where the United Irishmen were weakest. It
seems unlikely that there was any central coordination of the rebellion in the summer of
1798. Three distinct episodes or phases can be identified:

In late May and early June a disorganised but initially successful peasant rising took place
in south Leinster. The characteristics of this were a fearsome peasant disregard for their
own lives and a vicious anti-protestant pogrom quite at odds with the ideals of the United
Irishmen’s Directorate.
In early June a very short fiasco of an Ulster rebellion took place, General Lake having
previously culled and gutted the Ulster movement.
Humbert’s invasion in August did put to flight the local garrison before he surrendered less
than a fortnight later. There had been little Irish support and the main force of Frenchmen
was to arrive belatedly in Lough Swilly.
So what had the fiasco of ’98 achieved? It achieved two things:

It had frightened the British authorities and Irish protestants (including many
presbyterians). It had indicated to the former that the current legislative and administrative
system could not continue.
It had established a pedigree of myth, based on elements of fact - the republican myth. The
cause of republicanism and Irish independence had been established. Its failure was seen
as a glorious failure, part of a tradition that was to reappear in 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916.
Rebel bravery was remembered as were the summary executions, floggings, pitch-capping
and “half hangings” of the military. The rational and non-sectarian elements of the United
Irish movement’s leadership were remembered rather than the fearful massacres at
Wexford and Scullabogue. Subsequent generations of protestants would remember and
mythologise these atrocities much as nationalist opinion would remember the brutal
pre-empting of the rebellion and its harsh repression by crown forces.
If the pedigree of armed republicanism and the mutual memory and myth of atrocity were
to live on in the long term, the short term consequences of the “Ninety Eight” were the end
of the 1782 parliament and the passing of the Act of Union.

The end of the Irish parliament
Pitt’s government could argue that maladministration in Ireland had provoked and allowed
rebellion and enemy intervention at the height of a major war. That war was not only with
the traditional enemy, France, but also with the ideological tyranny of revolutionary
republicanism. The British administration therefore had very practical reasons for concern
and reform, additionally however they now had an excuse to end “Grattan’s Parliament”
conceded at a time of weakness in 1782. The pre-1782 Dublin parliament had taken much
money and effort to “manage” in the preceding centuries. Clashes between Westminster
and Dublin had occurred since 1782, it was in the interest of the privy council in London to
rectify this situation. The union of the Scottish and English parliaments had come about in
1707, rationalisation called for the “tidy” centralisation of parliamentary activity at

It took two years to bring about the end of the Irish parliament, it could not have been
achieved unless sufficient Irish parliamentarians were rattled by the “Ninety Eight” and saw
protestant self-interest and security best preserved within a United Kingdom. The end of
local independence might well be a necessary and worthwhile sacrifice to preserve crown,
religion and property. Pitt’s first attempt at union was defeated by 111 votes to 106 in
January 1799. There were still an assortment of parliamentary vested interests, ‘patriots’
and those who feared for the protestant cause. All these strongly opposed a union. The
placemen could be “bought” in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century tradition. The
‘patriots’ and those aware that Irish commerce in general and the prosperity of Dublin in
particular would suffer, could not be bought but some were persuaded. Many ultra
protestants (not just the Orange interest, but those like John Foster [the Speaker of the
Irish House of Commons]) rightly perceived union to be a Trojan horse by which British
concessions to catholics would undermine the protestant ascendancy in Ireland. It would
take a generation to win many of the protestant interest to the union but waverers of
various motives were won over by the inescapable logic of Lord Chancellor Fitzgibbon’s
speech in favour of the union:

“…Next, if we become one people with England, the army of the Empire will be employed
where it is most wanted for general service; and so long as it is found necessary garrison
every district in Ireland, for the internal safety of the country, force may be stationed here,
without incurring additional expense in either country…”

No longer would protestants be a vulnerable minority in their own country they would be
part of a majority in a state where catholics would never be a majority.

However Pitt’s sweetener for the catholic majority was to be their emancipation, the “Trojan
horse” feared by the protestant interest. He argued that Ireland’s susceptibility to
subversion and invasion was in part at least due to catholic alienation and exclusion from
the system. Prior to the revolution in France catholicism was a natural ally of the “most
catholic King of the French”; now French royalists and the church were allies against the
atheism and republicanism of revolutionary France. The French-educated hierarchy of Irish
catholicism endorsed this view and looked to London for constructive amelioration.

Doc 2iii
Undated list of promises of promotion written by Under Secretary Edward Cooke
(Castlereagh Papers)
Pensions and Privy Councillor
Representative Peer, son to the Primate for a living

Marquis and Representative Peer
Representative Peer

Representative Peer, and his son to be in Office
Representative Peer and Earl

Marquis and Ribbon and Representative Peer
Representative Peer and Earl

Representative Peer
Representative Peer and Earl

Representative Peer and to retire

Representative Peer
Earl. Bishopric

Representative Peer

British Peer
Representative Peer

Representative Peer

British Peer, Marquis, Lord Loftus, son in church

Representative Peer and Viscount

Representative Peer and Privy Councillor
Representative Peer

Representative Peer
Viscount and £1,000 a year

British Peer
Representative Peer. Viscount

Lord Conyngham
Representative Peer
Representative Peer

Representative Peer
Son a Peer


Viscount and Earldom promised and Bishopric for his son

His place for life

An Earl

Representative Peer

Doc 2iv
Letter from the Chief Secretary Castlereagh to the British Home Secretary reporting on the
narrowness of Parliamentary support for the Union.

Private Dublin Castle 23rd January, 1799

My Lord,

Your Grace will be informed by the Lord Lieutenant’s dispatch of the outline and result of
yesterday’s proceeding. I am truly sorry it was not more favourable. We certainly had
reason to expect an attendance of 150 friends from the interests that went with us, but
various causes reduced our strength to 107. Only two of Lord Downshire’s* and three of
Lord Ely’s appeared. Several stayed away on whom we had reason to count, and others
who had promised their support left us in the course of the debate. Lord de Clifford’s
members did not attend.

Our discussion lasted 20 hours. The question was discussed boldly and fairly by our
friends, but the clamour and management, with the assistance of the Chair, was against us.
We rejected the amendment by a single vote. Under circumstances so discouraging, I could
not rely on the adherence of our friends. I felt it therefore necessary to guard against a
defeat (knowing they meant to proceed immediately to move their amendments) and to
intimate to the House that the measure would not be further proceeded in without giving
timely notice; that the feelings of Parliament, as disclosed in the debate etc., would meet
with all due consideration; but I distinctly stated that it was a measure which Government
never would abandon or lose sight of.

The language of the opposition was most violent, in general denying the competence of
Parliament to entertain the measure, and hinting (in very intelligible terms) resistance. It
was met with decision, but the zeal and clamour of our opponants gave them a manifest

We shall tomorrow resist any alteration in the Address, and wait for your Grace’s further
instructions. I trust your Grace will approve what has been yielded to from necessity.

I have the honour to remain
With the highest respect in haste
Your Grace’s most faithful servant

His Grace
The Duke of Portland

*Castlereagh was incorrect in believing Downshire was in favour of Union. (See Doc 2vi

Doc 2v
Letter from Cornwallis, the Lord Lieutenant on political jobbery (from the Cornwallis
Correspondence, vol iii)

Phoenix Park, June 8, 1799

Dear Ross,

….. My occupation is now of the most unpleasant nature, negotiating and jobbing with the
most corrupt people under heaven. I despise and hate myself every hour for engaging in
such dirty work, and am supported only by the reflection that without an Union the British
Empire must be dissolved …….

I am &c.

Doc 2vi
Anti-Union circular from the Marquis of Downshire, the Earl of Charlemont and William
Ponsonby urging the Irish counties to get up petitions to Parliament. Although parliamentary
opposition to the Union had declined this circular helped raise extra-parliamentary

Dublin, January 20, 1800


A number of Gentlemen of both Houses of Parliament, of whom thirty-eight represent
Counties, have authorised us to acquaint you, that it is their Opinion, that Petitions to
Parliament, declaring the real Sense of the Freeholders of the Kingdom on the Subject of a
Legislative Union, would, at this Time, be highly expedient; and if such a Proceeding shall
have your Approbation, we are to request you will use your Influence to have such a
Petition from your County without Delay.

We have the Honor to be, Sir,
Your most obedient, humble Servants,

WB Ponsonby

The Act of Union
The Act of Union was no ordinary piece of legislation it was a fundamental law, effectively a
constitution. Though the existing enactments of both parliaments remained in force and
Dublin Castle’s administration remained, everything else was written and enshrined anew.
Once written it became a shibboleth to be preserved at all costs (i.e. unionism); whilst
nationalism sought to amend the union to destruction. Inflexible approaches – to an
“untidy” and flawed piece of legislation meant that over the subsequent 120 years
entrenched defence of the union may well have created a demand for national
self-determination that fed on a combination of old and new myths, that had not previously
existed outside the circles of the United Irishmen.

Eventually Castlereagh (Chief Secretary, who acted as the advocate for the London
government’s policy in the College Green parliament) secured a comfortable Commons
majority of 158 to 115 for the dissolution of the Irish parliament and the creation of the
Union. Naturally much was made by nationalists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of
the bribery involved in ending the College Green parliament: men were bought and
borough owners were compensated, likewise powerful anti unionists like John Foster were
sacked. The degree of buying and selling may have been within the then accepted bounds
of eighteenth century parliamentary management. The level of political and public debate
was high and intense and some were won over by the arguments of those such as
Fitzgibbon mentioned above.

The main terms of the Act of Union of 1800 were as follows:

The Irish parliament was abolished.
28 representative Irish peers and the 4 Anglican archbishops were to sit in the House of
100 MPs would sit in the House of Commons
The established Churches of England and Ireland were united as one.
Ireland would, for a period of transition, retain its own Exchequer and be responsible for its
own national debt. The system would be regularly reviewed to enable the eventual merging
of the two systems.
Ireland would contribute 2/17 towards joint UK expenditure.
Customs duties on a specified range of manufactured goods would remain for 20 years.
Existing tariffs would be adjusted in the interests of fairness.
The enactments of both parliaments would remain in force, unless they (or the Act of Union
itself) were amended by the United Kingdom parliament.
Pitt’s government was never able to bring about catholic emancipation, the combination of
British (including Irish) parliamentary opinion together with the hostility of George III
meant that the issue was quietly dropped. This may have satisfied those of the protestant
interest but it created or confirmed Irish catholic opinion’s belief in the fundamental
cynicism and insincerity of the British. Catholics though excluded from membership of
“Grattan’s Parliament” began to look on that assembly at College Green as more than a
protestant parliament – as a Patriot Parliament that had spoken for Ireland. Thus the myth
of a golden age of 18 years, between 1782 and 1800 was born. “Grattan’s Parliament” had
been “stolen” by Perfidious Albion, who then cynically reneged on the promise of catholic
emancipation. It should not be forgotton that the catholic hierarchy broadly accepted the
Union with its promise of emancipation. The catholic church had been hostile to the ’98
Rebellion and many catholics served in the regular forces and the militia. Britain or more
commonly “England” could add the “Union” and catholic emancipation to the broken
promises of the Treaty of Limerick (1691). The catholic lawyer Daniel O’Connell had from
the outset opposed the Union (obviously from outside parliament); over the next generation
and a half he was to mould Irish nationalism around the twin pillars of catholic emancipation
and the Repeal of the Act of Union.

After the turmoil of the ’90s and the political furore of the Union debate the early years of
the nineteenth century were quiet excepting the momentary fiasco of Robert Emmet’s
Dublin rebellion of 1803 (this being the last physical spasm of the United Irishmen). Life
went on for most as before – producing and earning a living under wartime conditions. The
College Green parliament had affected the propertied classes, the law and the churches but
(as with Great Britain) had not affected on a day-to-day basis the bulk of the non-political
and unpropertied nation. Gradually, however, Dublin became a ghost of its former self: it
was now no longer a capital city merely a provincial one. Physically and socially Dublin
therefore suffered a malaise, part of which may well have happened due to the relative
stagnation of the Irish economy in the nineteenth century, which was largely due to factors
unconnected with the Act of Union.

Ireland with a population roughly equating to half of that of Great Britain retained its
administration – Dublin Castle – despite legislative union. The Irish ascendancy retained its
monopoly of internal Irish patronage and its control of the administration; the vice regal
court in what was now a mere provincial city continued but became an increasing absurdity
and anachronism. The retention of anglican ascendancy at the Castle was inevitable given
the size and scope of Irish administration and with the absence of catholic emancipation it
was inevitable that landed members of the established church should continue as office
holders. It would be truly absurd to imagine that in an age when land and patronage were
the keys to power that the anglican ascendancy would not continue to exercise power and
influence. With catholic emancipation in 1829, the development of a Victorian meritocracy
and the attitudes of men such as Robert Peel, John Burgoyne and Thomas Drummond the
Castle would change – slowly.

Characteristics of the Union
It was natural that there would be a nationalist critique of the ‘Castle’ – it symbolised the
Union interest and by class, religion and politics nationalists were outsiders. They were
sometimes jealous of the perks of office and influence but at other times hostile to the very
concept of an administration staffed by their political enemies.

The Union however was flawed even if one leaves aside the nationalist critique. The act
promulgated union yet Ireland was ruled differently to Great Britain: special legislation
frequently treated the country separately (because it was different) and yet on other
occasions quite inappropriate pieces of legislation such as the 1838 Irish Poor Law (largely
mirroring the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act) were imposed. Ireland was sometimes
treated differently and sometimes inflexibly the same. British assumptions failed to allow
for a multitude of differences: Ireland was theoretically treated as an integral part of the
United Kingdom, but given the attention of a colony. As only 1 in 6 MPs represented Irish
constituencies it was seldom in 120 years of dynamic change and reform that Ireland
received consistent intelligent attention that would allow for marked social, economic and
religious differences, let alone different sets of cultural norms. Ireland did receive intelligent
government as well as coercive security measures but the former like the latter was a
species of crisis management implemented whenever Irish affairs boiled over to obtrude
into British parliamentary and administrative life. Ireland was at times a social laboratory
where imaginative and sometimes progressive departures from laissez faire were made,
which the government of the day would never have dreamed of enacting for Great Britain

The degree to which nineteenth century history followed a prima facie nationalist agenda is
a debatable theme: the fate of the Union was a direct issue for under half of the nineteenth
century (though the primary issue in the twenty relevant years of the twentieth century);
for much of the nineteenth century (including those decades devoted to Repeal or Home
Rule) religion and land were the major issues on the political agenda. The Union had been
based on these twin pillars and at each stage they had been proclaimed to be permanent
and invioble. Their attrition undermined the Union throughout because of the inflexible
guarantees and apparent safeguards that had been written into the union and subsequently
endorsed by generations of government ministers.

To argue that the Union relationship between Britain (England?) and Ireland was inflexible
as well as being unsatisfactory is not strictly true. Governments claimed the Union was
unalterable but in practice it was constantly evolving. As Oliver MacDonagh has pointed out
(Ireland, The Union and its aftermath) the Ireland of 1914 was largely shaped by Britain,
similarly Britain was changed substantially by the precedent of the Irish social laboratory
and by migration. Moreover British parliamentary life was changed utterly by the most
dynamic political force of the late nineteenth century, Parnell and his parliamentary party.
Governments before 1880 had been altered by their Irish experience and they had taken
on board part at least of what O’Connell in particular had advocated; but in the world of the
1880s and beyond the “Irish” nationalists (and unionists) set the agenda for British politics
and almost ruled despite the union arithmetic that the Irish MP only made up a sixth of the
House of Commons. Perhaps two closely placed islands could not be anything other than
Siamese twins with or without an Act of Union, whether perfect or flawed.

The Administration – an overview
Irish local government lacked the manpower and money to develop a voluntary system of
control and administration that was one of the most stabilising elements of the British
political system. In England for centuries most of the duties of justice and local government
had devolved on a numerous and conscientious gentry that was a homogeneous part of
general society. In Ireland the thinly spread, sometimes absent and often alien country
gentry could not undertake the multitudinous roles of administration practised and extended
in nineteenth century Britain. From an early stage such functions were professionalised and
nationalised, the burden falling on the taxpayer rather than on the insubstantial ratepayer.

Unarmed, county police forces grew up from 1829 onwards in Britain. The relatively lawless
nature of Ireland (traditional secret societies, faction fighting and land hunger) meant that a
stronger and different police force developed in Ireland earlier than in Britain. It was
nationally trained, directed and recruited; it was a gendarmerie rather than a local and
civilian force. Its origins lay with Robert Peel’s Peace Preservation Force of 1814 and the
Constabulary of 1822 that were to merge as the Irish Constabulary (largely catholic - later
Royal) in 1836, becoming nationally controlled. Its expertise and experience were to make
it the blueprint for (significantly) British colonial policing in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries that like the Irish Constabulary were to develop a multitude of administrative
duties carried out by local government in Britain. Only in Dublin did a Metropolitan Police
develop and survive on the British model (1836). Parallel with policing was the
establishment of a resident magistracy (RMs), partly to fill the vacuum created by an
insufficiently homogonous and numerous gentry to act as JPs and partly to compensate for
the potential political bias and perceived venality of the landowning classes. To have
widened the scope of Irish local administration would have admitted catholics to power and
influence thus introducing greater polarisation than the nationalising of administrative and
judicial functions. Whatever its efficiency (and degree of inadequacy) the administration’s
very institution and imposition in an increasingly democratic century made it susceptible to
nationalist criticism.

In the field of public health and social welfare the provisions of the Irish model largely
predated those of Britain. By-and-large the Irish model was superior; only in relation to the
Poor Law did the system fail, largely because when the inadequate English system was
imposed it was quite unsuited for both Ireland’s economy and demography. Though the
quality differed widely from place to place: 600-odd public dispensaries providing free
medicine and care were set up between 1805 and 1840. When compared with Britain (and
elsewhere) this was quite revolutionary and very progressive. Similarly a network of locally
financed county infirmaries and fever hospitals received government grants. Mental
provision was provided by regional hospitals and national inspection, this was in marked
contrast to the heterogeneous and ad hoc nature of nineteenth century British provision.

From 1817 onwards central government loans were available not only for public works
projects but for ventures that were largely commercial. The absence of a sufficiently
sophisticated economic and organic infrastructure (and for that matter a sufficiently large
and public spirited voluntary sector – which Peel saw as the main cause of Ireland’s
problems) meant that very modern if not “socialistic” expedients were to be found. Actions
by the Board of Works (1831) and the Ordnance Survey (from 1825) went far beyond the
laissez faire and limited roles of similar bodies in Great Britain. Towards the end of the
nineteenth century the establishment of the Congested Districts Board made provision for
industry, fisheries and agricultural investment. This used taxpayer’s money and the
disendowed funds of the Church of Ireland in the poor western counties.

The provision of a national Board of Education (1831) provided syllabuses, teacher training,
an inspectorate and schools two years before the first English education grant and some 39
years before the first provision of State education in England and Wales. Such progressive
provision was a largely negative response to the revolutionary and anarchic risk of illiteracy
and lack of instruction that might develop in a vacuum. Moreover – horror of horrors – this
vacuum might be filled by the superstitious and potentially seditious catholic church! In
much the same vein Peel’s Queen’s Colleges of 1845 were to provide secular university
education. From an early stage the university initiative ran into political and religious
controversy that was to be a major issue in Irish and Westminster politics through to the
early years of the twentieth century.

These expedients were largely in response to vacuums in the Irish economy and due to a
lack of suitable (objective) manpower. Whether born of need, want or fear they certainly
provided Ireland with a largely centralised and uniform degree of inspection and
professionalism, giving it a relatively well-planned and adequate infrastructure.

Mention has been made previously of the relative stagnation of the nineteenth century Irish
economy. Nationalism tended to stress the cynical and exploitative nature of the Union and
that when Irish tariffs were removed in 1821 the Irish economy fell prey to British
depredations. This is too simplistic an explanation and does not take into account that
willy-nilly Ireland was geographically too close to the economic giant that dominated Europe
(if not the world) for much of the nineteenth century. Britain’s abundant supply of coal, iron
and its long maritime and commercial tradition made it inevitable that Ireland would be
eclipsed in industrial and commercial terms. Reasonable provision had been made in 1800.
Though the two exchequers were united in 1817 Ireland enjoyed lower rates of taxation
until the 1850s. Despite the eighteenth century industrial revolution no British (or Irish)
politician could have foretold the magnitude of Britain’s economic advance any more than
observers could have foretold that Britain would totally eclipse the great enemy France in
the nineteenth century both in terms of population and industry. This preferential treatment
was ended by Gladstone’s budgets of 1853-5 and Disraeli’s of 1858. The initial relative
generosity of the Union settlement was therefore wiped out by the insensitive adoption of
fiscal uniformity at a time when the economic differentials between the two islands
increased. Such moves though logical in terms of political union, indicated Gladstone’s
doctrinaire (though optimistic) approach to financial affairs. Disraeli merely completed the
process that his rival had created.

During many phases of the nineteenth century Britain would suffer a decline and dislocation
in particular industries leading to unemployment and social unrest; the dynamism of its
economy generally found new openings. Britain in this sense was unique, only eastern
Ulster was able to consolidate its position by developing its traditional linen industry as its
cotton industry declined. In contrast the Irish woollen industry was unable to survive or
adjust. Though reference will be made below to ad hoc intervention in the Irish economy
and social administration by central government it was beyond the means or brief of any
(nineteenth century) government to intervene on a more massive scale. Surely the proof of
this is that despite the protectionist and to a degree interventionist policies of Irish
governments since independence Ireland remained poor, its chief export (and money
earner) being manpower. Only with the new economy of the last twenty years and the
massive impact of the EU has Ireland become a net economic and employment gainer.