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Historical Summary
18th-19th Centuries

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People of Ireland
Early 1700's
Mid 1700's
and the 1760's 1770's  1780's  1790's 1800's  1810's  1820's 1830's  1840's

Also: Costumes

These summaries are a supplement to the family histories and place the ancestor's stories in their historical context. They tell of only the major events that could have affected the ancestors living in these places and times, and are collected from several sources 1.

The People of Ireland in the 1700's

Original Irish
The Celtic people of Ireland who received Christianity during the 600's A.D. and absorbed the Viking invasions of the 800's and 900's remained Catholic after the Reformation, and are agricultural peasants in the 1700's. They mostly speak Gaelic.

Old English
The Normans from England who invaded Ireland during the late 1100's and governed for some centuries, became 'more Irish than the Irish'. By the 1400's, the Old English and Original Irish were the allied rulers of Ireland. Some became Protestant, but most remained Catholic. Neither the Old English or Original Irish held power after the 1500's, and they were thoroughly defeated in the rebellions of the 1600's by new English and Scottish settlers. In the 1700's, many of these people speak Gaelic, hold positions across the socio-economic spectrum defined by their religion, and are distinguishable by their Anglo-Norman surnames, e.g. FitzGerald.

English and Scottish settlers
Protestants from England and Scotland were settled on lands confiscated from the Irish by the Tudors in the 1500's, and Stuarts in the 1600's, especially during the Plantation of Ulster. They fought against the Irish rebellion of 1641, and most supported King William III during his successful invasion concluded in 1691. More settlers arrived in the late 1600's and together the settlers were known as 'the English in Ireland' and controlled most of the land, church and government until the early 1900's. They mostly speak English, and are considered ascendant, or privilidged.

Historical Summary
Ireland - Early 1700's

The century opens with the death of King William III of England and Scotland in 1702. His legacy in Ireland is a Protestant Nation where his supporters in the religious battles of the last decade are now in the ascendancy, and his Catholic opponents are the targets of marginalization and penalization. The Irish parliament is also under William's thumb, and they must disavow themselves of Catholic doctrines. For their allegiance to Catholic King James II, the Irish Catholics were disarmed, their bishops banished. Penal laws were introduced to strengthened the position of the English Protestants in power, and reduce the Irish Catholics to impotent servants.

In this era, Catholics are not permitted to vote, marry a Protestant, join the armed forces, bare arms, even for protection, or be educated as Catholics abroad. They make up 70% of the population of around 2 million, yet own only 5% of the land. Farming in Ireland, although overseen by the advantaged English Protestants, is farmed by the greatly disadvantaged Irish Catholics and is woefully inefficient. Protestants can will property to their one eldest son, maintaining the large estate size, whereas Catholics are forced to divide properties among all male heirs and over time their lands shrink into tiny plots. Protestant land owners often live in England, lease their farms to 'squireens' who further subdivide the expensive yet unimproved land to Catholic tenants. There is little incentive to make land improvements as this increases the value and therefore the rent. The result is frequent food production shortfalls. In 1729 Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral and anonymous pamphleteer, publishes "A Modest Proposal" -- a sharp satire of the Irish predicament, suggesting the rich should eat the children of the poor, to the benefit of both parties. His works lead economic criticism from 1713-1745.

The situation is different in the northern province of Ulster. It had already been colonized by Scottish and English Protestants over the last century and faired better than the three southern ones due to its unique linen trade. Linen production, brought by French Huguenot refugees, was an exception in the Irish economy. Due to severe trade restrictions, any commodity that competed with England could not be exported. Linen alone had no significant English producers. As are all provinces of Ireland, Ulster is subject to religious persecutions of her non-Church of England inhabitants. Although her Catholic population had been largely displaced, Scottish Presbyterians are also forced to accept the English Church and many suffer exclusion from civil service and the military from 1704-1718. Although most restrictions are eventually lifted, Presbyterians must still recognize the dominance of the English Church and pay tithes. They call themselves Dissenters and often oppose the Crown.

English Protestant landowners enjoy renewed peace and prosperity, build great mansions and expand their estates. In 1714 the Georgian Era begins when George I takes the throne of the United Kingdom (so called when England swallowed Scotland in 1702). He continues to strengthen the parliament by his disinterest in ruling and over the next few decades, the power of parliamentary government overshadows the monarchy. In 1720, the British parliament passes the Sixth of George I Act allowing it to pass legislation in Ireland without the agreement of the Irish parliament. While Irish Protestants take advantage of their privileged position, some look enviously to the British gentry and yearn for control of their own parliament again.

Costumes of the Early 1700's

Historical Summary
Ireland - Middle 1700's

Economic hardships plague Ireland in the mid 1700's and the internalized harvest-dependant economy keeps Ireland on the brink of calamity. Low prices cause a bank failure in 1733 and famine strikes in 1740 causing bread riots in Dublin. The next year brings dysentery and 400,000 die in the year of the slaughter. The suggestion to cultivate the sturdier corn is met by calls of unfair competition from Britain, and famine returns in 1744 reducing the poor to eating grass.

An opposition group in the Irish Parliament known as the 'patriots', pushes for greater independence from Great Britain. They succeed in embarrassing the crown government, especially in 1753, when their influence causes the rejection of a Money Bill which would have given the King the right to dispose of surplus revenue.

The Ascendancy again benefits in 1758 when exports of cattle and beef are reinstated. Many landlords expand their estates into common pastures lands at the expense of their Catholic tenants. Fences are erected, and soon, secret societies form, violently opposed the erosion of their rural livelihood. They destroy fences and livestock, and protect farmers from eviction over extortionate tithes. Secret societies address grievances with violence, yet  government attempts to halt them are unsuccessful.

The prosperity of the mid-1700's, in part aided by growing overseas markets, begins a population boom. Famine has kept the population around 2 million, but by the end of this century, this number of people will double. This is accompanied by the growth of cities like Dublin, Belfast and Derry. Health improvements and decreased infant mortality are factors in the population increases. Agriculture, pasturing, and the promotion of cottage industries have caused the deforestation of much of the landscape by this century. The population is concentrated in the east, and quite sparse in the west, with the majority of people speaking the Irish or Gaelic language. Even in Ulster, Gaelic is spoken by the descendants of Scottish colonists of the last century. It is at this point, though, that English usage begins to increase due to itinerant Catholic English-speaking school teachers.

In 1752, Great Britain adopts the Gregorian Calendar. The date is progressed 11 days to match the European date, where this calendar has been used since 1582.

Costumes of the Mid 1700's

Historical Summary
Ireland 1760's

The growth of both political extremes: the agrarian secret societies and the parliamentary Patriots, show there is a common Irish desire for freedom from oppression. Their views on oppression are quite contrasting, however, as the religious British imposed inequalities  have created grave socio-economic and judicial disadvantages for Catholics. Granted, by now there have been two generations of peace since the Williamite Protestant victory and mutual trust is increasing. Yet, the traditional religious opposition and growth of extremism are tragic weaknesses that will plague both sides' efforts for freedom in the late 1700's.

The agrarian secret societies want better governance than the Protestants can provide -- whether they be Irish or British. They want freer lands for grazing, markets for their goods, and protection from famine and poverty. Poor harvests in Ulster prompt further violence against the British rule, yet not all Catholics support secret societies. In 1759, French defeat in British North America opens the way for many better-off farmers to emigrate and escape both famine and religious persecution.

The Patriots want freedom from the British parliament in Westminster, and eventually a self ruling Protestant nation. Under the leadership of Henry Flood, the Patriots succeed in passing the Octennial Act, an effort to further strengthen parliament and its accountability to the franchise. At a time when the British stir over King George III's stacking of the parliament in his favour, the Octennial Act increases elections to at least once every eight years giving the Irish Protestant voters more influence of its elected members. Previously, an Irish parliament, once elected, lasted throughout a sovereign's reign.

Costumes of the 1760's

Historical Summary
Ireland 1770's

Henry Grattan takes the leadership of the Patriots in 1775 and watches with interest the American Revolution. As British armies remove to North America, Grattan convinces parliament to authorize an armed volunteer Protestant militia to guard against a possible Franco-Spanish revolutionary invasion. The Volunteers also come to exert political force and non-importation associations follow their lead in promoting Irish goods over imports. By decade's end, they are rallying for freer trade, supporting the Patriots in the Irish parliament. In 1779, Lord North, British Prime Minister, responds by removing trade barriers, substantially increasing export revenues.

Technology exerts influence over the economy, though, when in 1775 the improved steam powered engine is first offered to industry (a pump for mining). The Industrial Revolution in Britain has begun, but mechanization of Ireland occurs slowly due to the severe trade restrictions this decade, and only in Ulster, where the linen industry was established in the last century.

Costumes of the 1770's

Historical Summary
Ireland 1780's

Henry Grattan, now the Irish nationalist leader and bolstered by recent cooperation from the British parliament in Westminster, suggests home rule in the Dublin parliament in 1780. It is defeated by British representatives, but sympathy for the American colonies and those Irish who have joined them prompts disobedience to the crown in even local magistrates. In 1782, as the American Colonies win their independence, Grattan leads parliament to demand greater legislative separation from Britain. Current Prime Minister Lord Rockingham repeals the Sixth of George I Act and the Irish parliament may now control law making in Ireland. Although they proudly call this stronger body Grattan's Parliament, it is corrupt and disunited.

Henry Flood, now dominating the Volunteers, criticizes Grattan for not going far enough. He forces the Renunciation Act in 1783 to further establish Irish legislative independence. Pushing for the reform of parliament itself, Flood is voted down and the Volunteers' power vanishes. Grattan does manage to give Catholics greater freedom of education and land ownership, but the parliament would extend them no political rights. To the Ascendancy, Catholic rights would threaten their prosperity -- having to compete for land they won through religious inequality. The growing disrespect for the corruption and disunity of parliament damages the whole Protestant nation and nullifies any good sentiments among Catholics. Although gains have been made on both sides, their is great disagreement on the speed and direction of reform.

In Britain, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger is forced by local merchants to hold back on free trade agreements with Ireland. The insanity of George III and the revolution in France in 1789 further strengthens his desire to actually dissolve the Irish parliament and join Ireland with Great Britain.

Costumes of the 1780's

Historical Summary
Ireland 1790's

Many Irishmen see the revolution in France as an expression of their own desires for the freedoms and inherent rights of humanity. The gains in independence made in the last decade bolster efforts of both Protestants and Catholics who want more reform. Reform threatens the Ascendancy, however, who are at the height of their own Anglo-Irish patriotism, and armed conflict results.

Presbyterians in Ulster applaud the fall of the Bastille and the triumph over the French Monarchy. A young Protestant lawyer and reformer Theobald Wolfe Tone, emerges and founds the Society for United Irishmen. They and others press for religious and economic reforms and in 1793, with the support of Prime Minister Pitt and his influence over the Irish parliament, Catholics are given the vote, but still may not seek higher offices.

The Protestant Orange Society emerges as a counter-force to pro-Catholic reforms, and employs further violence in their competition for land and Protestant control. As the Catholic agrarian secret societies had done a generation ago, Protestant groups now battle for control of Ulster and prompt many Catholic peasants to join the United Irishmen. Competition for land is further heightened by population growth. Whereas the population of Ireland had remained fairly constant since the mid 1600's, it has doubled to 4.4 million in the last forty years.

In Europe, monarchies reel at the thought of revolutionary French ideals spreading to their peoples. The French repel all European attacks, and with the fervour of revolutionary freedom, make war on Britain. Wolfe Tone wishes French support in his growing crusade against British rule, and when the government tries to suppress the United Irishmen, Tone takes them underground and plans an Irish Revolution. Grattan, Patriot leader in the Irish Parliament, desires a free Ireland without violence, and criticizes both the United Irishmen and the reactionary government.

The Insurrection Act of 1796, and the addition of a Protestant land-owning Yeomanry to the militia, gives the government the strength to destroy revolutionary groups that are appearing all across Ireland. Their efforts increase when it is discovered a French landing in Bantry Bay was only turned back by high winds. In May of 1798 the reduced revolutionary forces, deprived of their quarreling leadership, rise up and attack the government forces. They are quickly defeated in Ulster, but kill many Protestants in the southern county of Wexford before they are destroyed. The insurrection is over by the time Tone lands with more French troops later in the summer, and after their defeat and capture, Tone commits suicide.

Costumes of the 1790's

Historical Summary
Ireland in the first decade of the 1800's

The rebellion begun by the United Irishmen  has confirmed British Prime Minister Pitt's fear that Ireland cannot be governed as a colony any longer. Although Grattan's parliament vetoes Pitt's proposal for union in 1799, the opposing members are either bought or removed by the parliamentary chief secretary and the Acts of Union pass as the decade opens. The Irish parliament disappears, absorbed into the Westminster parliament and Ireland becomes part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. To satisfy both reformers and anti-reformers, Pitt explains this will minoritize Catholics, yet give them a voice in a larger forum. Rebels continue to agitate, and at one occasion, led by Robert Emmet, they murder the Chief Lord Justice before fleeing to the mountains of Wicklow.

The trend towards smaller farm plots and larger family size continues in the rural Catholic communities. Famine is common, and agrarian secret societies continue their violent acts against the British rule and its Protestant ascendancy. The government passes Coercion Acts to deal more absolutely with suspects as well as criminals, increasing peasant misery. Two petitions for the removal Catholic restrictions on government participation are rejected by large parliamentary majorities, although Pitt implied Union could lead to Catholic Emancipation.

Costumes of the 1800's

Historical Summary
Ireland 1810's

Economic depression comes on the heels of two foreign wars. The Napoleonic wars end with final British victory over France, and the War of 1812 with the United States is basically a draw. Soldiers return to a time of protest, low wages, and high food prices. For the peasant farmer, the hope of Catholic Emancipation -- greater participation in government, faded with little opposition from church leaders. In 1819 Grattan's emancipation bill fails, but just barely. After more than a decade of union with Great Britain, still no Catholic is able to sit in the Westminster parliament.

Two more victories for steam are had -- an "iron horse" shows the success of rail-locomotives, and the first steam ship crosses the Atlantic in 26 days. Conventional sailing ships still take at least 60 days.

Costumes of the 1810's

Historical Summary
Ireland 1820's

Both Protestant landowner and Catholic tennant farmer have perceived a weakening of their positions. A generation has passed since the turbulent 1790's. Then, an equality minded reformist group grew into a mainly anti-Protestant movement. There was insurrection and then the dissolution of the Irish parliament. The role of the Protestant landowner is now marginalized by union with Great Britain, and promises of greater government participation made to the Catholics are unfulfilled.

Daniel O'Connel forms the Catholic Association, and holds large open-air meetings to rally support for Catholic Emancipation -- the freedom to take part in government as officials, judges, members of parliament. Membership blossoms when in 1824, a subscription of a penny a month is created so all peasants may participate.  In the 1826 general election they surprise even O'Connel. Catholic voters oust old members of parliament in favour of emancipation supporters. O'Connel, himself, is elected a member from County Clare, but refuses his seat in parliament as it still requires a renunciation of Catholicism. Now the Catholic peasantry have proven the power of their vote, and O'Connel becomes known as the Great Liberator, allowing Catholics to participate in Irish nationalism as the Protestants did before. Fearing revolution may follow, the government in Westminster is persuaded to free Catholics from further restrictions.

The last Catholic Relief Act is passed in 1829, confirming all but the highest positions in government open to both Catholics and Protestants across the United Kingdom. Just as the tide of Catholic power seems to be swelling, the government suppresses the Catholic Association and raises the property requirements to vote from 2 pounds (a.k.a. 40-Shilling freeholders), to 10 pounds. Those eligible to vote drop by 80%, and the higher requirements exclude most of the poor that supported O'Connel and strengthens the position of the Anglo-Irish gentry. The government in Westminster could not prevent Emancipation, but they succeed in reducing its effects.

In the north-east, the mechanization of industry continues and some reforms in areas of worker unions, strikes, and crime and punishment take place. The majority of wealth remains based on agricultural lands owned by gentry. The farming of food crops increased as did the price of grains during the last decade's Napoleonic War. Now, however, as world grain prices fall, the British government imposes artificially high pricing through "corn laws" to benefit landlord growers throughout the United Kingdom. Farmland in Ireland is the most dense in all of Europe due in part to the potato. It has become a staple of the rural population who may include it in two or three meals daily, as the price of grains is too high. The population continues it's upward climb, surpassing 7 million this decade.

Costumes of the 1820's

Historical Summary
Ireland 1830's

The Age of Reform continues in the United Kingdom. Voters have tasted reforms in the last decade and their social and economic influence is growing. The current Tory government believes electoral reforms will lead to revolution, but the death of King George IV results in a shift of power, and the Whigs soon control Westminster. Riots ensue as successive reform bills fail, and when the Reform Act finally passes in 1832, it is a greater benefit to England than Ireland. The 40-Shilling freeholders remain excluded from voting, but due to the mutual support between the Whigs and O'Connel's followers, reform slowly takes hold in Ireland. For instance, by 1831, a national school board is instituted and teaches to separate Protestant and Catholic schools. Although half the population still speaks Gaelic, all schooling is conducted in English. Reforms also abolish the act of slavery in all British possessions, and improve child labour laws.

A Tithe War breaks out in the southern counties in 1830 when the newly assessed payments to the Church of Ireland exceed reasonable expectations. The poorest are required to pay more, and agricultural depression drives landholders to withhold their tithes. By 1833, the civil disobedience has spread throughout Ireland with the support of both landowners and the Catholic Bishops and is the most widespread agrarian protest yet. After violent attacks by Yeoman appropriating property, and the reprisals made against them by peasant farmers, collections cease that year. By 1838 tithes are converted to fairer rents and the unrest subsides.

The British Poor Law arrives in 1838, bringing the dreaded workhouse where the destitute, aged and sick could find "relief". Each workhouse was supported by the landlords in it's Poor Law union, and unlike England where all had the right to apply for relief, the local landlords voted in a commission to oversee policies. The workhouses were degrading, removed the poorest from their land, often separating families and removing all possibility of a return to self-sufficiency for its users.

Government slowly becomes more popular with Catholics because of people like Thomas Drummond, under-secretary of Ireland. Following O'Connel's lead, he organized the Royal Irish Constabulary as a less coercive police force, and reduced the power of the Orange Order.

A modern postage system is developed this decade. Dickens writes his novels -- Oliver Twist especially brings to light the plight of child workers. Daguerre invents rudimentary photography. The reign of Queen Victoria begins in 1837, ushering in the Victorian Era. Hans Christian Andersen's Tales Told for Children is published, among others. Steamship service begins on the Atlantic with a record crossing time of 15 days.

Costumes of the 1830's

Historical Summary
Ireland 1840's

The century old cycle of insurrection and reform swings again towards unrest this decade, and two popular explanations define the political spectrum: some say less reform is desirable -- reform breeds revolutionary ideals as the poor are raised above their station. Some say more reform is desirable -- reform indeed prevents revolution by improving the lot of the poor.

O'Connel perceives an approaching end to the Whig government's Age of Reform and launches the National Repeal Association in 1840. His supporters want to repeal the Acts of Union of 1801. When a banned meeting spells the end for the movement in 1843, the more radical members, journalists known as 'Young Ireland', push for violent confrontation, something O'Connel would never back. As Young Ireland publications usurp O'Connel's momentum, natural disaster strikes.

The Irish population had reached 8 million, double the number over two generations ago. The diet of the poorer tenant farmers had narrowed to the highly nutritious potato and milk, contributing to greater health and lower infant mortality. Disaster struck in 1845, however, when 'potato blight' jeopardized what was a staple food for over one third the population.

The Great Famine

In September, 1845, the first signs of a fungus were discovered when, over the winter, the larger than normal crop began to rot. Corn was imported from America, but served only to lower local grain prices and raise resentment among Irish growers. The poor could not afford the corn, even at the lowered prices, and so public works were instituted by winter. The new conservative government attempted to repeal the 'corn laws' which, by reducing tariffs, would reduce food prices, but their government fell in the spring of 1846, and was replaced by an uncaring liberal Whig administration.

The potato crop of 1846 was a near complete failure. The Whigs refused further corn shipments, prices returned to higher levels, and the poor began to starve. Disease struck those who desperately ate raw seafood. Workhouses swelled and public works became a national hardship -- the starving forced to work on un-needed roads and fences, outdoors in the horrible winter of 1846/47. Angering the impoverished most was that grain exports which, although half of their normal size, continued to leave Ireland, with no attempt by the British government to use them to feed Ireland. Food was still available at market, though at three times last year's prices. In the spring of 1847, public works, already falling below starvation wages, were stopped altogether. With poor streaming into the remaining filthy and disease ridden workhouses, so began the year called Black '47.

To finance workhouses for the destitute, the British government put the burden onto the landlords, the rate payers, through the Poor Law Extension Act passed in the fall of 1847. Workhouses would be supported by the taxes paid by the owners based on their occupied lands. As rent-payers weren't able to pay rent any longer, and land taxes were based on occupation and not rent, the method of choice to reduce tax was tenant eviction. And so the starving also became homeless.

With the generosity and humanitarian support shown by groups like the Quakers, the Government attitude eventually began to change. First they provided free soup kitchens feeding 3 million a day by summer 1847. This was seen to be too little, too late. In some cases, children were offered haven in mission schools in return for their re-education under Protestantism. Often, many refused soup because of these abuses, and as few as those abuses may have been, those who did take soup were called "soupers", and the name remained in use for over a century.

Many landlords contributed to the aid of their tenants, but were often reduced to evicting them as their wealth was exhausted. Many were cruel and chose to shun the poor, but again, it is said that even if all had behaved well and generously, the burden would still surpass their combined efforts. Much responsibility for the tragedy falls on the British government. Some went as far as to call it genocide. Public sentiments of men in power, especially the man in charge of famine relief, Assistant to the Exchequer Charles Trevellian, supported this statement -- many believed that the famine was a natural result of over population, and should be left to its own ends.

The Irish left their island in droves. First the richer landowners whose rents had gone unpaid but still could afford travel, and then the poor who may only have had enough to sail to England, Scotland and Wales, ventured off the island. Three hundred thousand left for the nearer British Isles in 1847, the most popular port being Liverpool. The fact that Britain was entering a recession made the reception only moderately better than staying at home. One hundred thousand went to Canada the same year, landing in the Maritimes and Grosse Ille, Quebec before passage to the hinterlands. Over a million went to the United States, landing mostly in New York City. Ocean voyages were long, at least six weeks in the cheaper sailing vessels, but the prospects after landing may have seemed worth the sickness continuing on the journey. In 1847, one in seven did not survive the crossing, about the same odds of surviving the famine.

It was the poor who suffered the most and died in Ireland. The pattern of land redistribution bears this out: those plots under 5 acres dropped to one third their pre-famine number, while those of 30 acres, or more, tripled in count. Much of the land left by the dead or emigrated was taken over for grazing livestock. One million had died, and one and a half million escaped during the late 1840's.

The year 1848 was a particularly violent one in all of Europe with rebellions in Italy, Germany and Austria. France removes its monarch and becomes a republic. Hopes for a second French aided Irish revolt are quashed when the Young Ireland party is broken up in a skirmish, its leaders arrested. Support for an uprising is too hard won -- the poor are reduced to subsistence and cannot fight.

Costumes of the 1840's

Irish history currently being re-editted. Periods from 1850's on will return shortly. Sorry for the inconvenience. MB 9 Nov 1999