There are few corners of the British Empire which have undergone such a complex inter-relationship with Britain. Ireland has been claimed as part of a kingdom under the English Crown; some of the first plantations were established in Ireland; it declared itself a Confederacy under the Stuart Kings during the mid-Seventeenth Century; it was granted its own parliament in the Eighteenth Century; it became a formal part of the United Kingdom in the Nineteenth Century; And it was split into two parts with one part becoming a Dominion and then going on to become the first colony to declare its independence from Britain. There are few places within the British Empire that can claim to have gone through so many major political transitions and imperial models as Ireland has - and one small part of the island is still constitutionally linked to Britain to this day. This page attempts to outline in more detail this complex relationship between Britain and Ireland and the role Ireland played within the imperial framework.
The Normans and Ireland
It is tempting to claim that England's imperial interests in Ireland stretch all the way back to the Normans in the 12th Century. On the face of it, it does appear that the Normans were eager to extend their control into Ireland when requested to intervene in a domestic Irish quarrel by Dermot MacMurrough the ousted King of Leinster in 1169. The Normans were notoriously hungry for land and glory and Ireland seemed to offer both. England and Wales had been largely pacified and carved up amongst the Norman aristocracy. However, the intervention of the Normans was little more than a feudal extension of this small warrior elite who were themselves invaders of both England and Wales. They had no popular backing for their interventions in Ireland and were only officially supported when it was convenient to the King of England and/or to the Pope in Rome. When it became too costly or complicated, the Norman lords were left to fend for themselves and make their own deals with the existing Gaelic nobility. Indeed, over time the Normans married into the ruling families of Ireland and merely provided an infusion of aristocracy into the existing social structures of the island. In Medieval times, there was just the one Christian (Catholic) Church and so there were few religious difficulties in the communities marrying into one another. Through intermarriage and cultural interchange, the Normans became Gaelicised themselves and would become known as the 'Old English'. Paradoxically, these 'Old English' would prove to be some of the staunchest resisters to later Protestant English interference in Irish affairs. Ireland avoided much of the Reformational zeal which swept through much of Northern Europe and was one of the few Northern territories to continue to adhere to Catholic teachings as it had done so for centuries before. In England, the Reformation began in earnest during the time of the Tudors - who were also the Royal family which most wished to resurrect an element of control and domain over the island of Ireland.
The Tudors and Ireland
Ireland in the Empire
The English Pale, c1515
The status of Ireland began to take on a strategic dimension as England became a larger and more confident player in European political, dynastic and later religious struggles. English monarchs began to fret that rival powers like Spain or France might use Ireland as a launching pad for an invasion of England itself. It began to be seen as an Achilles heel and one that had to be denied to any would-be aggressor. Thanks to the Wars of the Roses, England had been riven by civil war and domestic strife. This only came to an end with the victory of Henry VII in 1485. Once Henry had imposed his control on the English throne, he began to consider consolidating his power over in Ireland where English control barely extended beyond what was called 'The Pale'. Effectively, Ireland was controlled by a variety of local lords and chieftans.

Henry attempted to assert nominal control over England through his Lord Deputy Sir Edward Poynings. Poynings was able to get the Irish Parliament in 1494 to agree that it could only be called with the King of England's prior approval and that any attempt to discuss future legislation or to pass laws also had to have the king's prior agreement. In addition, any law passed in England automatically applied to Ireland. The so-called 'Poyning's Law' reasserted England's claims of primacy over the governance of Ireland. However, this was more of a notional claim than a real one. In practice, it did little to prevent the lords and chieftans of Ireland from continuing their control and rule over their parts of Ireland. Besides, it suited these Irish chieftan's to have a 'hands off' king over the sea and far away than to have one of their own take primacy on the island and use his power to dominate the other lords and chieftans. Henry got a peaceful kingdom on his doorstep which required no garrisoning or expensive campaigns to subdue whilst the Irish aristocracy kept their status and privileges whilst not having to worry about power accumulating in the hands of an activist king.

In 1541, the Irish Parliament agreed to bestow on Henry the title of 'King of Ireland'. Once again, it was little more than a paper title, but one that seemed to tie the two kingdoms closer than ever before. Given that Henry had broken with Rome, there was some dispute as to how this would effect his title as 'Lord of Ireland' and so this was an attempt to clarify the new constitutional arrangement. Again, it suited much of the Irish aristocracy to agree to granting the title. Henry cleverly used the occasion to reaffirm a feudal connection between the Irish lords and his own kingship. He reissued and formally acknowledged aristocratic titles to all those who pledged allegiance to him. This conferred a new sense of legitimacy to the feudal lords - both Gaelic and Old English - to continue their rule over their lands and peoples. The fact that Henry VIII called himself the 'King of Ireland' rather than the 'King of England who also reigned over Ireland' seemed to confer an additional degree of separation and identity that was welcomed by much of the Irish nobility. Like his father, Henry had not needed to spend money or resources on subduing rebels in Ireland as he delegated the rule to the local aristocracy. The only fly in the ointment was the dissolution of the monasteries which offended many Catholics in Ireland. But even here, the remoteness of Ireland from Henry's affairs meant that the Catholic Church in Ireland escaped much of the excesses and violence that it had had to endure in England. Although, the seeds of a powerful division based on religious lines were certainly laid down during the reign of Henry VIII.

It was not until the reign of Elizabeth Tudor that the divisions between Catholicism and Protestantism took on a strategic dimension which would have its own consequences for England's relationship with Ireland. During the reign of Elizabeth, England increasingly defined itself by its Protestantism. Catholicism, on the other hand, was identified as representing a mortal threat to the throne of England. The Papal Bull of 1569, Jesuit missionaries, the slaughter of French Huguenots and the Spanish Armada all seemed to confirm to England that they were locked in a religious and cultural battle with very powerful forces. The fact that Ireland harboured a very large population of Catholics who were resistant to Protestantism unnerved strategic planners in Elizabeth's court as they considered the security of England from Catholic invasion. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, doubts about the security of Ireland became a self-fulfilling prophecy as nervous interventions only succeeded in creating the tension and antagonism that it was designed to forestall. The more the English attempted to 'pacify' and 'secure' territory in Ireland, the more resistance and resentment it inflamed.

Ireland in the Empire
Elizabeth's Seal for Ireland
The Desmond Rebellions and the Nine Years War sucked Elizabethan manpower and treasure into the province as strife became the norm. Elizabeth was to discover that it was indeed proving difficult to translate the nominal power of kingship claimed by her father over an island of feudal lords who had their own private armies and means of raising money into practical authority. A succession of Elizabethan aristocrats crossed the Irish sea with soldiers and ambition only to be ground down by tortuously long and ruinously expensive campaigns. Indeed the arrival of English soldiers and their mercenary friends presented its own source of income and target for Irish brigands, pirates and clan warriors. Whilst England was being drained by the constant fighting, a generation of resentful Irish was being raised to see England as the source of her problems. Furthermore, the instability created the conditions to encourage the Spanish to intervene in the island after all. This was the very thing that Elizabeth's Ireland policy was attempting to prevent! At the end of the Sixteenth Century, a Spanish force attempted to intervene in the Nine Years War especially after the success of Hugh O'Neill at the Battle of Yellow Ford in 1598. His victory sealed the destruction of the English Munster Plantation and signalled that English power could be challenged and defeated. Elizabeth responded by sending her favourite, the Earl of Essex, with a new army of 17,000 men to Ireland. Rather unexpectedly, the Earl of Essex concluded a peace deal with O'Neill - the very man he had been sent to subdue. Realising that he would be criticised for this action, he returned to England to plead his case directly to the queen. He was arrested for deserting his post and for attempting to seize power for himself and was executed. All this intrigue only emboldened the Spanish to throw in their lot with O'Neill's rebels. However, their timing was unfortunate on two accounts. Firstly, poor weather prevented the full Spanish force from being able to come ashore. Secondly, the incompetent Essex was replaced by the far more talented military leader of Lord Mountjoy.

One of the longest lasting legacies of Tudor influence was to enable English to become the pre-eminent language of the island - despite its Gaelic speaking heritage. The reason for English taking a hold amongst the aristocracy and middle classes was largely for pragmatic purposes and coincided with the introduction of Common Law to replace Brehon Law. Common Law had long been recognised in the Pale, but it ran alongside the Gaelic Brehon Law until the latter was largely outlawed by Elizabeth in 1600 as a consequence of the Nine Years War. The requirement to work within the English Common Law system meant that all those requiring contracts, land-grants and titles needed to understand English. Education in English for the elite soon became essential rather than an optional extra. It was no accident that Trinity College was set up during the reign of Elizabeth specifically to provide an education for the sons of the Irish aristocracy. But it was not just the aristocracy that required contracts or an understanding of the law; a need to speak English slowly but surely trickled down the social heirarchy. Those at the very bottom of the social order and far removed from the centres of power could and did avoid the requirement to speak English - but for an ever increasing number of Irish, the English language became a prerequisite to getting a decent job or ensuring that your legal rights were honoured in the courts.

The Tudors also innovated with the use of 'plantations' in an attempt to create loyal communities. They were literally 'planting' loyal subjects in what many in the English court regarded as a barbaric and backward Irish population. It would have been regarded as something of a 'civilising' mission rather than as an exploitative attempt at ethnic cleansing. The first plantations were actually started during the reign of Mary Tudor - who at least had the advantage of being a Catholic monarch and one married to the King of Spain. For much of her reign she was locked in conflict with the French and wanted to ensure that the French did not take the opportunity of using Ireland as a springboard to invade England. The first plantations were started at King's County (Offaly) and Queen's County (Laois) from 1556. They were intended to pacify the O'Moore and O'Connor clans who had consistently used their holdings to raid the English Pale around Dublin. However, the isolated plantations struggled to attract settlers to what remained an inherently violent and strife torn area. These isolated plantations were also very difficult to defend during the large scale rebellions which erupted throughout the Tudor era.

Another plantation was attempted in eastern Ulster during the reign of Elizabeth. It was intended to place a loyal English buffer zone between the Gaels of O'Neill and the MacDonnell's of Scotland. This plantation was given to the Earl of Essex and Sir Thomas Smith to settle and pacify. However, it soon degenerated into a series of petty atrocities between the three sides with the civilian population taking the brunt of the punishment. In the end, Elizabeth ordered a withdrawal of the plantation in 1576.

The Desmond Rebellions of the 1570s and early 1580s put a severe strain on Elizabeth's attempts to pacify Ireland. Despite the unsuccessful attempts at earlier plantations, she agreed to a new plantation in Munster on lands confiscated from the rebellious Earl of Desmond. It was intended that English and Welsh settlers would turn this hitherto disloyal part of Ireland into a model of stability and loyalty. An innovation in the system saw 'Undertakers' appointed who 'undertook' to find English and Welsh tenants to 'plant' in the confiscated lands. However, organisational difficulties and disputed land claims saw the new plantation fail to gain the hoped for population of willing and eager English settlers arrive. By the end of the 1580s there were only 700 English tenants - woefully short of the hoped for 15,000 planned for. It was proving uneconomic to guard the isolated and spread out English settlers and there was a steady draw down on the number of soldiers guarding the new communities and farms. When the Nine Years War broke out many of the English settlers had to flee to the closest walled towns for protection and saw their lands over-run with barely a fight. The hoped for bulwark against Irish insurrection had proved a failure once more. Having said that, lessons had been learnt and a more systematic and determined approach to plantations would be undertaken during the reign of King James, the first Stuart monarch, who took over from the childless Elizabeth Tudor upon her death in 1603.

The Stuarts and Ireland
Ulster had proved to be the most rebellious and difficult part of Ireland for Elizabeth and the Tudors in general. So when James came to the English throne in 1603 he was determined to 'solve' the Ulster problem. The English victory at Kinsale and the ending of the Nine Years War provided a rare opportunity for the monarch of England to influence and mould the political and even social make-up of Ireland. Meanwhile, events in England and Ireland were coinciding to exacerbate James' belief and ability to deal with the rebellious province of Ulster. In England, the gunpowder plot of 1605, although not directly connected to Irish Catholicism, increased anti-Catholic sentiment and made, in many peoples' eyes, Catholicism synonymous with political terrorism. In Ireland, the decision of the previously rebellious Earls of O'Neill, O'Donnell and Tyrconnell to flee Ireland and seek support on the Continent from Spanish or other Catholic heads of state seemed only to confirm this view of Catholics as being unreliable and possibly traitorous. James had already patched up relations and eased tensions with Elizabeth's historic foe Spain and so the Irish Earls were to be disappointed with the Spanish reaction to their flight who refused outright to provide any political or military commitment to the fleeing Irish. In the end, the Earls made their way to Rome where they wistfully saw out their days in declining glory. Meanwhile, their abandonment of their lands in Ulster provided James with the opportunity to seize their lands and attempt to create a more 'loyal' province.

James' solution was to create a new systematised series of Plantations for English and Scottish settlers. Ulster was divided into 'lots' of varying sizes and given to 'undertakers' who agreed to build a castle in their new domain to defend the lands and to people it with tenants brought from England and/or Scotland. In addition to these undertakers, a Joint Stock Company from the City of London was invited to establish a settlement. This Joint Stock Company was known as the Irish Society and lots of 3,000 acres were to be allocated to people chosen by the 12 guilds of London in and around Coleraine and Derry (renamed as Londonderry). The majority of the incomers, but by no means all, were Protestants. However, the divisions amongst the Protestants of the era meant that there was no unified religion even amongst these settlers. Some of them were Anglicans, some were non-conformists and there were even some English and Scottish Catholics who made the journey across the Irish Sea to a land that they felt might be more sympathetic to their religion. There was to be no simple Protestant versus Catholic division even from the very earliest days - it was to be far more nuanced and complicated.

To further muddy the waters, the undertakers were supposed to clear the lands of any existing Irish population to make way for the new settlers. But in reality this did not always occur. The costs and difficulties of evicting long established families was often more than the undertakers were willing to bear. Besides, not all undertakers were able to attract the necessary settlers from England and Scotland and so often turned to the existing native population to rent the land or to provide expertise and manpower for the newly arrived settlers. Having said that, some Catholics near to the new plantations who were not required to move off their land decided to sell up anyway as they found it difficult to compete with the well funded and well connected incomers. The Ulster plantation was a novel form of social engineering that soon created social dynamics and population movements that were certainly not predicted. It did not entirely attract the critical mass of loyal Protestants foreseen by the original planners - but it did succeed in changing the social complexion of Ulster and transferred it from being one of the most recalcitrant to English rule and economically backward parts of Ireland into one of the more loyal and more dynamic parts - although with several sizeable speed bumps yet before it. What was perhaps more remarkable was the way that the Scottish and English settlers integrated so peacefully and quickly with one another. There were very few tensions between the countrymen of two nations which had been feuding with one another for most of the previous century. Documents from 1611 referred to these recently arrived English and Scottish settlers as 'British' for the very first time in official correspondence - predating the Act of Union by nearly a century. However, the new culture they were creating was at odds with and was sharply differentiated from the culture, religion and language of the native Irish population that they were living amongst or whose lands they were taking. Furthermore, they were still dependent on England (and Scotland) to provide for their security. Not all the promised castles were built and the plantation population was not big enough and powerful enough to provide for its own defence and so they would have to turn to the mother country for their defence. Their exposure and dependency was revealed for all to see in 1641.

In many ways, this mathematical and market approach to colonisation provided the template for further Stuart Empire building in Virginia and the West Indies. Plantations would soon become a commonplace term for administrators and would be settlers alike as they attempted to replicate the system of Ulster in all sorts of new lands and territories. Ulster was the laboratory for imperial settlement. Indeed many of the Ulster settlers would themselves provide the populations to settle these new lands across the Atlantic and in the Caribbean in a search for new lands and new opportunities. Imperial aspirations and ambitions had been unleashed.

The strategic importance of Ireland towards the defence of England is a recurring theme in Anglo-Irish affairs over the centuries. The defeat of the Spanish at Kinsale had illustrated the dangers of using the island as a bridgehead to attack England from. James had managed to come to something of a detente with the Spanish during his long rule, but the accession of his son Charles to the throne in 1625 saw these diplomatic dynamics change. The failure to match the Infanta of Spain with Charles helped spark war between England and Spain from 1625 to 1629. The state of Ireland's armed forces to withstand a possible Spanish invasion were regarded as being lamentable. This was largely due to severe cutbacks and an austerity program forced on Ireland by James after a 1622 commission had severely criticised the state of Irish finances. Charles (who acceded to the English throne in 1625) needed money and soldiers to help wage his war against the Spanish. The Old English community had felt sidelined and ignored by the reforms and plantations during the reign of King James but offered financial support in return for a relaxation on political and legal restrictions placed on Catholics and this established aristocracy. A series of assemblies and offers finally culminated in Charles offering the Old English a series of 51 'Instructions and Graces' in return for a cash payment of 40,000 pounds a year towards the defence of Ireland in 1628. The war with Spain went badly for Charles and many of his soldiers had had to be evacuated from Spain to Ireland further increasing the social tensions and financial burden on the Irish. The war finally came to an end in 1629 which allowed for a relaxation of the commitments from both parties. However, these 1628 'Instructions and Graces' illustrated the residual power of the Old English community and showed that Catholicism was certainly not a spent force politically in Ireland. Indeed, the established Anglican Church in Ireland was finding it particularly difficult to make headway in conversions and exerting influence outside of Ulster and Dublin - and even there they found serious competition from other Protestant denominations. In fact, divisions in Protestantism in England and Scotland would soon spill over into open civil war and would have its own impact on Ireland.

The first manifestations of the tensions in England spilling over into Ireland came during the Irish Lord Deputyship of Thomas Wentworth (later known as Earl of Strafford). He was very much a royalist and sought to use his office on behalf of King Charles to bring together the settler and native populations of Ireland. His noble aims might have had more success had he realised that King Charles was far from a unifying figure at that time. Additionally, many of the predominantly Protestant settler population did not wish to cede the generous terms granted to them by Charles' father King James when they had initially settled. Thomas Wentworth was also working under the severe financial constraints of the era. King Charles had prorogued the English Parliament and was attempting to rule without their active support. Calls from Ireland for additional money were to fall on deaf ears. One of Wentworth's solutions to placate the native and Old English Irish aristocracy and to raise money was to set up a Commission for Defective Titles in 1634 which would reallocate titles and land grants but at a cost! There was some merit in clarifying ownership of swathes of land as conflicting ownership deeds and titles were jamming the law courts on confusing tenants and owners alike. However, it helped alienate many of the settlers especially in Ulster who had to surrender their existing agreements for far more onerous ones. Similarly, the City of London lost its patent to run the customs and tax collecting privileges at Londonderry and Coleraine. Protestants were unnerved at what they perceived as Wentworth's and the King's bias towards the Catholic subjects in this realm. Many turned to English parliamentarian support to defend their rights from what they regarded as heavy-handedness from Wentworth. The re-designation of land titles did not please all the Old English aristocracy especially as it often meant increased payments to the royal coffers. There were serious disputes in places like Connaught and Galway which pitted Wentworth against the Old English. He appeared to be raising money for the Crown (and for himself) but was using up political capital and goodwill from all sides at an alarming rate.
Ireland in the Empire
Thomas Wentworth's Trial

Wentworth strengthened the executive arm of government in Ireland. He used Poyning's Law to affirm his rights on behalf of the king. He reminded the Irish Parliament that they could do nothing without the assent and agreement of the king. As Charles was having his own battles and held his own suspicions against the English Parliament, he was not likely to be well disposed towards granting extra rights to the Irish one. Wentworth preferred to use two existing institutions to allow him to govern Ireland effectively without the need for an Irish Parliament; the Court of Castle Chamber allowed him to dominate legal rulings and procedures and the Court of Wards and Liveries was used to generate revenue on behalf of the Crown. Both institutions were modernised and packed with Wentworth loyalists to ensure their loyalty. Under the centralising rule of Wentworth, Dublin was becoming an administrative centre of note in what had hitherto been an almost feudal and disparate collection of lordships, plantations and communities.

In a strange way, Wentworth's policies did bring together the Catholic and Protestant communities but hardly in the manner he had envisioned. Rather, they united in their opposition to his ruthless efficiency in raising revenue by wielding the courts and titles to the Crown's advantage and to their cost. Strafford was providing an interesting parallel to the political events in England where the English Parliament was feeling undermined by King Charles' policies, although it would be events in Scotland that provided the immediate catalyst for a decade of unfolding political turmoil in all three of Charles' kingdoms.

Many Protestants in Scotland had been unhappy at the religious policies and attitudes of King Charles. In 1638, a 'National Covenant' was set up in Edinburgh by radical Presbyterians and the Scottish aristocrats keen to defend their rights against their king. Charles threatened to invade Scotland and even asked Wentworth in Ireland to raise troops to help with the invasion. The First Bishop's War was over before it began with the king's commanders losing their nerve and being forced to negotiate with the 'Covenanters'. This small but important conflict would have profound consequences for Ireland in the short and long term. The first consequence is that it further weakened the already precarious finances of Wentworth's Irish government and caused antagonism in Ulster where the local population was forced to billet soldiers - who were never despatched - raised to fight the Covenanters. The financial problems of the Irish government meant that Thomas Wentworth (who had by now been ennobled as Lord Strafford) was forced to call upon the Irish Parliament to provide for additional funds. This opened a can of worms that ultimately led to Wentworth's execution. The other significance of this First Bishop's War is that the successful coup d'etat against royal authority in Scotland provided a model for Catholics in Ireland to aspire to with their own insurrection against royal authority in 1641. The fact that it did not succeed and unleashed a decade of warfare and instability should not detract from the intentions of the original rebels.

The calling of the Irish Parliament in 1640 to raise funds coincided with the calling of the English Parliament by Charles for a very similar reason. The 'Short Parliament' in England collapsed quickly amid great acrimony but the desperate Charles needed money and so he recalled what would later be called the 'Long Parliament' that same year. This Long Parliament would sit for most of the rest of the decade and provided an alternative source of power in the kingdom from Charles - much as the Covenanters in Scotland had achieved. Emboldened by events across the Irish Sea, Protestant and Catholic Irish MPs and Lords combined their concerns at the heavy handed and punitive rule of Thomas Wentworth who was seeking additional ways of taxing them and undermining their power. They sent a petition of remonstrance to the English Parliament claiming that Thomas Wentworth was guilty of treason by over extending his powers. Thomas Wentworth was arrested and tried in the English Parliament on the basis of his abuse of power in Ireland. He put up a spirited defence and used the law to illustrate that he did not commit treason. However, over the years he had built up powerful enemies. For example, the City of London (which had lost its customs collecting rights in Ulster) sent a petition of 20,000 signatures demanding his execution. In the end it was a parliamentary procedure that saw his demise as a bill of attainder was passed declaring him guilty of treason despite his legal defence. This whole affair showed that the two parliaments could collude, challenge and even overturn the king's authority (who had sought desperately to protect his noble servant). However, it also established a worrying precedent for Ireland in that it allowed the English Parliament to claim that it held authority and precedence over the Irish Parliament in the governance of Ireland.

Far from clarifying the political situation in Ireland, the death of Thomas Wentworth ushered in a decade of turmoil and disruption. Wentworth's loyalists were purged from various offices and the Irish Parliament attempted to assert itself. However, with Thomas Wentworth gone, there was little to unite the various factions and religious groups in the Irish Parliament. The source of their united enmity had been removed, but underlying divisions and suspicions remained.

These divisions were most keenly felt in Ulster where Protestants and Catholics alike had their grievances and difficulties. Both sides suffered from a series of disastrous harvests which pushed much of the population towards famine and starvation. For the Protestants, they had also had the problem of billeting government troops for the aborted invasion of Scotland. Furthermore, they had had their loyalty called into question by the Thomas Wentworth administration. As a direct result of the Covenanter uprising in Scotland, Thomas Wentworth in 1639 had required all settlers to take an oath of loyalty and conformity to King Charles and the Anglican Church. This was the so-called 'Black Oath' which seriously offended dissenters and those in sympathy with the Scottish Covenanters (many of whom were direct relations with their rebellious neighbours). But it was sections of the Catholic population of Ulster which was feeling even more aggrieved still. Many Catholic landowners and aristocrats were still smarting from land dispossessions as courts seemed to favour Protestant claims over Catholic ones, or additional payments and rents had to be paid to the fiscally strapped Irish government. The Catholic population were particularly wary of events in England which saw an increasingly radical English Protestant Parliament discuss and pass anti-Catholic legislation. This may not have directly affected Irish Catholics but the mood music was clear to see. This seemed to be confirmed when the puritan Robert Cecil was appointed as the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the request of the English Parliament. The last straw was when the Irish Parliament was pro-rogued in 1641 as the authorities sought to contain what they regarded as extravagant requests for increased powers. This particularly offended the more moderate loyalist Old English families who had their main political weapon taken from them. It would fall to more extremist elements to fill the political vacuum.

As mentioned earlier, Catholic rebels inspired by the speed and success of the First Bishop's War planned their own insurrection in an attempt to seize power. They planned to take the seat of government at Dublin Castle and then negotiate from a more powerful position much as the Covenanters in Scotland had managed to do so. However, the insurrection was not coordinated nor was it kept a secret. The authorities got wind of the plan to seize Dublin Castle but were too late to respond to uprisings in Ulster which burst forth with a savagery that surprised all sides. The poor harvests certainly contributed to the desperation, but the sectarian based violence caught the settler population unawares. Those who could seek safety from local lords did so, but many settlers in isolated farms and communities were cut down and killed in a horrific manner. It is unclear how many died, but it was clearly in the tens of thousands which was shocking for the relatively small settler community in Ireland. Prints and wood-block images of the horrific events galvanised Protestant feelings against the uprising and would provide a long lasting suspicion that lasted for many years to come.

The failure to take Dublin Castle condemned the insurrection to being a long, drawn out tussle for power which lasted for most of the 1640s. The rebels under Sir Phelim O'Neill got as far as Drogheda but a dogged defence combined with a failure to coordinate attacks saw it hold on and remain under government control. The Royalist Earl of Ormonde took control of government forces but had few options open to him as the insurrection spread throughout the island. Old English families had to decide whether they should join their co-religionists, remain neutral or remain loyal to the goverment in Ireland. One of the problems, for all the actors, was just who was providing the government for Ireland as the English Parliament and the king vied for power and control over one another?

A novel way to induce Englishmen to contribute to the costs of reconquering the rebels and returning the island to government control was through the 1642 'Adventurers Act'. The City of London suggested to the English Parliament that subscribers and contributors to a fund to raise soldiers and pay for equipment should receive the estates of Irish rebels upon their successful suppression and defeat. The combination of patriotic duty and speculation proved a potent lure to a variety of affluent investors - including a certain Oliver Cromwell himself. Few could have realised just how long it would take to realise the returns from their investment. It was not until 1653 that allocations of land began to be made - and only after the decisive intervention of Oliver Cromwell. That is not to say that forces did not set out from England in 1641 and 1642. Those that did were widely dispersed and all but ignored by an English Parliament which was becoming increasingly absorbed in its power struggle with the king. It was left to the Scottish government to send a force to Ireland under General Monroe. They landed 10,000 troops in Ulster and fully joined in with the uncompromising nature of the warfare on the island. However, they were unable to subdue and defeat Phelim O'Neill and his forces.

In the meantime, the rebels were fortunate that England descended into its own full civil war. The king's representative continued to sit in Dublin Castle but his authority barely left the confines of the city. Ulster Protestants made their own preparations for their defence from Catholic forces through declaring a 'Solemn League and Covenant'. This oath was designed locally by hard line Protestants to replace the offending Royalist 'Black Oath' from 1639. It presaged the spread of Presbyterianism in Protestant Ireland and saw a more militant, hard-line and less forgiving branch of Protestantism take root in the country. It also infused those who took the oath with a renewed vigour and accepting the role of a persecuted but, as they saw it, chosen people in a sea of unbelievers - much like the Israelites from their bibles.

As for the rebels and insurrectionists, various Old English families and Gaelic Irish nobility alike were concerned at the descent into chaos and disorder and resolved to form a civil government of their own. They set up their own General Assembly in what was referred to as the Confederation of Catholics. In many ways it was a Parliament in all but name but its remit did not run to all of Ireland - sections of Ulster, Dublin, Cork and other ports remained under government control. The avoidance of the term 'Parliament' was an attempt to retain a semblance of legitimacy in not challenging the existing institutions directly. In principle, they wished to reform the institutions whilst promoting the tolerance and inclusion of Catholicism. It just so happened that these aims diverged sharply with sentiments in the increasingly radical English Parliament who saw the rebellion as an example of why Catholicism could not be trusted and should be further restricted. The Confederates therefore tended to sympathise with the cause of King Charles from whom they thought that they could extract political and religious concessions. The Confederates adopted the motto 'Pro Deo, Pro Rege, Pro Hibernia unanimus' (United for God, King and Ireland) which was highly Royalist and loyal in its tone. Unfortunately, they were in no position to help King Charles in any meaningful way as Ireland descended into a decade of disorder, confusion and disrupted trade and farming. The problem for the Confederates was that by tying their sympathy to the king's cause, they were leaving themselves open to retribution and intervention should the king lose his quarrel with the Parliament.

Ireland in the Empire
Cromwell in Ireland
As the English were distracted by their own civil war, Catholic Confederates diverged between hard-liners and those willing to seek an accommodation with the English (preferably through the King). Indeed, the Papal representative in Ireland, Giovanni Rinuccini, undermined successive attempts by Old English Confederates to consolidate limited gains from a weakened King Charles. Rinuccini found support amongst the Gaelic Irish and those who wished to continue prosecuting their own war with vigour to promote the cause of Catholicism throughout Ireland. The Old English were more willing to negotiate with the king and to come to an accommodation. Rinuccini's hardline stance made it more difficult for a compromise to be found. This was particularly the case after the the Second Civil War saw Charles lead a Scottish army against the English Parliament in 1648. His defeat at Preston may have fatally weakened his political power beyond repair, but his trial for treason by the English Parliament had the effect of reconciling moderate Confederates with residual Royalist forces in Ireland. Bizarrely, O'Neill found himself in the strange position of having a truce of convenience with the Parliamentarian forces under General Monck in Ulster. Meanwhile, Rinuccini was recalled to Rome for overstepping his powers. The civil war within a civil war was making for some highly unpredictable and volatile alliances. Royalist and Confederate forces seized Drogheda, Dundalk, Newry, Carlingford, Trim and set about besieging Dublin. As the situation deteriorated for Parliamentary control, the English considered despatching a force to deal with the matters unfolding.

Ireland in the Empire
The New Model Army in Ireland
Even the threat of a rescue force for Charles was enough to convince Oliver Cromwell to cross the Irish Sea with his well-honed New Model Army to assert English Parliamentary control over Ireland. He landed with 12,000 men and was joined by a further 8,000 loyal to the Parliamentary cause. His forces besieged and sacked both Royalist and Confederate strongholds and fortified towns. Motivated by stories of the 1641 massacres from those Protestants who joined them and with an innate hostility to Papism, they fought a merciless if efficient campaign which quickly inflicted a series of defeats on the Royalist-Confederate alliance. These defeats put further strains on the alliance and saw moderate Confederates wish to distance themselves from the Royalist cause - especially after the execution of Charles. Many Royalists fled to the Continent to join the Charles II's court in exile whilst Confederates divided into those who felt that they could no longer resist the undivided attention of the English and those who wished to fight on to the bitter end. The fact that the 30 Years War in Europe came to an end with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 seemed to confirm the pointlessness of continuing conflict in Ireland. The English Parliament had reasserted its right and had demonstrated its ability to impose itself upon the political landscape of Ireland.

The Cromwellian Settlement
Ireland in the Empire
Cromwell Settlement Map
Cromwell may only have spent 9 months in Ireland, but the legacy of his victory would be profound. The complete nature of the victory allowed the English Parliamentary forces to impose a settlement upon Ireland. There were many constituencies who felt that they needed to be rewarded upon the death of King Charles and the victory of Parliament. There were the investors from the 1642 Adventurers Act who now felt that they should receive their just rewards. There were the victorious Parliamentarian generals and officers many of whom had seen their own lands and property destroyed by Royalist forces. There were Ulster Protestants who had been dispossessed by the Confederates and forced to flee back to England or Scotland. And there were those soldiers who had accompanied Cromwell in his invasion of Ireland in order to partake in the spoils of war. These soldiers were promised land as payment by an English Parliament that was finding it difficult to raise enough money back in England to pay the large army that had been raised to defeat King Charles. Against all these land hungry claimants was the fact that there was much land that was going to become available for distribution. These were the lands that were to be stripped from Confederate, Royalist and Old English Catholic families. Many of these had fought actively against the Parliamentary cause, some had switched sides once too often and some were merely found guilty by association or thanks to religious or cultural manifestations. Many of the old aristocracy of Ireland or former Confederate soldiers fled into exile to Europe. Cromwell's forces offered little mercy to those who were proved to have been involved back in the 1641 rebellion and the massacres of the Protestants. Participants were executed in public. Those Irish who had served in the Confederate forces subsequent to the rebellion were transported as indentured labourers to the West Indies. Those Irish aristocrats who had attempted to remain neutral and out of the decade of internecine warfare were still distrusted by the Parliamentary forces. These were stripped of their lands and offered alternative estates in the less strategically important area of Connaught. These policies particularly hit the Old English families who were targetted due to their continued allegiance to Catholicism and due to their perceived Royalist sympathies. The area around Dublin known as the Pale was thoroughly cleansed of what had been one relatively pro-English community only to be replaced by another but very different pro-English one. The amount of land owned by Catholics in Ireland fell dramatically during this decade and the period of what would later become known as the 'Protestant Ascendency' began in earnest.
Georgian Ireland
The 1790s Uprising
Ireland in the Empire
Loyal Little Drummer, 1798
Bonaparte lamented that he went to Egypt, not Ireland. The attempted French invasion of Ireland, seen as a natural extension of the war of the new republic against Britain, failed dismally when the fleet with 14,000 men under the command of General Hoche, was scattered by winter storms and was unable to make land at the designated invasion point, Bantry Bay, in County Cork. The abortive invasion was part of a French strategy to capitalise on the increasing unrest and resistance in Ireland to British rule, co-ordinated by the nationalist group, the United Irishmen. The gradual moves to conciliation in the early 1790s to remove some of the measures discriminating against Roman Catholics in Ireland - such as the Catholic Relief Act of 1793 - had failed to quieten the broader demands for Catholic emancipation - the right of Irish Catholics to serve in parliament or the higher offices of state. Rural unrest had been met with the Convention Act cracking down assemblies that challenged the status quo, and a series of incidents - including the arrest of a French agent in Dublin, and the flight from Ireland of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the chief organiser and publicist for the United Irishmen - convinced the French that now was the time to strike. It was a strategy which uncannily echoed the abortive attempt of the Spanish exactly 200 years earlier, to send another Armada to Ireland to gain the support of Irish rebels there - an initiative which was similarly wrecked by bad weather. General Hoche's fleet of forty-three ships which had set sail from the French port of Brest on December 15th, 1796, was accompanied by Wolfe Tone - he and the battered fleet returned to France. Two years later, following the outbreak of a general insurrection by the United Irishmen, which was concentrated in Wexford, the French launched two further expeditions. The first, under General Humbert, actually made landfall in County Mayo but was forced eventually to surrender; the second - with again Wolfe Tone accompanying 3,000 French troops - was intercepted off the coast of Donegal by the British Navy. Wolfe Tone was sent for trial in Dublin and condemned to death for treason, but committed suicide before the sentence could be carried out in November 1798.
The Young Ireland Revolt, 1848
Irish Nationalism already had a long pedigree before Young Ireland was formed in the 1840s. Wolfe Tone had raised the standard of revolt against British rule in 1798 and Daniel O'Connell's victory in the County Clare by-election in 1828 had forced the British government to repeal anti-Catholic legislation. It was as an offshoot of O'Connell's Repeal of the Union Association that Young Ireland was formed. The Nation, a weekly paper dedicated to the cause of Irish independence, had been founded by Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon in 1842, and Duffy had become its editor. This publication became the voice of the Young Irelanders, who eventually split from the Repeal Association in 1847 over their advocacy of the use of physical force if necessary to bring about the dissolution of the union of Britain and Ireland, in contrast to O'Connell's insistence on moral force.

Young Ireland's leader, however, was no backstreet desperado. William Smith O'Brien was a wealthy Protestant aristocrat, who could trace his ancestry back to the eleventh century Irish King Brian Boru. Educated in England - at Harrow and Cambridge - he was elected to the House of Commons in 1828, aged only 25, becoming a leading member of the Irish parliamentary party over the following two decades.

Famine & Revolution

Ireland in the Empire
Irish House of Commons, 1780

Ireland in the Empire
Reviewing the Troops, 1781

Ireland in the Empire
The Royal Yacht in Dublin Bay, 1788

Ireland in the Empire
French Off Ireland, 1798

Ireland in the Empire
Irish Eviction, 1850

Ireland in the Empire
Irish Immigrants, 1847

Ireland in the Empire
Castle Guard, Dublin

Ireland in the Empire
Phoenix Park

Ireland in the Empire
1911 Proclamation

Ireland in the Empire
Irish Troops in Palestine

Ireland in the Empire
Opening of Stormont, 1932

Ireland in the Empire
Limavady, 1943
So what determined this respectable parliamentarian with an aristocratic pedigree to lead an armed revolt against British rule in Ireland? Two factors convinced Smith O'Brien and his Young Ireland colleagues that they should act to bring about Irish independence. One was the terrible famine caused by potato blight which devastated the population of rural Ireland in the second half of the 1840s. The British government's response had been too little and too late to prevent severe hardship and death on an extensive scale. The government's tardy and inadequate efforts were criticised to little avail in the Commons by Smith O'Brien and others.

The second factor was the outbreak of revolution in many parts of Europe in the early months of 1848. The overthrow of King Louis Philippe of France in February 1848 was followed by the proclamation of a Republic and the rise to power of radicals like Louis Blanc and Alphonse de Lamartine. Challenges to established rulers in Austria, Prussia, Italy and elsewhere followed: monarchs such as King Charles Albert of Piedmont and Frederick William of Prussia saved their thrones only at the cost of granting constitutions giving their subjects the right to elect parliaments. Pope Pius IX was forced to flee from Rome, which became a republic governed by a triumvirate including the Italian Nationalist Mazzini. Even the great Prince Metternich, the Austrian Chancellor who had dominated European diplomacy since the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15, fell from power.

The successes of liberal revolutionaries, though they proved to be shortlived, made a deep impression on Smith O'Brien and his colleagues, so much so that O'Brien and Thomas Meagher travelled to Paris bringing fraternal greetings from the Young Ireland movement to France's new republican government. Meagher was inspired by the French tricolour flag to produce an Irish version, with vertical stripes of green, white and orange, symbolising the reconciliation of southern Ireland with the Orange traditions of protestant Ulster. If nationalist revolts could be successful on mainland Europe, why not in Ireland?

So it was that O'Brien, Meagher and Dillon began planning a revolt to be launched in the autumn of 1848. The British government, however, got wind that trouble was brewing, and on 22 July Habeas Corpus was suspended, giving the authorities in Ireland power to arrest and imprison anyone without trial. The Young Irelanders immediately determined to bring forward their revolt.

The following day, O'Brien, Meagher and Dillon set out from Co. Wexford, travelling through Co. Kilkenny, gathering supporters as they went. By 28 July, they had reached The Commons, a village in Co. Tipperary. Inevitably the authorities quickly became aware that the revolt had started and a force of four dozen armed policemen under the command of Sub- Inspector Trant was on their trail. As the police approached The Commons, they came up against a barricade which had been erected across the road by the Young Irelanders. Fearing that they would find themselves under attack, Trant ordered his men to withdraw and they sought refuge in a farmhouse near Ballingarry.

The owner of the property, Margaret McCormack, was out, but her five young children were at home and were effectively taken hostage by the police. Trant and his men barricaded themselves in and manned the windows with their rifles at the ready. The scene was set for the Battle of the Widow McCormack's Cabbage Garden.

The rebel force, some of them armed, had pursued the police across the fields and quickly surrounded the farmhouse. At this point Mrs McCormack returned and, deeply concerned about the safety of her children, demanded to be let into her house. The police refused, suspecting a trick by the rebels to gain entry. Meanwhile, O'Brien had been creeping cautiously around a small barn at the back of the farmhouse, where Mrs McCormack came across him and asked what was to become of her family and her property. Taking pity on her, O'Brien resolved to negotiate with the police. Together with Mrs McCormack, he went up to the window of the front room and offered terms to Trant. 'We are all Irishmen,' he said, 'Give up your guns and you are free to go.' This was all quite cordial and O'Brien even reportedly shook hands with the policeman through the window.

But suddenly the mood changed as a shot rang out, apparently fired by a constable at O'Brien as he stood at the window. Witnesses at his trial testified that at this point O'Brien shouted, 'Slash away, boys, and slaughter them all!', though O'Brien vehemently denied this. Whatever the truth of this matter, O'Brien was dragged away from the window to cover behind the front wall of the cabbage-garden by two other Young Irelanders, James Stephens and Terence Bellew MacManus. O'Brien escaped unscathed, but his rescuers were wounded. The crowd of rebels crouched behind the wall as shots continued to be exchanged with the police. One young man, Thomas Walsh, was fatally wounded as he dashed across the gateway at the front of the garden. Another, Patrick McBride, was shot dead as he ran from the side of the house towards the others behind the wall.

By this time, some of the rebels had retreated away from the farmhouse to get out of range of the police rifles, their own stocks of ammunition running low. Father Philip Fitzgerald, a local clergyman, appeared and offered to mediate in an effort to prevent any further bloodshed. Then news arrived that police reinforcements were on the way from Cashel. There was a brief skirmish but, with almost no ammunition left, the rebels stood no chance of preventing the siege of the farmhouse being lifted and they melted away into the surrounding countryside, taking with them the hopes of the Young Ireland movement.

During the following few days, most of the leaders were captured and in due course were brought to trial. Four were found guilty of high treason - O'Brien, Meagher, McManus and Patrick O'Donohue - and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Although they refused to appeal, a process which would have effectively required them to recognise the legitimacy of the jurisdiction of British courts in Ireland, their sentences were commuted by act of parliament to transportation to Tasmania for life.

Other leading members of Young Ireland, John Martin, Kevin Izod O'Doherty and John Mitchel, had already been arrested in May 1848, convicted of the lesser charge of treason-felony and sentenced to shorter periods of transportation. Charles Gavan Duffy had also been arrested and charged with high treason before the rising, but was eventually found not guilty by the House of Lords. Twenty-one local men from the Ballingarry district who had joined the rising were sentenced to jail terms which were served in Ireland. Some other Young Irelanders managed to escape arrest and most sought refuge in the United States, including John Blake Dillon, James Stephens, John O'Mahony and Michael Doheny.

Of those who were transported to Tasmania, a few, including Thomas Meagher, escaped, but all were pardoned within a few years. Even O'Brien, having led a reasonably comfortable existence in his own two-roomed cottage in the Port Arthur penal colony, was given a conditional pardon in 1854 and an unconditional one two years later, whereupon he returned to Ireland. The leaders of this armed rebellion against British power in Ireland were given much the same punishment as six Dorset labourers had been 14 years earlier for joining a trade union.

Uncharacteristically Liberal
So why did the British authorities treat the rebels so leniently? After all, these were dangerous men who had led a rising against British authority in Ireland, inciting others to join them and firing upon police officers at Ballingarry. To pardon all of them unconditionally within six years seems an uncharacteristically liberal action by the British authorities. Other Irish risings, earlier and later, were treated without mercy. Wolfe Tone, the leader of the United Irishmen in the 1798 rising, was condemned to be hanged (though he cheated the noose by slitting his own throat first). Others involved in the risings of 1798 and 1803, such as Robert Emmet, Thomas Russell and Henry McCracken, were executed. In 1867, Fenians William Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O'Brien were publicly hanged for their part in rescuing two republican prisoners from a prison van in Manchester. Fifteen of the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 were shot by firing squad, including James Connolly, who, too badly wounded to stand, was tied to a chair for his execution.

There are several possible explanations of why the 1848 rebels got off so lightly. One is their social class. O'Brien, as already noted, was an Old Harrovian who had been an MP for more than 20 years. Thomas Meagher was the son of a wealthy Waterford merchant, who had twice been Mayor of the city and by 1848 was its MP. Kevin Izod O'Doherty's father was a Dublin solicitor, while John Mitchel was the son of a Presbyterian minister. They may have become unwisely involved in stirring up a crowd of peasants, but there was no mistaking the fact that most of the Young Ireland leaders were gentlemen. That alone, however, would not have saved them from the noose.

The relatively small scale of the rising was another factor: the worst they had done was to cause a rather unseemly fracas in a cabbage patch at a farmhouse in the back of beyond. None of the policemen had been killed, no significant damage had been done to property and it was easily dismissed as a trivial episode of rural unrest. Nineteen years later, Allen, Larkin and O'Brien killed a policeman in the centre of Manchester, while associates caused the deaths of 12 people trying to rescue another Fenian from Clerkenwell Prison by blowing a hole in the prison wall with gunpowder. The Easter Rising resulted in parts of Dublin city centre, including the General Post Office, being reduced to ruins, and 157 British soldiers, 82 rebels and over 200 civilians being killed.

Also of great significance was the fact that Britain was not at war at the time and hence there was no real national security issue. Wolfe Tone had not only raised a rebellion when Britain was at war with a foreign power, but had actually been sworn into the armed forces of that power, France, and been instrumental in persuading the French government to launch an invasion of Ireland. Although the Fenian rising in the 1860s did not occur in time of war, the involvement of Irish expatriates in the USA in raising money and supplying arms gave it an international dimension. Pre-eminently, the Easter Rising of 1916 took place during the First World War. With conscription recently introduced and preparations for the greatest British offensive of the war, the Battle of the Somme, being well in train, the distraction of having to dispatch some 20,000 troops to put down a rebellion in Dublin was obviously most unwelcome to the British authorities. One of the rebel leaders, Sir Roger Casement, had been in prolonged negotiations with the enemy. It is therefore unsurprising that the British authorities executed 15 of the leaders as traitors.

Yet Britain was not at war in 1848, so questions of consorting with Britain's enemies did not arise. Notwithstanding O'Brien and Meagher's trip to Paris, the Ballingarry episode lacked an international dimension, which made it easier for the British authorities to treat the organisers with relative leniency.

'A Most Brilliant Statesman'
Perhaps even more remarkable than the leniency of their punishment is the rehabilitation many of the Young Irelanders enjoyed after their release. After his acquittal, Charles Gavan Duffy, the Editor of The Nation, was elected MP for New Ross in 1852, but after three years in the House of Commons he emigrated to Australia. Elected to the state legislature of Victoria a year later, he became a prominent politician there, serving as Prime Minister in 1871-72 and in 1873 being knighted by Queen Victoria, not a common honour for an Irish rebel.

Thomas D'Arcy McGee, a young journalist who wrote for The Nation and helped to plan the Young Ireland rising, managed to escape across the Atlantic when the rising failed. He spent the next few years trying to increase support for the Irish cause in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. In 1857 he moved to Canada and was soon elected to the Canadian Legislative Assembly. By 1862, he had become a cabinet minister, though his outspoken condemnation of the Fenians led to his assassination in 1868.

Even those Young Irelanders who were found guilty were not prevented from having distinguished subsequent careers. Kevin Izod O'Dougherty was transported to Tasmania, but was quickly given permission to work as a pharmacist and later a surgeon in Hobart. On being given an unconditional pardon in 1856 he returned to Dublin and finished his medical training. He settled in Australia in 1860 and became a leading medical practitioner in Queensland. He was elected to the Queensland Legislative Assembly in 1867 and began a successful political career which lasted for 18 years.

Others found their way to the United States. Thomas Meagher escaped from Tasmania in 1852 and settled in New York, where he became a US citizen and something of a celebrity. He qualified as a lawyer and also founded a newspaper for the ex-patriot Irish community. On the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Meagher joined the union army and was given the rank of Brigadier-General. After fighting with distinction at Bull Run, Antietam, Frederickburg and several other battles, his heavy drinking led to his resigning his commission in 1865, but that did not stop President Andrew Johnson appointing him as acting Governor of the new territory of Montana. After two years in this post, alcohol still apparently being a problem, Governor Meagher fell into the Missouri river and drowned.

John Mitchel too escaped from Tasmania in 1853 and made his way to New York. He became a journalist, campaigning, rather strangely, for the rights of southern slave-owners. After two years as a correspondent in Paris, he returned to America in 1862 and took up the southern cause. His three sons fought in the Confederate Army, two dying on the battlefield. At the end of the civil war, Mitchel returned to New York as Editor of the Daily News, where he was imprisoned for several months as a supporter of the Confederacy. On his release he founded yet another newspaper, the Irish Citizen, before returning to Ireland in 1874. He was elected unopposed as MP for Tipperary in February 1875, but died suddenly the following month.

John Blake Dillon never got as far as Tasmania, but after being sentenced escaped via France to the USA. Like Meagher, he qualified as a lawyer in New York, but returned to Ireland after receiving a pardon in 1855. His political opinions moderated and, like McGee, he condemned the Fenians. In 1865, he was elected MP for Tipperary, but his parliamentary career was cut short the following year when he died of cholera.

As for O'Brien himself, he was allowed to leave Tasmania in 1855 and travelled via Ceylon, India and Malta to Brussels. Returning to Ireland in 1856, he remained aloof from politics, but spent his time writing, lecturing and travelling. On a visit to the USA in 1859, O'Brien was reunited with Meagher and Mitchel. He died in 1864 and was given a public funeral. Six years later, a statue of O'Brien was unveiled in O'Connell Street, Dublin, by John Martin, another Young Irelander who had been imprisoned with him in Tasmania, and who was himself to be elected an MP in 1871.

The example of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy's extraordinary transformation from rebel and traitor to colonial prime minister and knight was cited by a later Irish nationalist leader, Charles Stewart Parnell, in a parliamentary debate in 1882 on a proposal to try those accused of insurrection in Ireland by Special Commission instead of by jury. Parnell argued that if Duffy had been tried by a Special Commission, 'beyond doubt he would have been sentenced to death; and although that death sentence would probably have been commuted to penal servitude for life, Sir Charles would, at all events, have been degraded, and a gentleman who had since proved himself a most brilliant statesman and a distinguished ornament to the literature of this country and of the Colonies would have been disgraced.'

Although their subsequent lives were very varied, much the same could be said of any of the Young Ireland leaders. One cannot help thinking that had the treatment of other Irish nationalists by the British authorities been as liberal and reasonable as that of the Young Irelanders, subsequent relations between the two nations might have been more cordial.

Gladstone and Ireland
Everyone knows Gladstone's first reaction on being told the news of the General Election result in 1868. Interrupted in his favourite task of tree felling at Hawarden, he turned to the messenger and announced in messianic tones: 'My mission is to pacify Ireland'. He then swung round and resumed his duties with the axe.

This preoccupation with Ireland was new. Gladstone's long career before enjoying the Premiership had not seen any particular interest or engagement with that troublesome island to the west. The occasions when he had recommended a policy gave no sign of his later understanding of Irish nationalism. In his priggish youth, as 'the rising hope of those stern and unbending Tories', he had defended the absolute position of the Anglican church in Ireland. Later, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1850s, he had had no compunction about extending income tax to Ireland. He never visited the place, nor had he intervened in the occasional debates over Irish land.

What had forced his attention had been the Fenian rising of 1867 and subsequent terrorism on the British mainland in 1868. Clearly something had to be done. Gladstone's great strength throughout his life was the ability to seize upon a new subject, immerse himself in the technicalities through voracious reading, and then pronounce the solution with a dramatic bill. This process he now turned on Ireland.

In his first ministry and for much of the second, however, Gladstone was no sympathiser with Irish self-government. He did not see them as 'struggling to be free' or deserving of autonomy in any political sense. But he did recognise quickly that Ireland was a special case and that several things, which might have been acceptable in England, were wrong there and needed to be changed. He believed, in short, that he could solve the Irish Question by tackling social grievances. Felling the Upas tree, which poisons everything in its shade, was how he put it. Once cut down, and reforms enacted, the political grievances of the Irish - the demand for some sort of self-government if not independence - would fade away. Consequently there should be no consideration for the new project of Home Rule for Ireland. The Liberals obediently followed their leader's line. In 1877, for example, Isaac Butt, leader of the Home Rule party, could find only eight rogue Liberals to support his bill for that measure.

Yet within ten years, Gladstone was to produce one of the most dramatic upheavals in Victorian politics, when he converted to Home Rule for Ireland. At a stroke this shackled the Liberal Party to a most unpopular policy in England (only the Celtic periphery of the Liberals being genuinely enthusiastic) and, moreover, split the party, with a significant minority defecting over this one issue. Part of the wiggish, aristocratic element led by Lord Hartington left - not surprising in many ways, since they had been waving goodbye since the early 1880s over the various concessions made in Ireland. More unexpected was the departure of some radicals, following the example of Joe Chamberlain and the veteran John Bright. So, what were the reasons for this extraordinary conversion of the Liberals to Home Rule; and, even more intriguing, what explains the particular timing of Mr Gladstone's announcement?

Irish reforms
Once in power in 1868, Gladstone immediately started to implement his programme of reform - that is socio-economic, not political reform. There were three subjects to tackle: the church, land, and education. The case of the Church of Ireland - the Anglican church, established with similar rights and lands as in England - had been an obvious target for decades. It was unrepresentative of the vast majority who were catholics, of course, and could not even stand for all the protestants since nearly half were dissenters - mostly Presbyterians in the north. It was ripe for reform, and furthermore just the sort of unifying cause to bind together the disparate factions of the Liberal party. The party never functioned so well as when driving forward on a crusade. While convinced of the moral necessity of reforming the Church, Gladstone could calculate a political advantage as well as, if not more than, the next politician.

Quickly and efficiently Gladstone managed the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. This was very much his own, personal doing. He drafted substantial amounts of the bill himself and then superbly piloted it through the Commons. Once enacted in 1869, all parties agreed on the success of the legislation.

The Irish Land Act of 1870 was less straightforward. Gladstone was a great believer in the virtues of the landlord system, as applied in England: conscientious landlords, happy and settled tenants. He had no wish, then, to destroy landlordism in Ireland, but rather to give the tenants greater security on the land. The price, however, would be some inevitable curtailing of the sacred rights of property, and thus a revolutionary step in anyone's eyes. Broadly speaking, the act did give the Irish tenants more security, though it failed to address the area of rent control. It also introduced, but in a curiously half-hearted way, the possibility of actual land purchase by the tenants. The government could buy the land (from a landlord willing to sell) and then arrange for the incumbent to pay back the amount in yearly instalments, much like a mortgage today. Such a system, in fact, was going to be the breakthrough in solving the land question in the coming decades; but unlike the radicals Gladstone was slow to grasp the potential of this method, and the 1870 bill's insistence on an unrealistically large deposit of one-third effectively scuppered this provision.

The third plank of Gladstone's reforming platform, an education act rationalising the universities, failed to get through Parliament and had to be abandoned. Nevertheless, with the undoubted success of Disestablishment and the apparent success of the Land Act, it seemed as if the administration had dealt effectively with the Irish Question. Out of office, Gladstone visited Ireland in 1877 (his only visit apart from a few hours in 1880) and was complacent about the benefits from his reform legislation.

So what changed everything? And what set Gladstone on the path towards accepting the need for political, rather that just social, reform?

Gladstone's conversion
As so many times in Ireland it was the land question which emerged once more, shaking off the soil piled on it by the optimistic framers of the 1870 act. The agricultural depression of 1879 started the process; the revamped Home Rule party under their new, charismatic chief, Charles Stewart Parnell, exploited the situation; and fresh methods such as boycotting (the expression coined at this time from the treatment inflicted on a land agent, Captain Boycott) gave the tenants tremendous leverage.

Gladstone responded quite effectively to the challenge. He had to steer a course between the whiggish element in the party, who abhorred any further concessions from the landlords and desired firm law and order; and the radicals, who were appalled by acts of coercion and the consequent suspension of civil liberties. Using the stick (resolute coercion acts) and a carrot (a new Land Act of 1881) Gladstone managed to end the land disturbances without alienating too many of this party. The new act provided for greater tenant security, largely by rent control, deeply upsetting, of course, to any landlord. Yet the chance to encourage land purchase was ignored again, with a large deposit still expected, even if reduced to a quarter instead of a third. Either way the sum was still too large for almost any tenant to take advantage of the clause.

By adroit tactics and a flair for publicity, Parnell managed to keep Irish matters on the agenda, and his tightly disciplined Home Rule party at Westminster caused problems to Gladstone's second administration (1880-85). Gradually it became clear to the Prime Minister - although the strength of this conviction and its timing remain controversial - that his aim of diverting the Irish away from political reform by a social programme was not going to work. Some movement on the political front would have to come.

Nothing was announced, however, before the administration fell in June 1885 and Lord Salisbury formed a minority government. The General Election took place at the end of November and beginning of December 1885, resulting in 335 seats for the Liberals, 249 for the Conservatives, and 86 for the Home Rule party. Thus the Irish party held the balance of power and could give Gladstone a comfortable majority should they choose to support him. As yet neither leader of the two English political parties had made any positive comment over Home Rule.

Then on 17 December 1885, the newspapers announced Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule. They had been briefed to this effect by Herbert Gladstone, very much against his father's knowledge or approval. Thus the Grand Old Man was smoked out into the open. Thereafter events moved unsurprisingly. Parliament opened in January 1886 with Salisbury still as Prime Minister. Within a week he had indicated his desire for coercion in Ireland; the Irish nationalists promptly supported the Liberals to defeat this; and before the month was out Mr Gladstone was Prime Minister for his third term of office, and pledged to Home Rule for Ireland.

Gladstone's motives
The convenience of this conversion enabling the Liberals to take government was not lost on contemporaries; and the accusation of political opportunism has been echoed since, being given a particularly sharp edge by A.B. Cooke's and John Vincent's book The Governing Passion (1974). Their argument is that Gladstone may have thrown up a smokescreen of noble sentiments and disinterested principles, but that he adopted Home Rule very late in the day - March 1886 to be precise - and then only as a short-term tactical expedient to displace Hartington and Chamberlain, his rivals for the top. To talk of principles was thus mere humbug. It was all a game for personal advantage - in short, the world of High Politics. (The authors introduce their book with a quotation from that high priest of reaction Evelyn Waugh, writing in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold: 'In a democracy ... men do not seek authority so that they may impose a policy. They seek a policy so that they may achieve authority.')

Such an unimpressed view of Gladstone's motives has been echoed by other commentators, including Michael Winstanley. More recently, however, on closer investigation of the great man's diaries and other material, a fresh consensus is growing that Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule was perfectly sincere and the result of his conviction as to the justice and morality of the case. Political advantage there was not. There were two broad reasons for the switch to Home Rule. First, the essential justice of the matter; second, the fact that there was no alternative.

Liberalism itself had been sympathetic to nationalism elsewhere, such as Italy and Germany, with Gladstone very much in the forefront. The Irish crisis had put severe strain upon normal liberal tenets, what with coercion, armed bodyguards for ministers, restricting parliamentary privileges for MPs and so on. Gladstone cannot have been the only liberal hankering for a long-term political settlement. The situation quickened in 1885 and there is clear proof from the diaries that Gladstone was brooding on varieties of devolution. The extension of the franchise after the 1884 reform act meant that it was highly likely that nationalist Ireland would speak with one voice and in an overwhelming majority. Should not a liberal, thought Gladstone, respect the simple democratic justice of the matter?

Then there was the despairing feeling that all other methods of pacifying Ireland had been tried and found wanting. The social programme of the previous decade had done some good but had not diverted the Home Rule steamroller. Furthermore Gladstone belatedly had come to realise the crucial importance of land purchase, and began to plan a massive bill involving no deposit from the tenant, the insistence on which had stymied his earlier land purchase clauses. But this required a nationalist party in charge of the executive in Ireland and thus responsible for the tricky matter of collection of payments - another reason to support Home Rule.

By the summer of 1885 Gladstone was jotting down possibilities about Home Rule, the details of which do not survive. On 14 November 1885, however, well before the General Election, he produced actual headings for a Home Rule bill which anticipated the legislation next year. These were kept secret even from his colleagues, but are further evidence that Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule was the culmination of relatively long reflection and not the snap, cynical decision of a politician anxious to get into government.

In fact, Gladstone was quite the opposite of cynical. He saw clearly that the political group most able to pass Home Rule through the British parliament were the Conservatives. In retrospect it might seem incredible, but Gladstone was not the only man to suppose that it was just possible that the Tories themselves should adopt Home Rule. After all, it had been a Tory-Irish party alliance which had brought down Gladstone's third administration in the summer of 1885. Salisbury's government then made encouraging noises and positive moves towards the Irish nationalists. Coercion was not renewed. A land purchase act was passed, proving immensely popular since it required no deposit. The catholic church was allowed greater control over education. And most significant of all were the meetings between the new viceroy in Ireland, Lord Carnavon, and Parnell, where the viceroy, exceeding his brief, promised that the Tories would support Home Rule. Luckily for Salisbury this was all kept secret, Carnavon being spirited out of the country and discreetly sacked later - but the rumours contributed to the sense that the Conservatives and the Irish were on the verge of making some sort of pact.

Hence Gladstone did not announce his own conversion to Home Rule when made (before the election) but promised his support for the Tories should they so decide. Gladstone now managed to see Home Rule as a conservative measure - the best way to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom - and was fully aware that such a controversial bill would more likely be accepted if sponsored by the Right. It was also a fact that the Tories would be far better placed to get it through the House of Lords.

Yet Salisbury treated these overtures with contempt. The Tory high command had not the slightest intention of allowing Home Rule for Ireland. He was more than happy to leave this initiative to Gladstone and the Liberals, knowing that they would be lumbered with a deeply unpopular policy.

So it was to be Gladstone and the Liberals who were to support Home Rule. His critics would say that this move ruined the party, splitting it in 1886 and tying it thereafter to a forlorn task. Others might say that he knew the political risks but could not avoid the moral imperative. What does seem clear is that he misread the mood of the country and some senior figures in his own party. This led him to make several strategic mistakes in 1886 which hastened the demise of his third government after barely five months.

Gladstone's failure
His first mistake was the speed with which he introduced the bill. This was typical tactics from the GOM who liked to swoop down on parliament carrying brilliantly drafted legislation; but this new departure involved a massive readjustment of principles and could hardly be swallowed instantaneously. The jibe became that Gladstone was 'an old man in a hurry'. The second was the lack of any campaign to influence the country. The public simply were not given the arguments. There was no Midlothian-type tour, with fiery, extra-parliamentary speeches from the Premier. There were few, if any, pamphlets putting the points for Home Rule. Gladstone himself was strangely sanguine about getting the measure accepted by the nation. It might have been wiser to have put down a marker but advance no further: declare in principle for Irish Home Rule, then appoint a Parliamentary investigation to discuss the practicalities while the government tried to educate the country to this new position. But Gladstone felt it was not enough just to announce the principle, without attempting to define the terms and thereby write the bill. What did Home Rule mean constitutionally? What did it entail? Similar problems afflict politicians today when considering devolution, reform of Parliament or Britain's relationship with Europe. Sometimes, indeed, debates are avoided or crucial matters left unargued. It has been suggested also that another reason for Gladstone's alacrity was the erroneous reports from Dublin Castle that the country was close to becoming ungovernable and required immediate political action. Gladstone's third mistake was his assumption he could bounce the cabinet into agreement. He did not want, or expect, resignations. This partially worked with the radicals Chamberlain and Trevelyan, who joined at first, only to leave once the details of Home Rule were revealed. The tactic failed, however, with Hartington and some other whigs - though most of the senior men did indeed follow Gladstone. So too did the Liberal Party; but more in the spirit of personal devotion to the GOM, less from any belief in the issue. Those who disagreed with Home Rule and left with Hartington embraced the reasons of most people in England. Predominant was the imperial question. Home Rule, it was feared, would lead to full independence: not only the break up of the United Kingdom but also of the Empire. At all events it would be a shocking precedent. Covertly expressed (apart from Lord Salisbury's speeches) though atavistically felt, was the conviction that the Irish were unfit for self government. For the defecting radicals the imperial consideration was almost as strong - not only Chamberlain but Seeley and Goschen being later imperial enthusiasts - as was any threat to the empire's free trade. Chamberlain also exposed some of the impracticalities of the bill, such as the modern West Lothian question. He might have been piqued, too, by the summary rejection in 1885 of his Central Board scheme for Ireland. All these reasons proved enough for the Home Rule bill to be defeated in June 1886 and for the Liberals to be swept aside in the General Election the next month. Gladstone did return in 1892, with the help of the Irish party, and the Second Home Rule bill passed the Commons in 1893 only to the thrown out by the Lords.
Missed opportunities?
The defeat of his two Home Rule Bills spelled the failure of Gladstone's Irish policy. But it could be said that he had glimpsed the future and that 1886 indeed was the lost moment in Anglo-Irish affairs. In the end, in 1921, Britain was forced to concede virtual independence to southern Ireland, prompting George V's rueful comment to Lloyd George: 'what fools we were not to have accepted Gladstone's Home Rule bill'. Home Rule in 1886 would have preserved a united Ireland, but with federal links and loyalties to Britain. Perhaps the historiography on Gladstone and Ireland has come round full circle. His colleague and biographer John Morley, followed by J. L. Hammond in 1938, took the view that Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule was moral and disinterested, and adopted despite the obvious dangers to the Liberal party. The High Politics school of the 1970s to 1990s scoffed at such naivety and saw the episode as tactical manoeuvring by the arch humbug. More recently other historians have been returning to a modified version of the traditional interpretation and the conclusion that Gladstone's attempt was indeed a crucial missed opportunity. Colin Matthew, the editor of Gladstone's diaries, has pointed out the irony of the 1867 Austrian-Hungarian Compromise being enacted by imperial fiat, while Home Rule was turned down by the British representative system. Part of the problem is that the British - or rather English - have no experience of federalism and therefore mistrust it. Hence the suspicious mutterings about 'Europe' today. Not only Anglo-Irish affairs but British-European attitudes now might be different had Mr Gladstone succeeded in 1886.
Ireland in the Empire
No, Never!
Ireland in the Empire
Larne Harbour unloading Armaments, 1914
Origins of the Anglo-Irish Treaty
The 1921 Treaty arose, quite simply, out of the demand of the majority of Ireland for independence. Ever since the days of Daniel O'Connell, the catholic population - the overwhelming majority confession in Ireland apart from the north-east - had expressed its desire for some form of self-government. At first, the movement was respectable and constitutional, pressing for self-government, known as Home Rule, but not full independence. In modern parlance this was akin to Scottish devolution, complete with its attendant difficulties. (One such today is the West Lothian Question about continued Scots representation at Westminster; the first to identify such an anomaly in fact was Joe Chamberlain in his speeches against Irish Home Rule in 1886.)

It is true that there had also been more violent nationalist enthusiasts, generally known at Fenians, working for a completely independent Irish republic, but their movement was prone to splits and their attempts at risings uniform failures.

By 1914 the Irish Home Rule party was in the happy position that the British government had passed a Home Rule bill - though it was suspended for the hostilities, and with the temporary exclusion of the north-eastern counties with protestant, Unionist, majorities. But the more extreme nationalists refused to be counted out of the picture. In Easter 1916 they proclaimed the Republic of Ireland, and although quickly suppressed, their political wing, Sinn Fein, reaped the rewards in the 1918 General Election. After gaining an overwhelming majority in Ireland (always excepting the north-east), Sinn Fein proceeded to establish its own parliament and government. Initially bemused for some months, the British authorities then attempted to extinguish this challenge, sparking a guerrilla war from 1919 to the Truce in July 1921.

The Negotiations
The issue which faced the two sides in that second half of 1921 was the status, and size, of this new Ireland. Clearly something more than the old Home Rule had to be offered to the resurgent nationalists. And what was to be done about the recalcitrant north-east, which so valued its British culture? The government, in fact, had partitioned Ireland into six counties and 26 counties by its Government of Ireland Act of 1920, giving both areas Home Rule, run by Belfast and Dublin respectively. Though rejected by the South, Home Rule was accepted, reluctantly, by the Unionists of the North, the more quick-witted of them realising that this provided them with an inbuilt majority in Northern Ireland.

The Irish delegation at Number Ten proved their realism by accepting this division of Ireland - for the time being. Had they not done so, negotiations could not have commenced: the north of Ireland would have returned to its openly belligerent mode of pre-1914. Division meant that Unionists in the South and nationalists in the North would have to be sacrificed, but pragmatism dictated this compromise. The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, encouraged this acceptance by implying - with all the misty Welsh obfuscation at his considerable command - that a subsequent boundary commission would shave off large amounts of this Northern Ireland and hand them to the South, leaving the North too small to operate as a viable unit and thus eventually open to unification with the South.

The Irish delegation also might have preferred not to spend too much time thinking about the awkward example of the Unionists in the north, since their very existence, coupled with the principle of self determination, meant some modification to the nationalist Irish case. At all events, it is interesting that neither during the negotiations, nor the subsequent debate of the Treaty provisions in the Irish Parliament, the Dail, did the subject of Northern Ireland preoccupy the participants.

Of more concern was the political condition of the new Ireland. The British were unlikely to offer full independence; and, moreover, they would demand some sort of participation within the Empire. Inevitably such would mean a denial of Republican status - the holy grail for which the men of 1916 had fought and died. Perhaps this was one reason why the Irish delegation was not led by the self appointed President of the putative Irish Republic, Eamon de Valera, the only surviving commandant of the 1916 rising. He left the sacrifice of the Republic (and consequent loss of popularity) to the original founder of Sinn Fein, Arthur Griffith, who now headed the delegation along with Michael Collins, the hard man of the guerrilla movement and master of urban warfare.

Collins quickly demonstrated he was no mere terrorist by his sophisticated negotiating and skill on paper; before long he was the dominant man of the Irish side. Facing him was the full panoply of the British inner cabinet, which besides LG included Winston Churchill and Lord Birkenhead. It was Collins and Griffith who were to persuade their colleagues to accept the unavoidable compromise.

The Treaty
The terms were that the British agreed to concede dominion status (equivalent to the constitutional status of ex-colonies like Canada) to the south, now to be known as the Irish Free State. The Head of State would remain the King, with a Governor-General as his representative in Dublin. Various office-holders, including parliamentarians, would have to take an oath of loyalty to the Crown. Three ports in the south would remain British territory for reasons of imperial security. Ireland was designated as within the British Commonwealth, though its precise obligations in this area remained undefined

On the Irish side, the nationalists won complete independence for home affairs and practical independence over foreign policy. But the oath of allegiance had to be swallowed - and this proved to be the sticking-point for many. Michael Collins argued that the Treaty was just the first step towards what could become full sovereignty: in time the Irish would achieve their full ambitions. In the early hours of 6 December 1921 - following a melodramatic ultimatum by Lloyd George - the Irish delegation, slowly, one by one, signed the Treaty. Collins's own comment on this came in a letter to a friend the next day: 'early this morning I signed my death warrant.' That was no melodrama.

The Aftermath
Collins was anticipating the reaction to the Treaty back home. Although the delegates were put to the test in the subsequent bitter debate and then General Election in the South, the pro-Treaty position won a narrow majority in both cases. That should have been that; but the anti-Treaty forces now moved into open hostilities against the new Irish government and a vicious civil war took place from 1922 to 1923, Collins himself falling in an ambush.

Eventually the Free State imposed its authority and the Treaty was secured. But not for long. The Anti-Treaty forces split, and the majority, led by de Valera, entered constitutional politics in 1926 as a new party, Fianna Fail, leaving the purist republican rump behind as '. Such a move involved taking the oath of allegiance to the Crown - the issue largely over which the civil war had been fought - but de Valera was just waiting to get into power. Once achieved, in 1932, he then proceeded to take full advantage of the Statute of Westminster the year before which allowed the dominions (and thus Ireland) full rights to legislate for their own affairs. Promptly the oath was abolished and then in 1937 Ireland's constitution produced. The Free State became Eire and left the Commonwealth. It moved, finally, to its present formulation of the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

Nevertheless, the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 may be said to be still in existence in that it conceded, in effect if not to the last absolute jot de jure, the independence of southern Ireland. And quite as important, its division of Ireland into two states remains. Various arrangements concerning the position of Northern Ireland have been made before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998; and doubtless some will be made hereafter. But perhaps that too will stand, eventually, the test of time. There were repeated attempts at providing a suitable constitutional arrangement within the Union, but these were repeatedly thwarted by a combination of Conservatives, Ulstermen and Imperial minded Liberals who split their party rather than support Home Rule for Ireland. A reluctant agreement was fostered in the immediate period before World War One broke out but this was frozen by the momentous events of the Great War. Disappointed nationalists took to the streets of Dublin with the Easter Rising which was put down by a nervous British military establishment still engaged in a major war on the Continent. Their over-reaction to the events provided a new line of martyrs for the Nationalist cause and helped create the conditions for the post-war 'Troubles'. After much bloodshed these 'Troubles' led to the 26 southern counties became the Irish Free state with Dominion status but with 6 of the Ulster counties remaining in the United Kingdom. In 1937 the name Eire was adopted by the Irish Free State. In 1948 Eire left the Commonwealth to become the Republic of Ireland, but the tensions and communal differences in the North of Ireland continued to bedevil British politics for many years to come.

map of Ireland
Maps of Ireland
map of Ireland
Images of Ireland
National Archive Ireland Images
Significant Individuals
1169 - 1922
1798 - 1922
Timeline of Irish History
1169 Normans land in Ireland for first time
August 1170 Strongbow Arrives in Ireland
1171 Strongbow becomes King of Leinster
18th October 1171 Henry II arrives in Waterford receiving Fealty of Irish Lords and Bishops
1366 Statutes of Kilkenny to prvent Normans from taking on Irish customs
1496 The 'Pale' Defined at Clongowes
1534 Kildare Rebellion
1541 Henry VIII declared himself 'King of Ireland'. He recognises land titles of existing Irish lords in return for their submission to him as their king.
1556 Leix and Offaly Plantations established in Munster
1569 - 1573 and 1579 - 1583 Desmond Rebellions
1594 - 1603 Nine Years War
1598 O'Neill's victory at Yellow Ford
1601 Mountjoy's defeat of O'Neill and O'Donnell at Kinsale despite Spanish intervention
1603 Accession of James I and surrender of Hugh O'Neill
1606 Scottish Presbyterian Plantation organised in Ards Peninsula
1608 - 1610 Ulster Plantations in Derry organised by City of London from lands confiscated after Flight of the Earls
1625 - 1629 War with Spain complicates security issues pertaining to Ireland
1626 - 1628 Old English extract 51 'Instructions and Graces' from King Charles in return for payments towards defence of Ireland
1634 Commission for Defective Titles
1635 City of London loses patent over Londonderry
12 May 1641 Thomas Wentworth (Earl of Strafford) executed
23rd Sept, 1641 Rebellion against Protestant settlers
19th Mar, 1642 The Adventurer's Act
1642 - 1649 Catholic Confederation
1643 Presbyterian Solemn League and Covenant
1649 Cromwell arrives in Ireland and sacks Drogheda and Wexford as he imposes Parliamentarian control
1650 Confederates exiled to West Indies or executed if involved in 1641 rebellion, Other Catholic landowners exiled to Connaught
1688 James II deposed in England, much of Ireland remains loyal to James. Exception is Londonderry.
1689 Siege and relief of Londonderry
14th June 1690 William of Orange lands at Carrickfergus
1st July 1690 Battle of Boyne
1691 Catholic forces surrender at Limerick
1695 First penal laws enacted against Catholics
1728 Jonathan Swift's pamphlet attacking Britain's policies towards Ireland
1782 Legislative Independence granted to Irish Parliament
1796 Wolfe Tone and French Fleet arrives at Bantry Bay
1798 United Irishmen Rebellion
1800 Acts of Union passed - came into force on Jan 1st 1801
1803 Emmet Rising
1823 Daniel O'Connell establishes Catholic Association
1824 Abolition of Protective Tariffs opens up Ireland to Free Trade
1828 O'Connell elected for Clare
1829 Catholic Emancipation
1840 O'Connell establishes Repeal Association
1843 O'Connell's Monster Meetings for Repeal of the Union
1845 - 1849 Potato Blight arrives in Ireland bringing famine
1846 Repeal of Corn Laws, Peel forced to resign
1848 Battle of Widow MacCormack's Cabbage Garden
1858 Irish Republican Brotherhood Founded. Fenian Brotherhood founded in America
1866 - 1871 Fenian Raids on Canada from USA
1867 Fenian Rising in Ireland
1869 Irish Church Act disestablishes Church of Ireland
1870 Gladstone's First Land Act
1879 Charles Parnell elected MP
1879 - 1882 Land War
1880 Parne;;s starts affair with Mrs O'Shea
1881 Gladstone's Second Land Act
October 1881 Parnell imprisoned
May 1882 Kilmainham Treaty
6th May 1882 Phoenix Park Murders
1886 First Home Rule Bill Defeated
1887 Forged Parnell letters published
1889 Forgeries exposed
1890 Parnell Divorce Case heard. Parnell deposed as Irish Party Leader
1891 Parnell dies
1893 Second Home Rule Bill passes Commons but defeated in Lords
1893 Gaelic League formed
1899 A pro-Boer Irish Transvaal Committee is founded. It will help coordinate the raising of Irish volunteers to fight the British in the Boer War. 28,000 Irish soldiers fight as part of the British Army during the same war.
1900 Irish Parliamenty Party reunited under John Redmond's leadership.
1903 Land Purchase Act
1909 Land Purchase Act
1910 Irish Party holds balance of power in Commons
1911 Parliament Act Passed
1912 Third Home Rule Bill passes Commons
1912 Solemn League and Covenant in Ulster
January 1913 Ulster Volunteer Force Created
November 1913 Irish Citizen Army and Irish National Volunteeers Created
March 1914 Curragh Mutiny
April 1914 Larne Gun Running
July 1914 Howth Gun Running
August 1914 World War One starts
August 1914 Irish Home Rule Act Passed, but deferred due to outbreak of war
April 1916 Easter Rising
May 1916 British execution of leading rebels
July 1917 De Valera wins East Clare
November 1918 Great War ends
December 1918 Sinn Fein becomes largest Irish party in parliamentary elections
January 1919 Dail Eireann meets in Dublin
1919 Michael Collins organises killing of police
March 1920 Black and Tan members begin to arrive from England
21st November 1920 Croke Park Shooting as part of Bloody Sunday violence
December 1920 The Government of Ireland Act provided for separate Parliaments in Dublin and Belfast
19th March 1921 Crossbarry Ambush
May 21st 1921 Dublin Custom House debacle for IRA
11th July 1921 Truce declared to discuss political options
December 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty
January 1922 Dail's acceptance of Anglo-Irish Treaty
1922 Civil War between pro and anti Treaty factions in Free State
1939 IRA bombing in Britain
1932 Economic War with Britain over Land Annuities
1937 New Constitution for Eire
1938 Agreement with Britain to end economic war in return for Britain renouncing Treaty Ports and military rights
1939 IRA bombing in Britain
1939 Eire neutral as World War Two begins
1949 Republic of Ireland declared
1956 - 1962 IRA Campaign in Northern Ireland
1969 British troops sent to Northern Ireland to protect Catholics
1972 Bloody Sunday
1972 Stormont rule descended
1981 IRA Hunger Strike
1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement
1993 Downing Street Declaration
1998 Good Friday Agreement
1999 Joint Rule in Assembly
Ireland within the British Empire
Further Reading
A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes
by Jonathon Bardon

Ireland: A History
by Thomas Bartlett

The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923
by J. Beckett

The Oxford Companion to Irish History (Oxford Paperback Reference)
Ed. by S.J. Connolly

The Anglo-Irish War: The Troubles of 1913-1922 (Essential Histories)
by Peter Cotterell

A Discovery of the True Causes why Ireland was never entirely subdued
by Sir John Davies (1612)

Modern Ireland 1600-1972
by R. Foster

Ireland and Empire: Colonial Legacies in Irish History and Culture
by Stephen Howe At War With the Empire: Ireland's Fight for Independence
by Gerry Hunt

Ireland 1798-1998: War Peace and Beyond (Wiley Desktop Editions)
by Alvin Jackson

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism
by Robert Kee

Anglo Irish War, The: 1916 - 1921
by William Kautt

Ireland and the British Empire (Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series)
Ed by Kevin Kenny

Civil Society and Empire: Ireland and Scotland in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-century Culture & History)
by James Livesey

Civil Society and Empire: Ireland and Scotland in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-century Culture & History)
by John Patrick Montano

Cromwell - An Honourable Enemy
by Tom Reilly

British Voices: From the Irish War of Independence 1918-1921
by William Sheehan

Roger Casement: Imperialist, Rebel, Revolutionary

by Seamas O Siochain

Ireland and India: Nationalism, Empire and Memory (Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series)
by Michael Silvestri

The Roots of Ireland's Troubles
by Stedall, Robert

Witness: Easter Rising
A BBC audio program about the 1916 uprising
Ireland in the Union
by Alan Heesom
Michael Collins
The Last September
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Searching for Ancestors in Ireland

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