From 1801 onwards Ireland had no Parliament of its own; Irish MPs (drawn from the ascendancy) sat in the Westminster parliament in London where they were a small minority. Westminster was unwilling to grant major concessions to Catholics, despite persistent agitation. In 1823 a Catholic barrister, Daniel O’Connell, established the Catholic Association to press for full liberty for Catholics and rapidly converted it into a political mass-movement. O’Connell’s success forced the London parliament to grant Catholic Emancipation in 1829, removing virtually all the disabilities against Catholics.
(Daniel O’Connell) O’Connell, the most popular figure in the country, now sought repeal of the Act of Union of 1800 and the restoration of the Irish parliament. He set up the Repeal Association and modeled his campaign on that for emancipation. The agitation was characterized y mass meetings, some attracting hundreds of thousands of people. The London government resisted and when a Dublin rally was banned in1843, O’Connell acquiesced. This marked the effective end of the repeal campaign.
In the 1840’s the Young Ireland movement was formed. The most influential of its leaders was Thomas Davis who, like the United Irishmen, expressed a concept of nationality embracing all who lived in Ireland, regardless of creed or origin. An attempt by the Young Irish to stage an insurrection failed in 1848, but their ideas strongly influenced later generations.
The end of war in Europe in 1815 had a drastic impact on the economy. The war had led to a huge growth in tillage farming to supply the armies, and a dependence on the potato as a staple food. When war ended there was a change from tillage to pasture, causing agrarian unemployment. Population increased rapidly and reached 8 million by 1841, two-thirds of whom depended on agriculture. In this precarious agrarian economy the failure of the potato crop in 1845 due to blight, proved disastrous. The crop failed again in 1846, 1847, and 1848 and coupled with sever weather, resulted in famine. By 1851 the population had been reduced by at least 2 million due to starvation, disease and emigration to Britain and the United States.
The latter half of the 19th century was characterized by campaigns for national independence and land reform. The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), also known as the Fenians, was founded in 1858. The Fenians, a secret society, rejected constitutional attempts to gain independence as futile. Among the leaders of the Fenians were James Stephens and John O’Leary. They staged an armed uprising in 1867. The rising was no more than a token gesture and was put down. The IRB continued in existence, however.
A constitutional movement seeking Home Rule was set up by Isaac Butt. The Home Rulers, who sought a separate parliament subordinate to London, won half the Irish seats in the 1874 election. Leadership of the movement soon passed to Charles Stewart Parnell.
The strained relations between landlords and their tenant farmers were a constant social and political difficulty. In1879 Michael Davitt founded the National Land League. The League aimed to secure basic rights for tenant farmers – fair rent, free sale and fixity of tenure. Parnell became president of the movement. Many Fenians also joined. The result was a great national campaign of mass agitation from 1879 to 1882, which forced the British government to pass a series of Land Acts. These eventually abolished the old landlord system and transferred ownership of the land to the people who worked it.
Parnell then used the agrarian movement as the basis to agitate for Home Rule in the 1885 election. The Home Rule party swept the countryside outside eastern Ulster. Gladstone, the British Prime Minister, responded by introducing a Bill in Parliament to grant Home Rule but this was defeated in 1886, as was another in1894. The impetus of the Home Rule campaign was effectively lost with the death of Parnell in 1891.
However, the years after Parnell’s death saw the growing emergence of a cultural nationalism. The Gaelic Athletic Association, founded in 1884, promoted the national games while the Gaelic League, founded in 1893 by Douglas Hyde and Eoin MacNeill, tried to revive the Irish language and culture on a nationwide basis. At the same time Arthur Griffith developed a new political party in the period 1905-1908 known as Sinn Féin – ‘We Ourselves’.
The Sinn Féin policy was that Irish MPs should withdraw from Westminster and establish an independent parliament. Sinn Féin had close links with the IRB. The Dublin labor dispute of 1913 produced another group, the Irish Citizen Army, which was socialist but also separatist.
In 1912 another Home Rule bill was introduced in Westminster. This brought considerable success to the Irish Parliamentary Party, now led by John Redmond. However, resistance to the measure was strong in north-east Ulster. Sir Edward Carson who set up the Ulster Volunteers to oppose Home Ruled it. In response, the Irish Volunteers, largely controlled by the IRB, were founded in Dublin.
The Home Rule bill was finally passed in 1914, but its implementation was shelved upon the outbreak of war. John Redmond encouraged Irishmen to enlist in the British Army hoping this would sustain British support for Home Rule. Others disagreed with this policy and in 1916 the Irish Volunteers, led by Patrick Pearse and the Irish Citizen Army led by James Connolly, staged a rebellion against British rule. The Easter Rising of 1916 was put down but the decision of the British to execute several of the leaders alienated public opinion. In the 1918 general election Sinn Féin totally defeated the Irish Parliamentary Party.
The Sinn Féin representatives now constituted themselves as the first Dáil, or independent Parliament, in Dublin. Éamon de Valera headed the Dáil. The British attempt to smash Sinn Féin led to the War of Independence of 1919-1921.
Michael Collins led the Irish forces. After more than two years of guerilla struggle a truce was agreed. In December 1921 an Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed and 26 counties gained independence as the Irish Free State. Six Ulster counties had been granted their own parliament in Belfast in 1920 and remained within the United Kingdom.
The establishment of the Free State was followed by a civil war between the new government and those who opposed the Treaty. Éamon de Valera led those who opposed the treaty. A truce was negotiated in May 1923 but the Civil War claimed the lives of many who had been prominent in the struggle for independence among them Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha.
Most content found in the History and Facts section comes directly from: “Facts about Ireland”
Published by the Dept. of Foreign Affairs
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© 1995 Government of Ireland
ISBN 0 906404 23 1
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