IRELAND-1798-1998- WAR, PEACE AND BEYOND- ALVIN JACKSON
Second EditionIRELAND1798–1998War, Peace and BeyondAlvin Jackson A John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Publication
Praise for the ﬁrst edition of Ireland 1798–1998‘Jackson’s measured and ironic approach is a breath of fresh air. This bookconﬁrms his position in the leading rank of Irish historians.’ History‘Jackson’s book cannot be bettered as the most up-to-date, comprehensive and read-able account of the last 200 years.’ History Review‘Jackson presents a survey of modern Irish political history that is up-to-date andeven-handed in its perspective . . . An important contribution that belongs in allcollege libraries. ’ Choice‘A brief review cannot do justice to the richness and complexity of Ireland 1798 –1998. Jackson’s gracefully written interpretations of events, forces and personalitiesare based upon an extensive reading of secondary sources and thoughtful, percep-tive and impartial judgements.’ Irish Studies Review‘A ﬂowing narrative and sharp historical analysis . . . Jackson is to be congratulatedfor producing a ﬁnely researched, well-written survey, which scholars, advancedundergraduates and the general reader will ﬁnd immensely informative andthought-provoking.’ Albion‘The book is a formidable achievement. Logically organised, lucidly presented andstylishly written, this is a ﬁrst-class study that will enthrall all those interested inthe history of Ireland in the modern period.’ Thomas Bartlett, University College Dublin‘Alvin Jackson offers an authoritative, reﬂective and refreshing analysis.’ Irish News i
ContentsList of Plates viiList of Maps viiiAcknowledgements ixList of Abbreviations xi 1 Introduction 1 1.1 Ends of the Century 1 1.2 Modes and Frameworks of Interpretation 2 2 The Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790 – 8 6 2.1 The Origins of the Crisis 6 2.2 Constitutional Radicalism to Revolution, 1791–8 10 3 Disuniting Kingdoms, Emancipating Catholics, 1799 –1850 23 3.1 The Union, 1799–1801 23 3.2 The Catholic Question, 1799–1829 27 3.3 Justice for Ireland, 1830–41 37 3.4 Utilitarians and Romantics, 1841– 8 46 3.5 The Orange Party, 1798–1853 58 4 The Ascendancy of the Land Question, 1845 –91 68 4.1 Guilty Men and the Great Famine 68 4.2 Pivot or Accelerator? 80 4.3 Brigadiers and Fenians 85 4.4 Home Rule: A First Deﬁnition 108 4.5 Idealists and Technicians: The Parnellite Party, 1880 – 6 116 4.6 A Union of Hearts and a Broken Marriage: Parnellism, 1886–91 131
vi Contents 5 Greening the Red, White and Blue: The End of the Union, 1891–1921 141 5.1 The Irish Parliamentary Party, 1891–1914 141 5.2 Paths to the Post Ofﬁce: Alternatives to the Irish Parliamentary Party, 1891–1914 168 5.3 The Parliamentarians and their Enemies, 1914–18 193 5.4 Making and Unmaking Unionism, 1853–1921 212 5.5 Other Men’s Wounds: The Troubles, 1919–21 241 5.6 Trucileers, Staters and Irregulars 254 6 ‘Three Quarters of a Nation Once Again’: Independent Ireland 272 6.1 Saorstát Éireann, 1922–32 272 6.2 Manifest Destiny: De Valera’s Ireland, 1932–48 285 6.3 Towards a Redeﬁnition of the National Ideal, 1948–58 304 6.4 The Age of Lemass, 1957–73 314 7 Northern Ireland, 1920 –72: Specials, Peelers and Provos 331 8 The Two Irelands, 1973 –98 373 8.1 The Republic, 1973 –98 373 8.2 Northern Ireland, 1973–98 390 9 Ireland in the New Millennium 410 9.1 The Republic, 1998–2008 410 9.2 Northern Ireland, 1998–2008 415 9.3 The End of Irish History? 423Notes 426Chronology 450Maps 478Select Bibliography 490Index 512
Plates 1 Leaders of the 1798 rising 16 2 Daniel O’Connell acquitted, Dublin 1844 49 3 A funeral at Skibbereen of a famine victim, January 1847 72 4 Cahera 1847 74 5 Charles Stewart Parnell re-elected as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, House of Commons, December 1890 136 6 John Redmond 142 7 Irish Volunteers, Kesh, County Sligo, 1914 166 8 Arthur Grifﬁth, c.1922 182 9 Patrick Pearse, c.1916 20110 The General Post Ofﬁce, Dublin, after the Rising 20211 Colonel Edward Saunderson, September 1906 21712 The Ulster Unionist Convention Building, June 1892 22213 Sir Edward Carson, c.1910 22814 Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy, c.1922 26415 Eamon de Valera 28516 Seán Lemass and Terence O’Neill, Stormont, Belfast, January 1965 32117 Charles Haughey, c.1970 32418 Liam Cosgrave, Brian Faulkner, and ministers from the Belfast Executive and the Dublin coalition government, Hillsborough, February 1974 38619 The aftermath of the Omagh bombing, August 1998 39420 John Hume and David Trimble with Bono from U2, Belfast, May 1998 40221 Bertie Ahern, Taoiseach of Ireland (1997–2008) 41322 Ian Paisley, First Minister of Northern Ireland, and Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister, as the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ 42023 United in support for the PSNI: Robinson, Orde, McGuinness at Stormont, 10 March 2009 422
Maps 1 Ireland: provinces, counties and county towns 478 2 The 1798 rising 479 3 The Orange Order, May 1798 479 4 O’Connell and Young Ireland: the repeal meetings, 1843; 1848 rising 480 5 The 1916 rising 480 6 The Anglo-Irish war: reprisals by British forces, September 1919–July 1921 481 7 Parliamentary constituencies, 1604–1800 481 8 Parliamentary constituencies, 1801–85 482 9 Parliamentary constituencies, 1885 48210 Dáil constituencies, 1923 48311 Dáil constituencies, 1935 48312 Population density, 1841–91, by baronies 48413 Population change, 1841–1926, by counties 48514 Emigration, 1851–1911, by counties 48615 Religious denominations, 1871, by counties 48716 Distribution of Catholics and Protestants in Ulster, 1911, by district electoral divisions 48817 Religious afﬁliations, 1971 48818 Irish speakers, 1851–1961 489
AcknowledgementsI have taxed the patience, kindness and friendship of many in researching and writ-ing this book. Sir Geoffrey Elton asked me to take on the project, and offered gener-ous support in the early months: I remember him with respect and affection.Numerous friends and colleagues have read part, or all, of the typescript, but ofcourse bear no responsibility for any shortcomings there may be in the ﬁnal ver-sion. Tom Bartlett, Seán Connolly, the late Peter Jupp and Patrick Maume offeredsharp insights and stimulus across the entire volume; Gordon Gillespie offered helpwith the later sections of the chronology and of the narrative. Roy Foster read thetypescript and gave wise advice and vital afﬁrmation. I have beneﬁted, too, fromthe support of many other friends: Paul Bew, Richard English, David Hayton andDavid Livingstone at Queen’s, Maurice Bric at University College Dublin, OliverRafferty at Oxford, and Kevin O’Neill, Peg Preston, and Rob Savage at Boston College.Blackwell Publishers’ readers were – following the convention – anonymous; buttheir careful reports supplied both encouragement as well as important suggestionsfor improvement. I am grateful to numerous individuals and institutions for help with research orcopyright materials. Lesley Bruce and Alexandra Cann Representation kindly gaveme permission to quote from the work of Stewart Parker. Michael Longley graciouslyand wittily recorded his willingness to see some of his verse used within thesecovers: the covers themselves carry an illustration made available through the greatgenerosity of Brian P. Burns and drawn from his superb collection of Irish art.I am indebted, as ever, to the staff of the National Library of Ireland, the PublicRecord Ofﬁce of Northern Ireland, the Library of Trinity College Dublin, and theLibrary of Queen’s University Belfast. I must in particular acknowledge the help ofYvonne Murphy and her colleagues in the Northern Ireland Political Collectionof the Linenhall Library. To those owners of copyright whom I have been unableto contact or whom I have omitted through oversight, I offer my apologies.
x Acknowledgements I owe other debts of gratitude. The powers-that-be at Queen’s University and theUniversity of Edinburgh arranged for sabbatical leave, without which the book mightnever have seen the light of day. The British Academy has funded my original andongoing researches into modern Irish history, most recently through a SeniorResearch Fellowship (2008–9). The Burns Library and Irish Studies Program at BostonCollege appointed me to their Burns Visiting Professorship in 1996–7: thisbrought vital liberation from teaching and administration, as well as access to somesplendid library resources. I have mentioned three Bostonian friends: let me alsoacknowledge the friendship and support of the late Adele Dalsimer, KristinMorrison and Bob O’Neill, all of Boston College. My greatest debt is recorded inthe dedication. A.J.
List of AbbreviationsACA Army Comrades’ AssociationAIA Anglo-Irish AgreementAOH Ancient Order of HiberniansAPL Anti-Partition LeagueCBS Christian Brothers’ SchoolCSJ Campaign for Social JusticeDHAC Derry Housing Action CommitteeDMP Dublin Metropolitan PoliceDUP Democratic Unionist PartyGAA Gaelic Athletic AssociationGOC General Ofﬁcer CommandingICTU Irish Congress of Trade UnionsIDA Industrial Development AuthorityIFS Irish Free StateILPU Irish Loyal and Patriotic UnionINLA Irish National Liberation ArmyINTS Irish National Theatre SocietyIRA Irish Republican ArmyIRAO Irish Republican Army OrganizationIRB Irish Republican BrotherhoodITGWU Irish Transport and General Workers’ UnionIUA Irish Unionist AllianceIWFL Irish Womens’ Franchise LeagueNICRA Northern Ireland Civil Rights AssociationNIHE National Institute for Higher EducationNILP Northern Ireland Labour PartyNIO Northern Ireland OfﬁcePD People’s Democracy: Progressive Democrats
xii List of AbbreviationsPIRA Provisional Irish Republican ArmyPSNI Police Service of Northern IrelandPUP Progressive Unionist PartyRIC Royal Irish ConstabularyRUC Royal Ulster ConstabularySAS Special Air ServiceSDLP Social Democratic and Labour PartyTD Teachta DálaUCD University College DublinUDA Ulster Defence AssociationUDP Ulster Democratic PartyUDR Ulster Defence RegimentUFF Ulster Freedom FightersUIL United Irish LeagueUPNI Unionist Party of Northern IrelandUSC Ulster Special ConstabularyUUC Ulster Unionist CouncilUVF Ulster Volunteer ForceUWUC Ulster Women’s Unionist CouncilYIB Young Ireland Branch of the UIL
1Introduction We are trying to make ourselves heard Like the lover who mouths obscenities In his passion, like the condemned man Who makes a last-minute confession Like the child who cries out in the dark. Michael Longley11.1 Ends of the CenturyIrish history, it has been observed, is often written as a morality tale, with a pre-formulated structure and established patterns of triumph and travail.2 Written inthe aftermath of the paramilitary ceaseﬁres of 1994 and 1997 and revised in thewake of the St Andrews Agreement of 2006, this story of Ireland might easily assumesome of the characteristics of its predecessors in the ﬁeld: a narrative of heroismand villainy with a happy resolution. The quality of the fairy-tale ending may notbe fully perceived for some years yet, and the interaction of the book’s themesmay not coincide with the typology of other stories of Ireland. Yet the period underconsideration here does appear to represent a discreet phase within Irish politicalhistory: while the book lacks the robust predestinarianism of earlier stories, it mayat least boast a shadowy symmetry. The book begins and ends with the turn of a century. The book begins with thecreation of militant republicanism and militant loyalism in the 1790s – in the essen-tial context both of European revolution and of a great international conﬂict: ‘theevents of 1793–4, in their total effect, marked a turning-point in the history ofthe protestant ascendancy’, J.C. Beckett has noted; Thomas Bartlett has called the1790s ‘the crucible of modern Ireland when separatism, republicanism, unionismand Orangeism captured the Irish political agenda for generations to come’.3 The
2 Introductionbook closes with, if not the demise, then at least the modiﬁcation of militant repub-licanism and militant loyalism in the 1990s and after. Again, the dual context forthis development has been European revolution and the apparent resolution of agreat international rivalry. America and France ﬁred Irish republican zeal in theearly 1790s: the French wars indirectly brought about the militarization of this repub-lican enthusiasm after 1793. The fall of the Soviet empire in the late 1980s and thetermination of the ideological and material conﬂicts between communism andcapitalism have affected Ireland no less than the seismic political shifts of the1790s. Militant republicanism can no longer appeal, even indirectly, to the resourcesof the eastern bloc; the British government no longer ﬁnds a wholly compliantpartner in the United States. Moreover, in both the 1790s and the 1990s social and economic developmentsbroke through their constitutional constraints. The end of the eighteenth centurywas characterized by the consolidation of the Catholic propertied interest, andby its increasingly vocal opposition to a constitution which recognized property,but not Catholicism. The Irish Protestant constitution (even – especially – whenrevamped in 1782–3) proved unable to accommodate this newly arisen interest, andwas abolished by the British government through the Act of Union (1800). Theend of the twentieth century in Northern Ireland has been characterized by theproportionate growth of the Catholic population, and their increasing political andcultural conﬁdence: the Protestant-dominated constitutional arrangements of theperiod 1920–72 proved unable to accommodate Catholic aspirations, and, afterthe Second World War, increasing Catholic political and economic strength. Theconstitutional development of Northern Ireland between 1972 and 1994 hasinvolved a spasmodic retreat from effectively Protestant institutions, as Unionismhas splintered and the political and cultural conﬁdence of northern Protestants haswaned. There is, however, some scattered evidence to suggest that this process hasbeen temporarily halted. It would seem that 25 years of violence (1969–94) havebrought not only some belated Catholic political victories, but at last a more crit-ical self-awareness and reorientation on the part of Ulster Protestants. This of course broaches the characteristic ﬁn-de-siècle theme of decadence. The lateeighteenth century witnessed the ﬁrst symptoms of the decay of Protestant ascen-dancy in Ireland, albeit a decay well screened by a luxuriant social and political culture.Whether the late twentieth century has witnessed the decay of Protestant predom-inance in Northern Ireland (screened again by an exotic political culture) will remainan open question for some decades. Whether the late twentieth century has witnessedthe ﬁnal decay of what has been euphemistically labelled the ‘physical force’ traditionsof loyalism and republicanism is similarly uncertain. If there is, arguably, asymmetry in this story of Ireland, then its lines necessarily remain blurred.1.2 Modes and Frameworks of InterpretationUntil recently the most common framework applied to modern Irish history hasbeen that associated with the varieties of Irish nationalism. Work written in this
Introduction 3broad tradition has become much less common given the steady professionaliza-tion of Irish history writing since the 1930s, but some of its features live on. TheIrish history profession evolved alongside the development, in the late nineteenthand early twentieth centuries, of the Irish revolution, and there was an inevitableoverlap or exchange. In 1886, at the time of the ﬁrst Home Rule Bill, historiansfrom several traditions debated the achievement of Grattan’s parliament, theassembly abolished in 1800 through the Act of Union: nationalist commentatorssaw an economic and cultural ﬂowering in Ireland as a result of legislative inde-pendence, while unionist commentators stressed the merits of Union. Heroes ofthe campaign to repeal the Union, such as Thomas Davis, were lauded in celebra-tory biographies (Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis (1890)). General histories ofIreland (such as that by Mary Hayden) deployed a straightforward morality,emphasizing the beneﬁts of self-rule and the brutality of British imperial govern-ment. This work has supplied several starting points even for some contemporaryIrish historiography: an emphasis on the nobility of nationalist endeavour, on thesuffering of the Irish people under British rule, and on the inevitable success of thenational struggle. Such work, in its most direct expression, fell victim to the popu-larization of a more ‘scientiﬁc’ historical methodology with the creation, in 1938,of the inﬂuential journal Irish Historical Studies; intellectual proponents of anuncritical militant nationalism were also embarrassed by the more bloody aspectsof the IRA campaigns after 1969. The paramilitary ceaseﬁres in 1994 and 1997 have,however, permitted the renewal of a nationalist historical perspective on modernIrish history. An alternative and, since the mid-1960s, a highly inﬂuential interpretativeapproach has been labelled as ‘liberal’. Such work has its origins as a reaction againstthe most elaborate and unconvincing nationalist rhetoric, and – certainly in theview of critics such as Bradshaw – has substituted a rationalist aridity for nation-alist ﬂoridity.4 The characteristics of this work tend to be an intolerance of in-tolerance – a disdainful attitude towards popular political institutions and culture– combined with a much more sensitive approach to the diversity of modern Irelandthan that adopted by the traditionalists. Neo-nationalists tend to see Ireland as anethnic nation subjugated by a neighbouring imperial power (Britain); ‘liberals’ placegreater emphasis on the ‘varieties of Irishness’ and are more wary about the crudeapplication of national labels.5 ‘Liberals’ tend not to accept that Ireland was boundby a simple colonial relationship with Britain. The counter-revisionist critics of this dominant tendency within Irish historicalscholarship fall into a variety of camps (not all of which are discrete). Counter-revisionism may at once be a reassertion of patriotic certainties: in this sense, counter-revisionism may be seen as an Irish expression of the historiography of the radicalright prevalent in the 1980s. By extension, counter-revisionism may be seen as partof the broader ‘greening’ of Irish society, as evidenced by the election of Mary McAleeseas President of Ireland, and – in terms of popular culture – by the phenomenalsuccess of Neil Jordan’s ﬁlm Michael Collins and Michael Flatley’s Riverdance(Flatley appeared on posters clad in the national colours, and the pounding rhythmsof his dancers suggested a militant Celticism to some – friendly – critics). But the
4 Introductioncounter-revisionist tendency is as sophisticated as the revisionism which it seeks tosubvert; and it is also arguable that counter-revisionism represents a post-modernistassault on the enlightenment verities of mainstream Irish history. In this interpreta-tion revisionism is a liberal construction, and therefore as ﬂawed and as dangerousas other constructionist readings. Indeed, just as some crusading post-modernistshave seen the Holocaust as a bloody and perverted expression of the Enlighten-ment, so some ‘green’ post-modernists have seen ‘enlightened’ revisionists apolo-gizing for what is occasionally described as the Irish holocaust – the Great Famineof 1845–51.6 Marxian interpretations of modern Irish history stem from the Irish commen-taries of Marx himself, or – more frequently – the work of the socialist James Connolly,especially Labour in Irish History (1910) or The Reconquest of Ireland (1915). Thiswork, predictably enough, is to be differentiated from mainstream nationalistcommentary by its emphasis on class, and hostility towards organized Catholicism.It lays emphasis on the revolutionary potential of the Irish working class, seeingcapitalism as an imperialist importation, and the middle classes as hopelesslycorrupted: ‘the middle class . . . have now also bowed the knee to Baal, and have athousand economic strings binding them to English capitalism as against everysentimental or historic attachment drawing them towards Irish patriotism’.7 Theineluctable problem which this work continually encounters is that of the Unionistworking class in Belfast, a theoretical irritant (like the Tory working man inVictorian England) as well as an apparently practical obstacle to the socialist mil-lennium. Connolly saw the Catholics and Presbyterians of eighteenth-century Irelandas united through their legal disabilities; he saw Presbyterians won to the cause ofthe Anglican ‘master class’ in the nineteenth century, and bound into an Orangeworking class whose servility was rooted in marginal superiority over Catholic unskilledlabour. The inﬂuence of this model of sectarian and political relations in the northof Ireland since the late eighteenth century has been immense. Connolly’s argu-ments have stimulated a continuous reappraisal, and even though his view of theservile Orange worker and rebel Catholic counterpart has been found to be over-simplistic, his rhetoric and assumptions continue to inform even highly respectedcontemporary portrayals of the north of Ireland in the nineteenth century. This volume is not exclusively a part of any of these traditions. It is not neo-nationalist, because while the value of a free-ranging historical sympathy andempathy is warmly embraced here, a historical determinism forms no part of thecritical approach. For much the same reasons the volume, though occasionallyinﬂuenced by some Marxist scholarship on Ulster labour, is neither a socialist textnor a call to arms such as Michael Farrell’s Northern Ireland: The Orange State (1976).8Similarly, while it shares the inclusivist vision of Irish identity explored in Foster’sModern Ireland (1988), the book is not a liberal document. It has been the fate ofIreland’s liberal historians – Lecky, Beckett, Lyons – to see their rationalist faith inthe power of scholarship smashed by popular political emotion: Beckett’s optimisticprojections of the political outlook in his The Making of Modern Ireland (1966) weresoon shown to be ill-founded, while the mild, generous, conﬁdent nationalism of
Introduction 5F.S.L. Lyons’s Ireland since the Famine (1971) was replaced by the bleaker tone ofhis last work, Culture and Anarchy in Ireland (1979). Written with this evidence ofwrecked aspirations, and after 25 years of a low-grade but vicious civil war in NorthernIreland, this volume could not consciously be imbued with any Whiggish agenda,however subtle or artless. Nevertheless, if post-modernist writing is a by-product of an age of crisis, thenwe in Ireland, and especially in Northern Ireland, are all post-modernists now. Thisbook was written against a backdrop of political and social ﬂuidity, with the osten-sibly marmoreal political attitudes and institutions of Northern Ireland in ﬂux: thebook was begun in a post-Unionist Ulster, pursued in a post-nationalist Ireland,completed in a post-industrial United States and revised in a post-unionist Scotland.In common with much recent historiography, the volume addresses some of thecontemporary predicaments of Northern Ireland and the island as a whole; thereis no grand narrative, however, no ‘Ofﬁcial Story’, but rather an interest in whatRichard Kearney has called an ‘open plurality of stories’.9 The work embodies noblind faith in the canonical ‘facts’ of Irish history. As Peter Novick has argued, thehistorian – and emphatically the Irish historian – can hope at best for plausibility.10 Readers, then, will not ﬁnd here a universal narrative history, still less a historydesigned to serve as a basic introduction, or primer, for the subject. An analysis ofIrish political parties, leaders, institutions and movements is sustained; and social,economic and cultural material relevant to the main political thrust is introducedand interwoven. Individual chapters highlight major political issues, and these aregenerally explored through the mapping of subsidiary themes or hypotheses: thematerial relevant to a given issue is often arranged thematically or within the con-text of a wider argument. This makes for a design which is intended to stimulatethought (or, indeed, to invite argument) about sometimes familiar historical issuesor personalities: it is a design which (it is intended) will highlight some fresh con-junctions and conﬁgurations in the interpretation of modern Irish history. In addi-tion, the design is meant to corral, not just the familiar hobby horses of students,but also some rarer creatures. An attempt has been made to give a place to somesections of Irish society not normally (or, at any rate, not adequately) representedwithin works such as this. Thus – once again – the volume is not conditioned exclu-sively by the contours of contemporary Irish life: the ‘losers’ of social and economicand political struggle are characterized as well as the ‘winners’. There are Salierishere as well as Mozarts.
2The Birth of ModernIrish Politics, 1790–8 We had the true faith, you see. Reason. The logical men. History was a dungeon. The people were locked into their separate compounds, full of stench and night- mare. But the dungeons couldn’t stand against the force of rationalism. Let the people once unite, and we could burst open the doors, and they would ﬂood out into the clean sunlight . . . all we’ve done, you see, is to reinforce the locks, cram the cells fuller than ever of mangled bodies crawling round in their own shite and lunacy, and the cycle just goes on, playing out the same demented comedy of terrors from generation to generation, trapped in the same malignant legend . . . Henry Joy McCracken, in Stewart Parker’s Northern Star (1983)12.1 The Origins of the CrisisIreland in the 1790s was a separate but dependent kingdom, united to Great Britainonly through sharing a monarch, George III: the theoretical constitutional positionof Ireland was similar to that of Hungary after the Ausgleich of 1867. Ireland boasteda separate bicameral legislature, which sat in Edward Lovett Pearce’s splendidItalianate parliament house in College Green, Dublin: after 1782–3 this assemblyenjoyed, at least in name, full legislative independence. There was a distinct Irishexecutive, headed by a lord lieutenant, and based in a sprawling administrative com-plex at Dublin Castle. There was a theoretically separate Irish judiciary, housed inDublin’s Four Courts, on the northern bank of the river Liffey. But behind these elaborate institutions, and behind the ﬂorid rhetoric of the Irishparliament’s patriot interest, lay the reality of British inﬂuence. The Irish parlia-ment had, indeed, won what it was pleased to call ‘legislative independence’ in 1782–3;but while the strategies which secured victory had an immense signiﬁcance, thelimits of this triumph were soon apparent – and particularly after 1789 when, withthe French revolution, an increasingly ambitious deﬁnition of parliamentary
Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8 7autonomy and authority gained currency.2 In 1782 one of the keystones of the Irishconstitution, Poynings’ Law (1494), had been modiﬁed in order to award the Irishparliament sole rights over the introduction of legislation (the modifying legisla-tion was known as Yelverton’s Act): in addition an antique legislative irritant, theDeclaratory Act (1720), which asserted the superior status of Westminster, was repealedand, in 1783, replaced by the Renunciation Act, a measure disavowing any Britishlegislative ambition over Ireland. These tinkerings were hailed by Irish patriots asindependence, but the chasm between this rhetoric and constitutional reality waswide, and ultimately dangerous. The Irish political system in the 1790s was affected by British inﬂuence at almostevery level. Though Yelverton’s Act had emasculated the Irish privy council, its Britishcounterpart still possessed a right of veto over Irish legislation, and this meant thatthe British government could spike any offensive measures (in reality it rarely didso). The constitutional settlement of 1782–3 did not directly alter the condition ofthe Irish executive, which remained ﬁrmly under the control of the British govern-ment. The chief executive, the lord lieutenant, was a British appointee, and wasthroughout the period 1782–1800 an Englishman; in the same period the ChiefSecretaries – in effect the government managers in the Commons – were, bar one,Englishmen, and the unique Irish appointment, Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh,was deemed by his lord lieutenant in 1797 to be ‘so very unlike an Irishman I thinkhe has a clear claim to an exception in his favour’.3 A triumvirate of powerful ofﬁce-holders – John Foster, Speaker of the Commons, John Fitzgibbon, the LordChancellor, and John Beresford, Chief Commissioner of the Revenue – generally(though not uniformly) exercised their formidable political inﬂuence in the govern-ment interest. The ‘insistent treatment of Ireland as a British dependency’ (as Nancy Curtinhas described it) was made possible both by the British-controlled executive andby the peculiarly unrepresentative nature of the Irish parliament: strict Britishcontrol over patronage combined with a narrowly based and therefore susceptibleparliament to tarnish further the lustre of ‘legislative independence’.4 The Irish Houseof Commons at the end of the eighteenth century represented chieﬂy the Churchof Ireland landed interest. Catholics were disfranchised between 1728 and 1793, andwere excluded from parliament until the ‘emancipation’ of 1829; Presbyterians,while possessing the franchise, were in practice scarcely represented. Of 150 con-stituencies represented in the Irish House of Commons, 107 were ‘close’ – that is,under the control of an individual or a small group of patrons. By contemporaryEuropean standards even limited parliamentary representation was a democraticluxury, and by contemporary British standards a small and irregular electorate wasunexceptional. In addition, A.P.W. Malcomson has warned against the uncriticalassumption that close boroughs implied inefﬁcient or unchallenged control.5 Whatwas unusual about Ireland was not that landed property should be overrepresented(however unevenly), or that there should be a religious dimension to political rights,but rather that the two principles should be combined in order to exclude two power-ful and wealthy confessional communities from representative politics. This
8 Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8constitutional quirk was made all the more glaring given the inﬂated libertarianrhetoric which had preceded the achievement of legislative independence in 1782.Legislative independence therefore raised dangerous expectations in two separate,but related, spheres: the campaign encouraged the assumption that, while theBritish connection would remain, British inﬂuence would be constrained; and,further, it underlined Catholic and Presbyterian exclusion. The Renunciation Act(1783) has been described as ‘a mere decorative ﬂourish for which the indirect pricewas out of all proportion to the beneﬁt obtained’: the same aphorism might beapplied to the whole settlement (1782–3).6 Legislative independence was a Pyrrhicvictory for the ascendancy parliament, bought at the price of long-term constitu-tional uncertainty. Thomas Malthus, in a famous discussion of Irish demography, suggested thatthe political uncertainty of the 1790s was a product, not of this long-term constitu-tional instability, but rather of exceptional population growth.7 In 1790 the Irishpopulation stood at around 4 million, having doubled since the famine of 1740–1;by 1800 the population would be 5 million, an astonishing rate of growth by lateeighteenth-century European standards. Explanations for this growth are never likelyto be conclusive, but the widespread adoption of the potato through the eighteenthcentury, combined with the general economic buoyancy of the later part of the cen-tury, are clearly relevant factors. Early marriage, and (possibly) a falling mortalityrate, were the immediate spurs to this population boom, but a political dimensionhas also been observed: the political exclusion of Catholics, an issue increasinglyto the fore after legislative independence, and limited Catholic prospects for better-ment, may have removed any social or economic restraint on marital fertility. Itmay well be that the political turmoil of the 1790s was simultaneously a cause anda result of this growth. Economic growth, while related to the issue of population, clearly operated asan independent destabilizing inﬂuence. After the ﬂuctuating, but generally depressed,conditions of the period 1691–1730, the Irish economy grew swiftly: agriculturaloutput rose, trade with Britain and with North America prospered, new industries(such as cotton) and well-established industries (such as linen manufacture, brew-ing and distilling) all generally ﬂourished (despite occasional, temporary downturns,such as at the end of the 1770s). It is difﬁcult to be precise about the politicalimplications of this growth. It may, however, be surmised that the political crisisof 1779–82, which resulted in the achievement of ‘free trade’ and legislative inde-pendence for Ireland, was related to contemporary economic conditions – a periodof depression after sustained growth, and the creation of an early ‘crisis of expect-ations’ (such as has been identiﬁed for the 1870s). The complex inter-relationshipbetween economic growth and political protest may be further illustrated throughthe example of eighteenth-century Armagh. David Miller has argued that the riseof the linen industry in late eighteenth-century County Armagh encouraged somelimited Catholic economic mobility and tended to destabilize well-established familystructures within every confessional tradition: the proﬁtability of handloom weav-ing permitted young men to establish their independence much earlier than was
Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8 9usual within small farmer society, and freed them from the restraints of the rigid,patriarchal family.8 This social liberation combined with Catholic advance and withthe rapid rise in population to stimulate the sectarian violence endemic in Armaghfrom the mid-1780s through to the mid-1790s. But economic growth was linked to other evolving forms of social and politicalinteraction. Tom Bartlett has argued persuasively that in Ireland after c.1770 a newmoral economy was developing in the Irish countryside, underpinned by the grow-ing ‘sociability’ of community activity.9 The mounting prosperity of the country-side was reﬂected in the rising number of fairs and markets, and in the gradualcommercialization of rural economic life. Relative prosperity therefore not onlyequipped many Irish people with new political and material aspirations, but alsogave rise to increasing opportunities for communal mobilization and protest.Aside from the emergence of new political fora, older forms of public activity –sporting events, wakes, funerals, patterns – also now began to take on an additionalsigniﬁcance: the politicization of funerals, for example, seems to have gathered pacein this era. These processes of socialization were augmented and diverted by the increasingimportance of military activity within everyday life: it has been calculated that between1760 and 1820, perhaps as many as one in six Irishmen spent part of their livesin the ranks of one or other of the armed forces, and indeed it is possible that,given the stupendous demands of the Napoleonic wars, this proportion may havebeen higher.10 For many this involved a liberation from the shackles of the localcommunity, and brought – perhaps for the ﬁrst time – tighter deﬁnitions ofnationality and of religious identity. Indeed, it has been observed that this era alsowitnessed a spiralling sectarianism, or rather sectarianization, in part the by-product of these more communal forms of political expression and of the mount-ing conﬂicts between Catholics and the Protestant state: the army, for example, mayhave been the ﬁrst arena where many Irish Catholics experienced the reality of theirreligious subordination. A related range of destabilizing inﬂuences may be located in the realm of ideo-logy. Irish interest in the American and French revolutions was immense, and theideological fall-out from these events was no less dramatic. The rationalist, liber-tarian and republican ideals of, especially, the French revolutionaries found anaudience in Ireland already sensitive (for the reasons already noted) to the issue ofindividual political rights and national sentiment. However, the direct inﬂuence ofthe great writers of the French enlightenment is difﬁcult to gauge: Montesquieu,Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau can have had only a very few, privileged readers in Ireland.Popular appreciation of the ideals and events of the French revolution came, notfrom its intellectual architects, but rather from the press and from pamphlets.‘Illiteracy’, as Nancy Curtin has observed, ‘was no barrier to familiarising oneselfwith the polemics of a Paine or of a Tone’: public readings from the newspapersand from radical literature were quite common.11 Nor was it necessary to followdifﬁcult abstract argument: handbills hammered home a clear-cut political message,while ballads celebrated the French revolutionary achievement in a universally
10 Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8accessible fashion. Popular prophetic literature foretold the liberation of Ireland bythe French. In Ireland, just as in France itself, popular political resentments werecultivated and directed by this literature. The tyranny of Irish government was under-lined by the experience of the French; moreover, the Irish oppressed had now anally in the shape of a liberated French nation.2.2 Constitutional Radicalism to Revolution, 1791–8The two dominant Irish political issues of the early 1790s were certainly not spawnedby the French revolution, but they were nurtured through revolutionary sympathy.Parliamentary reform had been a longstanding question, dating back to the late 1740sand to the campaigns of the radical Dublin apothecary, Charles Lucas: althoughinitially more concerned with Dublin corporation politics than with parliament,Lucas had condemned the misgovernment of the Castle and its parliamentary allies,and – after his political comeback in 1761 – had supported a septennial bill in orderto limit the duration of parliament. Lucas’s views, as David Dickson has noted, ‘werelater to inﬂuence Catholic apologists arguing for relaxation of the penal laws, andpolitical radicals seeking parliamentary reform’.12 The constitutional settlement of1782–3 raised the issue of parliamentary reform in a more direct manner than hadbeen done in the previous generation, with the Volunteers of Ulster attacking thepower of the great borough owners, and a National Convention of the Volunteers,held in Dublin in November 1783, declaring in favour of a reform bill. Thiswas presented to the House of Commons, and summarily rejected. A revival of thereform question in 1784–5 was spear-headed by a new coalition, largely urban, andembracing both Catholics (hitherto largely silent on the question) and dissenters.This fed off other resentments – the Dublin guilds wanted tariff protection,Catholics wanted the removal of disabilities – but soon fell victim to internal divi-sion (especially on the question of Catholic relief) and to a ferocious and abusivepress campaign orchestrated by the Castle. The rejection of William Pitt’s pro-posals for reform of the British parliament, presented in 1785, conﬁrmed thecomprehensive failure of the Irish reformers. In the later 1780s the most conspicuous proponents of limited reform were theWhigs, who were bruised by their misjudgements during the Regency Crisis (theyoffered over-hasty support for the Prince of Wales during George III’s temporaryincapacity in 1788–9), and who established a formal party in the Irish parliamentin 1789: this supported place and pensions bills, a responsibility bill, and thedisfranchisement of revenue ofﬁcers. Even though Whig clubs were founded inDublin, Belfast and other large towns to bolster the new grouping (the NorthernWhig Club denounced corrupt boroughs), the new political challenge came to noth-ing: the elections of 1790 brought no sweeping Whig successes, and in fact servedonly to consolidate the parliamentary strength of the Castle. While the Whigs appearto have found some inspiration from France in the summer of 1789 (their mani-festo was published a month after the fall of the Bastille), the revolution both directly
Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8 11and indirectly would prove to be disastrous for them. As the revolutionaries grewmore radical and violent, so the Whigs grew ever more divided in their attitudes.Moreover, with the outbreak of war between Britain and France in 1793, the Castlesought to bolster support for the war effort through annexing and enacting someof the Whigs’ policies (a Civil List Act, a Place Act, a Barren Land Act and a HearthTax Act). However, this conciliation was complemented – as so often in the historyof Castle administration – with coercion, and three security measures were passedin the same parliamentary session of 1793: a Convention Act, a Gunpowder Actand a Militia Act. And neither the Castle nor – despite some equivocation – theIrish House of Commons was seriously interested in the prospect of parliamentaryreform: a Whig reform bill, creating three member county constituencies and auniform, if elaborate, borough franchise, was easily rejected in March 1794, with theopponents of reform arguing that such moderation had spawned eventual anarchyin France. Denuded in certain areas of policy, and blocked in others, the Whigs lostcredibility, and constitutional reform initiatives fell into other, ultimately lessgenteel, hands. The only substantial reform of the franchise to be won in these years came inJanuary 1793, with the admission of Catholic 40-shilling freeholders to the countyvote through Hobart’s relief bill (and even the importance of this can easily be over-stated, given that the Irish parliament was a borough-dominated assembly). Thepolitical leadership of the Catholic community before 1789 pursued a distinctivelygradualist and (on the whole) loyalist agenda, couching limited demands forministerial ‘indulgence’ in highly deferential language. The Catholic Committee,created in 1760, was the chief representative body for the Catholic community, andemerged as a mild and aristocratic institution: this went into abeyance in 1784, afterthe failure of the parliamentary reform initiative, but was revived in 1790–1 withthe accession of new, bourgeois and radical, leaders. Eamon O’Flaherty has warnedagainst treating the Catholic community in the late eighteenth century in crudelyhomogeneous terms, and indeed even the political attitudes of the Catholic clergyvaried signiﬁcantly: the French revolution created divisions between the episcopateand the younger clergy which foreshadowed similar tensions during the Irish landwars and revolutionary era.13 Indeed, the lessons provided by France for Irish Catholicswere ambiguous: the revolution simultaneously promoted the religious toleranceand equality which had for long been sought by Catholic representatives in Ireland,while involving an assault on the institutions and property of the Church.Revolutionary ideals therefore ﬁred a demand for Catholic relief in Ireland, whiledisturbing many Catholic gentry and much of the episcopate. By December 1791 the old aristocratic masters of the Catholic Committee hadwithdrawn, leaving the ﬁeld to the middle-class radicals (notably John Keoghand Thomas Braughall). The deferential and loyal petitioning of Lord Kenmare,the aristocratic Catholic leader, was now replaced by the French-inspired languageof right. In addition, Keogh and the new Committee complemented this radicalassertiveness with strategic innovation. The Irish government and parliamentwere clearly unsympathetic to Catholic claims and were soon written out of the
12 Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8Committee’s strategy (two relief petitions, submitted by the Committee to the IrishHouse of Commons in January and February 1792, were rejected amidst muchanti-papist philosophizing). A highly tentative reform measure – sponsored bySir Hercules Langrishe and dubbed therefore ‘Langrishe’s Act’ (even though it hadoriginated with the Castle) – did nothing to defuse Catholic protest: indeed, on thecontrary, for as Tom Bartlett has argued, the signiﬁcance of the measure ‘lay in thedebate it provoked (but did not resolve) on the nature of the Anglo-Irish connec-tion, in the jealousies and suspicions it aroused concerning the British government’sCatholic game, and in the fact that it was clearly incomplete’.14 Moreover, the billpassed into law accompanied by the elaboration and enunciation of the new ideaof ‘Protestant ascendancy’. Even before these humiliations the Catholic Committeehad been prepared to sidestep the Irish parliament through exploiting close linkswith its supporters at Westminster (pre-eminently Edmund Burke) and establish-ing communication with the British government: Burke’s son, Richard, was appointedEnglish agent of the Committee in September 1791. The appointment of TheobaldWolfe Tone to the secretaryship of the Committee in July 1792 signalled a moredeﬁant and radical approach; and this was conﬁrmed by the national CatholicConvention, held in Dublin in December, which voted to petition the king for totallegal equality. ‘The real achievement of the Convention’, O’Flaherty has argued, ‘wasthat it succeeded in inducing Pitt to bring irresistible pressure on the Irish execu-tive to grant the principal Catholic demand’.15 Hobart’s relief bill, admitting Catholic40-shilling freeholders to the franchise, was the fruit of this simultaneously moreassertive and subtle approach to the advocacy of Catholic rights: it was the highpointof Catholic constitutional endeavour in the 1790s, indeed before the ‘emancipation’(the term gained currency in 1792–3) of 1829. Thereafter Catholic constitutionalpressure encountered an ascendancy interest increasingly concerned and defensiveabout the European war, and therefore more in tune than hitherto with the Britishgovernment. The Catholic Committee was forced to dissolve under the termsof the Convention Act (1793): Henry Grattan’s Catholic Emancipation Bill (1795)was defeated in the Irish House of Commons, and Grattan’s viceregal patron, EarlFitzwilliam, removed from ofﬁce after a tenure of scarcely two months. Yet, thoughthis half-cocked emancipation did not in fact herald a greater liberation, its signiﬁ-cance should not be missed: Hobart called the enfranchisement ‘a most importantrevolution in the political state of this country’, and Tom Bartlett has convincinglystressed the long-term importance of the arguments and strategies which werepursued in the search for reform.16 Ominously, the comparatively genteel powerstruggle that was under way in Dublin was underscored by a more naked sectarianconﬂict in south Ulster. The crucial points of contact between the radical tradition of parliamentary reformand the campaign for Catholic relief came with the United Irish Society, foundedin Belfast and Dublin in 1791, and with Wolfe Tone, ‘mid-wife’ of the Society andan inﬂuential Catholic sympathizer. The Society was at ﬁrst a constitutionalradical grouping, hostile to English interference in the government of Ireland, buturging the comprehensive reform of government rather than its overthrow. The
Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8 13‘Declaration and Resolutions of the Society of United Irishmen of Belfast’, publishedin October 1791 and drafted by Tone, called for ‘a complete and radical reform ofthe representation of the people in parliament’, and the unity of all ‘Irishmen’ inorder to pursue this end. The Society reﬂected Tone’s dual enthusiasm for parlia-mentary reform and Catholic emancipation (a combination most famously artic-ulated in his Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland (1791)); and indeed theDublin United Irishmen, originally largely Protestant, soon attracted an inﬂux ofCatholics, including leading members of the Catholic Committee. The Dublin UnitedIrishmen produced a reform plan early in 1794 which ﬂeshed out the general idealsexpressed in the original declaration: equal constituencies, universal male suffrage,annual parliaments, payment of members of parliament. The Belfast UnitedIrishmen had produced a similarly moderate reform proposal early in 1793 – ‘thelast act of Ulster constitutional reformism’, in Dickson’s description.17 But by thistime, and certainly by the time the Dublin scheme appeared, the prospects for aradical reform of parliament, never bright, had been utterly extinguished. The warhad undercut the popular francophile radicalism of 1791–2, scaring many early enthu-siasts. The government, sensitive to any prospect of sedition, had little difﬁculty insuppressing the Society in May 1794. Many, especially northern, United Irishmen had fostered republican and revo-lutionary sympathies behind the cloak of constitutional radicalism (although Tone,in the opinion of Marianne Elliott, ‘was not an active separatist until 1795’).18Government suppression in 1793–4 combined with the apparent futility of a con-stitutional strategy to realize the latent militancy of the United Irish movement. Before1794 the United Irishmen of Ulster were informally supervised by a committee ofpublic welfare sitting in Belfast. But with a heightened militancy of purpose camethe need for a more cohesive and secret organizational structure. A new constitu-tion was therefore drafted late in 1794, and accepted in May 1795, in the wake ofFitzwilliam’s recall, and the disappointment of constitutional reform aspirations:the new constitution created a rigid committee structure, binding small townsand rural ‘half-baronies’ ultimately to the Ulster provincial committee. By the endof 1796 the Society had decided to create a parallel military structure, with electedsergeants, captains and more senior ofﬁcers. At the same time – 1795–6 – the UnitedIrishmen of the north (in contradistinction to their more cautious brethren in Dublin),using former members of the Catholic Committee as go-betweens, began to courtthe leaders of a popular Catholic secret society, the Defenders: Henry Joy McCrackenand other United Irish leaders boasted in the summer of 1796 ‘that there had beena junction between the leaders of the United Irishmen and the Defenders . . . therewas a complete union between the Defenders and the United Irishmen’. This (inElliott’s description) ‘merger’ underlined the numerical strength of the northernrevolutionary conspiracy, creating a movement which, in the spring of 1797,boasted a membership of 118,000 and an armoury of 7,000 guns. The union of the United Irishmen and the Defenders was once seen as the graft-ing of a politicized and coherent leadership onto a less sophisticated and lesswell-organized mass movement. This, however, is to misjudge the probably
14 Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8wholehearted nature of the union, as well as to underestimate the quality ofDefenderism. The Defenders had their origins in Armagh in the mid-1780s,formed in the dual context of sectarian rivalry within the linen industry and com-petition for land within one of the most densely populated counties in Ireland.Increasing Catholic self-conﬁdence, which found a particular expression in the bear-ing of arms, seems to have unsettled traditional sectarian relationships and to havefuelled Defenderism along with its Protestant rivals and antagonists (gangs such asthe Nappagh Fleet or the Peep o’Day Boys). By 1790 the Defenders had become asecret society, organized – like the Peep o’Day Boys – along masonic lines, and spread-ing from south Ulster into north Leinster. Defenderism eventually percolated intothe poorest strata of Catholic Dublin. Recent scholarship has tended to stress theextent to which Defenderism not only outgrew its local and narrow origins, butmay always in fact have had a degree of broader political awareness: certainly it seemsprobable that (in Curtin’s words) ‘the further the Defenders were separated fromArmagh, the more they lost their sectarian character’.19 The French revolutionprobably helped to change, if not some of the core economic motivation of themovement, then at least its language: Defender oaths and catechisms were lardedwith republicanism and French sympathies. There is some evidence to suggest con-tact between French emissaries and Defenders as early as 1792. It has been arguedthat the campaign for Catholic relief (1791–3) helped to further the politicizationof the Defender movement to the extent that ‘the Defenders came to see themselvesas the armed wing of the Catholic Committee’: Defender arms raids at this timeappear to have been in preparation for a ﬁnal assault on ascendancy power.20 Themovement gained conﬁdence by the concession of Hobart’s Relief Act in 1793; andit garnered further support from the government’s decision to conscript Catholics,by ballot, into a new militia force in the summer of 1793. However, in September1795 the Defenders, operating outside their normal boundaries, suffered a defeatat the Battle of the Diamond, near Loughgall in north Armagh; but the aggressiveresponse of their Protestant victors (who organized themselves as the Orange Order)drove many Catholics out of the county and thereby helped to spread a newly embit-tered form of Defenderism, particularly into north Connacht. By 1795 Defenderismremained a movement that was partly motivated by economic grievances – the desirefor cheap land, better-paid labour, the righting of ancient land conﬁscations – andpartly by sectarian resentment. But it was also a mass movement highly sympatheticto the French revolution, hopeful of French aid, and inﬂuenced in organization andrhetoric by revolutionary precedents. Here, then, was the basis for cooperation withthe United Irishmen. The Castle responded to this developing seditious combination with an unusualferocity. As has been noted, even the highpoint of the Castle’s reform endeavour –the measures of 1793 – was characterized as much by repression as by concession.The prospect of French intervention was as frightening for the government as itwas encouraging for the United Irishmen and the Defenders; and though ministerswere anxious to secure broad-based Irish support for the war through a numberof minor reforms, they were equally anxious to crush any latent hostility to this
Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8 15war effort. In fact the government went some way to realizing its own worst fears:the disappearance of constitutional avenues to reform undoubtedly stimulated, ifit did not create, the mass revolutionary conspiracy that was in place by 1796. Inthat year the renewed prospect of a French invasion brought a further legislativereaction in the forms of the Indemnity Act (a measure designed to protect magis-trates who, in pursuing Defenders, had acted illegally) and an Insurrection Act (ameasure easing the application of a curfew in disturbed areas, and facilitating weaponssearches and the arrest of suspects). In October 1796 the crown forces were aug-mented through the creation of the yeomanry, a body led by ofﬁcially approvedgentry and designed to police its own local patch: this would prove to be an import-ant government resource during the 1798 rising, even though – as Allan Blackstockhas shown – it soon became tinctured with Orangeism and progressively unruly.21 The much-vaunted French expedition set sail in December 1796, only to be dis-persed by Atlantic gales rather than the Royal Navy: but the Castle was still shocked,for it had been ill-served by its intelligence networks. Although Lazare Hoche’s Frenchﬂeet had been aiming to land at Bantry Bay, in the south-west, the most likely areafor a sympathetic uprising lay not in Munster but in Ulster, where the United IrishSociety had established the most broadly based organization: and it was thereforein Ulster that, in 1797, the Castle concentrated its military resources. In chargeof the military operations in Ulster after the end of 1796 was General Gerard Lake,a forceful commander who was not over-sensitive to political and legal subtlety.Suspected radicals were imprisoned (between September 1796 and September 1797,perhaps 500 – 600 political prisoners were held); weapons searches began at the endof 1796 and were scaled up in March 1797 (by 1 July 1797, 6,200 ﬁrearms inworking order, and 4,400 in unserviceable condition, had been seized by Lake’stroops). The houses of suspects were burnt, and troops were quartered in areas wheresedition and the secretion of weapons were thought to be rife. These techniques,perfected in Ulster, were applied to the south of Ireland in the winter of 1797–8.Martial law was declared in March 1798, but it had in fact existed in all but namefor months before. The bloody disarming of ﬁrst the north and then the rest of the island had anumber of consequences for the conspirators. The movement was simultaneouslydivided and ﬁred: the militancy of the authorities combined with the evidentimpossibility of constitutional change (a last reform bill was thrown out by the Houseof Commons in May 1797) to cow some of the rebels while underpinning the mili-tancy of others. Arrests of prominent United Irishmen from late 1796 deprived theconspiracy of perhaps the most talented section of its leadership, while others –fearing ofﬁcial retribution – ﬂed during the summer of 1797. Riddled with infor-mants, the conspiracy fell an easy prey to the government: much of the Leinsterdirectory of the Society was arrested in March 1798 as a result of the treachery ofone of its members. The intensiﬁcation of the government operations in April andMay 1798 further damaged the enthusiasm of the militants, disrupting United Irishorganization and removing weapons and personnel: the sheer brutality of muchof this action served to (indeed was designed to) intimidate. The arrest and fatal
Image not available in the electronic editionPlate 1 Leaders of the 1798 rising.Source: Linenhall Library/Flying Fox.
Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8 17wounding on 19 May of the military leader of the Society, Lord Edward Fitzgerald,brought further confusion and effectively forced the remaining disoriented leadersto choose between surrender or rebellion. It was of course a Hobson’s choice. Despitethe disastrous incursions made by the government into the leadership and armouryof the Society, surrender scarcely offered a more propitious alternative; and the nationaldirectory opted to rebel. In the event the Ulster leadership, cowed by General Lakeand anxious for French assistance, chose to misinterpret this call, and delayed thenorthern uprising for a week. The 1798 rising is to be located in the political, economic and ideological ‘dis-equilibrium’ of the 1790s, and much of this chapter has been devoted to exploringthis variety of contexts. But the rising was a mass movement – at least 27,000 insur-gents fought in Ulster alone – and a variety of confessional and political traditionswere bound together in a not always comfortable alliance: the problem of inter-preting motivation remains complex, therefore. There was clearly a generally highlevel of political awareness in both the United Irish and Defender traditions, anda generally high level of French sympathy and revolutionary idealism. But whatmade the rising so potent was that it combined an intellectually coherent, and indeedaccessible, ideology of liberation with ancient historical resentments and religiousprejudices. Numerous northern Presbyterians evidently fought under the United Irishbanner, while remaining profoundly suspicious of their Catholic co-conspirators:as Ian McBride has remarked, ‘to some extent Presbyterian radicalism representedthe continuation of the war against Popery by other means’.22 Many Defenders wereevidently ﬁred by the prospect of righting ancient wrongs, or correcting local eco-nomic injustice, even though they expressed their convictions at least superﬁciallyin a more universalist garb. The Defenders fought under distinctively Catholic emblemsat the battle of Randalstown (7 June); Henry Munro, the rebel commander atBallynahinch (13 June), and a Protestant, was accused by the Defenders of sectar-ian prejudice in his battle plan; Larry Dempsey, a Catholic ofﬁcer of the largelyPresbyterian Ballynure insurgents, sought to rouse his men with the comment that‘by J—s, boys, we’ll pay the rascals this day for the battle of the Boyne’.23 Thus ifthe political sophistication of the insurgents has been sometimes underestimated(and a good case has been made for supposing this to be so for County Wexford),then equally it would be imprudent to overlook religious conviction and local, com-munal grievance as a sustaining inﬂuence behind revolutionary conviction.24 Theroot problem in approaching the ’98 is that, even more than other pivotal eventsin modern Irish history, the evidence for the rising tends to be overlaid with laterpolitical expectations. As J.C. Beckett remarked in 1966, ‘the insurrection of 1798is seen not as it was in deed but as Tone had hoped for it to be’ – and it might alsobe suggested that the ’98 is seen in some quarters, not as it was, but as Lord Clareperceived it to be.25 The location and course of the rising present fewer problems of interpretation.There were three main areas of action: in Leinster, especially Wexford, in easternUlster, and Mayo, in Connacht. In Leinster it was planned that there would beseveral county revolts, which would unite in marching on Dublin. But although
18 Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8Carlow, Kildare, Meath and Wexford rose in revolt, elsewhere the grand schemebroke down and the rising took the form of minor skirmishes or small-scale raids:even in Meath and Kildare, where the insurgents were more ambitious, the crownforces had little difﬁculty in gaining the upper hand. The experience of Wexford was of a different nature, and Louis Cullen andKevin Whelan have done much to explain why this should have been so.26 Wexfordoffered the insurgents a rather more fertile loam than in much of the rest of south-ern Ireland. A peculiarly weak Protestant gentry, politically divided, was associatedwith a fractured and capricious magistracy: an earlier moral economy had brokendown in the 1790s, as the conservative gentry grew more defensive and Orange,and as law enforcement grew at best more unpredictable and at worst more partialthan hitherto. The Protestant sub-gentry was weakened by the collapse of middle-men leases. By way of contrast Catholic Wexford was prospering on the back of thelate eighteenth-century agricultural boom. The survival of Catholic gentry familiesin the county produced a young body of politically articulate radicals who possessedunusually good links with France and who provided leadership to the insurgents.In addition the Catholic faith was in unusually good shape in the county, in termsof the high number of priests educated on the continent, church building, recruit-ment to the priesthood, and the impact of Catholic teaching orders: priests weremore important than elsewhere in Ireland in providing rebel leadership. Good polit-ical and economic contact with Dublin completes Whelan’s picture of a politicallysophisticated and highly unstable community on the eve of the rising. Given this peculiar combination of circumstances the rising in Wexford temporarilyprospered. The insurgents, led by Father John Murphy, destroyed a unit of the NorthCork militia on 27 May, and thereafter captured Wexford town and Enniscorthy.In Wexford town a remarkable political experiment was pursued with the creationof a ‘republic’, governed by a local directory, and possessing other revolutionarytrappings: a committee of public safety, district committees, and even a republicannavy. The rebels experienced their ﬁrst serious reverse on 5 June, at New Ross, wheretheir attack on the crown forces was repulsed; however, the decisive battle of theWexford republic was fought at Vinegar Hill on 21 June, where the insurgents weredefeated and scattered. However, Wexford provided more than a working model of Irish republican admin-istration: the highly sectarian nature of conﬂict in the county – Protestants werekilled at Scullabogue and on Wexford Bridge – endowed the Wexford rising witha rather more sombre reputation and a rather more complicated political legacy.While the reality of these executions was in itself grim, exaggerated accounts circul-ated in Ulster and helped to jar the cautious sectarian harmony of the northernconspirators. Narratives of Wexford probably contributed to the initially dilatorynature of the northern rising. But there were other factors inducing timidity.General Lake’s brutal disarming of the north undoubtedly discouraged those manyUnited Irishmen who had been swept into the movement, and who lacked a pas-sionate republicanism. The disruption created by Lake in the north helped to conﬁrmthe ascendancy of Dublin over the conspiracy as a whole, and this loss of initiative
Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8 19may also have encouraged the caution of the northerners. The arrest and ﬂight ofthe bolder northern leaders also both disoriented the movement and created spacefor more cautious successors – the ‘foreign-aid men’, such as Robert Simms, theUnited Irish general in Antrim, who wanted to delay action until French aid wasassured. And even though there was a strain of dependence on France, there wasequally widespread disillusionment in the north of Ireland with the course of Frenchrevolutionary politics: not every United Irishman saw French aid as an uncomplic-ated asset, given their treatment of the conquered Dutch republic and other territories. The northerners rose when the rebels elsewhere were beginning to lose momen-tum. There was little coordination with Leinster, but scarcely more within Ulsteritself: the insurgents in Antrim and Down rose at different times, and could there-fore be dealt with separately by General Nugent, commanding the crown forces.Minor rebel successes in Randalstown and Ballymena, County Antrim, on 7 Junewere offset by a crushing and decisive loyalist victory at Antrim town. In CountyDown the insurgents were victorious in a skirmish at Saintﬁeld on 9 June; but thegentlemanly rebel commander, Henry Munro, led his forces to utter destruction atthe battle of Ballynahinch, fought on 13 June. His victor, Nugent, skilfully defusedthe remnants of the northern revolt through applying an amnesty to all but therebel leaders. Munro and his Antrim counterpart, Henry Joy McCracken, wereexecuted, as were 32 other leaders of the Ulster rising: other leaders went into exile.The ofﬁcial policy of clemency was not uniformly respected, but on the wholethe suppression of the rising in the north was a much more restrained affair thanelsewhere on the island. Some of the evident explanations for the failure of the rising in Ulster were uniqueto the north. The alliance between the United Irish movement and Defenderism,originally a source of numerical strength, in fact proved unwieldy, and at times counter-productive: despite the secular ideals of the United Irish leaders, there is evidenceof a damaging undercurrent of sectarian resentment in the rebel armies of the north.Some of the reasons for the northern failure were applicable to the rising as a whole.The Castle proﬁted from excellent intelligence and a proliferation of informantswithin the United Irish ranks: Thomas Reynolds betrayed his own Leinster direc-tory to the authorities in March 1798; in early June three of Henry Joy McCracken’sUnited Irish colonels had, on receiving their general’s plan of campaign, immedi-ately passed it on to Nugent. Leonard McNally, a Dublin barrister and United Irishman,and Nicholas Mageean, a County Down farmer and United Irish colonel, weretwo of the most damaging informants, and Mageean in particular did much to under-mine the northern preparations for revolt. Treachery was linked with timidity: manyUnited Irishmen clearly had little faith in their ultimate prospects of success, andeither counselled caution in May 1798 (like Robert Simms in Antrim) or desertedin the course of the conﬂict or defected to the loyalist cause. Timidity was linkedto the government assault of 1797–8: the movement was, as has been observed,disrupted as well as denuded of both competent leaders and weapons. Thegovernment simultaneously goaded the conspirators into open rebellion as well asdiminishing their prospects of success.
20 Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8 In addition the rebels made some serious miscalculations. They had an inﬂatedview of their following within the crown forces, especially the militia, and to someextent hoped that their own lack of experience would be offset by this republicanﬁfth column. Above all, they looked forward to timely and effective French inter-vention. But French military priorities were shifting in 1798 – away from the EnglishChannel towards the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt. The French came – but toKillala, County Mayo, far removed from the main centres of the revolt in the east,and at the end of August, when both the main areas of rebel activity, eastern Ulsterand Wexford, had been reconquered by the crown. Moreover, they came in smallnumbers and, in the opinion of Jean-Paul Bertaud, with insufﬁcient weaponry: 1,019French soldiers set sail, armed with 2,520 riﬂes – enough for their own purposes,perhaps, but scarcely enough to equip their Irish allies.27 A minor victory waswon at Castlebar by the French commander, Humbert, a battle made memorableby the panic-stricken retreat of the Irish militia; but the invaders surrendered atBallinamuck, County Longford, on 8 September, and lost their bridgehead at Killalaon 23 September. The French were ‘treated as guests rather than as prisoners of war’;on the other hand, around 2,000 Irish insurgents were killed in the aftermath ofBallinamuck. A larger invasion ﬂeet set sail before knowledge of the ﬁnal collapseof the Humbert expeditionary force reached Paris, and was dispersed off the coastof Donegal in October. The French ﬂagship, the Hoche, was captured on 12 Octoberby Sir John Borlase Warren and the Royal Navy, but an additional prize lay amongthe sullen ranks of the prisoners landed at Buncrana: Wolfe Tone. The capture and suicide of Tone came as a quiet coda to a rebellion that wasalready all but crushed. The ’98 was a devastating experience – a short but bloodycivil war, which involved the explosive release of pent-up economic and sectarianpressures. Estimates of the fatalities vary: it is generally held that 30,000 died asa consequence of the rising, though some contemporary calculations put thenumber as high as 100,000. Perhaps as many as 50,000 rebels took to the ﬁeld inthe summer of 1798; they faced around 76,000 soldiers of the crown. Even theselurid statistics only dimly convey the much wider impact of the rising, its preludeand suppression: the widespread destruction of property by both the rebels andloyalists, the application of an arbitrary military justice by the crown forces, andthe unnerving series of trials which often involved free-ranging confessions orindictment, and which continued to 1801. The slaughter of the Irish insurgents atBallinamuck remained long in the western folk-memory; the charnel house atScullabogue became a minatory image for northern Presbyterians. The rising illustrates with bleak clarity some of the central issues in modern Irishpolitical history. The rebel movement embodied an uneasy compromise betweensecular ideals and a sectarian reality. The secular republicanism of the BelfastPresbyterians involved a thoroughgoing hostility towards institutional Catholicism:local Defenderism was driven in part by sectarian resentment. A highly complexrebel alliance was therefore held in place by what ultimately proved to be the ratherﬂimsy ties of secularism and hostility to the British connection. Of course the Castlecynically played up the religious trauma of the ’98 – but it merely had to gild the
Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8 21putrid lily of Irish sectarian passion. Contemporary Irish republicanism has to someextent inherited this difﬁcult combination of secular nationalism and Catholic ﬁdelity. John Whyte has argued, with some justice, that one of the historic causes of inst-ability in the north of Ireland has been the distrust of Protestant for Protestant.28The rising illustrates neatly some of the inconsistencies within northern Protestantpolitics – the gap between the intellectual sympathies of northern Protestants in1798 and their instinctive political positions. The hesitancy of many northern lead-ers of the ’98, the prevalence of informants, suggests perhaps the dilemma of thosewho had been forced into more advanced political positions than they would other-wise have found congenial. These men, driven by ofﬁcial repression and by theirintellectual enthusiasm, gave birth to violent Irish republicanism, and then insome cases shied away from their offspring. The history of the ’98 in the northsuggests a curious combination of heady Presbyterian republican rhetoric and aresidual deference to authority. At the very least it seems to be the case that thenorthern Presbyterians’ enthusiasm for civic virtue blinded them to the realities ofwinning a civil war: yeomen were rescued by the rebels from the burning market-house at Randalstown on 7 June; Henry Munro’s unwillingness to launch a ‘dis-honourable’ night raid on the crown forces at Ballynahinch on 12–13 June ensuredthat he and his ofﬁcers went to the scaffold with the purity of their cause intact. Ifsome of the apparent contradictions of contemporary republicanism are foreshad-owed in the ’98, then something of the often strained and paradoxical relationshipbetween contemporary Protestantism and the crown is foreshadowed in the rising. If the rising saw the birth of militant republicanism, then it made possible a con-stitutional union between Ireland and Great Britain: the rising induced the growthof unionist sentiment among part of the governing elite of the two islands. WilliamPitt resurrected his old schemes for union in the summer of 1798, and foundgeneral approval in London, and divided opinions in Dublin: he had, however, aformidable intellectual resource in the unionist Chief Secretary, Lord Castlereagh,and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Clare, ‘the greatest unionist of them all’, in J.C. Beckett’sdescription.29 But the rising not only stimulated unionist sentiment, it also helpedto make a union realizable. Because of the ’98 British ministerial authority in Irelandwas strengthened: a greatly augmented military establishment was an all too tan-gible reminder of the reality of British power in Ireland (without this force LordCornwallis, the lord lieutenant, believed that ‘all thoughts of uniting the two king-doms must be given up’).30 And because of the ’98 and the protracted instability ofthe country the Irish parliament came to accept, albeit reluctantly, what they had forlong been told by Lord Clare – that their patriotism was a recipe for self-destruction.The rising had demonstrated both that the ascendancy was vulnerable and thatit could not save itself from the revolutionary deluge: unionism was therefore ameans of protecting the ascendancy from the consequences of its own limitations. The United Irish Society staggered on after the rising, and indeed an effort wasmade in the otherwise unpropitious circumstances of 1799 to revive its fortunes.One of the key instigators was Robert Emmet (1778–1803), who sought to sustainthe patterns of militant republicanism that had been laid down – apparently so
22 Birth of Modern Irish Politics, 1790–8fruitlessly – in the 1790s. The result was a half-cocked uprising in the Dublin Libertiesin July 1803, which was easily suppressed by the yeomanry, and which in the shortterm was notable only in so far as it claimed the life of the Lord Chief Justice, ArthurWolfe, Viscount Kilwarden; Emmet, Thomas Russell and other leading conspir-ators were captured and, with only the respite of formulaic state trials, duly hanged.Emmet was subsequently enshrined in the pantheon of nation-builders, but in truthhis actions subverted his professed ideals. The failure of the rising of 1803 helpedto fuel the sectarianism of Irish politics, undermining the proponents of Catholicrelief and weakening the possibility of a broadly based constitutional union. Onthe other hand, the rising was widely interpreted by Protestants as a prelude to ageneral massacre, and its easy defeat contributed to the bolstering of ascendancymorale. The rising therefore helped to make the union function in the ascendancyinterest; and it contributed to the gradual identiﬁcation of Catholicism with thenational struggle. Neither outcome would have been welcomed by the 25-year-oldidealist, who went to the gallows with his elitist republicanism unshaken, and withan emotionally charged message for posterity. Posterity, however, would take theform of a tenaciously Catholic democracy that had little time for Emmet’s exclu-sivist convictions.
3Disuniting Kingdoms,Emancipating Catholics,1799–1850 I am the tall kingdom over your shoulder That you would neither cajole nor ignore. Conquest is a lie. I grow older Conceding your half-independent shore Within whose borders now my legacy Culminates inexorably. Séamus Heaney, ‘Act of Union’13.1 The Union, 1799–1801The two issues that dominated Irish high politics in the ﬁrst half of the nineteenthcentury were interconnected and had already assumed a recognizable shape in the1780s and 1790s: the nature of the constitutional relationship between Britain andIreland, and the civil rights of Catholics. A form of parliamentary union had beenadumbrated in the 1650s, during the Commonwealth, and had been a matter ofspeculation for a number of political thinkers since that time: these colonial pat-riots saw that the best guarantee of their rights lay in effective legislative inde-pendence, but some (such as William Molyneux) were willing to consider a unionas a substitute for a ﬂawed or defective local parliament. If there was a strain ofascendancy thought that considered union as a tolerable, but second-rate, meansof guaranteeing Irish liberties, then this strain grew weaker as the eighteenth cen-tury progressed. Still, it is possible to detect lines of inﬂuence connecting not onlythe late eighteenth-century parliamentary patriots with earlier ideologues such asMolyneux, but also late eighteenth-century Unionist ultras, such as Lord Clare, withearlier patriotic writers: Clare increasingly came to the view that union representednot a second-rate but rather the only effective defence for the Irish Protestant nation.Neither Clare’s thoughts of union, nor those of Molyneux, extended to the issue of
24 Disuniting Kingdoms, Emancipating CatholicsCatholic representation: for both a parliamentary union was worth considering onlyas a means of guaranteeing the political rights of the Irish Protestant nation.2 William Pitt’s view of a parliamentary union was predicated on rather differentassumptions from these; but while there were important theoretical distinctions,in practice his vision differed little from that of the Irish loyalist defenders ofthe ascendancy. For Pitt a union was a means of consolidating British control overIreland, a dependent kingdom, at a time when there was a general drift towardsthe centralization of legislative authority at Westminster. For Pitt, too, a union wasa safe means of addressing the issue of Catholic emancipation, for within a unitedparliament Catholics could enjoy full political rights without threatening theessentially Protestant nature of the constitution. The feasibility of union had beeninvestigated in the late 1770s by Lord North, but in the context of a heightenedIrish patriotism the idea had not taken root. In May 1785, when in opposition, Northdefended a legislative union before the House of Lords, but Pitt, the PrimeMinister, though probably already sympathetic, kept silent. A union was no morea practical proposition in 1785, in the wake of legislative independence, than it hadbeen in 1779, in the midst of the agitation for free trade. In 1798, however, in theaftermath of the rising, the political prognosis for unionism was altogether morefavourable: the country was still disturbed (as late as 1799 there was talk of a Frenchinvasion), British military reinforcements were in place and were needed, and thehitherto boundless conﬁdence of the ascendancy interest was now badly bruised.Pitt, therefore, seized the opportunity to launch an idea which had evidently beengestating throughout his ministerial career: as early as May 1798, he wrote toCornwallis urging ‘the necessity of bringing forward the great work of union whichcan never be so well accomplished as now’.3 However, even allowing for the effects of the rising, Pitt and the Irish executivecould not take for granted the acquiescence of the Irish parliament (although itseems that at ﬁrst they were inclined to overestimate their own strength). The union-ist case was therefore opened with some subtlety, as for example in the pamphletArguments for and against the Union, written by the undersecretary at the Castle,Edward Cooke, and published in December 1798: this work was, as R.B. McDowellhas observed, ‘the ﬁrst shot in the great battle’, and precipitated the rapid organi-zation of anti-unionist opinion, especially in Dublin.4 Dublin had prospered withlegislative independence, and there was therefore a wide variety of commercial andprofessional interests in the city intimately tied to the anti-unionist cause: WilliamSaurin, later an ultra-loyalist attorney general, led the Irish bar against the unionin 1799. But the opponents of union were by no means conﬁned to the city or tothe legal profession. The Orange Order, rooted in (but by now spreading beyond)south and central Ulster, was committed to the Irish Protestant constitution, andthus to the Irish parliament, which had so trenchantly defended Protestant inter-ests. Throughout Ireland the country gentlemen, who were well represented withinthe existing constitutional arrangements, were largely opposed to union. But thiscorrelation between representation and support hinted paradoxically at the strengthof the unionist case – for because the representative base of the Irish parliament
Disuniting Kingdoms, Emancipating Catholics 25was narrow, so its support, though vocal, was ultimately limited. The anti-unionistsmight have broadened their appeal by embracing emancipation but, in contradis-tinction to their opponents, they made little effort to court Catholic opinion; theywere further weakened by a circumstance beyond their control – the strengthof the unionist position at Westminster. These factors, combined with widespreadpopular apathy, again partly a reﬂection on the limitations of the parliament – gavethe government its opportunity. By January 1799, when the lord lieutenant, opening the parliamentary session,referred obliquely to the desirability of a union, the House of Commons was utterlydivided: an opposition motion removing this reference to union in the viceregaladdress was carried on 24 January by 109 votes to 104. For the moment, therefore,the government had failed, and ardent Unionists like Castlereagh and Cooke wereforced to reconsider their strategy: Cooke blamed the defeat on a combinationof British ignorance and (a related point) Cornwallis’s ‘total incapacity’, whileCastlereagh – with perhaps greater practical insight – ascribed the vote to the threat-ened self-interest of the country gentlemen.5 Castlereagh’s diagnosis underlay govern-ment policy for the rest of the year. Patronage that would normally have been spreadover a decade was concentrated within one year and devoted to one purpose – theconstruction of a unionist majority in the Commons. Pitt’s Home Secretary, theDuke of Portland, gave Cornwallis and Castlereagh virtually a free hand in the dis-tribution of honours, with the result that 16 peerages were created, 15 promotionsin the peerage promised, and a host of more minor pensions and places dangled infront of the loyal or undecided. Anti-unionists, even the relations of anti-unionists,were dismissed from ofﬁce: among the more conspicuous casualties was Sir JohnParnell, Chancellor of the Exchequer. In addition to these direct appeals to self-interest, the government (like the opposition) sought to bludgeon the politicalintelligence of the Commons through propaganda (in the form of pamphletliterature) as well as through the orchestration of public opinion (in the form ofpublic petitions). On the whole the government outpaced the opposition in bothcontests, but the ferocity of its campaign, and the lavish resources deployed,indicate that the issue was ﬁnely balanced. By January 1800, after over one year of political and psychological warfare, theCastle had created a parliamentary majority for the union. The opposition had fromthe beginning nothing to offer beyond an atavistic patriotism and the stale consti-tutional arguments of 1782, and by now their logical and emotional resources werespent: the government, defeated by ﬁve votes in January 1799, was now sustainedby majorities that held consistently in the low to mid-40s. On 6 February 1800, theHouse of Commons formally agreed to consider the proposals for union, and on17 February the committee of the House approved the idea. By 28 March both Housesof the now moribund Irish parliament had agreed to the union. On 6 June theCommons approved the committee report of the Union Bill, which was subsequentlylaid before the British parliament: here opposition continued, but here, too, thegovernment prevailed. On 1 August 1800, the royal assent was given to the new Actof Union, which duly took force on 1 January 1801.