Ireland Under The Union

Chapter Seven

Ireland Under The Union

Catholic Emancipation

The spirit of the United Irishmen was not wholly dead, and the younger brother of an exiled leader of the ’98 Rising planned a new insurrection. Robert Emmet hoped to seize Dublin Castle, but his organisation was faulty and the rebellion in 1803 ended as little more than a street brawl. Emmet was captured, however, and his speech from the dock at his trial became an inspiration to later generations seeking Irish freedom ‘When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth’, he ended, ‘then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written.’

For some years political life declined and the government’s major concern was the agrarian disorders fomented by secret societies like the Ribbonmen, the Whiteboys and the Threshers. The government at Westminster passed Coercion Acts giving strong powers to deal with wrongdoers or suspects, and the life of the Irish peasant became increasingly cheerless, particularly as the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 led to an economic slump. The population of rural Ireland was rising, holdings were being subdivided, and periodic failures of the potato crop brought about very great distress.

It was the issue of Catholic emancipation which first gave Ireland’s Catholics a sense of unity and potential power. Pitt had led the Catholic hierarchy to believe that the Act of Union would be followed by legislation giving Irish Catholics the right to sit at Westminster, but neither the bishops nor the remaining Catholic aristocracy protested when nothing was done. It was left to a Catholic barrister, Daniel O’Connell, to form in 1823 a Catholic Association which aimed not only at full political rights but also at furthering Catholic interests generally. O’Connell was a commanding orator, capable of organising and dominating large open-air meetings, and the association was widely supported through a penny-a-month subscription scheme.

The association’s first victory was in the 1826 general election, when it successfully backed a Protestant candidate in County Waterford against Lord George Beresford, whose family owned much of the county. In 1828 O’Connell himself was successful in a by-election in County Clare. He was unable to take his seat because of the oath of supremacy, but opinion at Westminster had been veering towards emancipation and within a year a Catholic Relief Bill received the royal assent. However, while the Oath of Supremacy was replaced by one acceptable to Catholics and all but the higher public office were open to them, additional measures were designed to limit the Catholic victory. The Catholic Association was suppressed, and the qualification for voting was raised from £2 to £10 freehold, so that the forty-shilling freeholders who had backed O’Connell were disfranchised.

Reform and Repeal

During the eighteenth century Irish nationalism had been a Protestant movement. Daniel O’Connell, who became known as ‘The Liberator’, had shown that a mass movement of Catholics, involving peasants and priests, could bring effective pressure on the government in a peaceful and orderly way. Although he sought repeal of the Acts of Union, his first experience of Westminster led him to believe that there was a more immediate hope of winning reforms in such matters as tithes, education and the relief of poverty. For most of the 1830s there was a Whig government in power, and in Britain’s ‘Age of Reform’ the Whigs counted on support from O’Connell and his followers at Westminster.

Irish reform was slow, however, and O’Connell was disappointed that the great Reform Act of 1832 did not restore the forty-shilling freehold vote. A tithe war broke out in Leinster in 1830, and spread to other provinces as large numbers of police and military were called in to enforce collection of taxes due to the Established Church. It was 1838 before a Tithe Act brought peace by converting tithe charges into rents and reducing them by one-quarter. A major reform was the establishment of a National Education Board in 1831, and within a decade there was an impressive system of ‘national schools’. Hopes of educating Catholics and Protestant together were largely disappointed, however, and the use of the English language and English textbooks brought a steady decline in the Irish language. In 1838 the English Poor Law system was extended to Ireland, and the country was divided into Poor Law districts or unions, each with a workhouse managed by a board of guardians. It was a  degrading system, which divided families and often forced peasants to give up their land and enter the workhouse when their real need was for temporary assistance. Nevertheless the administration at Dublin Castle enjoyed a new popularity among Catholics, largely because of a tolerant under-secretary, Thomas Drummond. A Scotsman, he held office from 1835 to 1840, and largely responsible for organising a national police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary. He abandoned coercive measure, involved more Catholics in the administration of justice, and did much to break the power of the Orange Order.

By 1840 it was clear to O’Connell that the Whig government under Lord Melbourne would soon give way to a less sympathetic Tory administration under Sir Robert Peel. Drummond died prematurely, and O’Connell decided to press the repeal issue. In April 1840 he formed the National Repeal Association. After a slow start the movement was backed by Archibishop MacHale of Tuam and a number of bishops, and O’Connell held mass meetings as impressive as in the campaign for Catholic emancipation. His language became increasingly inflamatory, and eventually the government called his bluff by banning a meeting due to be held on 8th October 1843 at Clontarf, the scene of Brian Boru’s great victory. O’Connell, a man who believed in constitutional methods, immediately gave way. He was now in his late sixties, and he never recovered his former dominance.


Young Ireland

Some of the early support for O’Connell’s Repeal Association had come from a group of journalists who became known as ‘Young Ireland’, and it was to them that Irish nationalism now turned for inspiration. Their weekly journal, the Nation, was first published in October 1842, and their concept of an Irish nationality which embraced everyone living in the island was at odds with O’Connell’s nationalism, which tended to be Catholic in nature. The Young Ireland leaders were mostly Protestants, whose heroes were the men of 1798. The most talented was Thomas Davis, a Dublin barrister who was only thirty-one when he died in 1845, leaving his own epitaph: ‘He served his country and loved his kind’. The editor of the Nation was a Catholic journalist from County Monaghan, Charles Gavan Duffy, who believed that an Irish parliamentary party could be most effective by remaining independent of the Whigs and Tories alike. He published many fine poems and ballads, in some of which the Gaelic tradition was translated into English, while in others tone and his colleagues were honoured. A famous ballad asked: ‘Who fears to speak on Ninety-eight?’

The split with O’Connell developed after the 1843 failure, for the Young Irelanders were unable to accept his contention that physical force should never be used in the struggle for independence. John Mitchel, a solicitor from County Down, founded a new journal called the United Irishman and prepared for an armed rebellion. He was greatly influenced by the ideas of James Fintan Lalor, who argued that the cause of independence must be linked with the most practical attack on the evils of landordism. The success of the French revolution of 1848 persuaded some of the Young Irelanders that an Irish uprising might succeed, but Mitchel was arrested on a charge of sedition, and one brief skirmish in County Tipperary put paid to the other rebels in August. Some escaped to America, while others were transported to Van Diemen’s Land. Mitchel later escaped and went to America, where he published a famous Jail Journal. In retrospect it is clear that a rebellion had no chance of success in 1848, for thousands were dying of starvation in the great potato famine and had no will to fight. Yet the writings of the Young Ireland movement became a major influence on later generations.


The Great Famine

The population of Ireland had risen from about 5 million in 1800 to more than 8 million when potato blight reached Counties Wexford and Waterford from England in September 1845. There had been earlier famines, either brief in duration or localised in their impact, and people were used to such suffering. however, the great famine lasted until 1849, and no part of the island was unaffected. By 1851 the population had fallen by some 2 million, half of whom died while the other half emigrated.

The blight was a fungus growth rather than a disease of the potato itself, and it caused the potatoes to rot in the ground and give off an abominable smell. The Tory prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, appointed a commission to examine the disease, but it had no success. He also took swift measures, purchasing £100,000 worth of Indian corn and meal in America to prevent food prices from rising. Relief committees were organised and public works were begun so that people could earn money to buy food. The administration of Peel’s measures was in the hands of the assistant secretary to the Treasury, Charles Trevelyan, who was unsympathetic to the principle of government aid. When a Whig government under Lord John Russell took office in 1846, laissez-faire ideas prevailed, and it was decided not to buy any more food. The potato crop failed again, and the winter of 1846-7 was one of the worst in living memory. Public works continued, but food itself was scarce. Through voluntary effort, in which Quakers played a major part, soup kitchens were established. Many died, however, either through starvation, or through exposure to bitter weather or through disease. Typhus and relapsing fever were both described as ‘famine fever’, and scurvy and dysentery were common. The government eventually recognised its errors, and public works were replaced by direct relief, in the hope that its cost would eventually be borne by the boards of guardians out of the Poor Law rate. Those Irish who emigrated often died at sea, sank in what were called ‘coffin ships’ or reached America too weak to survive.

The long-term effects of the great famine were immense. The upward trend of population was reversed, and a countryside once full of young people was replaced by one in which emigration and late marriage were the rule. The traditional hostility between landlord and tenant was intensified, for many landlords had ignored the plight of their tenants and even engaged in large-scale eviction. There was resentment of the British government’s inadequate measures, and Irish nationalists had a new bitterness towards their English neighbours.


The Fenian Movement

The ideas of the Young Ireland movement had been preserved by the refugees who fled from Ireland after the 1848 rising failed. two of them, James Stephens and John O’Mahony, settled in Paris, and in that revolutionary climate planned the overthrow of British rule by force. O’Mahony moved to New York, and quickly concluded that its large Irish population, swollen by emigration during the famine, could assist in a rebellion. Stephens returned to Ireland, and on St Patrick’s Day, 17th March 1858, founded a secret society known variously as the Fenian Brotherhood, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (a title firmly established after a re-organisation of the republican movement in 1873) and ‘the Organisation’. The name ‘Fenian’ derived from the legendary Finn Mac Cool’s fian or band of warriors, and the society was wholly committed to force. Stephens quickly won recruits, notably from branches of the Phoenix Society, formed by O’Donovan Rossa in 1856 to discuss politics and literature. The Fenian Brotherhood was also launched in New York in 1858.

The Fenians believed in a revolution ‘sooner or never’, and counted on money from America to buy arms. Although the movement was intended to be secret, the self-indulgent Stephens launched a newspaper called the Irish People in 1863 to propagate his views, and Fenianism was severely criticised by the Catholic Church and by other nationalist movements which it hoped to supplant. The American Civil War provided a valuable training ground for Irish soldiers and, when it ended in April 1865, Stephens laid plans for an insurrection later in the year. In September the government raided the office of the Irish people and arrested several Fenian leaders. Stephens was captured soon afterwards, but escaped from prison. He resisted advice to begin the uprising then, and the government took the opportunity to arrest suspects, seize arms and send out of Ireland army units thought to have Fenian sympathisers. When the rising eventually took place on 5th March 1867, after some false starts, it was easily quelled.

The Fenians were also active among the Irish in England, who had grown in number since the famine. An attempt to capture Chester Castle and seize arms failed, and in September 1867 two leading Fenians were arrested. In a successful rescue attempt in Manchester a police constable was killed, and three suspects who pleaded their innocence were tried and hanged for the murder. The execution of the ‘Manchester martyrs’ heightened anti-English feeling in Ireland and among the Irish Americans. In the same way anti-Irish feelings were aroused in England by the killing of the constable and by an attempt in December 1867 to rescue a Fenian from Clerkenwell Prison in London, when an explosion killed more than twenty people. At the same time the incidents led some Englishmen to wonder whether there was room for greater reform and conciliation in the government’s Irish policies. One of these was William Ewart Gladstone, soon to be prime minister.


Gladstone in Office

The 1861 census had shown that fewer than 700,000 people out of an Irish population of almost 6 million belonged to the Established Church in Ireland. In 1868 Gladstone pressed the case for disestablishing the Church, and gained power by winning the general election which Disraeli called on the issue. ‘My mission is to pacify Ireland’, he commented and the Irish Church Act was passed in 1869. The Church of Ireland, which now became a voluntary body, received substantial compensation for lose of revenue. Payments were also made to the Presbyterian Church, which lost its regium donum, and to the Catholic college at Maynooth, which also lost an annual grant.

In 1870 Gladstone secured the passage of a Land Act aimed at strengthening the position of tenants. It gave the ‘Ulster custom’, where it existed, the force of law. Elsewhere tenants who gave up their holdings were to receive compensation for improvements they had made, and they were to get a payment for ‘disturbance’ if they were evicted for any reason other than non-payment of rent. The act proved a disappointment in practice, for it left too much for the courts to decide, and tenants could not always afford litigation, but at least it indicated that Liberals in Great Britain were willing to attempt reform.

However, Gladstone forfeited the goodwill of the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland when in 1873 he introduced a University Bill which offered no financial assistance to the Catholics University set up in 1854. The hierarchy had opposed the non-denominational Queen’s College founded in Belfast, Cork and Galway under an 1845 act. Gladstone’s bill failed, and it was not until the National University of Ireland was established in 1908 that the hierarchy achieved something approximating to its objective of state-aided denominational education at university level.


The Age of Parnell

Two issues dominated the 1870s and 1880s, namely home rule and land reform, and they were often intertwined. In 1870 the Home Government Association was founded by Isaac Butt, a Protestant barrister who had defended Fenians in 1865 and later campaigned for an amnesty. Its object was to press for an Irish parliament with full control over domestic affairs, and Butt envisaged a federal system in which Ireland would continue to send members to the parliament at Westminster. The association was not really a political organisation, but Butt and some other members won by-elections, and disappointment with Gladstone’s University Bill led Irish Liberals to adopt the home rule cause. The association was replaced in 1873 by a stronger Home Rule League, and after the 1874 election (the first with a secret ballot) there were fifty-nine MPs committed to home rule. They immediately formed a political party, but Butt was an ineffectual leader and too conservative to adopt new tactics which would force Irish problems to Westminster’s attention. It was left to Joseph Biggar, a Belfast businessman who had joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and a few others to obstruct the business of the Commons by shrewd exploitation of parliamentary rules. The man who welded the Irish parliamentary party into a cohesive force, however, was a southern Protestant landlord named Charles Stewart Parnell.

Parnell was not a natural orator, but he had a handsome and commanding appearance, and his passionate feelings were matched by sound political judgement. He was first elected at a by-election in county Meath in 1875, and two years later replaced Butt as president of the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain. Butt was a spent force, and Parnell had won Fenian support by championing the Manchester martyrs in parliament. Two years later Butt was dead. The conservative elements in the party disapproved of Parnell’s obstructionist tactics, and not until after the election of 1880 did Parnell take over leadership of the party.

He had also become president of the newly formed Irish National Land League in October 1879. The Land League was the creation of Michael Davitt, who had served seven years in prison for his part in the Fenian raid on Chester Castle. In 1879, a year of famine, he organised a large demonstration against a proposed eviction in County Mayo, and saw the possibility of creating a popular national movement. The objects of the Land League were to prevent rack-renting (exorbitant rents) and eviction. It quickly brought pressure to bear on anyone who attempted to take over a farm after an eviction and one of the first victims of this policy of ostracism was a landowner’s agent, Captain Charles Boycott, whose name passed into the language.

Another figure of importance was John Devoy, one of the leaders of the American Fenian movement, now known as Clan na Gael or the United Brotherhood. Devoy was persuaded of the effectiveness of parliamentary activity on obstructionist lines, and was particularly insistent that land reform should be a principal concern. The Fenian movement gave substantial financial and other support to the parliamentary party and the Land League, and the loose alliance between Devoy, Davitt and Parnell became known as the ‘New Departure’.

In 1880 Gladstone regained the premiership. He introduced a bill to protect tenants in arrears against eviction, but it was defeated in the Lords and agrarian disorders increased. In 1881 he produced a coercion bill, but followed it with a measure more revolutionary than the one that had failed, and this time the Conservatives in the upper house allowed it to pass. The Land Act guaranteed ‘the three Fs’ namely fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale of tenancy at market values. However, fixity of tenure depended on the payment of rent, and many tenants were already in arrears. Secondly, while the act provided for land courts to fix rent by arbitration, there was no clear indication of what would constitute a fair rent. Some of Parnell’s supporters were virulently opposed to the new legislation, and he himself spoke so vigorously that in October 1881 he was arrested under the coercion act and imprisoned in Kilmainham jail in Dublin. The Land League was also suppressed, and there was an increase in violence throughout the country. The government realised that Parnell could do more good out of prison, and secret negotiations led to the ‘Kilmainham treaty’ and his release in May 1882. the government agreed to extend the scope of the act and to deal with the arrears problem, while Parnell was to discourage violence and intimidation.

His leadership might have been in danger, but four days after his release the new chief secretary of Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, was assassinated in Phoenix Park on his first evening in Dublin, along with his under-secretary, T. H. Burke. The assassins belonged to a secret society known as the Invincibles, and Parnell was so shocked that he considered leaving public life. Gladstone was among those who dissuaded him, and Parnell held the nationalist movement together by his attack on new coercion legislation.

A new organisation, the Irish National League, was formed in 1882, and placed its emphasis on home rule rather than land reform. The land war was in abeyance, and subsequent governments were to pass legislation assisting tenants to buy their farms. Parnell declared that ‘No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation’, but he was prepared to accept for Ireland a subordinate parliament dealing with domestic affairs. The election of 1885 gave Parnell a party of eighty-six members, and he held a balance of power between Gladstone’s Liberals and Lord Salisbury’s Conservatives. Gladstone took office with Parnell’s support, and in April 1886 presented his first Home Rule Bill, which provided for an Irish parliament and executive. With ninety-three Liberals voting against the bill it was defeated by 343 to 313, and the Conservatives won the subsequent general election.

Parnell was now committed to a Liberal alliance in the hope than it would ultimately lead to home rule. His reputation in Britain was high, and rose further when articles in The Times suggested that he had approved of the Phoenix Park murders, for a government commission proved. However, in December 1889 Parnell was cited as co-respondent in a divorce action brought by an Irish MP, Capt William O’Shea. He offered no defence and subsequently married Kittty O’Shea, but the scandal cost him the leadesrship of his party. He died on October 1891 at the age of forty-five, worn out and embittered by his vain attempt to hold on to power. Yet, although he left a party deeply divided between those who had supported him and those who had ‘betrayed’ him, his reputation survived and survivors. Even in his resistance to the efforts of the Irish hierarchy and Gladstone to persuade him to give up the party leadership, he is seen by admirers as rejecting clerical influence in politics and warning of the dangers of alliance with any British party.


Ulster will Fight

Throughout the nineteenth century the Protestants of Ulster had become increasingly committed to the union with Great Britain. The northern province had suffered fewer religious disabilities, the ‘Ulster custom’ had produced more prosperous agriculture, the great famine had bitten less deeply and the industrial revolution produced an economy quite different from the rest of Ireland. Once Catholic emancipation had been granted, the Protestants realised they would be in a minority in any Irish parliament, and sectarian rioting became common as the Orange Order persuaded its followers that home rule meant Rome rule.

When Gladstone became prime minister in 1886, a leading Conservative, Lord Randolph Churchill, wrote: ‘I decided some time ago that if the G.O.M. [ie, Gladstone, the Grand Old Man] went for Home Rule, the Orange card was the one to play’. Churchill coined the slogan ‘Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right’ and forged a lasting alliance between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists. The riots of 1886 were the worst in Belfast’s history, and there was another serious outbreak in 1893, after Gladstone had introduced his second Home Rule Bill, which was defeated in the Lords.

In 1905 the Ulster Unionist Council was formed, linking Unionist associations and the Orange Order. Unionists in the rest of Ireland had the Irish Unionist Alliance, and in Great Britain there was a Union Defence League, but it was apparent that Northern Protestants were prepared to sacrifice their co-religionists in the other provinces to ensure their own place in the United Kingdom. The Liberals regained power in 1905, but before presenting a new Home Rule Bill it was necessary to bring forward legislation curbing the power of the House of Lords. The Unionists continued to organise, and in 1910 the Westminister members chose as their leader Sir Edward Carson, an eminent barrister who represented the University of Dublin. The following year Carson told a mass rally near Belfast that Unionists must be prepared ‘the morning Home Rule passes, ourselves to become responsible for the government of the Protestant provinces of Ulster’.

The government of Ireland Bill was published in April 1912, and proposed that an Irish parliament should have jurisdiction only over domestic affairs. It was a very limited measure, but the Unionists were encouraged to resist by Bonar Law and other leading Conservatives, and almost half a million signed an Ulster Covenant pledging themselves to ‘all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up Home Rule Parliament in Ireland’. Plans were laid for a provisional government.

The Bill was passed by the Commons in January 1913, but the Lords rejected it. However, under the Parliament Act of 1911 the Lords had only power to delay the legislation, and if the government and the Commons remained resolute the bill would eventually become law. Meanwhile the situation in Ireland deteriorated. In March 1914 a number of army officers at the Curragh camp near Dublin offered their resignations rather than face the possibility of being ordered to act against the Ulster Unionists. the following month a successful gunrunning operation provided arms for the Ulster Volunteer Force which the Ulster Unionist Council had set up the previous year. The Liberal prime minister, Herbert Asquith, convened a conference of the conflicting political parties in the hope of reaching a compromise agreement by which a part of Ireland would be excluded from home rule, but it failed. In July the Irish Volunteers, a nationalists force set up as a response to the UVF, landed guns at Howth, near Dublin.

In August the situation was completely altered by the outbreak of World War I. John Redmond, leader of the Irish parliamentary party,  promised support for Britain’s war effort. The government of Ireland Act reached the statute-book on 18th December 1914, but there was an accompanying provision that it should not come into operation until the war had ended.


The Irish Renaissance

The Irish parliamentary party was so divided and demoralised after Parnell’s downfall that for many years it made little political impact. The Conservatives hoped to ‘kill home rule with kindness’, and conciliatory policies were adopted. Land reform continued, Horace Plunkett’s co-operative movement helped to improve agricultural practices, and in 1891 a Congested Districts Board was established to amalgamate holdings and improve living conditions in the impoverished western counties. A number of light railways were built to reduce the isolation of these areas.

Yet, if there was a lull in the parliamentary struggle elsewhere there was an important awakening of national feeling. In 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association had been formed to preserve and cultivate such native sports as hurling and Gaelic football, and the movement spread rapidly, imposing on its members a separatist outlook which forbade them to play ‘foreign games’. In 1893 the Gaelic League was founded by Douglas Hyde, son of a Church of Ireland rector, and Eoin MacNeill. The objective was to revive the Irish language, which had declined because of the national school system and because the famine had been severe in Irish-speaking areas. An accompanying movement was the upsurge of Anglo-Irish literature and drama, in which writers like W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, James Stephens and Standish O’Grady awakened interest in the legends and folklore of Ireland. The spirit of their works, written in English, was heroic and nationalist and helped to nourish dreams of independence.

The Irish Republican Brotherhood was still in existence, and its members were deeply involved in the Gaelic Athletic Association from the beginning, seeing it as a means of fostering youthful republicanism. It grew in influence after 1898, the year in which the 1798 rising was commemorated, and a Local Government Act in that year created new county councils which revitalised political activity at a local level. However, tthe most significant political counterpart of the cultural renaissance was the foundation of Sinn Fein (Ourselves Alone) in 1905. Its moving spirit was Arthur Griffith, a Dublin printer who launched a journal called United Irishman in 1899 and argued that Irish MPs should withdraw from Westminster and form a separate assembly in Dublin. He proposed a dual monarchy of the kind that existed in Hungary, and wanted to make existing British institutions unworkable by setting up Irish ones.


The Easter Rising

Arthur Griffith was not an advocate of physical force, but he began to lose ground to those who were. Tom Clarke, a veteran Fenian , returned from America in 1907 and began to build up the Irish Republican Brotherhood at the expense of Sinn Fein. By 1910 the IRB had its own journal, Irish Freedom, and was attracting men like Patrick Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh, who were imbued with the ideals of the Gaelic League. There was an active labour movement lead by James Connolly, founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, and Jim Larkin. In 1913 a series of strikes was followed by a lockout, and the Irish Citizen Army was formed to protect the strikers from the police. The Irish Volunteers were established under the presidency of Eion Macneill in November 1913. Their objectives were not well defined, but MacNeill, now a professor of early Irish history, envisaged a defensive organisation comparable to the eighteenth-century Volunteers, and argued that the UVF in the north was really a home-rule movement determined not to let Britain decide Ireland’s fate. The IRB saw the Volunteers as a useful weapon, possessing a moderate front but capable of being turned to insurrection, and quickly took over a number of key offices in the movement.

When war broke out, the IRB leaders saw England’s difficulty as Ireland’s opportunity and set up a military council, which eventually decided on Easter 1916 as the time for rebellion. Its members were Pearse, Connolly, Clarke, MacDonagh, Sean MacDiarmada, Joseph Plunkett and Eamonn Ceannt, and Pearse, in particular, saw the need for a blood sacrifice which would inspire the Irish people to a final struggle for freedom. However, the rising itself was a failure. A German ship carrying arms was captured by a British vessel. MacNeill, who had been kept in the dark, learned of the proposed insurrection two days before it was due to occur, and cancelled Volunteer manoeuvres planned for Easter Sunday. The military council had hoped to use the manoeuvres to launch the rising, but these initial set-backs did not deter them. On Easter Monday an insurgent army occupied a number of public buildings in Dublin, making the General Post Office the headquarters of ‘the provisional government of the Irish Republic’. Pearse stood on the steps of the GPO and read out a document, signed by the seven members of the military council, proclaiming the republic.

The republican forces consisted of about 1,300 Volunteers and 200 members of Connolly’s Citizen Army, and within a week they had given up the uneven battle. There had been little or no popular support for the rising, but martial law had been imposed and there were widespread arrests. More than ninety people were sentenced to death at courts martial, and fifteen, including the signatories of the proclamation, were executed before the government gave way to the rising tide of public outrage and called a halt. Later in the year Sir Roger Casement, who had negotiated for assistance from Germany, was hanged in England for treason. A northern Protestant, he had earlier served with distinction in the British consular service.


The War of Independence

Although Sinn Fein as an organization had not been directly involved in the Easter Rising, it seized the political benefits and defeated the discredited parliamentary party as a number of by-elections in 1917. One of the victors, in East Clare, was Eamon de Valera, the only surviving commandant of the rising, and before the year ended he succeeded Griffith as leader of Sinn Fein. In the general of December 1918, Sinn Fein won seventy-three Irish seats, the Unionists twenty-six, and the parliamentary party was left with only six members. The Sinn Fein members refused to take their seats at Westminster, and instead met in Dublin in January 1919 as Dail Eireann (Assembly of Ireland). De Valvera was in prison at this time because Sinn Fein and the volunteers had been declared illegal the previous May, but he escaped from Lincoln Jail in February, and was elected president of the Dail in April. He soon left for America to raise funds and to seek American support for the Irish Republic at the Versailles peace conference.

Ireland slipped steadily into a state of war, in which the Irish Republican Army emerged to conduct a highly successful guerilla campaign against police and troops. Much of the resistance was directed by Michael Collins, who had fought in the GPO in 1916, and now applied a cool and ruthless intellect to intelligence work. In March 192 the British government reinforced the Royal Irish Constabulary with ex-soldiers nicknamed ‘Black and Tans’ (we need to remember that the First World War not long finished with the bloodshed so both sides were hardened!) because they wore a mixture of police and army uniform. They were joined in August by the Auxiliaries, who were ex-officers. Both forces engaged in atrocities, torturing, burning and killing in an undisciplined way. The Irish for their part were unmerciful in their treatment of crown forces or suspected informers, and IRA ‘flying columns’ carried out many successful ambushes. Many of the ‘big houses’ of the Anglo-Irish gentry were burned down.

The British prime minister, David Lloyd George, sought a compromise settlement in the Government of Ireland Act, which became law in 1920. It provided for parliaments for ‘Northern Ireland’, consisting of six Ulster counties, and for ‘Southern Ireland’. Elections were held in May, and the republican government agreed that Sinn Fein would take part so that the people’s will could be demonstrated. The Unionists won forty of the fifty-two seats in the Northern Ireland parliament, and Sir James Craig formed a government, having succeeded the ageing and disappointed Carson. In the twenty-six counties of ‘Southern Ireland’ Sinn Fein candidates were unopposed in 124 seats, while the remaining four seats went to Unionists representing Dublin University. The Sinn Fein members formed themselves into the second Dail Eireann. Lloyd George now offered the war-weary republicans a truce to be followed by tripartite talks involving the British government and the two parts of Ireland. The offer was accepted, and the War of Independence ended at noon on 11th July 1921.


The Treaty

The treaty negotiations in London lasted almost five months and the British delegation under Lloyd George was insistent throughout this period that Ireland should remain part of the British Empire and owe allegiance to the crown, and that the six counties of Northern Ireland should not be forced against their will into any new Irish state. The Irish delegation was led by Arthur Griffith, and included Michael Collins. De Valera remained in Dublin. With much misgiving the Irish delegates signed the ‘Articles of agreement for a treaty between Great Britain and Ireland’ on 6th December 1921, after Lloyd George had threatened an immediate resumption of war. The Anglo-Irish Treaty provided that the new ‘Irish Free State’ should have dominion status, that members of its parliament should take an oath of allegiance to the crown, and that Britain should maintain naval bases in certain Irish ports. Northern Ireland was given the right to opt out of the Irish Free State, and the parliament in Belfast immediately took advantage of this. There was then provision for a boundary commission to adjust the existing border ‘in accordance with the wishes to the inhabitants, so far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions’.

The delegates returned to Dublin, and the Dail cabinet was immediately divided over whether or not to  accept the terms of the treaty. De Valera was unwilling to agree to the oath of allegiance, but the signatories believed they had got the best terms possible, and Collins told the Dail they had achieved ‘not the ultimate freedom that all nations aspire and develop to, but the freedom to achieve it’. The partition of the island, which was to prove the most intractable problem, received remarkably little attention in the debate. Collins undoubtedly assumed that the boundary commission would take note of the Catholic majorities in Fermanagh and Tyrone, and that Northern Ireland would be reduced to the four counties of Londonderry, Antrim, Down, and Armagh and would not survive as a separate unit. On 7th January 1922 the Dail voted by sixty-four votes to fifty-seven to accept the treaty. De Valera resigned the presidency, and was succeeded by Griffith. On 16th January a provisional government led by Michael Collins took possession of Dublin Castle, and the evacuation of British troops and administration began.





The Civil War

Ireland drifted steadily towards civil war. The political split over the treaty was paralleled in the IRA, and in March 1922 a convention of dissidents repudiated the Dail and pledged allegiance to the republic of 1916. In April the ‘Irregulars’ occupied the four Courts, the Dublin headquarters of the Irish judiciary, and some other buildings and turned them into fortified points. Collins hoped that a general election might produce a solution, and took no action. It was held on 16th June, and out of 128 seats 58 went to pro-treaty candidates, 36 to anti-treaty republicans led by de Valera, 17 to Labour, and 17 to various other interests. Only the republicans were still unwilling to accept the treaty, and when a party from the Four Courts kidnapped a pro-treaty general later in the month, collins ordered an attack on the building.

On 28th June Free State troops opened fire with artillery borrowed from the remnant of the British army still in Dublin, and two days later the garrison surrendered. the Civil War had begun, and it was fought with increasing bitterness as the irregulars employed guerilla tactics among a population on whose support they could no longer rely. An exhausted Griffith died on 12th August and Collins was killed in an ambush ten days later. When the new Dail met in September, William T. Cosgrave was elected president, and Kevin O’Higgins took the important post of minister of home affairs. The republicans refused to recognise the Dail, and in October set up a rival government under de Valera. A new constitution was approved both by the Dail and by the Westminster parliament, and on 6th December 1922 the Irish Free State formally came into existence. The government took exceptionally severe steps to deal with the Irregulars, and army courts were empowered to execute anyone found in unauthorised possession of arms or ammunition. When a member of the Dail was shot dead on 7th December the government ordered four leading republican prisoners to be executed in reprisal the following morning. In April 1923 the Irregulars’ chief of staff, Liam Lynch, was killed in action. his successor, Frank Aiken, agreed with de Valera they could not hope to win the war, and a negotiated truce led to a ceasefire on 24th May.



The Free State government’s most pressing task was to restore respect for law and order. Violence had become a way of life with many people and, although the Civil War was over, the republicans still looked on the government as illegitimate. Increasingly the political stage was dominated by the young Kevin O’Higgins. He modelled himself on Michael Collins, the ‘Big Fellow’, and while he did not shrink from harsh measures, he never lost sight of the normality which was his objective. One of the most farsighted moves was to set up an unarmed police force, the Garda Siochana or Civic Guard, which replaced the para-military Royal Irish Constabulary. A new and more decentralised judicial system was established. At the same time O’Higgin’s used his powers of internment under the Public Safety Act of 1923, and held many of the republicans taken prisoner during and after the Civil War.

In March 1924 an army mutiny was threatened when a group of ‘old IRA’ veterans (those who had supported the treaty) called for the removal of the Military Council, in which the Irish Republican Brotherhood had become entrenched, and for a suspension of demobilisation. Cosgrove was ill; O’Higgins took control, and quickly appointed the chief of police to command the defence forces. Two members of the government resigned during the crisis, but O’Higgins made the point to the Dail that ‘Those who take pay and wear the uniform of the state, be they soldiers or police, must be non-political servants of the state’, and an inquiry provided an opportunity to put the army on a sounder footing.

The 1920s were constructive years, though marred by the assassination of O’Higgins in July 1927. A new civil service replaced the British administration, and a strong new system of local government was created, with city and county managers on American lines. The Electicity Supply board, the first of many state-sponsored bodies, was set up in 1927 and undertook an ambitious hydro-electricity scheme on the river Shannon which became a source of national pride, Ireland was quick to join the League of Nations, and within the British Commonwealth asserted the Independence of dominions with considerable success at imperial conferences. Cosgrave’s party was known as Cumann na nGaelheal, becoming Fine Gael (Tribe of Gaels) in 1933. In 1926 de Valera broke with the rump of the IRA, resigned from Sinn Fein, and formed a new party called Fianna Fail (Warriors of Destiny). which contested the 1927 election. It became the largest opposition party of the Dail as de Valera and others reluctantly took the oath of allegiance, making it clear that they considered it an empty formula.

Meanwhile the existing border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State had been confirmed. The three-man boundary commission had interpreted its terms of reference very narrowly, and in November 1925 a report in the London MorningPost indicated that only minor changes would be recommended, and that these would include transferring part of Donegal to Northern Ireland. Eoin MacNeill, the Irish member, resigned from the commission and later from the cabinet. There was a hasty meeting of representatives of the British, Irish and Northern Irish governments, and a tripartite agreement was signed in London on 3rd December 1925. The powers of the boundary commission were revoked, and Northern Ireland remained the six counties of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act. Not surprisingly de Valera criticised this acceptance of partition as a consequence of the 1921 treat, and he embarked on the course which was to bring him to power through the ballot-box.


Fianna Fail

One of the last achievements of the Cosgrave administration was the 1931 Statute of Westminster, by which Britain agreed that a dominion parliament could repeal or amend any British Act ‘ in so far as the same is part of the law of the Dominion’. By this time the government had lost popularity as a result of the economic decline, and it had been forced to introduce repressive measures in response to increasing crimes of violence and the intimidation of juries. The Public Safety Act of 1931 extended police powers of arrest and detention, and set up a military tribunal to try crimes of a political nature. Under the act a dozen organizations were immediately declared illegal, including the IRA and a breakaway socialist movement, Saor Eire (Free Ireland). In the election of 1932 Fianna Fail won 72 out of 153 seats, becoming the largest party, and with Labour support de Valera formed a government. During the next forty years Fianna Fail was out of office only for two short periods: 1948-51 and 1954-7.

Among Fianna Fail supporters there were some fears that Cumann na nGaedheal might resist a change in government, and at first the Fianna Fail members entered the Dail with revolvers in their pockets. However, the handover was accomplished peacefully, and de Valera in turn showed respect for those who had laboured to develop the new institutions of the Free State, He quickly abolished the oath of allegiance, and in other ways loosened the ties with the United Kingdom. Sean Lemass, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, pursued a protectionist policy which encouraged Irish industry to develop in an unprecedented way, and in key areas the government set up state-sponsored bodies such as Coras Iompair (road and rail transport), Aer Lingus (air transport), and Bord na Mona (peat production). When de Valera withheld from the United Kingdom the annuity payments which stemmed from earlier loans to tenants to buy their holdings, the British government retaliated by imposing heavy duties on Irish goods. The economic war lasted until 1938, when the Free State paid 10 million to settle the annuities dispute, and at the same time Britain handed back the treaty ports occupied by the Royal Navy under the 1921 treaty.

Within a few days of taking office in 1932 the government had released IRA prisoners convicted by the military tribunal, and the IRA ceased to be an illegal organization. The advocates of physical force immediately began military drilling, and freedom of speech was endangered as republicans began to break up meetings of Cumann na nGaedheal. When the commissioner of police, General  Eoin O’Duffy, was dismissed, he became leader of the Army Comrades Association, which was renamed the National Guard and known from its uniform as the Blueshirts.

The Blueshirts were defensive in origin, but when O’Duffy announced a mass march in August 1934 to commemorate the deaths of Griffith, Collins and O’Higgins, the government feared a coupd’ etat comparable to Mussolini’s march on Rome. The government revived the emergency powers of the Cosgrave era, and banned the march. The military tribunal was restored, and the National Guard was declared illegal. O’Duffy then became president of the newly created Fine Gael party, but his venture into party politics was a failure, and he was succeeded by Cosgrave. In 1936, when the Spanish Civil War broke out, O’Duffy formed an Irish brigade which fought for General Franco.

The IRA always presented de Valera with more serious problems than this Blueshirts flirtation with fascism, and in June 1936 it was again declared an illegal organization. Its chief of staff, Maurice Twomey, was jailed by the military tribunal soon afterwards, and the movement went underground. In 1939 the IRA launched a campaign of bombing in England, and in one incident in Coventry five people were killed. The Irish government took measures against those who still proclaimed their royalty to the republic of 1916, but the IRA was to remain a source of recurring violence.

There had been a number of changes to the 1922 constitution before Fianna Fail came to power, but these were concerned principally to make government more effective. De Valera, in contrast, concentrated on amending provisions which were offensive to his feelings as an Irishman. As well as the oath of allegiance he ended the office of governor-general and abolished the Senate, which had been designed in part as a gesture of friendship towards the unionists of the twenty-six counties. In 1937 he produced a new constitution, Bunreacht na hEireann, which was endorsed at a referendum. Fianna Fail won exactly half the Dail seats at an election held on the same day. The constitution was an unusual document, reflecting republican ideas in its reference to a ‘sovereign, independent, democratic state’ deriving all powers of government from the people, and at the same time acknowledging God as the ultimate source of all authority and basing many of its article on contemporary Catholic social theory.

The new constitution provided for a two-chamber parliament or Oireachtas, with an elected president or Uachtaran as head of state and a system of cabinet government headed by a prime minister or Taoiseach. The national territory was defined to include the thirty-two counties in Ireland, but pending ‘re-integration’ the jurisdiction of parliament was restricted to twenty-six counties. The state was named as ‘Eire, or in English language, Ireland’. The constitution recognised the special position of the Roman Catholic Church as ‘the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens’, but recognised other churches then in existence and guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion ‘subject to public order and morality’. The family was recognised as ‘the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society’ and divorce was forbidden.

When World War II broke out in September 1939 the Free State remained neutral. The British government considered pressing for naval facilities at the former treaty ports, and possibly occupying them by force if necessary, but the existence  of an important naval base at Londonderry allowed Britain to safeguard its western approaches without infringing Free State territory. Later the Americans considered the seizure of bases in southern Ireland, in part because they were concerned that information about the coming invasion of Europe might be passed to Germany, which had an ambassador in Dublin. however, Ireland never became of sufficient strategic importance that an invasion was attempted by any of the combatants, and the IRA’s contacts with Germany had little practical effect on the war or the Irish situation. De Valera for his part refused to act on an ill defined suggestion from the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, that if the Free State joined the Allies in the war against Germany, it could lead to a united Ireland.


The Republic of Ireland

With the ending of the ’emergency’. as the war was called, the public was ready for a change in government. A radical republican party called Clann na Poblachta (Republican Family) emerged under Sean MacBride, and had some success at by-elections. De Velare called a general election in February 1948, and although Fianna Fail remained easily the largest party, a variety of other parties united to form an uneasy coalition with Fine Gael’s John A. Costello as Taoiseach. Before the year ended, the Republic of Ireland Act had been passed, declaring Ireland a republic and taking it out of the British Commonwealth. The republic was formally inaugurated on Easter Monday, 1949. In the same year Westminister passed the Ireland Act, which affirmed that ‘in no event will Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of His Majesty’s dominions and of the United Kingdom without consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland’. Traditionally Fine Gael had been more sympathetic than Fianna Fail to retaining links with Britain, but Costello was under pressure from MacBride, and also hoped to take the gun out of Irish politics. In fact the act made little practical differences to relations with Britain, for the Republic continued to enjoy imperial preference in trading, and Irish citizens living and working in Britain were treated as if they were British citizens. Nor did it make much difference within the twenty-six counties for, although Fianna Fail supported the legislation, de Valera pointed out that in 1916 he had been fighting for an all-Ireland republic, and he pointedly took no part in the inaugural ceremony.

The inter-party government broke up in 1951, following a controversy over the so-called ‘mother and Child Scheme’ proposed by the Minister for Health, Dr Noel Browne, who was a member of Clann no Poblachta. Browne wanted free medical treatment for expectant mothers and for children up to the age of sixteen, but the Catholic hierarchy objected to the scheme as interfering with the rights of the family and the individual, and MacBride called on Browne to resign. The second inter-party government lasted from 1951 to 1957, and ended when Clann na Poblachta withdrew its support because of the government’s ineffective economic policies and because it had no positive policy for the unification of Ireland. By the time the IRA was active again, raiding targets in Northern Ireland, and the government had begun to take legal action on a modest scale. In the election of 1957 de Valera gained an overall majority and began to intern IRA suspect, while Clan na Poblachta was almost wiped out. In 1959 de Valera was elected to the presidency, and Sean Lemass became Taoiseach.

Lemass had fought in the GPO building in 1916 and was almost sixty, but he had done much to foster industry and he proved a forward-looking leader more concerned with economic growth than with old mythologies. The IRA campaign ended in 1962, and in 1965 Lemass travelled to Belfast to meet the Northern prime minister, Capt Terence O’Neill, awakening hopes of a better relationship between the two parts of Ireland. It was the first time two Irish prime ministers had met since the 1920s. A new trade agreement with the United Kingdom was concluded in 1965. The country became more outward-looking as Irish soldiers served abroad for the first time with United Nations forces. In 1966 Jack Lynch succeeded Lemass, and pursued similar politics, although his task was made more difficult by the outbreak of sectarian violence between the Protestant and Catholic populations of Northern Ireland and by the resurgence of the IRA. In 1972 Ireland’s application for membership of the European Economic Community was accepted with effect from 1st January 1973, and in a referendum the electorate endorsed the move by a five-to-one majority. In 1973 a Fine Geal-Labour coalition took office, with Liam Cosgrave as Taoiseach.


Northern Ireland

When George V opened the first Northern Ireland parliament June 1921 he appealed ‘to all Irishmen to pause, to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and forget, and to join in making for the land they love a new era of peace, contentment and conciliation’. It was a vain hope, and the years of ‘home rule’ in Northern Ireland were marked by recurring violence and a failure to dispel the tensions and differences between the Protestant two-thirds of the population and the Catholic one-third. With slogans like ‘Not an inch’ and ‘No surrender’ the Protestants were defensive in outlook, and used the local parliament they had not sought to buttress their ascendancy. The Catholics for their part resented what they considered to be an unnatural and immoral partition of the island, and were reluctant to participate in the public institutions of a regime which they hoped would not survive.

Sectarian violence continued until the end of 1922, and the government took coercive measures, most notably the Special Powers Act of 1922-33. The new Royal Ulster Constabulary was supplemented by the auxiliary Ulster Special Constabulary, entirely or almost entirely Protestant, which Catholics learned to hate. In 1922 the Unionists abolished proportional representation in local government, and re-drew boundaries so as to gain control of a number of councils, including the city of Londonderry, which the Nationalists had formerly held. Proportional representation was abolished in parliamentary elections in 1929, and single-member constituencies replaced multi-member constituencies, but the political balance in parliament was little affected except that both the Unionists and the Nationalists became less vulnerable to splinter groups. Rioting occurred more than once in the 1930s and in 1935 was particularly serious after the government had banned parades but then withdrew to allow the traditional Orange celebrations in July.

The original intention of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act had been that Northern Ireland would be self-financing, but this soon proved impractical in a period of depression, and ways were found to subsidise government expenditure from the British exchequer so that ‘parity’ of social standards and service should be maintained between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland contributed significantly to the British war effort, although it was not thought advisable to introduce conscription, and afterwards so benefitted from the development of Britain’s welfare state that living standards were patently higher in the Republic. The Unionists had no difficulty in maintaining a handsome majority in the parliament at Stormont, on the outskirts of Belfast, and Protestant unity was fostered by such events as the anti-partition campaign launched when the Republic of Ireland was declared and the IRA campaign of 1956-62. The premiership of Sir James Craig, later Lord Craigavon, lasted until his death in 1940. He was succeeded by J. M. Andrews, a member of his first cabinet, but there was dissatisfaction with his organisation of the war effort, and in 1943 Sr Basil Brooke, later Lord Brookeborough, took over and held office until 1963.

He was succeeded by Capt Terence O’Neill, a man untrammelled by memories of the 1920s, and the new prime minister began to draw the Catholic population more into the mainstream of Ulster life. His efforts to ‘build bridges’ drew criticism from those Protestants who distrusted the Catholic community and feared that a rising Catholic population would eventually vote Northern Ireland into the Republic. O’Neill’s most outspoken opponent was Rev Ian Paisley, moderator of the small Free Presbyterian church, but within his own party there was much opposition to the 1965 meeting with Sean Lemass. The emergence of a predominantly Catholic civil rights movement in the late 1960s left O’Neill trying to hold a precarious middle position, and after the banning of a civil rights march in Londonderry led to violence in the city on 5th October 1968, he was faced with increasing disorder which led to his resignation in April 1969.

O’Neill’s successor, Major James Chichester-Clark, was no more successful in curbing violence. A Protestant march commemorating the siege of Londonderry was attacked in the city in August 1969, and a virtual siege of the nearby Bogside area was followed by violence in other parts of Northern Ireland. In Belfast Protestants invaded Catholic areas, and the British army was eventually called in to prevent further sectarian conflict. Discussions between the British and Northern Ireland governments led t  a series of reforms aimed at tackling the underlying causes of religious conflict in Northern Ireland, but the situation worsened as the IRA – split between the so-called ‘Officials’ influenced by Marxist ideas and the breakaway ‘Provisionals’, who were more traditional advocates of violence – saw as opportunity of bringing down the Stormont regime.

The IRA established themselves as ‘defenders’ of the Catholic districts of Belfast and Londonderry, and these districts became steadily more hostile to the army. A substantial ‘no go’ area was created in Londonderry, where police and army could not enter, and in parts of Belfast law enforcement was at a mininum. Chichester-Clarke resigned in March 1971, dissatisfied with the British government’s unwillingness to intensify the battle against the IRA, and was succeeded by Brian Faulkner, who attempted to involve the Opposition parties in the process of government. however, they largely withdrew from Stormont after the death of two Londonderry youths shot by the army during rioting in July. The decision to withdraw was reinforced when, in August, the British government agreed to Faulkner’s proposal to introduce internment. The operation was far from succeessful, for the level of violence immediately rose as the IRA intensified a bombing campaign directed mainly at commercial premises, and the Catholic population as a whole was alienated. Eventually, in March 1972, the British government decided to suspend the Stormont parliament and government for a year, and a Conservative minister, William Whitelaw, was apppointed Secretary for Northern Ireland. The hope  was that, with the Unionists out of power, conciliatory policies would persuade battle-weary Catholics to reject the IRA and that the threatened ‘backlash’ of disgruntled Protestants could be avoided.

However, IRA violence continued, and although the British army and the police eventually re-entered the ‘no go’ areas, there was an upsurge of militancy among Protestants who distrusted the British government. The government produced proposals for a new Northern Ireland Assembly, in which Protestants and Catholics would share more limited powers than the Stormont parliament had possessed. An election was held on 28th June 1973, using proportional representation. The government warned that, if it proved impossible to appoint an executive whose members could command wide support, the assembly would be dissolved in March 1974.





Just as each period of Irish history has helped to make the people of Ireland what they are today, so the landscape bears the marks of succeeding generations. Each new wave of immigrants has altered and added to Irish culture, but at the same time has been assimilated by the native population. Much of the past has perished, but much remains – whether deliberately preserved or not – and the imaginative observer can sense the former environments in which historic events took place.


Pre-Christian Ireland

‘Giants’ Graves’

The name is popularly applied to the different types of megalithic 9large-stone) chambered graves of the Neolithic Age. the most interesting are the passage-graves of north central Ireland, with notable examples in the Boyne valley at Newgrange. Knowth and Dowth. A central burial chamber is reached through a passage, and there is a covering cairn of earth or stones. Newgrange, open t the public, has a number of intricately carved stones. Gallery-graves are found throughout Ireland, and consists of a long chamber, often divided into compartments, with a longish cairn above. Some northern ones are known as court-graves or horned cairns because of a semicircular forecourt formed by upright stones. Others are known as wedge-graves, being slightly wider at the entrance, and there are many of these in limestones Burren area of County Clare. Dolmens, in which a heavy capstone is upheld by three or ore standing stones, are commonest in the north. they are also known as portal-graves.

Stone circles

These consist of upright stones arranged in a circle, and many date from the Bronze Age. There are a number at Lough Gur in County Limerick. Some seem to be primitive observatories designed to measure the longest and shortest days of the year, but none is as dramatic as Stonehenge in England.

Standing stones

These are single vertical stones, sometimes 20ft high. Some mark ancient graves, some were erected comparatively recently as rubbing-stones for cattle. Two unusual round-topped stones are at Turoe, County Galway, and Castlesstrange, County Roscommon. They are decorated with curving patterns of the La Tene Celtic style. Later stones bear inscriptions carved in Ogham script, a simple form of lettering consisting of strokes at right angles or diagonal to a central line. This early form of writing continued in commemorative monuments well into the Christian period.

Round cairns

The typical Bronze Age grave was a small stone-lined compartment or cist, covered by a small cairn of stones. These cairns are a familiar sight on hilltops throughout Ireland, whereas many of the larger Neolithic cairns on lower ground have had their stones re-used for walls and houses.

Forts and raths

There is little evidence of Iron Age burials, but great numbers of the circular banks and raths which probably contained a farmhouse and kept animals from straying. Raths are seldom much more than 100ft in diameter where there is a single bank, but in some cases there are two or three banks with intervening ditches. Where siol in thin, the rath tends to be supplanted by the cashel, which has dry stone walls. A common feature of both raths and cashels is the souterrain or underground passage, which may have been used to store food or as a place of refuge. A similar form of dwelling is the crannog, an artificial island constructed in shallow lakes or marshes. Raths are sometimes called ring-forts, but the term fort is better applied to hill-forts such as Navan, County Armagh, and Tara, County Meath, where royal residences were protected by earthern ramparts. There are also substantial stone forts such as Dun Aengus in the Aran Islands, which has four defensive walls and a defensive outer perimeter of upright stones (known as chevaux de frise). There are also a number of promontory forts, mostly on the coast but sometimes on high ground inland, where cliffs provide natural protection on three sides. A good example is at Dunbeg, County Kerry.

Weapons and ornaments

The National Museum in Dublin has an excellent collection of metalwork from the Bronze and Iron Ages. The most distinctive weapons is the leaf-shaped sword from the Late Bronze Age, and the socketed leaf-shaped spearhead belongs to the same period. A wide range of gold ornaments includes lunulae (necklets of beaten gold), torcs (armlets or necklets of twisted gold) and finely decorated items like the Broighter Collar from County Londonderry.


The Coming of Christianity

Monastic sites

The first Christian monasteries were simple structures built of wood or clay and wattle, and have not survived. However, a good idea of their simple layout can be gained from stone-built monasteries in the west. A good early example is the island of Skelling Michael, off the coast of County Kerry, where there are six small clochans (beehive-shaped cells), as well as oratories, stone crosses and the remains of a church. The Dingle peninsula, farther north in County Kerry, is rich in monastic sites. Among them is a perfectly preserved oratory, shaped like an upturned boat, at Gallarus, dating possibly from the eighth century.

Celtic crosses

The earliest crosses were simply engraved on upright pillars, some of which bear Ogham markings. The pillars began to take the form of simple crosses, as at Carndonagh, County Donegal, dating possibly from the late sixth or early seventh century. There were also cross-slabs, flat slabs of stone delicately engraved with crosses and placed on graves. These probably date from the seventh to twelfth centuries, and there is a fine collection on display at Clonmacnois, County Offaly. The finest flowering of Celtic sculptures was the Irish high Cross, in which a circle surrounds the point of intersection. The earliest of these crosses have geometric patterns, but by the ninth century biblical scenes are common. Among the finest High Crosses, dating to the tenth century, are the Cross of the Scriptures at Conmacnois, the Cross of Muiredach at Monasterboice, County Louth, and the Cross of Moone, County Kildare.

Round towers

The earliest stone churches were simple buildings, probably very similar in shape to their wooden predecessors. Many were stone-roofed, and an interesting feature is the stone arch which supports the steeply pitched roof and at  the same time creates an attic room above main body of the church, which also has an arched ceiling. Good examples are St Kevin’s Kitchen at Glendalough, County Wicklow, and Cormac’s Chapel at Cashel, County Tipperary. More famous, however, are the tall Round Towers found at many monastic sites. These were built during the tenth to twelfth centuries after the Viking invasions, and were places of refuge as well as watch towers and belfries. The entrance is well above ground level, and movable ladders allowed the monks to retreat to higher floors of the tapering towers, some well over 100ft high. In some cases only the stump of the original tower remains, but there are well preserves examples at Ardmore, County Waterford, and at Antrim.

Celtic metalwork

The intricate but dignified design of the High Crosses was paralleld in the metalwork of the period, of which the best examples are in the National Museum in Dublin. The Ardagh Chalice is made of silver and decorated with glass studs and delicate gold filigree. It belongs to the eighth century, as does the Tara Brooch, which consisists of a decorated silver ring with an ornamented pin. Another treasure is the Moylough Belt Reliquary, a bronze shrine probably made to hold a saint’s belt. The museum has a number of crosiers from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, of which the best preserved is the Lismore Crosier. also from the twelfth century are the Shrine of Saint Patrick’s Bell and the glorious Cross of Cong, a shrine made to hold a fragment of the True Cross. It is made of oak, encased in silver and copper and decorated in gold and gilt bronze, with a large quartz crystal at the centre.

illuminated manuscripts

Surviving manuscripts are illustrated in the same distinctive Celtic style as the High Crosses and the metalwork. The finest of the illuminated gospel books, laboriously compiled by monks, are the seventh-century Book of Durrow and the eighth-century Book of Kells, both in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.

The European monasteries

The twelfth century saw the arrival of Cistercian monks from the continent, soon to be followed by Augustinians, Benedictines, Franciscans and Dominicans. The older Irish foundations soon yielded to the newcomers, whose better ordered lives were reflected in the well planned architecture of their monasteries. Although succeeding centuries brought ravages and neglect, the ruins of these medieval buildings are among Ireland’s most impressive monuments. There are good examples of Cistercian monasteries at Mellifont, County Louth, Jerpoint, County Kilkenny, and Inch, County Down. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries also saw the building of many cathedrals. Some are still in use, with substantial rebuilding, as at Kilkenny, Limerick and Clonfert, County Galway. others, such as Cormac’s Cathedral at Cashel, County Tipperary, are in ruins.


The (French) Normans


The first Norman fortifications were wooden towers built on artificial mounds or mottes, with an enclosure or bailey at the foot of the mound. Many of these mounds remain, as at Granard, County Lnogford, but the motte-and-bailey soon gave way to substantial stone castles. The main period of castle building lasted from the late twelfth to the early fourteenth century. The typical castle had a central tower or keep, which might or might not be embodoed in the surrounding walls. The keep might be retangular, circular or (a contrast to Norman castles elsewhere) retangular with a circular tower at each corner. Good examples of the retangular keep are Carrickfergus Castle, County Antrim, where the keep forms part of the wall, and Trim Castle, County Meath, where it does not. Nenagh Castle, Couty Tipperary, has a fine round keep. The best preserved towered keep is at Ferns, county Wexford. Some Norman castles, including those at Dublin, Kilkenny and Limerick, were built without keeps. The later keepless castles tend to have substantial towers protruding outwards from the walls, as well as a pair of towers protecting the main entrance. There is an excellent example at Roscommon.

Tower houses

After more than a hundred years, during which there was little major building, there was a revival in the middle of the fifteenth century. Typical of the following 150 years, and both numerous and widespread, is the tower house. This fortified residence is usually rectangular in shape, rising to crenellated parapets sometimes with one or more projecting turrets. Tower houses are sometimes known as ’10 pound castles’ for Henry VI introduced a subsidy in 1429 to encourage the defence of the Pale. There are good examples at Clara, county Kilkenny, and Roodstown, County Louth. both have a ‘murder hole’ over the entrance, allowing defeners above to assail unwelcome visitors. A few towers are circular, including Reginald’s Tower in Waterford, which now houses a museum. Tower houses normally had a fortified enclosure or bawn attached to them.


The Plantations

The Tudor and Stuart period brought the construction of more comfortable residences, with fewer storeys and more windows, yet better designed for defence than their English counterparts. they were still known as castles and usually had a gabled rectangular block with square towers at each corner. A good example is at Monkstown, County Cork. It was common to add a house to an earlier towere, as at Loughmoe, County Tipperary. In Donegal Castle a fine Jacobean wing with many gables has been grafted on to a much renovated tower buily by the O’Donnells.

Under the terms of the Ulster Plantation, English and Scottish settlers were required to provide bawns and in some cases strong houses or castles, and Scottish architectural influences are strong. Typical are the round corbelled turrets with conical roofs, such as occur at Ballygally Castle in County Antrim. Most of the plantation castles were destroyed in the 1641 rebellion, and thereafter there was little attempt to build fortified resisdences. Similarly the development of heavy artillery meant the end of building traditional castles. Ormond Castles at Carrack-on-Suir, County Tipperary, is one of the earliest examples of an Elizabethan mansion not built for defence. The best preserved Elizabethan town house is Rothe house in Kilkenny, built in 1594.

The star-shaped fort was developed in the seventeenth century to meet the challenge of artillery. Heavy earthworks form a strong outer perimeter, which is further guarded by the pointed bastions which give the fort its shape. A good example is at Charlemont, County Armagh. The first fortifications were erected during Mountjoy’s campaign of 1602, the star fort being completed in 1624, and outer earthworks added in 1673. Another example is Charles fort near Kinsale, County Cork.


Georgian Ireland

The big house

William of Orange’s victories in Ireland preceded a century of peace, and from about 1720 onwards this was reflected in the ambitious building ventures of properous landlords. Labour was cheap, and the owners of vast demesnes could afford to import building materials and employ the finest architects to create the ‘big houses’ that symbolised the Protestant ascendancy. One of the earliest was Castletown house near Celbridge, County Kildare. Built around 1722 for the Speaker of the Irish Commons, William Conolly, it consists of a three-storey central block linked by curving colonnades to side wings. The Palladian exterior and the rococo interier are typical of the eighteenth century, and the house now forms the headquarters of the Irish Georgian society. Powerscourt, near Enniskerry, couty Wicklow, is another fine house of the period, with magnificent terraced gardens added in the nineteenth century. The architect of Powerscourt, Richard Cassels, was also responsible for Westport House in County Mayo, which is open to the public. Among the houses built later in the century, Castle Coole near Enniskillen, Couty Fermanagh, is owned by the National Trust. The classical Georgian facades eventually gave way to Gothic-revival styles. Castleward house, near Strangford, county down, was built about 1765 and has one Palladian front and Gothic front.

Dublin and other cities

The eighteenth century was Dublin’s golden age, and many noble buildings were erected. The population grew rapidly, and the city spread into graceful squares bounded by stately terraces whose interiors were handsomely adorned by stucco workers, woodcarvers and other craftsmen. Parliament house was completed in 1739, enlarged later in the century, and after the Union became the Bank of Ireland. Nearby Leinster House was designed by Cassels for the Earl of Kildare. It was begun in 1745, looks more a country house than a town house, and was later occupied for more than a century by the Royal Dublin Society before it was purchased for the modern Irish parliament. Behind Leinster House is Merrison Square, most beautiful of the Dublin squares and second in size only to St Stephen’s Green. Trinity College was largely reconstructed in the eighteenth century and little of the earlier buildings remain. The parliamentary independence of the last two decades of the century was accompanied by further architectural masterpieces in Dublin. The outstanding architect was James Gandon, whose work includes the Custom House, the Four courts and the Kings Inns.


The Nineteenth Century

The cataclysmic event of the nineteenth century was the great famine of the 1840s, and it has left its mark on the landscape in different ways. emigration and death reduced the rural population substantially, and in western areas in particular one can see traces of fields once cultivated and derelict cottages. At this period there were still parts where the rundale or open-field system survived, and land held in common was re-allocated annually in small and inefficient plots. The famine opened the way to the consolidation of holdings, as had occurred elsewhere. The clachans or clusters of peasant houses began to diseppear, and ‘strip farms’ became common, each stretching from the mountain pasture to the lowland bog. Fields now left to grass often reveal the shape of the ‘lazy-beds’ or ridges in which potatoes were grown. The relief works of the famine period included roads, harbours and even the substantial walls which commonly surround demesnes.

The nineteenth century also saw a growing contrast between Ulster and the other Irish provinces. Perhaps because there was already a domestic linen industry. Ulster seized the opportunities of the Industrial Revolution, and its new mills and shipyards brought with them terraces of cheap housing. Belfast is essentially a Victorian city, and few eighteenth-century buildings survive. The subsequent decline of the linen industry is marked by empty red-brick mills in many towns and villages of Ulster.


Important Dates

432     St Patrick’s mission to Ireland.

563     St Columcille founds monastery of Iona.

590     St Columbanus sails to France.

c650   Book of Durrow.

795     First Viking raids on Ireland.

c800  Book of Kells.

841     Dublin founded by Vikings.

1002  Brian Boru acknowledged High King.

1014   Brian killed as he defeats Norsemen at Clontarf.

1066   Battle of Senlac Ridge/Battle of Hastings by the French-Normans Conquest/Crusade of England starts by the usurper Duke of Normandy

1152    Synod of Kells.

1169    Norman invasion of Ireland begins (The Marcher lord Strongbow was asked to come over and conquer Ireland for the deposed King of Leinster).

1171    Henry II lands at Waterford. (the Pope gives Ireland to him).

1175    Treaty of Windsor.

1215    Magna Carta signed by King John at Runnymeade, Berkshire, England.

1315-18 Bruce invasion.

1318    Battle of Faughart: Edward Bruce killed.

1366    Statutes of Kilkenny.

1394-5 First visit of Richard II.

1399    Second visit of Richard II.

1455    Wars of the Roses begin in England. A civil war by soldiers who had come home after the end of the Hundred Years War with France.

1477-1513  Rule of Garret more, the great Earl of Kildare.

1492   Columbus sails to America.

1494-5  Poynings’ parliament.

1534    Rebellion of Silken Thomas.

1541     Irish parliament confirms Henry VIII as King of Ireland.

1569-73 First Desmond rebellion.

1579-83 Second Desmond rebellion.

1586    Plantation of Munster.

1588    Defeat of Spanish Armada by Queen Elizabeth I.

1591     Foundation of Trinity College, Dublin.

1594     Rebellion of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone.

1598     Battle of the Yellow Ford.

1601     Battle of Kinsale: O’Neill defeated.

1603     Treaty of Mellifont.

1609     Plantation of Ulster.

1618-48 Thirty Years’ War in Europe.

1633-40 Sir Thomas Wentworth lord deputy.

1641    Ulster rising begins.

1642    English Civil War begins.

1642    Confederation of Kilkenny formed.

1646    Battle of Benburb.

1649    Charles I executed.

1649    Oliver Cromwell captures Drogheda and Wexford.

1652    Land confiscation begins.

1660   Charles II restored to throne.

1681    Oliver Plunkett executed in London.

1689    Siege of Londonderry.

1690    William III-William of Orange wins Battle of the Boyne.

1691     Treaty of Limerick, followed by land confiscation.

1695     Beginning of penal laws against Catholics.

1720     Act declares British parliament’s right to legislate for Ireland.

1724     Jonathan Swift’s Drapier’s Letters.

1776     American Declaration of Independence.

1779     Volunteers parade in Dublin: trade restrictions repealed.

1782     Convention of Volunteers at Dungannon: Irish parliamentary independence conceded.

1789     French Revolution begins.

1791      Society of United Irishmen formed.

1792-3  Catholic Relief Acts ease penal laws.

1795      Orange Order founded in County Armagh.

1798      United Irishmen’s rising fails: Wolfe Tone commits suicide.

1800      Acts of Union passed: end of Gratton’s Parliament.

1801      Union of Great Britain and Ireland begins.

1803     Robert Emmet’s rising fails.

1815      Battle of Waterloo.

1823     Daniel O’Connell forms Catholic Association.

1828     O’Connell wins Clare by-election.

1829     Catholic emancipation attained.

1831      National education system established.

1832      Great Reform Act at Westminster.

1837      Queen Victoria’s reign begins.

1840      Thomas Davis founds the Nation.

1843      Repeal meeting at Clontarf banned.

1845-9  Potato famine causes death, hardship, emigration.

1848     Young Irelands’ rising fails.

1854     Crimean War begins.

1858     Fenian movement founded.

1861-5  American Civil War.

1867    Fenian rising fails: ‘Manchester martyrs’ executed.

1869    Church of Ireland disestablished.

1870    Gladstone’s first Land Act: Isaac Butt forms Home Government Association.

1873    Home Rule League Association.

1879    Michael Davitt forms Irish National Land League: land war begins.

1880    Charles Stewart Parnell elected leader of irish parliamentary party.

1881     Gladstone’s second Land Act: Parnell imprisoned.

1882    Lord Frederick Cavendish assassinated in Dublin.

1884    Gaelic Athletic Association founded.

1886    Gladstone’s first Home Rule Bill defeated: rioting in Belfast.

1889    Parnell cited in divorce case.

1891     Death of Parnell.

1893     Gladstone’s second Home Rule Bill defeated: more rioting in Belfast: Gaelic League founded.

1899     Irish Literary Theatre founded.

1904     Abbey Theatre opened.

1905     Arthur Griffith founds Sinn Fein movement: Ulster Unionist Council formed to fight Home Rule.

1912     Ulster Covenant signed.

1913    Formation of Ulster Volunteer force, Irish Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers.

1914    Curragh ‘mutiny’: gun-running by UVF and Irish Volunteers: Government of Ireland Act suspended after receiving royal assent.

1914-18 World War I.

1916   Easter rising fails: its leaders are executed.

1917   Russian Revolution.

1918   Sinn Fein wins majority of Irish seats at Westminster.

1919   First Dail eireann meets in Dublin, Eamon de Valera later becoming president: War of independence begins.

1920   Government of Ireland Act provides for seperate parliaments in Northern and Southern Ireland.

1921   Truce followed by Anglo-Irish Treaty.

1922  Treaty approved by Dail Eireann: establishment of Irish Free State followed by Civil War.

1923   Civil War ends.

1925   Report of boundary commission remains unpublished: triparite agreement confirms existing border between northern Ireland and Irish Free State.

1927   De Valera and Fianna Fail party enter Dail.

1932   De Valera gains power.

1937    New constitution for Irish Free State.

1939   Irish Free State remains neutral during World War II.

1939-45 World War II.

1949   Republic of Ireland inaugurated.

1956-62 IRA campaign in Northern Ireland.

1965   Prime ministers Sean Lemass and Terence O’Neill meet in attempt to improve North-South relations.

1968   Civil rights march in Londonderry banned: sectarian disturbances in Northern Ireland become increasingly serious.

1969   British troops called in to maintain peace in Northern Ireland.

1970   IRA begins campaign of violence in North.

1972   British government suspends Northern Ireland parliament and government.

1973   Republic of Ireland and United Kingdom enter European Econimic Community.


Further Reading

Beckett, J. C.  A Short History of Ireland (4th edition, 1971) / The Making of Modern Ireland (1966)

Curtiss Edmund.  A Short History of Ireland (6th edition, 1950).

Edwards, R. Dudley.  A New History of Ireland (1972).

Kee, Robert.  The Green Flag (1972).

Lyons, F. S. L.  Ireland since the Famine (1971).

Moody, T. W. and Martin, F. X.  The course of Irish History (Cork 1967).