On 1 January 1801 Ireland became part of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom was a war against France which was then ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte.
Irishmen volunteered for the British Army and the Royal Navy and served in many lands and on many seas. Those who joined the army and the navy tended to come from poor families. They were mainly Catholic but a good few Protestants joined up as well. At home Irishmen could defend Ireland by enlisting in the Militia or if they had a horse in the Yeomanry. In practice these forces were recruited from the middling to wealthier citizens and were largely Protestant.
Napoleon Bonaparte was canny enough and conservative enough to make amends with the Catholic Church. The war against France could no longer be presented to Irish Catholics as a war against an enemy of their church. However, at the end of Napoleon’s reign he fell out with the Roman Catholic Church again and imprisoned Pope Pius VII.
The Prime Minister Pitt the Younger tried to introduce Catholic Emancipation into the UK Parliament. He wanted Catholics in all parts of the UK to have equality with Protestants. Pthis might be achieved. In people were hopeful that this might be accomplished. In the British colony of Canada Protestant and Catholics had legal equality. King George III was strongly anti-Catholic. He said that he had taken a coronation oath to uphold the primacy of Protestantism. He said of Catholic Emanicaption, ”that’s the most jacobinical thing I ever heard of.” The Jacobins were trhe most extreme faction of French revolutionaries. In fact the Jacobins hated the Catholic Church but not for the same reasons as George III. George III motivated the anti-Catholic element in Parliament o block any bill. William Pitt the Younger had to let the idea drop. Because he could not honour his intention of achieving equality for different religious denominations he resigned as Prime Minister.
Because the Union was not accompanied by a reform package for Catholics the Catholic population was very let down. Some turned against the Union.
On the other hand the Protestant Ascendancy withdrew its oppositon to the Act of Union. There has been 300 MPs and plenty of peers in the Irish Parliament. There were only about 132 Irishmen in the Parliament of Great Britain so not so many Irishmen could rise to office. Nevertheless the Irish upper class recognised that its interests were not undermined by the Union. In fact the elite’s position was more secure than ever. The super rich in Ireland were often elected for Irish seats but spent most of their time in London because that was there the UK Parliament was situated.
Irish MPs mostly identified with either Whigs or Tories. These were the two main parties in Great Britain and so they became the two main parties in Ireland. Some Irish MPs did not align themselves with either party. They was no separate political party in Ireland.
The Orange Order had been against the Union. As the Union did not weaken Protestant privilege the Orange Order withdrew its opposition to the Union. The Orangemen stressed their loyalty to the monarch. A united crown was just as agood as a divided crown to them.
ROBERT EMMET’S REBELLION.
The Society of United Irishmen had launched a bloody revolt in 1798. This had been put down with excessive violence. Bands of United Irishmen still held out in the woods of Wexford and in the Wicklow Mountains.
Robert Emmet was an Anglican Dubliner from an affluent family. Robert Emmet was a member of the United Irishmen along with his brother. Emmet had studied at Trinity College, Dublin. Emmet was eventually sent down for his radical activities. He was a member of the United Irishmen and the authorities wished to arrest him.
Emmet went abroad just after the 1798 Rebellion. He spent some time in France attempting to secure military assistance. Having backed one revolt in Ireland that ended as a dismal failure the French government was understandably reluctant to commit any of its stretched resources to what seemed to be a forlorn hope. Those who were minded to revolt had mostly been imprisoned or killed. Ireland had joined the UK so the notion of an Irish Republic seemed further away than ever. Most of the population were sick of figting and were willing to at least tolerate the Union.
The French Government agreed to military aid in principle – when the time was right. The UK and France made peace in 1801 which lasted into 1802. Emmet took the chance to return to Ireland. Later that same year, in 1802, war resumed between the UK and France.
Despite his radical politics Emmet was well-connected to the establishment. He was stepping out with Sarah Curran. Sarah Curran was the daughter of a well-known former Irish MP and judge – John Philpot Curran. John Philpot Curran was a man of fairly liberal views and supported equality for Catholics but he had no truck with revolution.John Philpot Curran saw that Robert Emmet was a man without prospects because of his revolutionary views – in fact he was dangerous to know. Curran forbade his daughter to see Emmet. They two met up secretly and had letters smuggled between them. It is hard to argue against Mr Curran’s assessment. Marrying Emmet was likely to lead to early widowhood for Sarah. Emmet conspired to start another rebellion. Emmet recognised that French support was probably essential for his insurrection to stand the least chance of success.
Robert Emmet set up a secret arms factory in Dublin.
In 1803 there was an explosion at Emmet’s clandestine weapons factory. Emmet was anxious because he felt that this would alert the authorities to his plot. Although his plan was not quite ready to go he believed that he had to strike immediately because otherwise he and his comrades would be rounded up before they had an opportunity to strike. On 23 July the revolt went ahead.
Robert Emmet’s rebellion consisted of little more than a tussle outside Dublin Castle. Lord Kilwarden (a judge) was coming out of the castle in a coach. Emmet’s men stopped the coach and pulled the noble lord and his nephew out of the coach. They were stabbed to death. Scrapping took place mostly around Thomas Street. It is thought that about 20 soldiers were slain and 50 rebels.
Emmet’s farcical uprising soon broke up and his men scattered that same night. Emmet had been horrified by the bloodshed – what did he expect? He had told his acolytes to abandon the effort. Emmet was not immediately taken prisoner.
Sarah Curran, Emmet’s girlfriend, has a maid named Anne Devlin. Anne Devlin had acted as a housekeeper at a premises that was a cache for Emmet’s weapons. Robert Emmet had taken Anne Devlin into his confidence.
Sarah Curran went into hiding. In order to find out more about the United Irishmen the authorities arrested Anne Devlin. They wanted her to reveal the whereabouts of wanted men and for her to testify against Robert Emmet. She refused to speak and members of her family were also arrested. She was eventutally released after 3 years and lived in Dublin to a great age. Bearing in mind the promiscuous use of the death penalty at the time her serving only 3 years in prison after having been deeply involved in high treason was lenient in the extreme. She is commemorated by the Wolfe Tones and their song Anne Devlin, ”In the Liberties of Dublin they will speak your name with pride.”
Robert Emmet was arrested on 25 August 1803. He was caught because he moved from hiding in one safe house to another closer to his paramour Sarah Curran.
Emmet stood trial in September 1803. He had defence barristers. He also gave a final speech from the dock before sentence was passed. He verdict had been a foregone conclusion. No one had the least doubt that he had done what he said he had done. Lord Norbury was the judge. One point that any fair-minded person must admit, even if they sympathise wit Emmet, is that he had proposed to bring French troops into Ireland. The purpose was to kick out the mainland British troops. Having got French soldiers in it would prove very difficult to eject them. Emmet said he sought French help but had no intention of allowing Ireland to be a vassal of France. He would have been willing to fight against France as well.
His stirring oration included the words, ”until Ireland takes her place amongst the nations of the world then – and not till then – let my epitaph be written.” His poise and eloquence redounded to his fame.
He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The sentence of the court was executed upon his body within a few days of the trial. He was put to death outside St Catherine’s Church which is an Anglican one. The Church still stands on Thomas Street. This street is where most of the skirmishing of his revolt took place. There is a pub on the street called The Bould Robert Emmet. ‘Bould’ being a Dublin pronunciation of bold.
The location of Emmet’s body is a mystery. Some say that the authorities buried it secretly to prevent it becoming a focal point of republican activity.
Sarah Curran moved to County Cork and wed. She had two children and died in 1808 aged 26.
Robert’s elder brother Thomas Addis Emmet fled to the United States. He became the Attorney General of New York. Robert Emmet is known as the Bold Robert Emmet. A song about him says, ”hark the bells tolling. I well know its meaning. Soon I will show them no coward am I. I will lay down my life for the Emerald Isle.”
DOMESTIC PEACE, FOREIGN WAR.
The war against France raged on. Arthur Wellesley was an Irish-born general who commanded British forces in India and latterly in Iberia.
After 1803 the situation in Ireland was very calm with almost nobody wanting to fight.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was an English radical who felt sorry for Irish Catholics in their plight. He was also against the Act of Union. He sailed across to Ireland and met with reformers in Ireland. Shelley was against violence and wished to see a peaceful campaign for sweeping reform. He published his Address to the Irish Nation. His efforts achieved very little.
Eventually the exchequers of Ireland and Great Britain were united. Ireland became part of the sterling zone. In 1810 full free trade between the two islands became a reality.
In 1812 the Irish Peace Preservation Force was established. This was effectively a police force but the word police was not used. People in the UK were very suspicious of the idea of police which they felt was an instrument of state oppression. Ireland was felt to be a special case in view of its lawlessness and the fact that there had been the United Irishmen uprising with French aid.
The Irish Peace Preservation Force was at first only open to Protestants. Quickly this was changed and Catholics were also allowed to enlist.
In 1815 the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) scored a decisive victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. The Duke of Wellington was the most celebrated Irishman of the age. The war against France that had gone on for 22 years (with two brief interludes) was finally at an end.
As the security situation had improved many in Ireland felt that some long overdue reforms were in order.
Irish Catholics pressed for equality. They also bitterly resented paying tithes to a church that they did not worship in. Presbyterians and members of other free churches also resented paying this tithe to the Church of Ireland but the Church of Ireland was at least a fellow Protestant church. Catholic committees were founded to campaign for the rights of Catholics.
THE CATHOLIC ASSOCIATION.
Daniel O’Connell was a distinguished barrister from County Kerry. O’Connell was born into a Catholic family that had managed to retain substantial estates through Penal times. Some estates had been nominally owned by a Protestant friend of theirs to evade the law.
O’Connell founded the Catholic Association. This was deliberately set up as a mass membership organisation. It was one of the first mass membership organisations in the world. It was open to people of all religious denominations. Membership was set at a penny per household. The aim was to make membership affordable even for the poor. As people paid for the organisation they felt they owned it and were more likely to be involved in the movement. This membership fee was called Catholic rent.
Daniel O’Connell organised mass meetings to spread his message. The UK Government became rather worried. O’Connell was not a revolutionary and emphasised that he did not wish to separate from Great Britain. He merely insisted on equality.
In the 1810s and 1820s Catholic Emancipation became a tendentious issue in British politics. Lord Liverpool was the Prime Minister from 1812-27. He found the issue to divisive that he decided not to have a collective policy on it for his government. All members of the Cabinet were of course Protestants as the law dictated. But they were known as ”Catholics” if they supported Catholic Emancipation and as ”Protestants” if they did not support it.
The demand for emancipation became irresistible. People feared another rebellion.
The Duke of Wellington had long ago set his face against Catholic Emancipation. His protege was Sir Robert Peel. Sir Robert Peel had been the Chief Secretary of State for Ireland. Peel was briefly the MP for Cashel. Peel had been known as ‘Orange Peel’ owing to his strident defence of religious inequality.
Willaim Vesey FitzGerald was an Irish MP who sat for County Clare. Vesey FitzGerland was promoted to the Cabinet. In those days someone appointed to a new government office had to stand for election again. This was not changed until about 1920. Daniel O’Connell stood against him since there was no law disbarring a Catholic from standing for election only from taking his seat. O’Connell won convincingly. As O’Connell did not take his seat it was decided to hold the by-election again. Again there was the same result. The by-election was run a third time again with the same result. Something had got to give.
In 1829 Peel wrote Wellington a letter. He said that Catholic Emancipation was dangerous but not allowing it had become even more dangerous. The safest course was therefore to allow it.
In April 1829 Catholic Emancipation was passed. Catholics were allowed to hold almost all public offices. Oaths of office were amended to remove the parts objectionable to Catholics. Roman Catholics remained barred from being sovereign or the consort thereof; being a general in the army; an admiral in the navy or Prime Minister or Viceroy of Ireland.
Daniel O’Connell was returned as MP for Clare – he took his seat. Incidentally Vesey FitzGerald was in favour of Catholic Emancipation and there was no ill-feeling between him and O’Connell. O’Connell simply saw the by-election as a means of advancing his cause.
THE REPEAL MOVEMENT.
No sooner had Daniel O’Connell taken his oath to King George IV than he founded a new organisation. He set up the Loyal National Repeal Association. The word loyal was to underline the fact that it bore allegiance to the crown and was not revolutionary. For short it was known as the Repeal Association.
The Repeal Association intend to repeal the Act of Union. It wanted to establish an Irish Parliament in Dublin. Men of all religious denominations would have equal rights. There would still be a property qualification for the right to vote and an even more stringent one for the right to be elected an MP. George IV would be the King of Ireland as well as being the King of Great Britain.
Daniel O’Connell was a practising Catholic as were most Irishmen. He was thought to identify more and more with the partisan Catholic cause.
Daniel O’Connell stood for Parliament as a Repealer. He was elected. He sat for Cork City for a while and later for Dublin City. As Dublin City had the largest electorate in Ireland it was the most prominent constituency. O’Connell’s supporters also stood for election as Repealers. Some of them were elected.
The majority of Irish Members of Parliament remained either Whigs or Tories. The Tories were all against the proposal to repeal the Act of Union. Some Whigs stood as Whig Repealers and others stood as Whig Anti-Repealers. The majority of Irish MPs were still against repeal. This may not represent majority opinion. This was still a pre-democratic era. Even after the 1832 Great Reform Act only about 8% of Irishmen had the right to vote.
O’Connell found little sympathy among the Whigs and none among the Tories. He was astute enough to ally with Whigs and Radicals in the Lichfield House Compact to bring down the Tory Government. Some Whigs of very advanced views had broken off the Whig Party in the 1820s and called themselves Radicals. O’Connell found a sympathetic hearing among them.
THE OPPOSITION TO REPEAL
The Irish population had been growing rapidly – reaching a peak of around 8 000 000 in 1841. The population therefore doubled in around 40 years. Potatos had been grown in Ireland since the early 17th century. The fact that the potato is a hardy crop and will grow even in thin, stony and gale-lashed soil made it an ideal staple food for Ireland. Some take the fast growing population as evidence of an economic boom in Ireland. This could be a benefit of the Union.
There was a growing dissonance between Protestants and Roman Catholics on the issue of the union. The division and even enmity between Protestants of different religious denominations all but disappeared in the early 19th century. Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Wesleyans, Baptists, Unitarians and Plymouth Brethren seemed to have formed a pan-Protestant alliance. The earlier traditon of radicalism particularly among the Presbyterians was largely forgotten.
Ulster’s economy grew substantially under the Union. The industrial revolution had taken off in Great Britain in the early 19th century. The north-east corner of Ireland. Factories were being set up and shipyards expanded fast. Belfast has been a town of 20 000 at the turn of the 19th century. By the 1840s it was home to over 100 000 people.
A fundamentalist Protestant preacher known as ‘Roaring’ Hana became an outspoken Unionist. He said, ”look at Belfast harbour and be a repealer if you can.” He was referring to the dozens of ships one would see there. They were often built in Belfast – providing work for people. The shipbuilders were mostly Protestants from the province of Ulster. Ships that were not built in Ireland sailed into and out of that harbour. They carried away Irish exports and brought in imports from other places. Ulster’s prosperity was closely tied to trading with Great Britain and with colonies in the ever growing British Empire.
One must not take care not to exaggerate. Ulster was mainly agricultural in the 1830s but the south of Ireland was even more agricultural. The industrial part of Ulster was only Belfast and a few towns in the east of the province. Ulster was only about 55% Protestant at the time. In the eastern counties this majority was much higher.
In Great Britain the major political parties were Whigs and Tories. These parties did well in Ulster. The Tories were more strongly identified with Unionism. Catholics were more likely to vote for the Whigs unless they voted for the Repeal Association. Protestant normally voted for the Tories.
The Tories from 1828 were very gradually starting to be known as Conservatives. The term was coined by an Irish MP – John Wilson Croker.
The Repeal issue was to an extent an issue of high politics. The most numerous category of Irishman was a Catholic renting a small farm from a Protestant landlord. Such a man tended to resent paying rent. No one likes it but it is all the more galling if one thinks that the property should not belong to the landlord but to oneself. This is especially so if one regards the landlord as an exploitative foreigner who subscribes to an apostate religion and until recently tried to deny one rights on the grounds of one’s faith. Paying tithes to the Church of Ireland also aggravated Catholics.
Which Parliament controlled Ireland was somewhat academic. Paying rent and tithes was a bread and butter issue. This could not fail to hold the attention of even the most apolitical person.
In the countryside, especially in the three southern provinces, Ribbonism was rife. Ribbonmen were called that because they wore ribbons on their clothes to identify themselves as they went about their activities at night. The ribbon was green which had became the colour of Irish nationalism and of Irish Catholicism. Catholicism and nationalism were seen as increasingly one and the same thing. A song of the late 20th century about Irish republicans alludes to the Ribbonmen of the 19th century, ”all around my hat you know I wear the tricoloured ribbon-o.” The Ribbonmen were divided into lodges on a geographical basis. A lodge was simply a group of men. They usually did not have a building they met in as a lodge.
They Ribbonmen were pretty much exclusviely Catholic and perhaps anti-Protestant. Ribbonmen took action against landlords who were thought to charge too much rent. If a landlord evicted a tenant in a manner that the Ribbonmen thought unfair they would take action. If someone rented a property from which another person had been evicted within the past three years this new tenant would be subject to sanctions enacted by the Ribbonmen. The Ribbonmen also opposed those to tried to levy tithes on behalf of the Church of Ireland.
Ribbonmen went around at night. They would cut the tails off cattle belonging to a hate figure and possibly kill the cattle, sheep and horses of their enemies. This caused economic loss to the enemy but also served as a warning. Next time it will not be an animal that is killed but you. By not stealing the animal it was difficult to prove who committed this action. If one was caught with a stolen beast then the evidence was there. Ribbonmen could also say they were actuated by high minded motives – they were not stealing. They vandalised property of their enemies. They would gather several men or perhaps dozens and surround the house of an enemy in the dead of night. This was an act of intimidation. This perhaps could be beaten or occasionally killed.
Ribbonmen sent poison pen letters sometimes containg death threats to those whom it considered to be enmies of the ordinary Catholic tenant.
The succeeded in having landlords lower their rents; be slow to evict tenants and have the Church of Ireland reduce its tithes and sometimes not attempt to collect tithes at all.
The Royal Irish Constabulary was founded in 18_____. This body of men was open to those of all religious persuasions. It soon became a largely Catholic force. It was issued with firearms. In Dublin the Dublin Metropolitan Police provided security and they were not issued with guns.
The RIC had a hard task controlling the Ribbonmen. The Ribbonmen was an illegal organisation. It was oath-bound. It harked back to the Defenders. The Ribbonmen kept very few documents so as not to compromise its secrecy. What is known of it largely comes from police reports and court records.
In Ulster Ribbonmen sometimes clashed with their Protestant counterparts. The Oakboys, Peep O’Day Boys and Steelboys were in decline. The Orange Order largely replaced them. The Orange Order was by its founding documents a Protestant only society.
The Orange Order was a dodgy organisation. It allowed Protestants of all churches to join in the early 19th century. It had been originally only for members of the Church of Ireland. It took action against unpopular landlords. It also fought against Ribbonmen. Both organisations wanted people from its denomination to rent the land.
Sometimes pitched battles were fought between the two sectarian factions.
The Orange Order was disapproved of by the authorities. In the 1820s it was outlawed briefly.
The Orange Order set up lodges in Great Britain and in other places where Irish Protestants ventured. It had lodges in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and India.