IRISH HISTORY SINCE 1850


Background An Gorta Mór The Land League Parnell and Home Rule Unionism The Cultural Revival Home Rule
The Easter Rebellion The War of Independence The Free State: '20s The Free State: '30s The Troubles: '60s & '70s The Troubles: '80s & '90s The Celtic Tiger
Death of the Tiger           Sources

Background



The Act of Union

The Act of Union, passed in 1800, abolished the independent Irish Parliament in Dublin, and brought Irish Administration under the British Parliament. Only Irish Protestants were allowed to be British MPs. In 1829, after a long struggle, Irish Catholics achieved emancipation, and won the right to sit in British Parliament. However, "The bulk of the population lived in conditions of poverty and insecurity."

The Protestant Ascendancy

At the top of the social pyramid was the Ascendancy class, the English and Anglo-Irish families who owned most of the land, and had almost limitless power over their tenants. Some of their estates were huge: the Earl of Lucan, for example, owned over 60,000 acres. Many of these landlords lived in England and were called "absentees". They used agents to administer their property, and many of them had no interest in it except to spend the money the rents brought in.

Farmers, Cottiers, and Strong Farmers

It was a very unbalanced social structure. The farmers rented the land they worked, and those who could afford to rent large farms would break up some of the land into smaller plots. These were leased to "cottiers" or small farmers, under a system called "conacre." Nobody had security or tenure and rents were high. Very little cash was used in the economy. The cottier paid his rent by working for his landlord, and he could rear a pig to sell for the small amount of cash he might need to buy clothes or other necessary goods.

There was also a large population of agricultural laā€¸borers who travelled around looking for work. They were very badly off because not many Irish farmers could afford to hire them. In 1835, an inquiry found that over 2,000,000 people were without regular employment of any kind. Under the Irish Poor Law of 1838, workhouses were built in all parts of the country and financed by local taxpayers.



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