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The Anglo-Irish Question, Part 2: 1845 - 1900

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The Anglo-Irish Question:
Part 1: 1798 - 1845 | Part 2: 1845 - 1900 | Part 3: 1900 - 1921

After consuming Ireland into the UK in 1800, Britain saw little problems with nationalism for a long time – Daniel O'Connell changed all this when he set his mind on Catholic emancipation. This did not seem to satisfy him, and after he achieved his goal he went on to achieve many reforms under the 1830s Whig government, only to later quit and struggle for repeal – his only real failure. It was from the National Repeal Association that another group, dissatisfied with O'Connell's dogmatic use of peaceful protest, sprang forth and began to lead the nationalist movement into another direction – Young Ireland. However, their plans for rebellion met with a natural disaster that has changed the course of Ireland in many ways.

1845 - The Great Potato Famine

Throughout the first half of the century there had been frequent famines in Ireland, but these were localised and rarely repeated in the same place. The Great Potato Blight1, however, struck the entire nation's potato crop in 1845, 1846 and 1848 and had a devastating effect on Ireland as a whole. Population figures went from 8.2million in 1841 to 6.6million in 1850, a mixture of death and emigration2.

Another impact came from a reason behind the famine itself: the Protestant aristocracy owned most of the land and tended to carve up the land in order to lease it out. Normal procedure would be for it to be carved up again by a middleman who would lease it out again. Eventually only 7% of the Irish had over 30 acres of land and 24% were cottiers, defined as owning less than five acres. Since many had so little land and there was no chance for crop rotation, the potato was the obvious choice as it is easy to produce large quantities in a small field. During the Famine, landlords consolidated their holdings and sold them off. 200,000 holdings disappeared. The 1849 Encumbered Estates Act restructured the boundaries of the land in the hope of attracting a new, enterprising class, but sadly, they were not received well by the labourers, who had a personal relationship with their previous landlords. On the bright side, though, farming ownership changed: 5-30 acres became the norm and farmers were rare. As a result, wages increased, and this case the Malthusian theory3 seemed to ring true. Another impact of an ghorta mhór4 was a change in focus from the farming of crops to the farming of animals (which was more cost-effective) – this meant that the reliance on the potato dropped vastly.

Government Action

Conservative Prime Minister Peel instantly revoked the Corn Laws in 18465, meaning that there was no import charge to bring the cheaper European corn into Britain. He also bought £100,000 of maize from America to be distributed and influenced landlords to help, raise money and provide work alongside the Irish Board of Works. Peel was even credited for this effort by archenemy Daniel O'Connell, who said that 'No man died of famine during his administration.' However, his Whig successor, Lord John Russell, met with less success. Despite extending public works and passing a Labour Rate Act, which pushed landlords to provide work, the winter of 1846 - 1847 saw the first deaths from an ghorta mhór. Public works were soon abandoned for soup kitchens6 and Poor Law housing, where over-subscription led to disease and death. Finally outdoor relief, rather than Poor Law housing, was adopted, aiding 800,000. But despite all this help, the death toll was huge and Ireland felt that not enough was done by Britain in light of the four horrible years that they had experienced. In the midst of this blight came a nationalist group who tried to represent the people, but the poor conditions surrounding them ultimately caused a lack of rallied spirits for this upper-middle-class movement.

1848 - Young Ireland

Despite being part of the NRA, many members disputed with O'Connell about his ideologies and were expelled, but most left of their own accord to form their own party7. In 1842, two prominent leaders, Charles Duffy and Thomas Davis8, began publishing their own newspaper, The Nation, but it would be one of their writers, John Mitchel, who would unintentionally catalyse the revolt. Following a Parisian revolution, the British government quickly stifled Irish nationalists who might be spurred on by this movement. Mitchel was arrested for treason and transported for 14 years.

In the wake of his transportation, and the Whigs' attempt to arrest new leader Smith O'Brien and their suspension of habeas corpus9, the other members reacted passionately with a badly-organised and Catholic-condemned uprising in July 1848. Since Mitchel was absent and the group had only recently reëmerged10 the abortive rebellion barely made an impact and ended at the suitably sized Battle of Widow McCormack's Cabbage Patch. O'Brien and three others were given the death sentence, but ended up being transported to join Mitchel and two others in Van Diemen's Land11. Exactly 50 years after the SUI rising, it seemed that Irish nationalism was finished.

1858 - The Irish Republican Brotherhood

In the early 1850s, Ireland was enjoying a lucrative period of prosperity and nationalist fervour was rare; in fact, the status quo returned so much so that the Conservatives won an Irish majority. But in the Irish-American colonies, traditional bitterness was aimed towards Britain, and in 1858 a secret American revolutionary group established themselves in Ireland with the aim of forcibly overthrowing the British rule. The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) gained support through their newspaper The Irish People written by leader James Stephens. However, feuds between Stephens and other leader Colonel Thomas Kelley weakened the group, which cost support in America.

For many years, this group was ineffectual, save through their publication. But in 1865, once the government under Whig Prime Minister Palmerston suppressed the newspaper and arrested leading Fenians12, the planned armed outbreak turned into a fiasco, largely due to a lack of widespread support. The IRB's second attempt to gain notoriety was a lot more successful, as in 1867 they made two simultaneous attacks: at Manchester and then London. In September, they rescued two Fenians from a prison van but killed an unarmed police officer in the confusion. In December, an explosion at Clerkenwell Gaol released two prisoners but killed locals in nearby tenements. In England they were hated; in Ireland they were praised. The three involved in the Manchester attack were later executed and became known in nationalist mythology as the Manchester Martyrs.

1868 - Gladstone's Mission

It is my mission to pacify Ireland.
William Ewert Gladstone, British Prime Minister 1868 - 74, 1880 - 85, 1886, 1892 - 94

After being promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer and then elected as Prime Minister in 1868, Gladstone instantly turned himself to Ireland, more than any other Prime Minister would in this period of time. He likened the Irish question to the mythical Upas Tree, consisting of poisonous branches which spread and corrupted: the three branches in Ireland were religion, land and education. With his newly-created Liberal party, an amalgam of Whigs, Radicals and religious non-conformists, Gladstone controversially set to pacifying Ireland – though he denied that any of his actions were caused by the Fenian attacks. Though the acts met with limited success, it was a benchmark in Irish politics. The people now had a Prime Minister who was genuinely committed to working for Irish rights and improvements and who soon began to implement numerous bills, meeting with varying degrees of success.

1869 - Irish Church Act

The Protestant church, or Church of Ireland, had been the established church since the 17th Century, and yet it had always represented the minority of people. The bill's first part simply broke connections between the church and the state. Also, tithes were declared no longer mandatory, though they were fairly redundant anyway, and Anglican Archbishop and Bishop seats in the House of Lords were reduced. £10million from the disendowment went to the Church of Ireland and another £23million went to secular purposes. The act also allowed tenants to buy land from the church. 6,000 did so, but overall, it had little effect on the Irish masses.

1870 - Irish Land Act

After the Great Famine, there was increasing demand from localised Land Leagues to increase the rights of tenants. In Ulster, a practice was seen whereby the cost of improvements on a tenant's holding would be compensated by the landlord if the tenant left the holding. This act extended that custom, and the bill also stated that tenants evicted for refusing to pay an 'excessive' rent would be compensated. However, in the Lords the bill was amended to an 'exhorbitant' rent, making it difficult to enforce. The John Bright Clause gave a radical two-thirds purchase price as a state loan to tenants, with a 35-year repay period at 5% interest – only 877 made use of the offer. The bill was more symbolic than anything else.

1873 - Irish Universities Bill

As the title suggests, this bill did not succeed in Parliament and, unfortunately for Gladstone, it was made the subject of a vote of confidence, and being defeated meant that Gladstone should have been impeached. However, Opposition leader Disraeli was tired of minority governments and refused this one, leaving the Liberals to reform and break down further until their eventual defeat in the following year. The bill itself was an attempt to allow Catholics and Protestants to learn in the same institutions, in order to break down sectarianism, but it was too much for both Protestant and Catholic zealots. Three Irish Liberals caused its defeat.

1873 - The Home Rule Party

In Dublin in 1870, the Home Rule Association formed as a non-sectarian organisation intent on an Irish Parliament, but initially had little support from Catholics who were charmed by Gladstone's passion for Ireland. In 1873, they reformed as The Home Rule League under the leadership of Isaac Butt. In order to gain more support, they widened their platform to include issues such as tenants' rights. They also made use of the Universities Bill fiasco and became an influential third party at Westminster. In the 1874 General Election they gained 59 seats, mostly from the Irish Liberals' 54 losses, and changed their name, again, to the Home Rule Party. However, they were too divided to have much influence; some of the party were Fenians and others Liberals who only affiliated themselves with the party in order to get elected. Butt himself did little to aid the party's unity, as he was too concerned with his legal career and supported new Conservative Prime Minister Disraeli's imperial policy.

Some of the more ferocious Home Rulers, mainly Fenians, challenged Butt's leadership and began to adopt more severe tactics to gain notoriety in Parliament, such as filibustering13. One of the more charismatic members of the Home Rule Party was Charles Stewart Parnell, an aggressive Anglophobe despite having an English father and later marrying an English woman. Having private contacts with Fenian figures and showing signs of passion for Ireland, despite being a Protestant landowner, he became a hero of the Irish nationalist movement and in 1877 assumed the leadership of the Home Rule Confederation upon Butt's death. He soon dedicated himself to the task of making the new Prime Minister acknowledge Ireland and its troubles.

1874 - Disraelian Conservatism

Conservative Prime Minister Disraeli had fought for many years to revive the flailing Conservative Party, and now that he was in power he had no time to deal with matters of Ireland. A man of show, he preferred to be part of international conferences for foreign land and protect Britain's interest in the Balkans, South Africa and India. There is little to say of his administration in terms of Irish policy, despite the efforts of the Home Rulers, the agricultural depression of the late 1870s, 90% of southwest Ireland depending on charity, the rising number of evictions14 and the re-emergence of a potato blight in 1879. All Disraeli offered was that the 1879 Universities Act was passed, meaning that Anglicans and Catholics were taught and awarded at the same universities, though this rarely meant being together in anything but name.

1879 - The Land League

Following the Potato Famine, many local tenant leagues surfaced until they were united in 1850 as the All-Ireland Tenant League. But soon, religious and social differences left the League to fizzle out as the decade progressed. The 1870s closed with an agrarian depression which, coupled with the flow of cheap American grain, slumped food prices and led to a demand for lower rents which was initially met – but eventual non-payment meant the eviction of 1,000 families in 1879 alone. Michael Davitt, of County Mayo, was a key figure who had been evicted in 1851, emigrated to Lancashire, England and then was gaoled for seven years for arms trafficking with the Fenians. He later went to the US to meet the American Fenian John Devoy. In Dublin in 1879, Davitt held a meeting with Devoy and Parnell to join the movements of agrarian radicalism, revolutionary nationalism and constitutional nationalism. They informally agreed to support tenants' demands and Irish self-government. As the movement grew, Davitt established the Irish National Land League with Parnell as its president, hoping to promote constitutionalism and Westminster leverage. The League began campaigning for the '3 Fs': fair rent, free sale and fixity of tenure.

1879 - The Land War

From 1879 - 1883 more people were evicted than in any of the previous 30 years, and the League urged tenants to offer lower rents or no rent at all. They also supported evicted tenants or families of those imprisoned from the 'war'. Their most famous tactic was to socially exclude farmers who took over an evicted tenant's holding. This happened most famously on land owned by Captain Boycott, which resulted in the coinage of the now-familiar term for exclusion. These methods, though at first supported, were later deplored by the public leaders who were committed to peaceful protest; many members, though, were less keen for peace and in 1880 2,590 incidents of murder, assault, intimidation, animal attacks15 and other outrages were reported. The authorities found it hard to prosecute the group, as it was operating constitutionally, and the specific members often attacked at night, making it hard to arrest them. The League influenced some landlords to cut rents by up to 50%, but more importantly, the 1880 General Election gave the Home Rulers 61 MPs. They now called themselves the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP)16. Parnell was officially elected leader, but by only five votes, showing a continual lack of unity due to Parnell's links with Fenians. Nevertheless, Parnell was now a significant figure in two movements after a career of only five years.

1880 - The Return Of Gladstone

Conservative PM Disraeli had spent about 25 years reviving his party in order to gain power, but sadly, after one election in 1880 they were voted out again to a revived Liberal party. Though Gladstone had no Irish policy in his campaign, he soon turned to the building crescendo of Irish violence. The Irish Secretary, Forster, insisted on the 1881 Coercion Bill and despite 41 hours of filibustering from the IPP it passed in February, after the Lord Speaker was forced to guillotine the debate for the first time in Westminster. By 3 February, Davitt was arrested and 36 Irish MPs were expelled after an uproar in the Commons. It seemed like bad news for everyone except Parnell, who unified his party against this new force. However, Gladstone only intended this to be a preliminary measure until he could properly sort out the Irish problem, as he soon did with more legislation.

1881 - The Second Irish Land Act

The Act introduced the 'Three Fs' in an attempt to destroy the raison d'etre of the Land League. Included in the act was a land purchase scheme upping the state's proportion of loan from 2/3 to 3/4, with the same 5% interest rate over 35 years as before, but many tenants were in arrears and could not take advantage of the scheme – only 731 did. Also there was a court set up to review unfair rent prices, however so much litigation and beauracracy inherent in the process slowed down the court process. Still, the Land Courts helped decrease rents by 20% in the next few years and many landlords, who were losing economic interest and were largely unpopular, sold their holdings to tenants.

1882 - Kilmainham Gaol Treaty

In accordance with the 1881 Coercion Act, Parnell was gaoled for government attack, but the imprisonment allowed him to gain the status of martyrdom among the members of his party. However, inside prison he was losing control of the Home Rule and Land League movement; moreover, the 1881 Land Act was petering out the Land League, despite an increase in violence. Parnell met with Gladstone in 1882 and agreed to an unwritten treaty, whereby he would publicly support the Land Act, which was amended to include those in arrears, as long as coercion was relaxed. This was realised to be a bad idea with the murder of Irish Secretary Lord Cavendish and Under-Secretary TH Burke, known as the Phoenix Park Murderers. Lord Cavendish's successor, Trevelyan, felt the need for new security.

1884 - The Home Rule Era

In 1884, a third Reform Act was passed, tripling the Irish electorate and raising the body of Home Rulers from 55 to 85 MPs. In early 1885 the Liberal Party was once again at loggerheads with itself and Gladstone had increasing problems with the empire Disraeli had built. Gladstone retired the party from power and left Conservative leader Lord Salisbury to form a caretaker government. Due to the significant presence of Ireland in Westminster, he had to convince Parnell that he was prepared to work to Ireland's advantage.

1885 - Ashbourne's Land Act

In an odd move by the Conservative Party, they passed a Land Act while in minority in an attempt to 'kill Home Rule with kindness,' in the hope that Parnell would reciprocate by advising the Irish of mainland Britain to vote Conservative, as he did. Parnell heard word that Salisbury was committed to giving Ireland Home Rule if he could be put in majority and have the IPP's help, but sneakily, Salisbury never stated this himself, leaving himself a loophole. The Land Act was a way to further Parnell's loyalty without acquiescing to Home Rule. It granted a loan of the entire purchase price at an interest rate of 4% over 49 years. 25,000 people took advantage of this, as the repayment was only 70% of their old rent and thus less expensive. The only drawback was that purchase was compulsory by neither tenant nor landlord.

1886 - Gladstone Back In Power

The November 1885 General Election that followed Salisbury's caretaker government put the Liberals back in the majority, but their majority over the Conservative party was only by 86 seats, and by an astonishing stroke of luck this was the exact amount of seats belonging to the IPP – meaning that Parnell was vicariously the most powerful man in Parliament, holding the fate of the main two parties. In December, Gladstone decided that without a large party, he would let the Tories wrestle the issue. But in a bidding to make Gladstone take power again, his son Herbert Gladstone, at the family home, Hawarden, leaked to the press that his father was indeed intent on Home Rule. Thus the 'Hawarden Kite' was flown and Gladstone was declared for Home Rule. This upset the old-style Whig bloc of the party and rumours circulated of a Whig-Tory coalition, while in the media Gladstone was criticised for opportunistic Irish vote-grabbing in order to gain office. He managed to gain power in another way, by destroying a Conservative amendment in January 1886 and forming his own administration in a matter of days.

1886 - The Home Rule Bill

The bill called for a bi-cameral legislature, ie an order of peers and an order of elected officials, like in Parliament. People attacked the bill under the grounds that Ireland was part of the Union, that the Irish MPs would be untrustworthy when left to their own devices and that Ulster17 was against Home Rule, as an Irish Parliament would be dominated by Catholics and it is largely Protestant. Gladstone tried to combat this through a £50 million land purchase to further the plans for peace over the land issue, but this helped little as the bill was defeated, narrowly, by 30 seats. The Liberal Party was torn and some members went so far as to defect to their own Liberal Unionist Party, a sort of progressive Conservative movement, meaning that Home Rule was a complete failure. Gladstone resigned and the Conservatives formed a ministry filled by many of Gladstone's defectives, starting their domination of politics as the century closed.

1891 - Balfour's Land Act

Under the new Conservative government, little happened for Ireland and Parnell felt cheated by Salisbury's superficial interest in the nation in previous years. He once again turned to support the minority Liberals. Meanwhile, the Land League began to lead another war, dubbed the 1886 - 1890 Plan of Campaign, as all the measures taken so far did not seem enough. Rather than using violence, the group collectively bargained by writing letters to selected landlords and asking for a lower rent. If the landlord refused or the tenant disagreed with the offer the payment was withheld; evicted tenants would pay the fair rent to the group, who would provide support to evicted tenants. In 1891 Chief Secretary Balfour advanced another £33 million at the same payment rate as before, for land purchase to the tune of 47,000 agreeing tenants.

1893 - The Second Home Rule Bill

In 1892, a Liberal government returned to power under Gladstone for the last time, with an anti-Parnell Irish Nationalist Party18 against the Conservative-Liberal Unionist Opposition. This bill made no special arrangements for Ulster, but it was agreed that 80 Irish MPs would stay at Westminster and on its second reading the bill passed in the Commons with a slim majority. The Lords argued that the majority was not English, it came from Ireland, and in the interests of 'English democracy' they defeated it with 378 votes. Nationalism seemed to have reached its peak, as the Lords were a chamber that never changed its members; the internal warring of Irish parties and Gladstone's retirement in 1894 laid the prospect to rest as political nationalism seemed to die.

1893 - Cultural Nationalism

In 1893, with the defeat of nationalism in politics, the Irish people developed a fervour for their Gaelic roots. The Gaelic League founded and encouraged the use of the Irish language in education, road signs and other places. Its literacy was promoted by famous members such as Yeats and Moore, while the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), formed in 1884, began to grow as Gaelic culture expanded and Europe became interested in athletics and fitness, presaging the eugenics movement. The League also put stress on the nobility of living on the land, associating the hated British with urban lifestyle. The land issue was effectively solved, meaning that life on the farm was without many troubles, but for the politicians at the time there was a serious drought of passion in the nationalist movement. For a while, everything seemed to be calm, Gladstone seemed to have achieved his mission and it seemed that as the 20th Century began, things looked peaceful for Ireland.

1Which nationalists blamed on England and clerics blamed on God.2Most popular locations for relocation were Scotland – hence Celtic FC – and the US, the legacy being that many Americans claim to be Irish despite the Irish in them being a grandmother's uncle's cat.3A Darwinian idea from John Malthus stating that if the land becomes overworked, nature will wipe out the weakest and balance will be restored.4The Irish term for the Famine.5Splitting his party, after which he resigned and dissolved parliament; the Conservatives would not win a General Election until 1874 under Disraeli.6These were abruptly stopped after the prosperous harvest in 1847.7The party also wanted an areligious group in the vein of the SUI – O'Connell felt bound to Catholicism.8A Catholic and Protestant, respectively.9Essentially the right to not be illegally imprisoned.10In early 1848, Young Ireland split into Duffy and Smith O'Brien's Irish Confederation and Mitchel's United Irishmen.11Present-day Tasmania.12Another name for the IRB members, with derogatory connotations.13Slowing Parliamentary process by making multiple-hour speeches and then handing over to a scheduled colleague who would do the same. Under Disraeli, one filibuster lasted 28 hours, and in the 1880s Westminster saw its longest debate at 41 hours.14Doubling in 1878 and then again in 1880.15Slicing the calves of horses so they become useless.16Don't worry, they stayed with this name from now on, no more changing.17The northern sector of Ireland – six of the nine counties in it now make up Northern Ireland.18Parnell had at the time been involved in scandals with Captain O'Shea and his wife Catherine, with whom he'd been having an affair. Standards of the day saw him shamed, but he eventually married her and lived in relative obscurity until his death.

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