1801-1826 1848-1867

Ireland 1826-1848

DANIEL O'CONNELL's CATHOLIC ASSOCIATION successfully supported protestant pro-emancipation candidates in elections (1826), (Catholic) O'Connell then running for election himself. By not taking the seat he won in the election (1828), he brought increased attention to the matter. Prime minister Wellington in 1829 succeeded in a CATHOLIC EMANCIPATION BILL being finally passed; simultaneously, the property qualification for the franchise was raised significantly, this disqualifying the vast majority of Catholic voters. The REFORM BILL of 1832 then again expanded the franchise.
O'Connell now lead a faction of Catholic Irish representatives in parliament. A number of reform bills were passed; among the changes were a reorganization of the Church of Ireland, which saw a reduction in bishoprics - the revenues, because of uncollected tithes, had been insufficient to finance the organization. The Poor Law for Ireland of 1838 introduced the institution of the WORKHOUSE to the island.
In the late 1830es a patriotic organization, YOUNG IRELAND, emerged, the leading members of which included both Protestants and Catholics. In constrast to the various organizations lead bu O'Connell, Young Ireland was less interested in practical political gain through parliamentary work then in the propagation of a cultural, romantic nationalism; the journal NATION became their chief instrument.

In 1845 the Irish population had reached 8.5 million (as compared to only 5 million in 1800). Only a fraction of this population lived in cities such as Dublin (272,000 inhabitants in 1850); the large majority lived in the countryside, sustained mainly by the cultivation of the potato. The large majority of the Irish population lived in extreme POVERTY.
In 1845 the POTATO BLIGHT arrived in Ireland, an infectious disease severely damaging the harvest. Poverty caused the Irish to eat a part of the potatos which were normally allocated as seed potatos, so that the area under potato cultivation shrank significantly during the following years. Simultaneously, wheat harvests also fell by half. The result was a famine unrivalled in modern European history. C. 1 million dead are attributed to the famine; another 1-2 million emigrated.
The British government was aware of the problem and attempted to alleviate the situation by granting direct relief aid (over 700,000 recipients in 1847) and by financing public works projects (road construction etc.) which employed over 100,000 Irishmen.
Yet many Irish tenants, due to the potato blight, were unable to pay their dues, and consequently were evicted. This pattern is colourfully described in a number of Irish folk songs. The fact that, even during the worst time of the famine, food exports from Ireland were continued, often under police protection (the exporters, often protestant landlords or merchants, could achieve better prices in England), further stirred up anti-British feelings among the Irish. It was less the potato blight than the inability of the mass of the Irish population to pay for (other) food which caused the misery. Later, the Irish famine was to provide a prime example for Social Darwinist theory.

In 1848 political tension was high; the many revolutions on the continent encouraged Irish radical patriots. JOHN MITCHEL called for an IRISH REPUBLIC; he was arrested, sentenced and deported to Australia, as were a number of other Irish leaders. Only a minor insurrection in County Tipperary broke out, quickly suppressed.

Young Ireland, from Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions
DOCUMENTS List of Irish statesmen, from World Statesmen by Ben Cahoon
Skibbereen, from Mudcat Cafe
Daniel O'Connell, Justice for Ireland, 1836, from The History Place
The Great Famine : Irish Views, American and Irish-American Views, English Views, from virginia.edu
Relief Commission Papers 1845-1847, from the National Archive of Ireland
City of Chicago, folk song on Irish famine, from The Christy Moore Pages
REFERENCE Daniel Webster Hollis, The History of Ireland, Westport : Greenwood 2001, 232 pp.
David Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Empire, pp.495-521, in : Andrew Porter (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, Vol.III : The Nineteenth Century, Oxford : UP 1999, KMLA Lib.Sign. 909.0971241 O98o v.3
VIDEOS When Ireland Starved. The Great Hunger 1845-1850, documentary from Irish Visions; Cahirciveen Great Famine Commemoration, documentary video (1997) from ATTRA

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on April 25th 2002, last revised on May 19th 2006

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