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Chapter Seven

[Ireland 1800-1850 Copyright © 2001 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]


Lord Liverpool II

(February 1820 to April 1827)

Summary. The characteristics of the nineteenth century were now fully visible. Both parties were concerned with improvement and reform and the pace of reforming and developing measures was stepped up. Religious organisations were developing as religion became more prominent in people's lives, and religious tensions grew. Education too was to become an abiding concern both of the Government and religious bodies. The attitude of the administration and the temper of the times turned markedly in favour of the Catholics and the pro-Catholic and imperious Marquis Wellesley was appointed Lord Lieutenant. The transition period allowed by the Act of Union came to an end and the Irish economy was fully integrated with the United Kingdom


The New King

The Marquis Wellesley

Ireland under Wellesley

Wellesley’s Reforms

Monetary and Fiscal Changes

Survey and Valuation

Religious Matters

The Education Question


The New King 

            [February 1820] A General Election followed the accession of George IV and it was considered that the Whigs had made a few gains. More importantly, in Ireland the Whigs sensed that the political atmosphere was changing. In County Louth they attempted a canvass, but decided not for the moment to challenge the Fosters who were holding both seats for the Tories. The Government was virtually unchanged, but Peel replaced Sidmouth as Home Secretary. Castlereagh remained as Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House, continuing to sit in the Commons as Lord Castlereagh even after he succeeded to his father's title of Marquis of Londonderry, an Irish title. In 1822 the Duke of Wellington found him in a state of deep depression and told his manservant to remove every knife from him. Unfortunately, the servant failed to find one, and Castlereagh managed to kill himself. Lord Liverpool once remarked that he could never understand why Castlereagh was so unpopular with the crowd, and the mystery remains to this day. No explanation could be found either in his actions or his manner. His old rival Canning, who had just accepted the Governor Generalship of India, but had not set sail, succeeded him in both offices, getting the 'whole inheritance’. 

            The burning topic of the hour was the attempt of George's estranged wife, the Princess Caroline of Brunswick, to claim the title of queen. George, on the other hand, wished for a divorce on the grounds of adultery with the companion of her travels in the Mediterranean, Bartolomeo Bergami, and compelled the reluctant Lord Liverpool to set up a process of examination in the House of Lords. The princess was acquitted, but still did not get the title of queen. O'Connell could be diplomatically naive, and he publicly supported the princess's claims. Yet Emancipation could not be passed without the support of the king. 

            The Irish Government remained unchanged until after the king's visit to Ireland in the following year. Then the Marquis Wellesley, a pro-Catholic, was then appointed Lord Lieutenant, and Plunket replaced Saurin as Attorney General. Henry Goulburn, a supporter of Peel, a very able administrator, became Irish Secretary. Lord Manners remained as Lord Chancellor, and William Gregory, remained as Under-secretary for Civil Affairs. The administration was balanced, and should have alarmed nobody, but the ascendancy faction was very alarmed. Saunders’ Newsletter observed that Wellesley was the first Irishman to be appointed to the post for a century and a half. 

            [1821] On his accession the king announced his intention of visiting his subjects in Scotland, Ireland, and Hanover. He was due to arrive in Ireland in August 1821. The Lord Mayor set up a Mansion House Committee to prepare for his reception, and the Catholic Earl of Fingall was invited on to the Committee. The arrival was postponed briefly when the death of George's wife, Caroline of Brunswick, was announced. The king landed from a steamship at Howth. There was an air of spring and hope in Ireland during the king’s visit that was never to be repeated. It seemed possible that a new era had dawned, and the Catholics and Protestants would in future live together in harmony. It was the first time that a king had come to Ireland without an army. The whole population seemed united in welcoming him. The Earl of Fingall presented the Catholic bishops to him. The Catholic bishops appeared in their robes. The address of the bishops was carried by the Primate and read by Archbishop Murray. The precedence given to the Catholic archbishops was after the hereditary knights and before the French and Hanoverian consuls.  The Earl then presented leading lay Catholics like Daniel O’Connell, Eneas MacDonnell, More O’Farrell etc. He then presented Mr Hussey who presented the loyal address of the Catholics of Ireland. Royalty always remarkably affected Daniel O’Connell. He took a leading part in the preparations to welcome the king. He presented a laurel crown to the king on his departure. Lord Sidmouth (Addington) announced his name and he was graciously received by the king who shook his hand.  He pledged himself to give twenty guineas annually to a fund to build an Irish palace for the king. Lord Castlereagh told Archbishop Troy that he had not changed in twenty years and asked to be introduced to the other bishops. (SNL 21 Dec 1821) The other presentations and addresses were also reported but the presentation of the Catholics, especially the bishops and Daniel O’Connell, was such a novelty that they were reported at length in the Protestant papers. The king also visited the Dublin Society, went to Slane Castle in county Meath the residence of the Marquis Conyngham and his wife who were the king’s closest friends. He inspected the obelisk on the site of the Battle of the Boyne, the scene of William III’s victory in 1690 over the Catholic James II, and attended a race meeting at the Curragh in county Kildare. The Earl of Fingall was made a member of the royal Order of Saint Patrick. The town of Dunleary where to new artificial harbour was situated was re-named Kingstown after the king’s departure. [Top] 

The Marquis Wellesley 

Wellesley was the first Lord Lieutenant since Bedford in 1807 who was likely to do anything practical for the Catholics. He began by appointing a Catholic lawyer, Anthony Richard Blake, to a position of importance in the courts. Feelings against the marquis ran high among the members of the ascendancy faction in Dublin. (These latter, were often referred to as Orangemen, but it is better to restrict the term to actual members of the Order.) When Wellesley was visiting the theatre in December 1822 a bottle was thrown at his head, in what came to be called the 'Bottle Riot'. There was just then in progress the trial of several Catholics involved in agrarian crime and a 'Ribbon conspiracy' of some extent was discovered. The Government suspected an Orange conspiracy as well. Plunket, the Attorney General, made great efforts to uncover it, and was assisted by Peel, the Home Secretary, in the House of Commons.  But juries did not convict, and a leading Orangeman refused to give information about his Order. (In his stand he had the backing of some Freemasons.) Looking back, there was obviously no plot to be discovered. The Government too, could never make up its mind whether the Orange Order was dangerous after the manner of the Ribbonmen, or whether it was dangerous after the manner of O'Connell's Catholic Association. The Orange Order was caught by legislation aimed at both the one and the other. Actually, the Orange Order was a purely defensive body largely kept alive by opposition to O'Connell. When he was quiet membership dropped. When he started another association recruitment picked up again. Until its virtual suppression in 1836 it matched O'Connell blow for blow. But in the borderlands of south and south west Ulster, opposition to the Ribbonmen who were strong in the area was probably a more important factor. Nor did Orangemen make much of a difference between the Ribbonmen and the Catholic Association. South Ulster remained a great centre of Ribbonism until the end of the century. 

The king’s visit marked the highest point of good relations between Catholics and Protestants for centuries. Had the spirit of goodwill been allowed to continue the history of Ireland would have been very different. But there were some who were unaffected by it. Within a few months of the king’s departure a widespread Ribbon conspiracy broke out in Limerick. As usual, houses were raided at night for arms. A Catholic family called O’Shea was burned to death in their house in county Tipperary when the thatch was set on fire. They were attacked because they would not agree to demands regarding rent. There were many calls by Protestants for the largely Protestant yeomanry to be called out. In Newry, when some of the yeomanry paraded with orange lilies in their hats they were ordered to observe the King’s Regulations. Rather than obey over fifty men resigned from the Corps. In county Limerick seventeen constables fought with two hundred Ribbonmen in white shirts who were attacking the house of a tithe proctor. On the other side there were Protestants with decidedly Orange sympathies. Alderman Darley was merely unthinking when he proposed the traditional toast to ‘the Immortal Memory of William III and he apologized. 

The leading alderman on Dublin Corporation, Alderman Darley, insisted on proposing the toast 'to the immortal memory' at a banquet, but only after many of the guests had departed. The king, on hearing of it from the Earl of Fingall, asked Lord Sidmouth the Home Secretary to convey his displeasure to the alderman. A letter to the Dublin Evening Post noted that Orange processions were the chief cause of irritation. In accordance with the king’s wishes the Corporation of Dublin issued a proclamation against the annual dressing of the statue of William III. Goulburn too disapproved of these attempts to keep alive hostile feelings (DEP 11 Dec 1849).  

            On the king's departure a committee (which included O'Connell) was set up to organise a collection for a memorial to the king's visit. Among the signatories of a public notice calling for subscriptions were the Duke of Leinster, the Earl of Fingall, the Earl of Roden, Archbishop Troy, and Daniel O’Connell. It was hoped to raise enough to build a summer palace so that the king could visit Ireland frequently. Contributions flowed in rather slowly, and eventually the money was used to build a bridge, the 'King's Bridge' over the Liffey. Yet if the wealthy Protestants, who had subscribed to the monuments to Nelson and Wellington, had supported the subscription there is little doubt that a sum sufficient to build a palace would have been raised. The history of Ireland thereafter would doubtless have been different. 

            The accession of George IV had a profound effect on many Irish Protestants. The actual changes made in the Irish Government were slight, but the ascendancy faction felt threatened. Every Government action was scrutinised anxiously. The Lord Mayor of Dublin in 182l, just before the king's visit, expressed the wish that 'Orange' demonstrations around the statue of William III in College Green should be discontinued. The king himself desired that the toast 'To the immortal memory of King William' should not be drunk. (Originally this was just a loyal toast to the British free constitution established by William, and Catholics felt free to drink to it. But it had gradually taken on ascendancy tones, and by 1820 was an anti-Emancipation toast.) The king's brother, the Duke of York, heir presumptive to the throne, resigned from the Orange Order. Orange lodges were prohibited in the armed forces. Such changes were slight and long over-due but some found them threatening. [Top] 

Ireland under Wellesley 

Wellesley, Plunket, and Goulburn introduced over the next five years an extensive programme of reforms and developments. As was to be the rule for most of the next thirty years all such attempts were accompanied by outbreaks of agrarian, and at times trade union, violence which normally led to the reintroduction of special legislation by the Government. This kind of crime had no connection with any political issues in Ireland, but always tended to distract attention from the real issues. (O'Connell believed firmly that all grievances should be brought to Parliament to seek legal redress. He was totally opposed to agrarian crime and violent trade unionism. Like many he was absolutely convinced that the restoration of an Irish Parliament would end all grievances and violence. At the same time he was devoted to the Royal Family).

The first proper Irish census was taken in 1821. It was entrusted to William Shaw Mason, a statistician much valued by Peel, who had asked him to carry out a statistical survey of Ireland similar to that of Sir John Sinclair in Scotland. It was decided to enlist the services of the clergy of the various denominations to check the results of the enumerators before they were returned. Archbishop Troy was asked for his co-operation, and he sent circular letters to the Catholic bishops, and to the clergy in his diocese urging their co-operation. Troy stressed the fact that in some areas there might be suspicions regarding the Government’s intentions, and the priests should allay such fears. The Catholic Church was always prepared with the Government in matters of law and order. John Foster resigned his seat, having been a Member of Parliament for sixty years. He was then raised to the peerage as Baron Oriel of Ferrard in the peerage of the United Kingdom. In 1823, the Lord Chancellor, Manners, decided that bequests for masses were legal. 

            The Irish economy continued to expand following its recovery from the post-war slump. Gas lighting was being introduced into the big cities. In 1823 cargo steamboats were introduced on the Irish Sea. In 1821 an illustration of a steam carriage appeared in the Irish Farmers’ Journal. Steam transport by road did not develop because the county gentlemen in Parliament placed every obstacle in its way. Road transport would have involved the counties in expenditure on roads and bridges whereas rail transport did not. Also there was a better return from shares in railway companies. Steam ships facilitated the transport of livestock, cattle, sheep, and pigs, to the English markets chiefly because they were not delayed by adverse winds. Production in Ireland especially on the commercial farms swung away from cereals to the more profitable livestock. More importantly, for the smallholders, it became profitable throughout most of the north and east of the island to collect fresh eggs and butter, besides poultry and feathers. These developments had not penetrated as far as Connaught when the great Famine struck. But in any case the largely illiterate Gaelic-speaking peasants in the far west showed little interest in the developments. 

            Before a Parliamentary Committee of Enquiry, Charles Wye Williams, like John Anderson, a great promoter of improvements in transport reported the benefits of steam navigation.  He was the first, he said, to introduce steam cargo boats on the Irish Sea, building two ships for the purpose in 1823 at a cost of £12,000 each. The first voyage was between Dublin and Liverpool and was made in 1824. Sailing vessels between the two ports averaged eight round trips a year. The time from leaving the quay at Liverpool to docking in Dublin was till then normally one week. Steam vessels could do fifty two round trips a year. A cattle boat could do the one-way trip with its cargo and return three times a week. Much less capital was now tied up in shipping, and holding stocks on either side. Eggs and poultry could now be marketed in Britain. The Irish cattle dealers cut out the Dublin merchants and dealt directly with Liverpool. They could buy cattle in county Clare, put them on canal boats at Killaloe on the Shannon for Dublin, and ship them to Liverpool at 25 shillings a head. It became possible to collect and sell fresh Irish butter in Liverpool. This was collected by a humbler class of person than those who salted butter. The export of pigs was almost incredible, growing from nothing in 1824. Many ships returned in ballast, but if the duty on coal were removed, this would not be necessary. This led to widespread pig rearing among the small holders. Combinations among ship-builders were so common in Ireland that he and other merchants preferred placing orders for ships in England (Dublin Mercantile Advertizer 7 Feb 1831). This sunny optimistic evidence contrasts with the usual pictures of poverty and doom, and especially with the letters of John MacHale to Earl Grey about the same time. The turn-around times for general cargo seem optimistic, though with speedy loading and unloading of livestock on the hoof, figures for the cattle boats are more likely. Doubtless livestock formed the bulk of his cargoes. Steam packets were now running regularly to Holyhead. 

            The Irish industrialists and traders were as interested in the possibilities of using steam as their British counterparts. All those in favour of economic development were aware that every step in the direction of progress must begin by laying off workers in the short term. This was as true of improvements in agriculture as it was in manufacturing. For example, changing to row-cultivation and the use of the horse meant less work for spade users and hand-weeders. In the textile industry, machinery had been used in the cotton industry as far back as 1780 because there were no existing hand-spinners and hand-weavers of cotton. Not until 1830 did Mulhollands of Belfast introduce machinery into the linen industry when it was proving impossible to compete with Lancashire in the cotton trade. The original use for steam engines had been for pumping out mines, and steam had been used for that purpose in Ireland since the middle of the eighteenth century. Irish merchants had been quick to exploit the possibility of using steam at sea once its capabilities had been demonstrated. Its use on the canals was tried more than once, but even sternwheelers caused excessive damage to the banks. Irish shipbuilders began to construct paddle steamers themselves. 

            By 1825 the technical problem of putting a steam engine on to wheels had been sufficiently overcome as was demonstrated at the opening of the Stockton to Darlington railway. Interest in railways immediately sprung up in Ireland. There were also doubts about it. Railways required an immense amount of capital and expensive equipment. The Stockton to Darlington Railway could show profit because there was always a sufficient quantity of coal to carry. But there seemed no place in Ireland that could generate a similar volume of constant traffic. Operating profit would have to cover the interest on the loans required before a dividend could be declared. Nevertheless, in 1826 it was proposed to construct a railway from the centre of Dublin to Kingstown harbour. In the following year a line from Dublin to Belfast was proposed, and petitions were presented to Parliament. Little was done for some years. The completion of Telford’s great suspension bridge over the Menai Strait, and Parnell’s Holyhead Road from Holyhead to London by the middle of the decade meant relatively easy and swift means of transport to many parts of England.

[1822] Nevertheless a widespread famine occurred in 1822 similar to that in 1817 but considerably worse, and similar measures were taken to deal with it. It was estimated that up to half a million people were starving. The potato crop failed over a wide area. This was not caused by blight but by adverse weather conditions. But its failure served as a warning that the hitherto reliable potato that thrived in the damp conditions of Ireland was itself liable to fail. Many of the best minds in Ireland, including Dr James Doyle and Sir Henry Parnell, strove to find a remedy. The great problem was that the potato could not be stored from one year to the next. So unlike Joseph in Egypt it was not possible to build up a surplus in good years which could be used in the bad years. Three-quarters of the population could support itself even in bad years but a quarter could not. A quarter of the population might amount to nearly two million people, so the problem was not a small one. Widespread collections were made in Ireland and Britain for famine relief. The Government began public works. Much money was spent on piers and harbours on the southern and western coasts to develop a commercial fishing industry such as had been successfully developed in Scotland. Public administration in these respects was rudimentary, so little more could be done than giving grants to interested parties.           

            The Irish economy was steadily developing but the population of cottiers fed on the potato grown on reclaimed bogland in many parts of the West and South was growing faster than the provision of jobs in local areas. England was slowly but surely managing to feed its increasing population by developing its industry and commerce. The Fisheries Act (1819) had provided money for the purchase of boats and nets. The Government now gave money for the construction of roads fit for wheeled vehicles into those parts of Ireland where they did not exist. A young Scottish engineer name Alexander Nimmo was placed in charge of the construction of the roads. In doing this the Irish Government was following what had just been done in Scotland. Many of the more remote parts of the west and south were opened up to wheeled traffic by means of the roads constructed by Nimmo and Richard Griffith. Nimmo had been employed by the Fisheries Board to construct thirty piers and harbours on the west coast. He was made engineer of the western district, and was employed in reclaiming bogland. He built the road from Cong to Killery on the coast. 

Because of the catastrophe of the Great Famine, the only major one in Europe in the nineteenth century, many people think that the structure of population in Ireland was peculiar or unique in Europe; it was not. Though probably few countries in Europe allowed unrestricted sub-division or squatting to the extent it occurred in parts of Ireland. There was no law in Ireland which stated that a man should be able to show he could support a family before he was allowed to marry. Ireland all through the nineteenth century was producing enough food to feed its population. The problem was that the poorest had no income to enable them to buy the food that was available. If the potato failed, resort might be had to the gratuitous distribution of food, which would lead to an enormous increase in the already numerous beggars. Or work might be provided, either publicly or privately funded, to enable the poor to buy food. There was no easy solution in sight. After the Great Famine the people themselves undertook a policy of population control through emigration and restriction of marriages, but in pre-Famine days the Rev. Thomas Malthus who advocated precisely such measures got little support for his views from anyone.[Top]  

Wellesley’s Reforms 

[Government Measures 1822-27] The reforms of Wellesley, Goulburn, and Plunket began with the issue of tithes. It was not intended to abolish them altogether. The actual burden of tithes was not very great, but there were two aspects of them that caused exasperation. The first was that, because of sub-division of tithable land, the tithe collectors had to go to holders of even the tiniest patches to assess the crops, and these visits of the tithe proctors were often the only contact people had with the Protestant clergy. The other was that grassland was largely exempt, so that a grazier with a thousand acres might pay no tithes while a widow with a quarter of an acre might have to pay a few shillings. It was pointed out that since the agistment tithe was declared unlawful sixty years previously those whose crop consisted entirely of grass paid no tithes on cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, or anything that subsisted on grass (Irish Farmers’ Journal 9 Feb 1822). The tithe was payable by the actual cultivator, not the head landlord, so each further subdivision increased the work of the tithe assessors and collectors. The Government had previously considered the question but arrived at no satisfactory conclusion. As Spencer Perceval pointed out, once the tithe system was rationalized, the poorest people would end up paying more not less. The law in Ireland had been fixed by the statutes of 36th and 40th of Henry VIII which stated that the legal tithe was the tithe then customary in each parish (DEP 26 May 1818). Like in many other ancient institutions in Ireland which had not been reformed down the centuries abuses had crept in. One of these was that laymen owned the rights to the tithes in a third of the parishes, and these rights were bought and sold. The purchasers in turn farmed out the tithes, and it was in such cases that the most oppressive exactions occurred (SNL 17 June 1811). Tithe proctors, who were lay lawyers, could make money for themselves by accepting promissory notes from impoverished farmers, and then subsequently ruined them in the courts (Irish Farmers’ Journal 13 April 1816).

             Now the Government proposed commutation and composition. By commutation was meant changing the obligation to pay from the cultivator to the landlord who would recover the amount from the tenants by a rent charge. By composition was meant that in place of the annual assessment the clergyman and the parishioners would agree on a fixed annual sum, based on the average paid over the previous few years. As this sum was spread over the landlords (or parishioners) in proportion to the value of their holdings it meant in effect that grassland would be equitably tithed. The Government did not make these changes compulsory in law, and there was considerable opposition to them among Protestants. By degrees many parishes adopted the system. It was strange that the outbreak of the 'Tithe War' in 1830 occurred in a parish where the new system was in force. The final settlement in 1869 changed the tithe to a charge payable to the Government which then became responsible for its collection. Houses, by Common Law, were not tithable, but in the reign of Charles II  (17th and 18th Charles II) a rate or cess for the support of ministers in towns was imposed on property in towns in the form of a charge on the rent. It was therefore called Ministers’ Money.

            Another charge payable by Catholics to the Protestant Church was the Vestry Cess in each parish for the maintenance of public worship. The Irish Church Act (1826) or Vestry Act (1826) was passed specifying what could, and what could not, be charged to the Catholics. Many obsolete statutes were repealed. In was enacted that only Protestants could vote on church matters, but if a vestry was called to deal with them no other matters could be decided. If a vestry was called to deal with civil affairs all the men of the parish could vote. By and large, parishes in Ireland had few civic functions, but some parishes especially in Dublin still carried out some of these duties. 

            The sub-letting and subdivision of land was seen as a major cause of poverty. A piece of land sufficient for a family might be leased from a head landlord at a reasonable rent. The tenant then split the holding and sublet all or part of it at a higher rent. These tenants might sublet again at a still higher rent. In county Limerick it was possible to find four or five intermediate landlords. The actual cultivators paid the highest rent, the so-called 'rackrent', when the rent was almost equal to the 'rack', the output of the plot for the year.  (This sub-letting also caused difficulties for improving landlords.) An effect of Irish law on land holding was that if ever a landlord or his agent ignored any case of sub-letting on his estate he was regarded as permitting it no matter to what extremes it might be carried. Nor could the matter be remedied until the head lease came up for renewal. At that point, the landlord, if he wished to end the practice of subletting, had to evict every single tenant and subtenant on his estate. The new head leases would then contain an explicit clause against subletting. The matter was made worse by the fact that on many large estates, leases of ninety nine years granted almost a century earlier were coming to an end. Improving landlords, of whom there were many, also wished, in setting new rents, to take advantage of the agricultural improvements and improved access to markets which had occurred in the preceding ninety nine years. But to prepare their estates for market crops, all the tenants who could number thousands, had to be cleared off first. It was envisaged that some of the evicted tenants would be employed either on works of improvement, or as farm labourers. Most tenants with tiny potato patches were already employed seasonally in the spring and autumn on the larger farms, but without the potato patch their income would be insufficient to support a family. Many evicted tenants would have to seek employment in England.

Nobody defended the abuse of subletting. Subletting of its nature caused poverty, and poverty meant diseases and early deaths.  But on the other hand, if it was not allowed who would support the numerous children who got no land? The feeling of the country gentlemen, both Whig and Tory, was that subletting should be abolished, the holdings taken back by the landlord when the leases expired, and consolidated into holdings of reasonable size. What was to be done with the others? Every solution called for cash, and any cash expended on one solution had to be taken from cash allocated to another solution. (This partly explains the opposition to a compulsory Poor Law.)  Only so much could be done by employing more workers on the landlord's estate, or by developing fisheries or industry. Many landlords just gave a gratuity to enable their former tenants to reach the manufacturing districts in England. This was possibly the best solution available, but it caused great resentment. The sight too of illiterate peasants who spoke only Irish sitting bewildered along the roads after their eviction distressed many even of those who agreed that sub-letting must end.  (In Scotland, where there was a similar problem, a favourite solution was to re-settle the tenants on good lands in Canada, but this caused equal resentment.) A great many estates in Ireland were heavily mortgaged, so the landowner had little money and little prospect of getting any. On the other hand, non-improving landlords (of whom Daniel O’Connell was the most famous) tolerated squatting and sub-division with consequent total dependence on little patches of potatoes.

            As it is not clear who exactly those engaged in agrarian crime were, it is not clear if there was any connection between it and subdivision, or if, on the other hand, subdivision inhibited such crime. A frequent cause of crime and atrocities was, if a family was evicted for any cause, it endeavoured by intimidation and threats to prevent anyone else taking the lease. Those who suffered most from agrarian crime were the Catholic cottiers. In many ways these agrarian conspirators were like the Mafia in Sicily and the Camorra in Naples, but they did not reach the full development of their organization and ruthlessness until the 1880s. Because of the 'Ribbon Conspiracy' the Government was forced to pass the Insurrection Act (1822). A Sub-letting Act (1826) proposed by Sir John Newport was passed which made evictions easier, and allowed sub-letting only to one person. It was criticized as benefiting only the landlord, and was later modified. Dr Doyle devoted a large part of his episcopal career to combating agrarian conspiracies in his diocese. O’Connell too frequently denounced them. 

            The Government concluded that a drastic reorganisation of the police forces on semi-military lines was essential, and that the New Police should be armed with muskets. A Constabulary Act (1822, 3rd of George IV) was therefore passed. This adoption of a continental style gendarmerie in place of the traditional constabulary caused some unease. It is not obvious what precise reasoning led the Government, and Peel, the Home Secretary, to so drastic a change. As Sir Henry Parnell observed it seemed too much derived from the French system. The organised gangs involved in illicit distillation rather than the nocturnal gangs engaged in agrarian crime may have been the cause. (The Revenue Police were untrained posses.) The reasons given by Goulburn when introducing the Bill were the defective state of the magistracy in some counties, due to age, absenteeism, or lack of necessary requisites in those appointed magistrates; the poor quality of the constables, the low pay discouraging suitable applicants, and the partiality of local constables in particular cases. It seems too that Wellesley hoped that an efficient police force would remove the need for special anti-terrorist legislation. By giving the Government some measure of control over it, the remissness of the magistrates who were always seeking Government help and demanding special legislation could be overcome. Goulburn also noted that the Irish were notoriously averse to assisting the police to seek out and apprehend criminals. It would seem that there was a growing need for an armed police because of a greater readiness of armed gangs, especially those engaged in illicit distillation, to use firearms. The agrarian criminals operated secretly at night and dispersed to their homes by day. Formerly too, if danger of attack by daylight was apprehended, for example when escorting prisoners for transportation, files of soldiers had to be used. Also, this was the period when faction fighting was at its height, when various factions would agree to meet for a street fight or brawl in the main street of a country town on a fair day.  The single uniform police force for the whole country would cost £217,000 and would replace the baronial constabulary, the extraordinary police, the Preventive Revenue Police, and military assistance, the total for which came to £180,000. Plunket conceded that the costs would be greater by almost £40,000, but considered that that there would be savings in the various watches, reduced cost of prosecutions, and reduced losses from crime.

 The police were removed from the direction of the sheriffs and placed under their own officers or inspectors. The inspectors were to draw up rules for the police that were to be approved by the county magistrates at Quarter Sessions. The Lord Lieutenant was empowered to appoint chief constables to baronies and half-baronies, though each constable was to be a constable for his whole county. In other words he could be ordered to assist in other baronies in the same county, or if necessary in neighbouring counties. The Lord Lieutenant was also empowered to provide housing and equipment. Though the Lord Lieutenant was empowered to do these things the responsibility and much of the cost of the constabulary still lay with the baronies. The local magistrates recruited the ordinary constables. But the extra cash available was an incentive to the baronies to adopt the new system of policing. The Lord Lieutenant was also empowered to appoint special magistrates if necessary. These were later known as stipendiary magistrates because they were paid a salary and were not dependent on the income from their own lands. The old baronial constabulary was not abolished by this Act, except in those counties where the Lord Lieutenant appointed Chief Constables and constables. Where however the new constabulary was set up the Acts of 1792 and 1814, and the clauses of Townlands Fines Continuation Act (1819) regarding special constables no longer applied.

 This Act was a kind of halfway stage between the Constabulary Act (1792) and the Constabulary Act (1836) that finally established the form of the Royal Irish Constabulary. This enabled a professional police force to develop itself, and the Irish model was widely copied around the world. Frederick Conway observed in the Dublin Evening Post (16 June 1835) that the character of the police did not change much with regard to personnel. The same magistrates still recruited working class Protestants with strong Orange sympathies, and inspectors were drawn from among those who had experience in the old constabulary. In 1824 official returns showed that one-quarter of the police were Catholics. The great improvement lay in the new rules and the fact that their own officers controlled them. Also, they could not be called out or used to enforce civil suits, but only in cases where bailiffs met with resistance. 

At the same time the magistracy was purged of old, inactive, or absentee magistrates by the Lord Chancellor Lord Manners by means of writs of supersedeas in the Court of Common Pleas. An Act was passed in 1826 abolishing all local gaols, for example those in manors or liberties. There were 178 prisons or bridewells in Ireland according to the report of the Inspector General of Prisons. In future all prisoners were to be held in the county gaol. It was proposed to make extensive use of the treadmill to provide hard labour to those sentenced to penal servitude with hard labour in place of transportation. The system of two or three magistrates in a district meeting regularly to hold petty sessions devised by Lord Cloncurry under special legislation was extended by Act of Parliament to the whole of Ireland. The construction of modern county gaols to replace the old ramshackle buildings commenced. Among the first was Maryborough (pronounced Maraboro) Gaol in Queen’s County, now known as Port Laoise high security prison. [Top] 

Monetary and Fiscal Changes    

The period allowed by the Act of Union for the retention of protective tariffs expired in 1820, and Goulburn set about removing those remaining. Duties on tea, sugar, tobacco, wine, and foreign spirits had been assimilated in 1814. Duty on malt was assimilated in 1815. All customs duties were assimilated in 1822. Duties on paper, hides and skins in 1825; duty on vinegar 1826; duties on glass 1828 (The Pilot 14 March 1842). The protective tariffs on cotton ceased, causing a switch towards the use of machinery in the linen industry. The seventeenth century Navigation Acts against foreign traders and foreign shipping no longer applied to Ireland. A standard system of weights and measures, the 'Imperial measures', was introduced in 1824 and came into force on 1 May 1825. Formerly goods were bought in England or Ireland in the local measures and sold in the other country in the measures that existed there.  The most important measures were the Imperial gallon for wet measures and the Imperial bushel set at eight gallons for dry measures. The separate Irish Boards of Customs and Excise ceased to exist. The Irish Stamp Office came to an end in October 1827. Thus two obstacles to trade between the islands were abolished. Not all the changes were compulsory, and Irish measures for land remained long in use. The Post Office brought in the changes for weights and measures, coins, and distances on the same day. There was no longer a need for separate Revenue Boards so the British and Irish Boards were amalgamated. In Britain the Post Master General commenced the now familiar practice of appointing and promoting on the grounds of merit. (It should be noted that the Banking Acts of 1823 and 1824 still used Irish measures, and the fifty mile limit from Dublin was measured in Irish miles which equalled 63.5 statute miles. The Irish or ‘plantation’ acre of 7840 square yards instead of the 4840 square yards of the statute acre continued in private use until the twentieth century.) Irish currency was discontinued and sterling made the single currency on 5 January 1826. Irish pounds were changed into sterling valued 18 shillings and five and a half pence. Thirteen Irish pence became twelve English pence, and other sums were exchanged accordingly. The Irish currency however did not immediately cease to be legal tender, and could be used until the Lord Lieutenant decided otherwise and issued a proclamation to that effect. The Royal Exchange for currency was no longer needed. 

            When he was in Ireland Peel had been very affected by the distress caused by failures of banks. If it was the sole bank in a particular area trade virtually ceased on its collapse.  Irish banking laws were rather archaic and restrictive, and needed updating. In 1821 an Act was passed modifying the charter of the Bank of Ireland and allowing joint-stock banking. By this time there were only eleven country banks in Ireland against one hundred and twenty eight in Scotland, a comparable country. Credit for business purposes was often unavailable in country areas. The monopoly of the Bank of Ireland was to be restricted to within fifty Irish miles of Dublin, and 'joint stock' banks with unlimited partners were to be allowed outside that distance. However, the wording of the Act was unclear, and so had to be emended, and this was done by the Irish Bank Act (1824). The old restrictions on private banks were also lifted. The first of the new banks, the Northern Bank in Belfast, opened its doors in 1824. It had previously been a partnership bank. Other banks were soon founded and they started up branches in all the major towns in Ulster, Connaught, and Munster. The large amount of subscribed capital and the system of interlinked branches provided for very stable banking. As an additional safeguard Bank of Ireland began to act as a lender of last resort. Without prompting from the Government the banks controlled the issue of notes to what was essential, and so provided a stable currency. Nicholas Mahon launched his own bank in Dublin hoping that the restrictions would be removed. They were not, but his bank, the Hibernian was profitable, being very popular with the Catholic merchants in Dublin. The Irish banks, like the Scottish banks, continued to issue their own notes, and do so until this day. It was noted that except in parts of Ulster, notes issued by the banks were the only medium of circulation. In neither Ireland or Scotland were the notes based on a metallic currency, unlike in England after 1819. Nowadays however they are regarded as merely a form of advertising. In December 1825, in England there was crash of a speculative boom which caused seventy banks to fail, but Ireland was largely unaffected. [Top] 

Survey and Valuation     

The legislation on tithes showed the need for a uniform system of valuation throughout Ireland, and the need to map lands reclaimed from bogs since the previous survey which might have been done nearly a hundred and fifty years previously. In many cases no changes in valuation had taken place since the Down Survey of Sir William Petty between 1649 and 1660. In some parts of Ireland assessment was by townlands all valued equally; in other cases the townlands were valued by extent, not by produce; in other cases valuation was carried out on other sub-divisions variously called catrons, tates, etc. (SNL 29 Sept. 1824).

 Two commissions, one of survey and the other of valuation, were appointed. The work of the survey was entrusted to officers seconded to the Irish Government from the Board of Ordnance. For this reason the Irish Civil Survey is always called the Ordnance Survey. The chief officer was Major Thomas Frederick Colby, a man who set meticulous standards of accuracy. The standards he set in Ireland became the norm for the whole of the United Kingdom, and eventually for the rest of the world. Up to three-quarters of a million pounds were spent on the survey and mapping. He decided not to farm out the survey to local surveyors as had been the practice in England, but with the permission of the Master General of Ordnance, the Duke of Wellington, he raised three companies of sappers and miners to be trained in surveying. Additional workers were also hired locally. Work commenced on Divis Mountain overlooking Belfast in 1825. A base line exactly eight miles long was measured along the shore of Lough Foyle in 1827-8.

The first task of the surveyors was to map the boundaries of townlands. All previous measures of land like tates, ploughlands, and ballybetaghs were discarded, and the Ordnance Survey maps recorded only townlands as the basic local unit. A townland, literally the land belonging to a town, was between 300 and 500 acres, but could be as low as 50 acres. Originally it was the same as farmstead or homestead belonging to a single family. But in the nineteenth century it had often been split into tiny holdings. An historical branch was formed to examine manuscripts and records with a view to determining the correct local names. A Gaelic scholar named John O’Donovan was employed to do this and he visited almost every part of Ireland and left copious notes about the places he visited. Hundreds of manuscript volumes of historical information were written. The Ordnance Survey maps contain 144,000 names of which 62,000 were names of townlands. Another scholar employed in this work was Eugene O’Curry who was to become professor of Irish History and Archaeology in the Catholic University. It is astonishing that people had attempted to write histories of Ireland without the work of these men. It was an extraordinary outcome of what had started as a simple survey for purposes of equalizing taxation. 

 An Irish Valuation Act (7 Geo IV) was passed in 1827. Richard Griffith did the most of the work. He had already been employed from 1809 to 1812 as one of the commissioners for surveying Irish bogs and to report on their possible utility. He then was employed as Inspector of Mines in Ireland. After 1822 he was employed on measures for the relief of famine and for the construction of roads in the south and west. It proved difficult to arrive at acceptable criteria for valuation, and Griffith made more than one attempt. He attempted to obtain an absolute value for a given piece of land based on the quality of the soil and the nature of the underlying rock. But obviously proximity to markets had to be included, and agricultural improvements. The point in his approach was to value the land at what the local soil was capable of producing under an energetic improving farmer, rather than what it was actually producing, or what the historic rent had been. The 'Griffith valuations' were to some extent replaced in the 1840's by a valuation of all real property carried out by the Poor Law Commissioners. The Poor Law Valuation (P.L.V) to some extent replaced the others and became the basis for fiscal administration in local government. But for leasing of land the Griffith valuations remained until the end of the century, provision being made to have them continually updated (Weekly Irish Times 28 March 1903). It was the valuation, minus discounts, which was used for the purchase of land under the various Land Acts.

            Luddism, or the breaking of machinery, either industrial or agricultural, does not seem to have been a problem in Ireland. In the 1820's there was a rather unusual episode of breaking the banks of canals. The canals brought cheaper goods from Dublin, showing that there are losers as well as winners in every development. Combination or trade unionism in Ireland followed the same course as it did in England, and in the 1820's was becoming increasingly violent. A Parliamentary Committee of Enquiry recommended that the Combination Acts should be repealed. This was done, but it led in England to a massive increase in the use of violence for trade union purposes. A Trade Union Act (1826) was then passed to regulate associations of tradesmen or journeymen. In Dublin especially the existing combinations legalized themselves. In the south of Ireland, after a brief intermission, agrarian crime broke out on a greater scale. The worst troubles from combinations, which Dr. Doyle had to face, were in the mining districts. [Top] 

Religious Matters         

[Religious Matters 1822-27] It had been the aim of the various Prime Ministers, Lords Lieutenant, and Irish Secretaries since the Union to promote the growth of religious harmony in Ireland. But developments in all three major Churches in the 1820's made the possibility of this happy outcome more remote.

The Established Church was finding its feet, and renewing the work of the Reformers that had slackened in the previous century. The character of Irish Protestantism changed. More and better-educated clergy were being provided, houses built for them, salaries set aside for them, churches built or re-built, and the residence of the clergy in their parishes enforced. Dissenting clergy were excluded from conducting services in parish churches and the bishops and deans insisted on the proper and dignified conduct of worship. It was becoming more difficult for the Catholic (or Dissenting) clergy to find matter to criticize. Religious observance increased among the Protestant laity, more attendance at churches, more Bible-reading, less intoxication, more truthfulness and honesty. The Established Church was beginning to look like a proper reformed Christian Church.

William Magee, a learned Protestant mathematician and theologian, an active reformer considered liberal in his views, was bishop of Raphoe in 1819. After spending over a year going round his new diocese to see how religious affairs were being conducted he addressed himself to his clergy. He told them that he had been impressed by what he had found. There was a spirit ‘in all ranks from the highest to the lowest, in active exertion, seeking everywhere after the young and uninstructed, visiting every cottage, soliciting every parent, encouraging and instructing every child, to draw them to the knowledge and practice of religion, and to guide their feet into that part, which if through the Divine grace they continue in it, will lead them to everlasting happiness’ (Charge to the Clergy of the diocese of Raphoe 1821).

When Wellesley arrived he appointed him archbishop of Dublin (1822). His Charge to the clergy of Dublin showed that he was for the most part pleased with the efforts of the clergy there. There were however some however with whom he was less satisfied; some who were not devoted to the welfare of the flocks entrusted to them; some who seemed to regard the Church as a means of livelihood, and who lived like gentlemen or men of the world. These however he was satisfied were not numerous. He always strongly defended the Established Church though he confessed before a select committee of the House of Lords that he had no particular knowledge of the Roman Catholic religion other than what was commonly known in Ireland. He was equally opposed to those who considered the reading of the Bible without comment sufficient for true knowledge of salvation and the instruction of a clergyman superfluous. He was entirely opposed to unlicensed clergymen being allowed to preach or celebrate services in Church of Ireland churches.

He had a habit of making tactless remarks and for these he is best remembered.  His famous remark that Roman Catholics had a Church without a religion and the Dissenters a religion without a Church probably accurately reflected his views. Many Catholics were offended by an incident that occurred in St Kevin's churchyard in Dublin, for which the archbishop was incorrectly blamed. Catholics were normally buried in Protestant cemeteries, the only ones there were, but were prohibited from conducting the burial service there. So instead they led the mourners in some common prayers. The sexton seeing this expelled the clergyman, and thereby incurred the wrath of the formidable Dr Michael Blake. (Magee’s explanation in a letter to the bishop of Limerick was reported in Saunders’ Newsletter 19 April 1824. Dr Blake was the parish priest of the parish of St Michael and St John in Dublin. He was later sent to Rome to re-open the Irish College, closed since the Revolution, and finally became bishop of Dromore.). In the course of his reforms the archbishop had stressed, correctly in canon and civil law, that no clergymen other than those of the Established Church could conduct public services in churchyards on the occasion of a funeral. The Protestant verger misunderstood either what the Catholic priest was doing or the instructions of the archbishop. Magee in his later life had become a conservative and may not have been displeased at the incident. More and more clergymen of the Established Church began to identify themselves with the ascendancy faction, and strenuously opposed Emancipation, all Whig administrations, and the administrations of 'the great betrayer', Robert Peel. An Act of Parliament (Irish Burials Act 1824) was passed to enable Catholics to establish their own cemeteries.

            There were changes in the Catholic Church as well. By 1815 the Penal Laws were regarded as well and truly in the past. (The continued exclusion of Catholic gentlemen from Parliament was like a speck of dust in the eye, a major irritant.) No longer fearing persecution some priests took a more prominent part in public life, and began to take part in politics during elections. In 1820, a young professor in Maynooth named Dr John MacHale published a series of diatribes in the style of Swift under the pseudonym of Hierophilos. The Catholic bishops began to meet regularly to consult before dealing with the Government. Relations with the Government were becoming friendly. After the Marquis Wellesley was appointed Lord Lieutenant, Archbishop Murray, usually accompanied by some other bishops, presented himself at a levee each year to pay his respects. When Wellesley, in 1825, married a Catholic, Murray conducted the Catholic service. Suspicion of the Government and of Protestants, so strong a few years earlier, had died down, but people like MacHale were again fanning the suspicions. As time passed the suspicions of Government motives, and defensiveness in their regard, were to grow and grow until they pervaded the entire Catholic Church in Ireland. But while Primate Curtis, Archbishop Murray, and Dr James Doyle, were in charge the Catholic hierarchy maintained friendly relations with the Government, and co-operated closely with Whig politicians, especially with Sir Henry Parnell.

            It was noted that between 1809 and 1816 all the bishops appointed in Ireland had studied in Salamanca under Dr Patrick Curtis, and finally Curtis himself was appointed. On the same day was appointed a young bishop whose education in Portugal was cut short by the French invasion, Dr James Doyle. In 1825 there was appointed a young professor from Maynooth as co-adjutor to the bishop of the remote diocese of Killala, Dr John McHale. He was to be the stormy petrel of the Irish Catholic Church. It was extremely self-opinionated, and it was said of him that he was only happy when he was opposing somebody. But in the meantime the Catholic bishops were united.

            It is interesting to note that when Dr. Doyle was appointed bishop of Kildare and Leighlin (pronounced Locklin, roughly the counties of Kildare, Queen’s County/Laois and Carlow) he found the clergy much as Dr Magee did in Dublin. He was satisfied with most of them, but some had grown old and lazy, and more concerned with gathering money to support their old age in comfort than with improving church buildings or schools. He also detected willingness on the part of some to mix in public gatherings that were unsuitable for clergymen. After the slackness of the preceding century discipline was being tightened in both churches (Fitzpatrick). Like most Catholic bishops in the first half of the century he began constructing a proper cathedral for the Catholics, as the existing cathedrals were in Protestant hands.

    This clearly signified the final abandonment of any claim to churches or lands in the possession of the Established Church. (In Dublin, after the death of Archbishop Murray, the nationalist clergy persisted in referring to his cathedral as a pro-cathedral. The implication was that the Catholics had the moral right to the two medieval cathedrals. Re-building a cathedral, or moving it to a different church in the same city can be done by the bishop, and does not require the assent of the Holy See.) 

            The Irish Presbyterians too were emerging from the obscurity forced on them by the Penal Laws. But their situation was different from that of the Catholics in one respect. Emancipation for them would involve the repeal of the Test Act and the admission of Dissenters to public office as of right. (The 'Sacramental test' was the obligation to take the sacrament in the Established Church. An Indemnity Act allowed Presbyterians to take public office.) Catholics could look to the possibility of taking political control in Ireland whereas Presbyterians could not. As long as Catholic priests stayed out of politics there was a chance that the Presbyterians would side with the Catholics and even also support Repeal. But obviously, they would never vote to submit themselves to the Catholic hierarchy. It was noted that if Ireland had been completely Protestant a demand for Repeal would have been widespread - religion was to prove a stronger force than nationalism. It seems certain that the enrolment by O'Connell of Catholic priests to assist the laity in the struggle for Emancipation tipped the scales within the Presbyterian body.

            Castlereagh had increased the Regium Donum, the financial assistance given by the state for the support of Dissenting ministers. But the Presbyterians largely supported their own clergy and churches. The Presbyterians had constructed a college like that in Maynooth, under the direction of their own ministers, partly as a grammar school, and partly as a college for ordinands. A small parliamentary grant was usually voted annually to assist its upkeep. The Presbyterian clergy, like those in the other Churches, were developing their Church in a similar fashion, building churches, providing ministers, tightening up on discipline, and so on.

            One point came to the fore that many Presbyterians regarded as being of fundamental importance. In theory, all Presbyterians recognised no authority but the Bible. It had become customary, and then of obligation, to require prospective preachers or ministers to attest their true beliefs by subscribing (signing) to a traditional statement of Puritan doctrine, the Westminster Confession. This document had no authority but was considered a test of orthodoxy. In the eighteenth century, in various places subscription was no longer exacted if the minister could prove his orthodoxy to other learned ministers.  Non-subscribing ministers tended to be Whiggish or even liberal in their views, and supported Emancipation for the Catholics. A feeling was gradually growing that subscription should be enforced. The reason for this is far from obvious. About 1815 the Government was worried about certain political opinions in the Belfast Presbyterian College, the Royal Belfast Academical Institute. Also, the champions of subscription began to get worried about the orthodoxy of some of the non-subscribing ministers teaching there. Two factions grew up. The non-subscribers were led by the able and liberal minister, the Rev. Henry Montgomery; the subscribers by the equally able and extremely energetic Rev. Henry Cook. (In his old age Cook was to become as 'High Tory' as many of the Established clergy, but the views of his old age were not necessarily those of his youth.)

            Throughout the 1820's the struggle between the subscribers and non-subscribers raged until in 1828 and 1829 Cook's faction triumphed. Montgomery's faction then withdrew from the Synod of Ulster and set up their own grouping, the 'Remonstrant Synod'. Disputes between the synods over churches and endowments continued for many years, but the Remonstrants found a protector in Robert Peel, who always tried to safeguard their interests. Under Henry Cook's influence the Presbyterians of the Synod of Ulster, and later the General Assembly, became aligned with the Established Church on many issues. 

            In the 182O's a movement arose unconnected with any of the Churches that many Catholics regarded as a conspiracy to subvert their religion. It is commonly called 'The Second Reformation'. It was conducted by the numerous Missionary and Bible Societies in Britain and Ireland. These societies, the earliest and most important of which was the British and Foreign Bible Society, aimed at printing the Bible in all languages and distributing it throughout the world. For them the Gaelic-speaking adherents of 'Popery' in Ireland were no different from the Bushmen or Hottentots of South Africa. But the Irish cottiers already belonged to a Christian Church and attempted 'poaching' could only lead to disputes. For this reason the Government always discouraged 'proselytising' by the clergy of the Established Church, indicating that no clergyman engaged in such activity would be promoted. Most of the Irish Protestant Bishops withdrew from the societies working in Ireland because of their lack of respect for canon law or a bishop's authority. To avoid any suspicion of proselytising they told their clergy never to make the slightest connection between the bestowal of alms, food, or clothing, and any work of religion like Bible-reading or hymn singing. But over the activities of the Bible Societies they had no control.

             The Societies had some advantages. They had adequate funds to pay schoolmasters, and they had a Bible printed in Irish. Catholic children attending their schools could learn to read the language they spoke. Precisely what was done in each local school is not clear. Some Catholic schoolmasters seemed prepared to accept the cash and conditions.  They could then draw their salaries, teach the children to read the Irish Bible, and then charge for teaching anything else. The belief grew among the Catholic priests, and was carefully fostered by the likes of MacHale, that such schools were extremely dangerous for Catholic children. No doubt in some of their schools anti-Catholic teaching was practised.             

            The Bible Societies were growing more active. They were formed originally to print and distribute Bibles without note or comment so that everyone would be able to read the word of God for themselves without any interpretation or comment by any Church whether Catholic or Protestant. They insisted however that only one particular translation could be used: the version approved by King James I. (This was not a particularly accurate version either with regard to the Hebrew and Greek texts from which it was translated, or with regard to the translation itself which was tendentious. It has since been revised several times.) The Dublin Evening Post printed a letter from a Catholic prelate saying that Catholics do not object to Protestants attacking Catholic doctrines but to the misrepresentations as ‘so many hideous spectres, or ridiculous abortions of bigotry and superstition, to the hatred and contempt of mankind’. The campaigns of the Bible Societies were manifested chiefly by scurrilous attacks on Catholic doctrine. (This kind of attack has been found since the sixteenth century and is still found in places today; claims that the Catholics ate human flesh, worshipped idols, worshipped saints, despised the Bible, bought pardons for sins; that the Pope is Anti-Christ; that Catholics are obliged to kill heretics and so on.). 

At a somewhat higher intellectual level, newspapers and periodicals like the Warder and the Antidote were started to promote a strong Protestant and anti-Catholic feeling among the reading classes. A group of Protestants launched a new newspaper in Dublin called the Dublin Evening Mail entirely independent of any Government funds. The proprietors were unwilling to ask a tainted source like Wellesley’s Government for any cash. It proved an immediate and dramatic success. It also marked the alienation of a large number of Protestants from both the Whig and Tory governments which was to last until the middle of the century. There would have been a great demand for Home Rule among them if they had not realised that the Catholics would form the great majority in an Irish Parliament. 

There was a different aspect of the Second Reformation unconnected with the preceding one. This was the series of public debates or controversies organised in various parts of the country. Once they started various people thought they saw how they could use them to their own advantage. The fact that O'Connell helped to organise one series is symptomatic. They were originally conceived by a group of well-educated young clergymen of the Established Church. Up to that time some Catholic priests had been poorly educated members of the lower classes. Such were not typical, but the young clergymen thought they were. It seemed easy to challenge Catholic priests to public debate and show up their ignorance. They overlooked the fact that the Catholic Church had capable professors of theology and, more importantly, printed books on controversies with the Protestants on the Continent going back centuries. The Catholic priests who took up the challenges had the answers to hand even before they started. The arguments were no more conclusive in Ireland than they had been on the Continent, but each side claimed the victory. Seeing this the Catholic bishops tried to put a stop to the polemical disputations, but they continued. 

But perhaps the person who contributed to sectarianism in Ireland was O’Connell himself. He had no understanding of Protestants and had no wish to understand them even if they were on his own side. The Romantic Movement was in full flower with romantic visions of bold chiefs of old which found its greatest expression in the novels of Sir Walter Scott then being written. He imagined himself in his home in Kerry as a descendant of the O’Connells, chiefs of Iveragh. (Some Protestants maintained he was not a descendant of chiefs but was plain Dan Connell, the son of a peasant. The ‘O’ signifying descent from a chiefly family was often added or dropped.) He never addressed a Protestant meeting, but his love of addressing Catholic meetings and confusing Catholic with Irish and Protestant with foreign oppressors was chiefly responsible for developing the national identity of modern Ireland. Those who followed him like Archbishop MacHale and Cardinal Cullen developed his ideas, and in Cullen’s case they developed a real hatred of Protestantism which O’Connell, despite his rhetoric, did not have.

            When George III died in 1820 there was a sense that a logjam had been broken, and changes were about to occur for the benefit of Catholics. The idea of promoting on merit to public offices was still in the future. Would the Catholics, when they got public offices, just promote their friends, or would a fair share of jobs go to the Protestants? Archbishop Magee probably spoke for many when he said that he had no objection to emancipation for Catholics in itself, but he feared that if the Catholics were secure in power they would overthrow the Protestant establishment. Of crucial importance then was the question who would emerge as the principal leader of the Catholics. Lord Killeen or Richard Sheil could gradually have allayed Protestant fears; O'Connell was certain to increase them. Several factors had to be considered. If Catholics could enter Parliament, this could be counteracted by raising the property qualification for voting so as to benefit the Protestant electors. This in the event was what was done, and it was not until towards the end of the century that an overall majority for a Catholic Nationalist Party became possible. 

            Before considering the political struggles which ended with the truce between the Whigs and Tories in 1838, it is worth considering the balance of military power in Ireland, or what would happen in a case of armed insurrection. Some Irishmen in 1798 thought that all that was required was a call to arms. Then 'all Ireland' would rise against 'the invader', the 'British' would leave, and everyone would live happily ever after. In 1820 the only groups likely to heed such a call to arms were to be found among the poorest Catholic working classes in the eastern parts of the island, the parts where agrarian crime was rampant. A call for an uprising among these classes could initially have been more successful in 1820 than in 1798. But when the army with its field guns arrived the insurgents would have been blasted to bits. Steamships too meant that the delay of reinforcements from England would not again be delayed by contrary winds. But there was no group advocating such a call to arms. Nor were political conditions in Europe favourable to an insurrection.

            If the Government was unwilling to crush the rebels, the ascendancy faction, the Orange Order, and the yeomanry, would have combined to do the job. It would have taken them longer, but the 'extermination' of the 'rebels' would have been more systematic and thorough. The Protestants had ready access to money, arms, and cavalry horses which the impoverished Catholic cottiers or labourers had not. This was the reality of the situation, and those vividly appreciated it like O’Connell and Murray who had lived through 1798.

            If the Protestant yeomanry wished to emulate their fathers in 1782 and assemble in a national convention, the army too could have dispersed them. Their success in 1782 was caused by extraneous factors, namely the distraction of the American War, the danger of a French invasion, and the fact that most trained soldiers had been stripped from the country and could not easily be brought back to Europe. The Protestant yeomanry always remembered this and made no attempt to combine against the Government or to try to over-awe it. It was the Catholics who came to believe that the Government in 1782 had caved in before a show of strength.

             The policies of any ministry were constrained by these factors. It would have, either from policy or conviction, to make considerable concessions to the Catholics without driving the Protestants to exasperation. The over-riding preoccupation of any Government is to maintain its own authority. It is significant therefore in this connection that operational control of the new gendarmerie was taken away from the county authorities, which were in many cases controlled by gentlemen with Orange sympathies. It was always the objective of O'Connell to force the Government to bring in benefits for the Catholics and to defy the ascendancy faction.              

            Emancipation was not a topic particularly to the fore. Most people regarded it as inevitable. If it did not get through Parliament this year, then perhaps next year or the year after. There was no urgency. A petition was presented to George IV's first Parliament in 1820. Henry Grattan, now dying, made his last journey to Westminster to present the petition. He travelled from Liverpool to London by canal boat. He died before getting the opportunity. Plunket presented it in his stead, but the affair of the Princess Caroline prevented Parliament from attending to it. [Top] 

The Education Question 

            [Education 1822-27] The question of education was thought more urgent. Peel had considered the matter closed in 1814, and Government money in increasing sums every year was being given to the Kildare Place Society. This Society insisted on the common reading of the Bible, and some Catholics considered, or affected to consider, that this amounted to proselytising. An inaccurate letter of complaint was sent to Rome, and the Holy See replied with considerable vagueness recommending the establishment of Catholic schools. (Such replies from Rome without a full enquiry are always conditional: if the facts are as you say. The onus is placed on the petitioner to establish the true facts.) The Catholic hierarchy, whether for this or for other reasons, began to think of establishing a Catholic Education Society and applying to the Government for support for it too. The Government was unwilling to go against its principles and support sectarian schools, so the Catholic Education Society collapsed. Most of the bishops felt that if such a society could not survive in Dublin it had no chance at all in the rest of Ireland, and considered what modifications they could seek to the existing system.

            When the Marquis Wellesley arrived he listened sympathetically and set up a Commission of Education Enquiry (1824) to examine the existing system and to recommend improvements. Anthony Blake was one of the commissioners. Obviously a system of non-sectarian education like that provided by the Kildare Place Society could not work if Catholic parents considered it a sectarian body and refused to send their children to its schools. The Education Enquiry Report (1825) therefore recommended that the Government itself should undertake the work, and that a Board of National Education should take over from the Kildare Place Society. Wellesley reappointed the Board with the remit that they prepare for the establishment of such a Board.

By this time John MacHale had been made a bishop. The Catholic bishops meeting (1826) prepared recommendations to put before the new Board. If they could not get a Catholic society then they would aim at making the Board as Catholic as possible in Catholic areas, while allowing the Protestants the right to make it Protestant in Protestant areas. Where a majority of pupils were Catholics, they said, the teacher should be a Catholic. Every Catholic bishop should have the right to approve all books used in the schools in his diocese. For the majority of the bishops these objectives were unrealistic, but a minority, led by MacHale, regarded them as irreducible rights.         Archbishop Murray was the chief negotiator for the Catholics with the Education Commission, and discussions dragged on for years. The majority of the Commissioners insisted on preparing religious moral readings for use in the period of common instruction. It was still an age when education was supposed to have a strong religious content, where readings, if not directly from the Bible, should have a strong moral content, inculcating for example honesty at work, or duty to one’s parents. In a typical example, it would be proposed that the Nativity account in Saint Luke should be read. Murray would reply that verse 28 of the first chapter was significantly different in the Catholic version and insist that Catholic children read that version. The Protestant archbishops, seeking to regain some authority over education, claimed that only they could authorise a translation of the Bible. There was no need to use the Bible at all in the period of common instruction, and Murray told the Commissioners that they were making unnecessary difficulties for themselves. The matter was not decided until 1831.

            [1825] In 1825, separate Committees of Enquiry into the state of Ireland were set up by the House of Commons, and the House of Lords. Archbishop Murray, who had succeeded Troy as archbishop of Dublin in 1823, was called to give evidence, as was Dr. Doyle. The evidence given was printed separately, and it is the most informative of all the reports of committees of enquiry in Ireland. In 1826 Goulburn had an Act passed regulating the minor or manor courts, and requiring the registration of seneschals. In 1826, Philip Whitfield Harvey, one of the great newspapermen in Ireland died. His newspaper, the Freeman’s Journal had suffered financially as a result of Saurin’s campaign against the press, and he himself had been gaoled for nine months. Archbishop Murray attended his funeral. The first quarter of the century were the great days of the Freeman’s Journal. After his death it declined, and became a poor mouthpiece of various repealing or Home Rule interests. In 1826, the Irish national lottery was ended. George IV began the construction of Buckingham Palace. In 1827, the king’s brother, the Duke of York died, leaving the next brother, William, Duke of Clarence as heir to the throne. As he had no legitimate issue, the next in succession was the Duke of Kent’s daughter, Victoria. Kingstown replaced Howth as the terminus for the steampacket service in 1826. In that year too the first steampacket was built in Ireland.

[1826] A General election was held in 1826. The Whigs made some attempt to contest more seats. The leading members of the Catholic Association played a prominent part. O’Connell was nominated as a candidate in Waterford, but this was merely to give the opportunity of addressing the electors, before standing down in favour of the Whig candidate Villiers Stuart. Shiel addressed the electors of Dundalk in favour of the Whig candidate. The Whigs took both seats in Waterford and wrested one seat in Louth from the Fosters. It was fifty eight years since Louth had been last contested. It was regarded as an omen for things to come. Conway considered that this election was the most fiercely contested in Ireland since the reign of Queen Anne. The Catholic Association began to scent victory in their struggle for emancipation. 

Lord Liverpool died in April 1827 and was succeeded in quick succession by four Prime Ministers. 

            The great political event of the decade, the struggle for Catholic Emancipation, will be treated in a separate chapter.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.