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[TOP][IIreland 1850-1920 Copyright © 2005 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Chapter Three

1868 TO 1880


Summary of chapter. With the commencement of Gladstone's first ministry, and his disestablishment of the Church of Ireland to satisfy Catholic prejudice the period of tranquillity in Ireland came to an end. Gladstone was seen as yielding to pressure so the aim of Catholic politicians became to extract more concessions to their ever-increasing demands. They next demanded concession with regard to tenant right, most of the landlords being Protestant and most of the tenants Catholic. Regardless of any concessions these demands continued until after the establishment of the Irish Free State when the new Free State Government refused to give in to any further demands. Both Gladstone and his successor Disraeli passed many Acts which were actually of some use. Disraeli's legislation was particularly notable. His Artisans' Dwellings Act allowed local authorities to provide houses for the poor. His Public Health Act established sanitary authorities to deal with public health. He reformed the system of the courts on a logical basis, and re-formed the university system to try to remove the grievances of the Catholic bishops. They however still continued to demand sectarian education. The Land League was formed with the aim of forcing landlords to reduce rents but became notorious by its enforcing of boycotts by terrorist means.

The Ministry February 1874 to April 1880 (Conservative)


The Ministry December 1868 to February 1874 (Liberal) 

Prime Minister             William Gladstone (1st Ministry) 

Home Secretary           Henry Bruce; (Aug 1873) Robert Lowe

Lord Lieutenant          Earl Spencer

Chief Secretary             Chichester Fortescue; (Jan 1871) Marquis of Hartington

Under Secretary           (Sir) Edward Wetherall; (May 1869) Thomas Burke

          [December 1868] The period of unstable coalitions and minority governments which had lasted from 1852 until 1868 had come to an end and the alternation of Tories with Liberals (or Labour) which had become normal after 1832 was resumed.

          Henry Bruce was from Wales, had no connection with Ireland, and is chiefly famous for negotiating a middle way between temperance fanatics and the interests of brewers. His Licensing Act (1872) set out the conditions for licensed premises and gave authority to the local magistrates to issue licenses. The Act was widely unpopular and was one of the reasons the Liberals lost the next general election. Though it was expected that the Tories would repeal the Act they did not. Robert Lowe was Chancellor of the Exchequer but proved unpopular and was moved to the post of Home Secretary where he was undistinguished. John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer, was a nephew of the 3rd Earl Spencer, who as Viscount Althorpe was well known in Ireland in the first half of the century. The earl had no seat in the cabinet but the Chief Secretary, Chichester Fortescue had, an indication of the relative powers of the two offices about 1870.  (The office of Chief Secretary commenced in 1800 by combining the office of Irish Secretary, a sinecure post, with that of the Lord Lieutenant’s secretary. No statutory powers were at first attached to the office, but the Chief Secretary gradually succeeded in establishing control over many of the Government Offices in Dublin.) Spencer Compton Cavendish, courtesy Marquis of Hartington, and later eighth Duke of Devonshire was later to become leader of the Liberal Party. He was made Postmaster General and was responsible for the Government taking control of the various telegraph companies so as to unify the system over the whole kingdom. He also had charge of the Secret Ballot Act (1872). The Devonshires had large estates in Ireland around Lismore Castle in County Waterford.

          The Permanent Undersecretary Sir Thomas Larcom, who was knighted in 1860, and on whom chiefly had fallen the task of combating Fenianism, retired in 1868 at the age of sixty seven. His successor Sir Edward Robert Wetherall was English and a major general in the army. After experience in the Crimean War he was sent to Ireland as deputy quartermaster general of the forces in Ireland in 1859 and remained until 1865. He was transferred to London and then back to Dublin to succeed Larcom but died after six months. Thomas Henry Burke was from Galway. His mother was a sister of Cardinal Wiseman. He entered Dublin Castle as a junior clerk in 1847 and later was private secretary to successive Chief Secretaries. Thomas O’Hagan was made Lord Chancellor of Ireland, the first Catholic to hold the post since the reign of James II.

          In Britain William Edward Forster, the Liberal MP for Bradford, was appointed a privy councillor and made vice-president of the Council. As such he had to deal with education, and he introduced a Bill to deal with the 3,000 intermediate or grammar schools to try to ensure that secondary schools were of an acceptable standard and formed a bridge between primary schools and universities. Various religious groups strongly pushed their objectives. The clash between the Established Church and the Nonconformists was to be-devil English education up until the Fisher Act in 1918 and the Butler Act in 1944. In brief, the clergy of the Established Church wanted total control of schools, and the Nonconformists wanted schools not under the clergy of the Established Church. The Nonconformists were opposed to any state provision for the teaching of any creed. His Endowed Schools Act (1869) was a prelude to his great Act with regard to primary schools the following year (Reid, Life of W.E, Forster). He was also responsible for dealing with an outbreak of the cattle plague.

          Forster’s Education Act (1870) was a landmark in English education. The quality of primary education improved beyond that in Ireland, but with the attitude of the Catholic bishops there was no possibility of introducing a similar Act in Ireland. Church schools were retained, but to meet the objections of the Nonconformists they were to get no local aid. They were eligible however for some grants from the Treasury which annoyed the Nonconformists. Church-related schools, most of which were under the clergy of the Established Church, numbered around 20,000 and there was no intention of getting rid of these. Local authorities were to establish School Boards, elected by the ratepayers, whose responsibility would be to erect schools where there were none. These were to be paid for by a special local rate. The Board School was to become a feature of working-class districts in the growing towns. They were better financed, better staffed, and better equipped than the Church schools. The clergy of the Established Church were displeased because they were not in charge of the Board Schools. As in the National Schools in Ireland, there was to be religious instruction, but by the ‘Cowper-Temple clause’ (named after William Cowper-Temple, son of the fifth Earl Cowper who proposed it) this was not to be denominational but confined to simple reading and exposition of the Bible. By this clause also Catholics or others who objected to this simple Bible-based instruction were free to withdraw their children from it. Though the 1870 Act made the provision of school places compulsory it did not make school attendance compulsory. Education was not made free, and parents had to contribute, but gradually the Boards paid the fees of the poorer parents (Richards and Hunt, Modern Britain, 382-3).

          Following a report by Sir Charles Trevelyan and Sir Stafford Northcote in 1853-54, a civil service commission was set up. Recruitment and promotion in most parts of the service were to depend on competitive examination. An Order-in-Council of 1870 made this system mandatory, except for the Foreign Office. The extended civil service that took shape owed little to political patronage and was almost completely free from corruption. This ended patronage, secured better recruits, and gave Irish secondary schools and even primary schools an alternative standard to aim for. The Irish Civil Service was to grow and grow. Bribery, at least in the lowest ranks, virtually disappeared. The acceptance of even the smallest gift meant instant dismissal. That does not mean that bribery and corruption disappeared from Ireland; far from it. But it was far more likely to be found in local government. The Indian Civil Service was the best of all, but examinations for it were also the hardest.

          Gladstone appointed the very able administrator Edward Cardwell to the War Office as Secretary for War where he commenced the introduction of wide-ranging changes, known as the ‘Cardwell Reforms’. Political control of the army was achieved by putting the Commander-in-Chief of the army under the Secretary for War. Conditions of warfare ere changing rapidly; the rifle replaced the musket and the exploding shell the cannon ball. Railways and steam ships could transport armies and supplies. These reforms had important effects in Ireland, especially with regard to the militia. Control of the militia was removed from the Lords Lieutenant of counties and vested in the army. Then purchase of commissions was ended. Regiments were originally raised by colonels, and purchase of commissions reflected ownership by the colonel’s successors. It would also allow junior officers in the militia to be transferred to regular units.

          In order to get an emergency reserve of trained troops such as was possessed by Prussia and France, Cardwell decided to shorten the period of enlistment to nine years, three of which would be with the regiment full-time followed by six years in the reserve. To aid recruitment, the numbered regiments of the line were to be given county designations with a depot in each recruiting area, and were to be linked in pairs so that when one was serving overseas somewhere in the Empire, the other would be at home recruiting and training. Ireland was assigned sixteen battalions in eight regiments and all were given Irish names. Some of these names went back to the seventeenth century, while some which had been East India Company regiments became the Royal Munster Fusiliers and were assigned three Munster counties in which to recruit. In 1881 the militia regiments were assigned to these as reserve battalions whose members could volunteer to transfer in time of war to the line battalions.

          The army was very popular in Ireland, and most Nationalist leaders from O’Connell to Redmond wished to retain it. They wanted it, however, to be recognised as a separate army which would fight overseas for the queen under its own flag. This unnecessary military complication was always resisted by the army authorities, but the Canadians in both World Wars insisted that their troops should fight as a separate Canadian Army.


          [1869] The big event in 1869 was the disestablishment and disendowment of the Irish Church. What exactly the point of these changes were supposed to be is not clear, especially when what might be considered a grievance, the paying of tithes, was not removed. The Established Church was not oppressive, and it would seem that the individual clergymen and their wives were quite popular with the poorer Catholics. Disestablishment by itself meant almost nothing, for the clergy exercised almost no power, but merely took precedence over the Catholic and Presbyterian clergy on public occasions.

          Disendowment was another matter. The rents from the lands with which the Church was endowed were not as great as their opponents thought. By 1869 the archbishop of Armagh still had an income of nearly £10,000, Dublin £7,000, Derry £6,000, and the remaining 9 bishops an average of £3,850; for comparison the Lord Chancellor had £8,000, a Common Law  puisne (junior) judge £3,700, and the permanent Under Secretary £2,000. There were in the 1860's just over 2,000 clergymen- 1500 incumbents and 500 curates. Parishes in  some of the northern  counties had over 1000 parishioners  while in southern dioceses  a clergyman might have under 40 parishioners; the incomes also varied enormously; seven incumbents had  over £1,000 while 688 had  between £200 and £500; 720 or 40% were under £200 of whom 300 had under £100. Assistant curates  were usually paid between £75 and £100 but not always regularly (MacDowell, The Church of Ireland, 5-11).

          Back in the 1830s the clergy had successfully defeated what was called ‘Clause 147’ put forward for several years by the Whig Lord John Russell. This stated that if there was a superfluity of revenue, the Government could take it and use it for causes of public utility. But as the Report established, if the incomes were evened out to ensure the better remuneration of the lower clergy, there would be no superfluity. The disparities arose in the Middle Ages when each diocese, monastery, and parish was separately endowed by local noblemen who assigned lands, the only source of income, for its support. The dioceses of Armagh and Derry received great grants of land, while most parishes got very little. Curacies were not endowed with land, and each curate was paid by the rector of the parish from his own income.

          The Irish Protestant clergy with few exceptions supported the Tories. Disraeli considered that Gladstone proposed the Bill to get electoral support for the Liberals. The Catholic and Presbyterian clergy favoured the disendowment. At the time Cardinal Cullen's organ stated that money was the only reason the Irish remained Protestants; remove this inducement and they will all soon become Catholics. A Presbyterian too at the time asserted that when the Protestants had to pay their clergy they would soon become Presbyterians (Church of Ireland Gazette 23 October 1903).

          For whatever reason Gladstone decided on the total expropriation without compensation of the endowed lands of the Established Church and introduced the Irish Church Act (1869). This was the greatest confiscation of Church property since the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the sixteenth century. There was one exception: Protestant charities which had been endowed after the Reformation would be allowed to keep their endowments. The union of the churches of Ireland and England was dissolved; all the revenues of the Church in Ireland were seized. It was given £500,000 in compensation for private endowments, and the existing clergy were guaranteed their incomes while they lived and performed their duties. This was compensation to individual clergymen for loss of income; no compensation was made to the Church. Despite what some Catholics alleged no compensation was paid to the Church which was stripped of all its resources. On the 1st January 1871 all of the property of the Church was taken over by the state except the churches in actual use and their attached churchyards. Glebe houses had to be bought back, and also a limited amount of land attached to the glebe house at a price fixed by the official valuator. The Government set aside a sum calculated on a return of 3% by actuaries which would allow the stipends of the clergy to be paid while they remained in office. The average number of years allowed for incumbents was 10½ and for curates 16. The same treatment was applied to  the Roman Catholic professors of Maynooth and the Presbyterian clergy in receipt of the Regium Donum; so the College of Maynooth, in lieu of an annual  grant  was given a capital  sum of £372,331 and the Presbyterians £74,688. The annuitants of the Church of Ireland numbered 2043, and their annuities amounted to £596,913. The capital sum granted in lieu was £7,581,075; each individual minister being allowed a salary for life, but the Church, its dioceses and parishes were completely disendowed (Church of Ireland Gazette 16 October 1903). (The financial provisions in the Act were far more complex than what is given here, and the original intended sum of £7.5 million was in practice reduced to just over £5 million. For various reasons the clergy stayed in their livings longer than the actuaries had calculated, resulting in a shortfall in the fund.)

          The Church was fortunate that it had some laymen with great financial expertise and they set about constructing a permanent fund from which the clergy could be paid. Some of this was derived from donations by benefactors, but a large part of it was obtained by persuading the annuitants to surrender their 3% annuity to the managers of the Fund who would continue to pay them at 3% but would invest the capital at 4% or even 4½%. (This too was a very complex subject for which the clergy was divided into different categories.) There was also an assessment on each parish. In 1903 it was felt necessary to seek further money from the local churches, hence the articles in the Gazette at that time. By 1903 the return from land had fallen sharply and it was no longer possible to lend mortgages to landowners at 4%. In 1920 it was noted that on the glebe lands which must be cultivated by hired labour, the minimum wage for which was then fixed at 30/- a week, were no longer profitable. The Wages Board allowed a deduction of 15/- a week for living-in workmen, so that still 15/- a week had to be paid; under these circumstances glebe lands of 10 or 15 acres brought in no revenue. Buying them back was proved to be a mistake. The revenue from investments was by then £100,000 less than was actually required, so this sum had to be contributed by the laity. Many curates were getting less than the £184 of the Presbyterian clergy (Church of Ireland Gazette 18 December 1903; 9 January 1920; 12 March 1920). The Catholic Freeman’s Journal, resurrecting an old argument of Cardinal Cullen, claimed in 1903 that the £8 million (sic) given to the Protestant Church was really Catholic money.

          On 26 July 1869 the Irish Church Act (1869) became law and on the 18th August the archbishops of Dublin and Armagh convened a national synod. The two provincial synods when joined together formed the convocation which had fallen into abeyance since the time of Queen Anne (1702-1714). (Convocation was composed only of members of the clergy; with the decision to admit representatives of the laity it became known as a convention.) It assembled under the Lord Primate Marcus Beresford, and continued in session for three days, in accordance  with  precedent sitting as two houses; the Upper and Lower; the Upper consisted of the archbishops  and bishops; the Lower of the deans and archdeacons, and representatives of the clergy, some  elected by the  chapters, and some by the clergy. A meeting of the laity asked the archbishops to convoke a conference of the laity which they did, and it met in October. From these separate meetings committees were appointed to draft an act of constitution, standing orders, and a finance report to be submitted to a general convention in which the bishops, clergy, and laity would be represented. Diocesan synods were immediately held to elect delegates; the clergy voting for clerical delegates, the laity for lay.


          [1870] The General Convention met on 15th February 1870 and continued for 4 days, and after an adjournment for a further 16 days. There were considerable fears with regard to the admission of laymen for the first time; but despite at times heated debates, these proved groundless (Church of Ireland Gazette 1 Feb 1901). (Catholic practice with regard to synods was somewhat different. I was told by a parish priest who was summoned to a diocesan synod in Armagh about 1950 that they all met, the decrees of the synod were read out, and the clergy were asked did the agree. They all said Yes, and went in to dinner!)

          There was a call, chiefly from members of the laity, for a revision of the Prayer Book as approved and adopted at the synod held in Dublin in 1662. This led to a sharp disagreement. Ostensibly the call was to revise and make plain a few words. However these changes were to be made to make clear that Jesus was not present in the Holy Sacrament other than by faith. This reaction to the Oxford Movement came from the Evangelical wing who objected to the changes being made in a few churches in Dublin. Some bishops strongly objected to the proposed changes which, they said, would try to make plain what was not plain in the Scriptures. There was no evidence, they maintained, whether Jesus was present other than by faith, but also there was no evidence that he was not. For their part they wished to do whatever the Ancient Church had done, and to believe what Augustine and the other Fathers of the Church believed, however obscure they might find it. The discussions continued until 1878 and such revisions as were made left it open to a personal belief in transubstantiation and the Real Presence of Jesus. This latter however continued to be very much a minority view.

          The Catholics were little affected by the Act. The annual Parliamentary grant to the principal seminary for students to the priesthood, the Royal College of Maynooth, was commuted to a lump sum. Lay visitors like the Lord Chancellor or the Duke of Leinster ceased to have any rights of inspection, and it passed totally under the control of the Irish bishops. (Totally means that even the President of Maynooth College, a senior priest and theologian, was excluded.) The Presbyterians were rather more affected. The Regium Donum, a royal bounty, to supplement the income of Presbyterian clergy, and which was first paid in 1690, was also commuted to a lump sum. Again the actuaries calculated very narrowly and ministers found their income reduced. The Presbyterians established a Sustentation Fund, and by 1920 the minimum income of a minister was £184 though the average was much higher. The Presbyterian Church was the greatest beneficiary of the increasing wealth of Belfast. The local church was supposed to contribute as well. In the same year the Church of Ireland was proposing an annual stipend of £400 (The New Witness 20 Jan; 25 May 1920).


          Gladstone then rushed headlong into his next foray into Irish affairs. Whether he was cynical or naïve is hard to determine. But he initiated a series of Acts which made a mockery of landowner-tenant relations, and instituted a form of unworkable dual-ownership, especially the Land Act (1870). As the Tories realised, it made the sale of the land to the tenants inevitable. Whether any of this was of benefit to Ireland at a time when the Danes were seizing their export markets can only be doubted.

          It was not a case, as depicted in Irish nationalist mythology, of harsh foreign landlords grinding down or evicting impoverished smallholders (see above Chapter One). Previous  to  the  1881 Act the majority of landlords did all they could to improve their tenant's holdings by  fencing, draining, liming, giving  prizes and exhibitions etc; model farms  were found on all  the large estates where advanced farming  was  demonstrated  free (Farmers’ Gazette 16 Jan. 1904). The Tenant Right Associations had more in common with craft unions in highly-skilled trades. They wanted gold-plated leases, and largely got them. In the easy-going old days a tenancy could remain in the same family for generations whether the tenant was making the best use of the land or not. The in the nineteenth century landlords began to improve their estates, often bringing in Scottish managers who would try to get the best return from the land. Now, by this Act, the landlord would not be free to offer the piece of land to better farmer, nor was he allowed to raise the rent. This was to be fixed independently. The adjudicator was not allowed to compare the rent of the farm with local rents, nor to decide what rent a good farmer could pay, but only what this farmer could achieve. If the landlord or his agent decided not to renew the lease, full compensation had to be paid to the out-going tenant for all his improvements. To work properly, this would require that the whole land with its buildings, fences, drains, houses and outhouses be valued at the beginning and at the end of a lease. In practice it was quite possible for a lazy farmer with a twenty-year lease to neglect gates, drains, fences etc. for nineteen years, and to allow the value of the farm to deteriorate over that period, Then in the twentieth year he could clear out the drains, repair the hedges, whitewash the sheds, and present the whole lot as his own work. If the landlord did not renew the lease then the out-going tenant had to be compensated for his ‘improvements’.

          About the time of the Famine, it was estimated that the productivity of land in one part of Connaught was four times as high on the landlord’s demesne lands which he was cultivating himself than on the land leased to tenants. A century later, the Irish Sugar Company in Leinster found that some farmers to whom they had supplied seed were getting four times the yield as other farmers on the same land in the same district. The company was intrigued and sent out inspectors. The best farmers were ploughing at the optimum time, carefully cultivating the soil to produce a fine tilth, adding lime and fertiliser, sowing the seed at the best rate at the best time, and carefully weeding. The worst farmers were ploughing late, doing the minimum cultivation, sowing carelessly, and neglecting weeding. (This is not  the place to discuss why this was so, ill-health, the need to borrow a horse or a seed-drill, etc, but merely with the fact than some were better farmers than others and by a very wide margin. The Farmers’ Gazette 2 January 1904 made a similar point.)

          In 1850, some Irish landlords and some Irish tenants were among the most advanced farmers in the world. The Irish shorthorn cow and the Irish Draft horse were among the best.  But when one reads the reports of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS) forty years later it is astonishing to find how Irish farmers failed to keep up with developments on the Continent and in the United States. Eggs being sold were stale, butter salty and rancid, bacon too fat, and milk-yields too low. A rational policy would have allowed some form of market to weed out the poorer farmers and reward the better ones while allowing the landowners a reasonable share of the increased market value of his land.

          Not all of these defects can be attributed to Gladstone’s Land Act (1870) which was a modest affair. It recognised tenant right, and got  legal compensation if the tenants were turned out by the landlord, and  for any improvements they allegedly made; no new  rights were given and none  taken away from the landlords. The tenants felt that the Act was so biased towards the landlord interest that it was worthless (Colles, History of Ulster, IV 212, Burke, Industrial History, 303-4; Curtis, History of Ireland, 375). Though it recognised ‘Ulster Custom’ in areas where it prevailed, it did not define it, and the onus was on the tenant to prove that it applied in his case. The significance of the Land Act (1870) as well as the Education Act and the Disestablishment Act was that they showed that Gladstone could be pushed in any direction. This belief was reinforced when Gladstone announced an amnesty for Fenians serving long sentences provided they were willing to live outside the United Kingdom. (The baleful effects of this latter concession persist to the present day where it is still widely believed that Britain will cave into terrorist pressure and then any terrorist will be released on an amnesty.)


          A meeting of assorted Liberals, Conservatives, Repealers and Fenians met in Dublin on 19 May 1870 and launched a Home Government Association, and Isaac Butt, the Protestant barrister who had been prominent in defending Fenians was chosen leader. The various Liberals and Conservatives were disgusted with Gladstone, either for doing too much or not doing enough (Walker, Ulster Politics, 79-80). It adopted the name Home Rule League in 1873.

          An outbreak of agrarian crime which the police could not control necessitated the passing of the Peace Preservation Act (1870) which contained special clauses against sedition in the press. Like most pieces of anti-terrorist legislation (as it is called nowadays) this Act was temporary. Following a further outbreak the following year in Count Westmeath a similar Act called the ‘Westmeath Act’ (1871) was passed which allowed for the suspension of Habeas Corpus. Also in 1871 there was a riot in the Phoenix Park when Lord Spencer was entertaining the Prince of Wales (DNB, Spencer, Compton Cavendish). The Party Processions Act (1850) was repealed.


          The newspaper scene was changing fast. The Dublin Evening Post folded in 1875 and was replaced as the Liberal organ by the Northern Whig of Belfast. Saunders’ Newsletter lasted until 1879. The Evening Mail (Conservative) and the Freeman’s Journal (Nationalist) lasted into the 20th century. The most ancient of all Ireland’s newspapers, the Belfast Newsletter (Unionist) survives to this day.

          The Belfast Telegraph was started by William Baird during the Franco-Prussian War. The French emperor, Napoleon III, declared war on Prussia on July 19, 1870. At that date there were only 5 evening newspapers in the United Kingdom, all started within the previous two years. A notice was put out that a new evening paper was to be published in Belfast and Baird concluded that it was to come from the premises next to those of the Belfast Newsletter where the Banner of Ulster had been published until 1869. Baird and his brother rushed through the project they had been mulling over and brought out the Belfast Evening Telegraph. It was Conservative and the first half-penny newspaper published in Ireland. Baird and his brother thus anticipated their Presbyterian rival by a week. Mr Baird was an ardent Irish Churchman. Much space was devoted in the Telegraph to news of the churches. Ulster would not be the same without the Tele (Church of Ireland Gazette 18 Sept. 1920; the same is true to this day where nothing has officially happened until it appears in the Tele). The Belfast Morning News which started 1855 was the first penny newspaper published in Ireland. The Irish Times was started in 1859 and also claimed to be the first penny newspaper in Ireland. It was the organ of moderate Protestant opinion and Liberal Unionist after the split in the Liberal Party over Home Rule. The Irish Independent was started in 1891 as the organ of moderate nationalism. The Independent was bought in 1904 by the redoubtable William Martin Murphy whose businesses included Dublin’s trams, and who faced down the formidable syndicalists in Larkin’s strike in 1913. The Independent absorbed the Nation and the Freeman’s Journal.


          For the Catholic Church the years 1869-70 were the years of the Vatican Council which came to an abrupt end when the Piedmontese army occupied Rome. (Italy was at that time ‘a geographical expression’.) There was little controversy in Ireland with regard to infallibility. The definition of the personal infallibility put an end to a dispute dating back to the Council of Constance (1414-18) which deposed three claimants to the papal throne. The question then arose at that time whether an ecumenical council superior to a Pope. The theory that the council was superior was called Conciliarism. In the post-Reformation period most theologians and bishops outside France backed the formulation of St Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) which was eventually confirmed in the Vatican Council, that the Pope with the Church and speaking for the Church was personally infallible. In France the ‘Gallican’ theologians still held on to Conciliarism. The long struggle for Catholic Emancipation however was made more difficult because one English Vicar Apostolic Dr John Milner of the Western District constantly accused the leading Catholic lawyer Charles Butler of being a Gallican. We know that in Maynooth from 1820 onwards the professor of theology, Dr John MacHale, was teaching Bellarmine’s formulation.

          The Vatican Council was in preparation for four years and in reply to a questionnaire most bishops agreed that a Council was necessary to pronounce on modern errors. A Bull of Convocation Aeterni Patris was promulgated on 29 June 1868 appointing the 8 December 1869 for the opening date. It soon became clear that Papal Infallibility would be one of the chief topics. When it opened the oldest bishop present was Archbishop John MacHale of Tuam. Travel conditions were now very different from when he had made his ad limina visit over thirty years earlier. A continuous line of railways and steam ships connected Tuam with Rome. Very few of the bishops had any doubt about the doctrine of the Pope’s infallibility, but about a fifth of their number considered a definition inexpedient at that time. Cardinal Cullen was in favour of proceeding with the definition, so predictably Archbishop MacHale was against. (MacHale was against everyone. He spoke and voted against defining the doctrine, but did not vote in the last ballot. On his return to his diocese he publicly accepted the new dogma.) On Monday, 18 July, 1870, one day before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, 435 fathers of the Council assembled at St. Peter's under the presidency of Pope Pius IX. The last vote was now taken; 433 fathers voted placet ( I am satisfied), and only two, Bishop Aloisio Riccio of Cajazzo, Italy, and Bishop Edward Fitzgerald of Little Rock, Arkansas, voted non placet (I am not satisfied).

          The definition read ‘[We] teach and define, as a Divinely revealed dogma, that the Roman pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when he, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, decides that a doctrine concerning faith or morals is to be held by the entire Church, he possesses, in consequence of the Divine aid promised him in St. Peter, that infallibility with which the Divine Saviour wished to have His Church furnished for the definition of doctrine concerning faith or morals; and that such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not in consequence of the Church's consent, irreformable" (Catholic Encyclopaedia ‘Vatican Council’).

          Profiting by the French defeat at Sedan 1 September 1870 the Government of Piedmont took the final step in the unification of Italy under Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy by sending their troops into what was left of the Papal States, the area immediately surrounding Rome. The eighty ninth session was held on 1st September 1870. On 8th September the Piedmontese troops entered the Papal States at several points and on 20th September entered Rome through the Porta Pia. The Pope retired into the Vatican, and successive Popes did not leave it until the Concordat with Mussolini in 1929. But for nearly a century there was a strong anticlerical spirit in the Italian state. (The state of Italy did not in fact interfere with the various Roman Offices and Congregations scattered around the city, and ecclesiastical life continued as normal. The King of England could visit both the King of Italy and the Pope by starting each journey from the British Embassy.) Gladstone wrote a pamphlet in 1874 attacking the Council to which Cardinal Newman, Cardinal Manning and Bishop Ullathorne replied (Newman DNB).


          Two Acts dealing with trade unions were passed in 1871. A Trades’ Union Act (1871) allowed peaceful unions to register themselves as Friendly Societies and receive protection for their funds. Membership of a union was not illegal merely because it was a restraint of trade. Another Act, the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1871) made picketing illegal, and molestation and intimidation crimes. When the Tories under Disraeli came in they passed the Employers and Workmen Act (1875) replacing the Master and Servant Act (1867); the change in terminology is very significant. A breach of contract was no longer to be a criminal matter but a civil dispute. Both contracting parties could sue each other on equal terms. A Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act (1875) legalised peaceful picketing and the principle laid down that no act by a group was illegal unless the act was illegal if performed by an individual. The ancient laws against combination and conspiracy were removed (Briggs and Jordan, Economic History of England, 432-437). These Acts applied to Ireland. The number of unions increased in Ireland but they were peaceful (Boyd, Irish Trade Unions, 67-8).

          No action had been taken under the 1867 Tramways Act so horse-drawn omnibuses were continued. In 1871 an Act of Parliament, the Dublin Tramways Act (1871) was obtained by a new company the Dublin Tramways Company and 17½ miles of track were sanctioned. A box-rail was spiked to wooden longitudinal sleepers cross tied, and square granite setts were placed between, and for 18 ins outside; this paving  was done by the company, the streets previously being macadamised. The uneven surface of the setts gave a better and more lasting grip for the horses’ hooves. By February 1872 the line from Terenure, a southern suburb, to Stephen's Green 2½ miles was opened; by August 1874 16 miles were running. In 1875 the North Dublin Tramways Company was launched, and in 1878 the Central Dublin Tramways Company obtained permission to run lines some in direct competition with the older company. The competition was so intense that the three companies amalgamated in 1881 (Irish Engineering Review October 1904). A Dublin Sanitary Association was formed in 1872 and led a crusade against filth and degradation; it was strongly opposed by the Public Health officials. The Sanitary Association commended the work of the Artisans' Dwelling Company, but said their six blocks were just small oases in the desert of squalor which made Dublin a by-word among the cities of Europe. In 1853 the city engineer urged the necessity of sewers to prevent the fouling of the Liffey; sixteen years later in 1869 the Corporation had got round to adopting plans for the necessary works; six years later still the government offered to advance half a million to enable  the  work to be done. The new sewers however ran into the Liffey which became much polluted. Finally, about 1900 a main drainage scheme for Dublin was commenced. Over the next forty years Dublin was to acquire the worst housing and slums in Europe, while the rapidly growing Belfast had few slums.

          [1872] The Poor Law Commission, by the Local Government (Ireland) Act (1872), was made the Local Government Board. This Board was to become one of the most important of Government departments. Its duties were enormously increased by the Public Health Acts (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 79 gives a partial list of the duties eventually heaped on it). The Local Government Board now had supervision of the Boards of Guardians. The Ballot Act (1872) was aimed chiefly against bribery, for there was no point on bribing a voter if you did not know how he actually voted. The same applied to intimidation or victimisation. It has become an essential part of modern democracy. The Ballot Act was limited by the Lords to eight years, but when the time for renewal came up was made permanent.

          By an Act in 1873 proposed by Henry Fawcett aided by Hugh Cairns all religious tests in Trinity College with regard to fellowships, including the provostship and higher degrees but excluding professors and lecturers in divinity, were abolished. Gladstone then decided to do something about university education in Ireland. His Irish Universities Bill (1873) proposed a non-denominational university in Dublin. It would have as its constituent colleges, Trinity College, Dublin and the Queen’s Colleges in Belfast and Cork. Magee Presbyterian College in Londonderry and the Catholic University in Dublin should be affiliated colleges. He refused state assistance to any denominational college, thus excluding the Catholic University; he also excluded moral philosophy, metaphysics, and modern history from the course. In 1873 it was noted that Galway College had decreased from 144 students in 1861 to 141 in 1871;  with these  figures it was larger that all but two of the 17 colleges in Cambridge. Fawcett opposed the Bill on the grounds that it favoured denominational education and spoke strongly against Gladstone’s Bill. This proved a fatal blow to Gladstone’s ministry which was rapidly losing support. Disraeli referred to the ministers as ‘a range of exhausted volcanoes’. Gladstone, by each measure of reform, had offended some interest, the brewers, the army, the clergy, the Nonconformists, the Trade Unions, and the Catholic Bishops who wanted support for denominational education (Richards and Hunt, Modern Britain, 189). Gladstone sought a general election and lost heavily. The Conservatives were returned with their first workable majority since the days of Peel.

          About this time both the Conservative and Liberal Parties began to construct national organisations which could direct or control the local county organisations which were themselves quite sketchy and only called into being at election time. The Home Rule movement in Ireland broadened its appeal by including the land and education questions. With regard to land it favoured Tenant Right and with regard to education it favoured the denominational approach (Walker Ulster Politics 91). The Ulster Liberal Society formed in 1865 played an active role in establishing local branches, giving them instruction and advice and some financial aid. The Home Rule Association, based in Dublin, did not. Nor did Tenant Right Associations always back Home Rule. The Liberals in Ulster fully backed Tenant Right. Among the Conservatives the old way of proceeding by leaving organisation in the hands of the local grandees mostly continued though some Conservative Associations were established. The Catholic clergy were fully behind Home Rule candidates, and they claimed to have 59 members returned. But many of these were Liberals who gave a general adhesion Home Rule to get themselves elected (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 153). One Home Rule candidate, J.G. Biggar in County Cavan declared that Ireland would never rise from her present state of stagnation until she had her native Parliament (Walker, loc. cit.). Ireland, of course, had never been so prosperous. Only two Home Rule candidates were elected in Ulster where the Conservatives won 21 out of the 29 seats. [TOP]         

The Ministry February 1874 to April 1880 (Conservative) 

Prime Minister             Benjamin Disraeli (2nd Ministry)

Home Secretary           Sir Richard Crosse

Lord Lieutenant          Duke of Abercorn; Dec 1876 Duke of Marlborough

Chief Secretary             Sir Michael Hicks Beach; Feb 1878 James Lowther

Under Secretary           Thomas Burke 

          [February 1874] Richard Assheton Cross (later 1st Viscount Crosse) had no connection with Ireland, but was the figure behind the great social reforms of Disraeli’s second ministry. He was later overshadowed by Lord Randolph Churchill who heartily disliked him. John Winston Spencer Churchill, 6th Duke of Marlborough, was married to a daughter of the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry. His third son was Lord Randolph Churchill, and his grandson was Winston Churchill. The Chief Secretary’s name was Hicks Beach but with no hyphen. Though he had no connection with Ireland he was much in sympathy with the social policies of Crosse and Disraeli. In 1876 he was given a seat in the cabinet. He was succeeded in 1878 by James Lowther from Yorkshire. He was not in the cabinet and when the troubles of the Land League began was regarded as subordinate to the Duke of Marlborough.

          Gladstone, following the defeat resigned the leadership of the Liberal Party, and the Marquis of Hartington was chosen to succeed him. Gladstone was always interested in ecclesiastical affairs and threw himself into a debate on a Bill to suppress ritualism, which had developed out of the Oxford Movement. He also opposed Disraeli’s Eastern policy and detested the Turks. In a pamphlet against the Turks he wrote a passage which was to delight schoolboys for years to come: ‘let the Turks now carry away their abuses in the only possible manner, namely by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and the Mudins, their Bimbashis and their Yuzhashis, their kaimakams and their pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall I hope clear out from the province [Bulgaria] they have desolated and profaned (Richards and Hunt Modern Britain 195). In another oft-quoted passage Disraeli described Gladstone as ‘a sophistical rhetorician inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and glorify himself’ (op. cit. 201).

          The Employers and Workmen Act (1875) has already been noted. Before this the Factory Act (1874) cut the working week from 60 hours to 56 hours, which allowed a six-hour day on Saturdays, a point of great importance for football leagues. The Artisans’ Dwellings Act (1875) allowed local authorities to clear slums and build new houses. Joseph Chamberlain, the mayor of Birmingham, took full advantage of this Act. The Public Health Act (1875) codified over a hundred different statutes and laid the basis for public health policy for the next fifty years. The Merchant Shipping Act (1876) is famous for introducing the ‘Plimsoll line’ which indicated the safe loading depth for a vessel. It was not however until 1890 that the Board of Trade was empowered to decide where the line would be. The Factory and Workshops Act (1878) abolished the distinction between factories and workshops and made them all subject to the Factory Acts. The supervision of the factories was transferred to a factory inspectorate (Richards and Hunt, Modern Britain, 190-193; Briggs and Jordan, Economic History, 547).

          The Dentists’ Act (1878) allowed the setting up of a body to regulate the practice of dentistry and to keep a Dentists’ Register of qualified dentists. The British Dental Association was formed the following year (James Smith Turner DNB).

          The Public Health Acts around this time showed an increasing awareness of causes of sickness from unsanitary housing, lack of clean water and proper disposal of sewage, the spread of infection, the sale of contaminated meat and so on. Some of the powers were not new. Mayors in towns for example had long a duty to inspect the meat markets.  But it was now realised that the problem would have to be tackled on a wider scale. Most of Ireland was covered by dispensary districts, and the dispensary doctor was made the Medical Officer of Health. It was not expected that they would be able to do much unless a particular nuisance was reported to them. But the Act was chiefly focussed on the larger towns and cities, and also on the growing suburbs of Dublin, which were largely built-up areas, but not under either the Corporation of Dublin, or the two big Poor Law Unions. In these the provision of clean water, proper sewers, and where they did not exist, proper scavenging were the chief aims.

          The Public Health Act (1878) was the most important Act dealing with local government before the Act in 1898 which established County Councils. It consolidated various provisions of earlier Acts. The sanitary laws concerned the supply of pure water, adequate street lighting, regulating public clocks, and providing and regulating markets and slaughterhouses (County Councils Gazette 5,12,19,26 January 1900). The Act vested all sewers with the local sanitary authority, with some exceptions. By the Act, within the areas, all new houses must have water closets, earth closets, or privies; scavenging and rubbish collection was made the duty of the health authority, subject to orders of the Local Government Board. Those who kept pig sties and other nuisances might be prosecuted. The dispensary district, (oddly not the Poor Law Union) was made the unit but large towns and cities could be the sanitary district. By it the medical officers of the dispensary districts were made medical officers of health, and additional salaries were paid in respect of sanitary duties. The sanitary districts survived as administrative units even after the county councils were formed though some of their powers were transferred to Local District Councils (County Councils Gazette 2 Feb 1900). There were two Poor Law Unions in Dublin, but the city itself was the sanitary authority. The suburban districts of Clontarf, Druncondra, Clonliffe, and Glasnevin, Grangegorman, and Kilmainham were separate sanitary districts. Belfast was a single sanitary district, the authorities of which were the Mayor, Aldermen, and burgesses of the town council. They immediately commenced a full sewage scheme (Allison, The Seeds of Time, 160) and constructed public baths. All were subject to the Local Government Board.

          The Act conferred large powers on all urban authorities to regulate fairs and markets, and authorised the making of by-laws to control all markets and fairs, prevent nuisances etc (Irish Law Times 20 January 1900). The Sanitary Authority could make by-laws to control building. It could regulate or provide cemeteries. Loans were available for the provision of clean water and sewers. A Royal Commission was appointed to examine the sewerage and drainage of Dublin. At the  same  time  the Dublin Corporation, acting as the  urban  sanitary  authority under the Public Health (Ireland) Act 1878,  reorganised its  department of public health originally established in  1866 and published a comprehensive  set of  by-laws. A Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1880 attributed the excessive mortality to the deplorable condition of the tenement houses, the improper construction of the house drains, the unsanitary condition of the dairy-yards and slaughter-houses, the want of convalescent hospitals, the concealment of infectious diseases, the absence of a disinfecting apparatus, and the intemperate and filthy habits of the people. The findings of the Royal Commission added to these criticisms of private failure the criticism of the inadequate scavenging of the streets, their imperfect paving, the absence of baths and washhouses, and the fact that the Medical Officer of Health was not a full time post (Warder 31 Mar 1900).


          The Supreme Court of Judicature (Ireland) Act (1877) followed the similar Act in England in 1873. The Queen’s Four Courts, the Court of Queen’s Bench, Court of Common Pleas, Court of Exchequer, and the Court of Chancery, along with lesser courts like the Probate Court, Matrimonial Causes and Matters (both formerly ecclesiastical courts), the Admiralty Court and the Land Court were abolished, In their place was constituted a High Court and a Court of Appeal. The High Court was divided into a Chancery division with the Lord Chancellor, a Vice-Chancellor, the Master of the Rolls, and the Land Court; the Queen’s Bench division consisted of the Lord Chief Justice, the Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and judges for probate, admiralty, bankruptcy and other judges.

          By 1900 the courts were ordered as follows. The first was the High Court of Appeal.Next came the High Court of Justice, divided into the Chancery and Queen's Bench divisions. The Chancery Division consisted of the Lord Chancellor’s Court, the Rolls Court, the Vice-Chancellor's Court, the Consolidated Taxing Officers under Masters in Chancery, and the Land Judges under Mr Justice Ross. The Queen’s Bench Division was divided into a Crown Side and a Civil Side, a Bankruptcy division, an Admiralty division, a Land Commission Court, and Probate division.

          The Lord Chancellor dealt with cases in lunacy. Jurors were summoned from the city and county of Dublin, and matters could be dealt with in chambers or in court. (In medieval times chambers were rooms indoors, while the court was outside in the courtyard.) The hearings of the Land Commission were heard before commissioners; Nisi prius cases were heard in the Queen's Bench division; bankruptcy cases could be heard before the Justice, the Chief Registrar, or the Chief Clerk (Legal Diary 1900). The Crown Side represented the old King’s Bench and the Civil Side the old Common Pleas. The various judges in the old courts retained their places in the corresponding new courts. The functions of the Exchequer Court were distributed among the others, but the Barons retained their titles while they lived.

          The Sale of Food and Drugs Act (1875) and the Margarine Act (1887), and others contained powers to regulate the sale of pure food and drugs. The Rivers Pollution Prevention Act (1876) prohibited the discharge of sewage or foul matter into streams. By an Act in 1879 Irish time was made legally distinct from Greenwich Time, to deal with matters like signing wills. The O’Conor Don was responsible for the passing of the Sunday Closing (Ireland) Act (1879). In 1875 the Peace Preservation Act came up for renewal, and it was strongly opposed by a Home Ruler MP Joseph Biggar who had been elected for County Cavan in 1874, and who rapidly became one of the leading obstructionists in Parliament. He had been born a Presbyterian but had become a Catholic. In 1875 he joined the Irish Republic Brotherhood (IRB) and was elected to its supreme council, but was expelled in 1877 for failing to break his connection with the parliamentary party. In 1879 he was elected one of the Treasurers of the Land League.


          [1877] In 1877 in Belfast veterinary surgeon, John Boyd Dunlop, invented the pneumatic tyre, perhaps second only to the internal combustion engine for assisting transport on land. A local cycling club used them in a contest against a club from Dublin and won every race. Soon all racing cyclists were demanding them. He moved his factory to Dublin, but later to Coventry in England which was the centre of the bicycle industry. The National Library got that name in 1877, before which it was the library of the Royal Dublin Society. It was put under the Committee of Council on Education" [Privy Council] and meagrely supported. However it continued to be housed by the Royal Dublin Society in Leinster House while the building to house it was completed.

          Mrs Anna Maria Haslam, Ireland's leading suffragette was Honourable Secretary of the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association since its formation in 1874. She was born in Youghal, County Cork, a daughter of Mr Albert Fisher a corn merchant and Quaker, and was educated Waterford and York where she qualified as a teacher. In 1846 she assisted in famine relief and began the knitting and crochet school later run by the Presentation Sisters, Youghal. She married Mr Thomas Haslam, and in1866 signed the first women’s suffrage petition. She took a particular interest in the election of women to various local boards and municipalities, and advocated higher education for women. She co-operated in the formation of the Association of Irish Schoolmistresses, and owing to her efforts and those of her colleagues Alexandra College was founded and Trinity College Dublin opened to women (Weekly Irish Times 10 February 1912; Sarah Emily Davies DNB). The Russell-Gurney Enabling Act (1876) or Medical Qualifications Act (1876) gave power to all medical examining boards to examine women for medical qualifications. The Irish College of Physicians was the first to use the power and Sophia Jex-Blake in 1877 was the first woman to gain British medical qualifications and the right to practice medicine in the United Kingdom. This was the culmination of a campaign begun 25 years earlier (DNB Elizabeth Garrett, Emily Davies, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson). These medical degrees anticipated those of the Royal University.

          Since the year 1875 when the Teachers' Residences Act (1875) came into force 1352 applications for loans and 72 applications for grants had been approved; but no  provision was yet made for the vast bulk of the teachers. The number of free residences available to teachers from the managers’ returns was 1210 out of a total of 8670 residences (Irish Teachers Journal 20 Oct 1900. The 1875 Act was permissive, and little used; it allowed the issue of loans not exceeding £250 to managers of non-vested schools; an Act in 1879 extended this to vested schools; later the provision was extended to all schools. One problem was the difficulty in securing sites and leases from the landlords. In 1892 compulsory purchase was authorised, and in 1893 this was made dependent on an order from the Lord Lieutenant. Thus in 28 years 5 Acts were passed. They had two defects; one was the smallness of the sum allowed and the other was the short time allowed for re-payment (Irish Teachers Journal 12 Jan 1901).

          Sir Patrick Keenan was made the Resident Commissioner of National Education in 1871 and held that office until 1894. At the end of that period he suffered much ill-health, and it was felt that his work suffered. He was a Catholic from Dublin, who was trained as a monitor in the Board’s Central Model School. He rose through the ranks, unlike most commissioners who were university graduates, becoming an inspector in 1848, head inspector in 1855, chief of inspection in 1859 and Resident Commissioner in 1871. The Resident Commissioner was the administrator of the Board; the other Commissioners merely attended Board meetings. The teachers regarded him as one of themselves, and he recognised the Irish National Teachers Organisation. As a Catholic he often had to mediate between the Government and the Catholic bishops. The ‘Payment by Results’ policy was introduced into Irish schools in 1872. He got the Board to recognise the teaching of the Irish language as an official subject in 1879. The great point in favour of payment by results was that it was not subjective. Standard tests were set with standard scores. The inspector just filled in the numbers and was not asked for his evaluation. Under the previous system an inspector who disliked a teacher could submit an unfavourable report. On the other hand at times it led to just coaching in spelling and arithmetic to the detriment of educating the children.

          A great desideratum of the teacher’s unions, namely pensions for national teachers, was secured under the National Teachers (Ireland) Act (1879). If a teacher was not able to save enough to acquire a house with a little patch of land he was liable to end his days in the poor house. The Act of 1879 aimed at giving the teacher a pension equal to two thirds of his income.  There was an annual contribution, the teacher providing one fourth and the state three fourths. Obviously there was no hope of getting a contribution from the employers, the clerical managers. To meet their obligation the state set aside £1,300,000 derived from the Irish Church temporalities, which along with later grants formed the Endowment Fund. The premiums of the teachers were placed in the Contribution Account, and the £1,300,000 was placed with the Land Commission in 3% guarantee stock yielding £39,000 p.a. (The property of the Established Church was thus being used twice, to provide money for land purchase in the short term and for pensions in the longer term.) Prior to the passing of the Act the Treasury awarded gratuities to retiring teachers and in 1879 these amounted to £7,200 actuarially worth about £400,000. Women were permitted to retire at 61 and men at 65; in 1885 men who had  served 40 years might retire at 61 (Irish School Weekly 22 April 1922). As time went on it became clear that the fund was becoming insolvent, so to meet the shortfall, contributions were raised by 150% and maximum pensions were reduced by 25%. The privilege of retiring after 40 years completed service was withdrawn; the Treasury agreed to give £18,000 p.a. to the Pension Fund from 1897-8. An improved pension scheme was introduced in 1914.

          [1878] The foundation of the University of London (1826) marked a number of new departures in the British system of higher education. For one its matriculation examination was used as the first nationwide school-leaving certificate, which was the origin of the School Certificate and the General Certificate of Education. In 1878 the Intermediate Education Act (1878) was passed, the only education Act the Catholic bishops ever approved of. It was based partly on the industrial schools and partly on payment by results. An Intermediate Education Board was established to administer the Act. As in England, intermediate or grammar schools were in private hands, often under the direction of churchmen. Even public schools usually had a clergyman as headmaster. Though the geographical spread of secondary schools was very patchy, no Government at this time considered providing its own secondary schools. By 1869 there were 46 endowed Protestant classical schools and 47 Catholic classical schools. Of the latter  22 of which were diocesan, and 25 controlled by the Regular Clergy. Of these the Jesuits had 5, the Carmelites 5, the Vincentians 3, Holy Ghost Order 2, 5 under other Orders and 5 under teaching Brothers. In 1878 the sum of £1 million was taken from the funds of the Disestablished Church to form an endowment for all Intermediate schools, whether Catholic or Protestant, boys or girls. This sum was subsequently largely increased. From the first the funds were administered by the Intermediate Education Board which was merely an examining body.  By 1921 350 schools benefited from its grants, and of these 250 were Catholic (Irish School Weekly 26 Nov 1921; Dowling, Irish Education, 133). At first the Intermediate Board had to rely on the inspectors of the Science and Art Department, South Kensington, but gradually acquired their own. The grants were paid equally to girls’ schools.

          The moneys granted to the head teachers were in proportion to the results in the Board’s examinations. This allowed a large number of schools to develop even if the teachers were very poorly paid. They were not as well organised into unions as the primary teachers. The Intermediate teachers were entirely dependent for their income on their results; consequently with them ‘cramming’ was reduced to a fine art. The temptation to cram in the national schools was never as great, because part of the salary was independent of results. Accusations of cramming led to changes which were introduced by the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Act (1900). However, under the Intermediate Board, some religious bodies like the Irish Christian Brothers could provide a full grammar school education including Latin for fees of not more than £3 or £4 a year. Small farmers, small shopkeepers, and teachers could take advantage of their exceptionally low fees while the sons of the strong farmers, professional people and business men went to the colleges run by the Jesuits, Carmelites, etc at somewhat higher fees. Many students were sent to secondary school for a few years only. (There was a celebrated remark many years later when one branch of Sinn Fein called Fianna Fail took over from the other branch called Cumann na nGael, that it was a change of government from the Jesuits to the Christian Brothers. It was an acute sociological remark.)

          In 1878 Cardinal Cullen died and Archbishop MacHale in 1881. Cullen was succeeded by Cardinal M’Cabe who accepted a place in the senate of the Royal University. MacHale’s successor, John MacEvilly, quickly sought the aid of the National Board because of the deplorable state of the schools.


          [1879] Disraeli now decided to try his hand at solving the impasse in Irish University Education. The Catholic bishops had steadfastly set their faces against the Queen’s Colleges while the Catholic University was not prospering. Dr. John Henry Newman, who retired in 1858, was succeeded successively in the rectorial Chair by Dr. Woodlock, Dr. Neville, Dr. Molloy, and Dr. O'Donnell. It is said that £250,000, subscribed mainly in Ireland and America, was collected and expended upon the university. After providing buildings and equipment, that sum would allow little over £8000 a year during the quarter of a century that elapsed before the fellowships of the Royal University were made available. Monsignor Molloy was a noted figure in Irish education. In 1882 the Catholic University passed under Jesuit control, and of the twenty-eight fellowships of £400 a year founded by the Royal University (below) fifteen were given to the Catholic University staff. With this slender indirect endowment it entered the lists with the Queen's Colleges and beat them all (‘Catholic University’, Catholic Encyclopaedia).

          An Irish Catholic nationalist MP, the O’Conor Don, introduced a private Bill to deal with the problem. His solution had the support of almost every section of Irish political opinion. The idea was to have a university, like London University following its Supplementary charter in 1849 which allowed it, following success in its examinations, to confer degrees on students from any college in the British Empire. This had enormous success worldwide in developing education in those parts of the Empire, and they were many, which had no universities of their own. In 1858 even those not enrolled in any institution were allowed to sit for its examinations. He withdrew his Bill when the Government decided to introduce a Bill on the same lines itself.

          The University Education (Ireland) Act (1879) was duly passed. It dissolved the Queen’s University which linked the three Queen’s Colleges together and conferred the degrees, and established the Royal University as a similar examining body. Like London University it could accept candidates for its examinations from anywhere, including England, which was to be of some importance for women. Its Senate, the majority of which was nominated by the crown were empowered to elect thirty two fellows at salaries of £400 a year to assist in examinations. Fifteen of the fellowships were allocated to the Catholic University, soon to be called University College, Dublin and managed by the Jesuits. Sixteen fellowships were divided among the three Queen’s Colleges, and one was given to Magee College, Londonderry. It is not clear why almost half the fellowships were given to the Catholic University, but presumably it was as a hidden subsidy. But the Catholic bishops were adamant: they wanted a Catholic University run by Catholics for Catholics under the control of Catholic bishops and fully funded by the Government. This aim they were never to achieve. It would have been far better for Ireland as Charles Gavan Duffy said when the Queen’s Colleges were first proposed, if they had simply accepted those Colleges. But the hardliners among the bishops, led by MacHale and Cullen, rejected them and could never back down.

          The Royal University, which opened in 1880 allowed women to sit for its degrees, so that women students at Girton College Cambridge could obtain valid degrees from the Royal University. Any college in Ireland could prepare students for its examinations. One of the strangest was the Trappist monastery of Mount Melleray which maintained a school. One of the monks, Fr Celsus O’Connell claimed to be the last person to graduate from the Royal University in 1908. Alexandra College and Victoria College commenced university-level courses and were soon joined by other women’s colleges.


          But the halcyon years of the post-Famine period in Ireland were about to come to an abrupt end. In British agriculture what became known as the ‘Great Depression’ commenced about 1874. The period from 1850 to 1874 when the progress and industry and in agriculture came to fruition was called the Golden Age of British agriculture. But now the full force of free trade was felt and grain poured in from Canada, the Baltic, and Russia. This coincided with a succession of poor harvests, the worst season being 1879. Worse was to come when successful freezing machines could be installed in ships and frozen mutton could be imported from Australia. Landlords were in general sympathetic in England and reduced rents. By 1896 the worst of the Depression was over and farmers had turned to perishable crops which were not easily transported (Briggs and Jordan, Economic History, 325-328). The agricultural depression also affected commercial agriculture in Ireland but not to the same extent. Rents had not been forced so high, nor was there the same extension of agriculture to marginal lands such as the sandy soils in eastern England which relied heavily on artificial fertilisers. The problem in Ireland was the crofter class, still numerous especially in the western half of the island, in what was to be called the ‘Congested Districts’. Land was the ultimate social security, and as we have seen, schoolteachers tried to acquire a small plot to sustain themselves in old age. Jesse Collings, an associate of Joseph Chamberlain, and advocate of land reform, had a slogan of ‘three acres and a cow’. It might have been possible to support a family, well-instructed in horticulture on three acres of good soil. But most of the small holdings in the West with uneducated farmers were on poor boggy soil suitable only for potatoes and perhaps some oats. Most of them were still not spraying their potatoes. A failure of the potato crop still meant famine.

          Isaac Butt proved too timid a leader for the Home Rule Party. A young gentleman called Charles Stuart Parnell, a grandnephew of Henry Parnell (Baron Congleton) the great ally of the Catholics in the early part of the century, had left Cambridge University in 1869 without a degree and returned to the family estate at Avondale, County Wicklow. He became sympathetic with the Fenian movement. In 1874 he introduced himself to Isaac Butt, and in 1875 was elected an MP for County Meath at the age of twenty nine. In 1876, replying to a speech by Sir Michael Hicks Beach who had referred to the Fenian ‘Manchester murderers’ Parnell denied that there was any murder in Manchester. He then joined the Amnesty Association, and also began a plan of systematic obstruction in Parliament. On July 31, 1877 he forced the house to sit continuously for 26 hours. Butt disapproved of his tactics but most of the Home Rule Party was delighted. In a debate in April 1878 he refused to condemn the murder of the Earl of Leitrim, an Irish landlord. On 5th May 1879 Isaac Butt died and was succeeded by a moderate politician called William Shaw. But after the general election in 1880 Parnell challenged him for the leadership and won. Meanwhile, Parnell was meeting the Fenian leaders. In December 1877 he met convicted Fenians like Michael Davitt who had been released from prison on ticket-of-leave, i.e. they could be returned to prison if they committed any other offence. He also met John Devoy, the leader of the Fenians in America. Davitt and Devoy agreed to back Parnell’s parliamentary campaigns. The Fenians, while not giving up their ambition for an armed struggle, agreed to support the Home Rule Party in addition. This policy was called ‘the New Departure’. Not all the Fenians (IRB) accepted this. The leadership of the IRB rejected Davitt’s plan and marginalised themselves in Ireland but not in America for a generation.

          Davitt continued with his idea of enlisting the crofters and small farmers of the West in a struggle against ‘the landlords’. This struggle, Davitt stressed should be peaceful and keep within the law; otherwise Davitt himself would be returned straight to prison. His objective was the complete abolition of what he called ‘landlordism’. This gained him great and lasting support for what he was proposing that rents should be abolished, and the tenants and crofters should own the land they were cultivating. Horace Plunkett later cited  the Connemara peasant who stopped planting potatoes in 1886 when the Home Rule Bill seemed to bring the promise of the millennium; this  statement must be credited considering the universal belief among the Irish peasantry that Home Rule  would mean free farms and universal luxury (Westmeath Guardian 5 May 1905). But Davitt and the Fenians who supported him had other ideas with regard to the abolition of ‘landlordism’. If the country landowners were forcibly bankrupted, control of county government and national government would pass automatically to the Catholic conspirators. When studying this point it is impossible not to notice that the organisers of the Land League and the organisers of Tammany Hall were often blood brothers, or at least closely related. The policies and practices of the two organisations cannot be separated.

          Davitt had a stroke of luck when there was a very poor harvest in 1879 which caused real distress in parts of the West. The people were ready for any policy which would mean the reduction of rents. He attended the famous meeting in Irishtown, Co. Mayo to denounce an evicting landlord, who happened to be the parish priest, Canon Burke. The meeting was successful for Canon Burke granted an abatement of 25% after his parish was invaded by 7,000 Mayomen shouting down with landlordism. The next  move was to hold a meeting in Westport the local town, addressed by Parnell, who urged them to 'organise, organise'. This they did by establishing on 16th August 1879 at Castlebar, the county capital of Mayo, the National Land League of Mayo, which became the National Land League.

          In 1873 a former captain in the army from Norfolk accepted the post of Land Agent or Estate Manager on the lands of Lord Erne in County Mayo. His name was Charles Cunningham Boycott. In 1879, Lord Erne agreed to a 10% reduction of the rents in view of the hard time. Then on 1st August 1879 a notice, in the longstanding tradition of the agrarian terrorists, was fastened to Boycott’s gate threatening his life if he did not make a further reduction in the rent. Nevertheless, in that year all but three tenants paid their rent.

          The Irish Government responded to the distress especially in parts of the West by passing the Distress Relief (Ireland) Act (1879) to allow advances from the Irish Church Surplus Fund to landlords who could promote works on their estates. The Lord Lieutenant’s wife, the Duchess of Marlborough, established a relief fund to relieve distress (Reid, W.E, Forster, II, 236).


          [1880] In 1880 Disraeli called a general election which he expected to win, but the Liberals were returned. Part of the reason may have been the bad harvest of 1879, the worst in memory. Gladstone, then 71 years old, fought a famous campaign in Midlothian in Scotland where he had agreed to contest the seat. He cast ridicule on Disraeli’s gloomy prophecies of impending danger in Ireland. Voting commenced on 31 March 1880. For the Liberals 349 candidates were returned, for the Conservatives 243, and for Home Rule 60. The Irish representation was 25 Conservatives, 15 Liberals, and 60 Home Rulers. Disraeli resigned and the queen sent for Lord Hartington who declined. The queen, to her disgust, was forced to send for Gladstone. She complained that Gladstone spoke to her as if she was a public meeting.

          In Ireland, North and South, the great issue was the land question. This was not surprising after the bad harvests of the two preceding years. The tenants’ associations were more numerous, more determined, and more vocal than ever. The Conservative and Liberal Parties were better organised than in the previous election, and both supported a measure of land reform (Walker, Ulster Politics, 130-1). Walker notes the development of machinery in the various constituencies by both Liberals and Conservatives to increase their effectiveness at election time. But the Liberals were still relying heavily on the Catholic clergy. The Home Rulers contested only one constituency seat in Ulster, namely County Cavan. There two candidates were strongly backed by the Catholic clergy, and both were returned It would seem that the Catholics supported the Home Ruler and the Protestants united behind the Conservative candidate. The polarisation of Irish politics on religious, not political or economic lines, was beginning to emerge (Walker, 134). Of the 60 Home Rulers 51 were Catholics; of the 15 Liberals 3 were Catholics. For the first time a majority of the Irish MPs were Catholics. The Home Rule Party was becoming the Catholic Party. The social composition of the Home Rule Party was also changing. Only 8 were landowners, reflecting the growing opposition among Catholics to the social and political positions of the landowning class. Tammany Hall was emerging in Ireland as well as America.

          But the most effective organisation was developed by Joseph Chamberlain for the Liberals from 1877 onwards and contributed to their great victory in 1880. Disraeli called it a caucus. Thus the name came to be used thereafter, not in the U.S. sense of a meeting but of a closely disciplined system of party organization. Lord Randolph Churchill developed a similar central organisation for the Conservatives by promoting the establishment of Conservatives clubs.



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