Ireland and the Union, 1774–1923


The English connection with Ireland began in 1170 when the King Leinster, one of the counties in Ireland, wanted to defeat his enemies by using the military support from knights of England. The King enlisted the English Knights under the leadership of Strongbow, Richard de Clare. With a good military and power, they managed to conquer much of the south eastern part of Ireland, including Dublin. Strongbow eventually became the King of Leinster. In 1171 King Henry II of England came over to Ireland with a strong and powerful army, and the King of Leinster alongside other Irish Gaelic Lords and Church leaders swore allegiance to Henry II.

By 1250 about three quarters of Ireland was under Anglo-Norman control, with the only remaining part of independence in the province of Ulster (Northern Ireland). During the thirteenth century many features of Anglo-Norman feudalism was introduced including towns, castles and the Norman Judicial system. The Irish people were reduced to serfdom as their lands were seized, while an Irish parliament that mimicked that of England was introduced in 1264. Parliament was comprised of rich, Norman lords who had seized lands and got titles.

As the power of English Kings dwindled, with conquests elsewhere and resolving English feuds and dynastic struggles, the power grew of the Anglo-Norman lords as the ruling elite. Lords became kings in their own right, only giving halfhearted allegiance to the English Crown. Anglo-Normans also inter married with great Gaelic families, and partial assimilation of Gaelic customs and culture. By the end of the fifteenth century, England only really held power in Dublin.

The Role of the Tudors

The Tudors wanted to develop a strong, central monarchy which reengaged interest in Ireland. Henry VII began curbing pretensions of the Irish aristocracy. Henry VIII in 1541 arranged for Irish Parliament to declare him King of Ireland. Hnery VIII followed up with imposing a new system of land ownership based on the English model, so land was held by virtue of of king’s law, and not ancient tradition. The land owners could therefore be dispossessed if they were disloyal. In return for submission and compliance, the Irish lords were rewarded with English titles, such as Con O’Neill of Ulster, who became the Earl of Tyrone.

Despite this, there was much resentment towards Henry VIII due to his anti-papal policy and disillusion with the Catholic Church. The English Reformation and Break with Rome in 1533 never had a stronghold in Ireland, which meant that there was a possibility of foreign intervention in Ireland on behalf of the Pope and Church. The possibility Ireland could turn on England, and being so proximate, posed a problem for many English rulers. Elizabeth I pursued a conquest of Ireland relying on English commanders and officials. Elizabeth always perceived the Irish as rude and brutish, and this sentiment was an assumption amongst many English Elite. Elizabeth remained cautious with the Roman Catholics and made no real attempt to impose Protestantism. During Elizabeth’s reign there were many rebellions against her rule, and in 1595 the most dangerous was carried out by the Earl of Tyrone (Hugh O’Neill) in Ulster. He was defeated in 1601 at the battle of Kinsale, and O’Neill submitted to the Queen and was pardoned, but Ulster now became English. This meant that Elizabeth I could claim to have conquered most of Ireland, although English government hardly impacted the ordinary lives of the Irish.

The Role of the Stuart’s

James I was King of England, a Scottish king, and cousin to Elizabeth I. He was a Protestant and firm believer in the religion. The Earl of Tyrone had fled, leaving his land to be seized and settled upon. The settlement and occupation of these lands comprised of evicting most of the Irish landowners as well as reducing their status to tenants or laborer’s. Many of the new landlords were Scottish. By 1700, Ulster had become a Presbyterian and Anglican province with many of the historic Catholic class having been displaced. New industries and towns began to develop, such as in Belfast, but the new English feared the Old English and Gaelic predecessors who had been displaced before them.

The resentment grew for the new English and English lords, such as the Earl of Stafford, representative of Ireland for Charles I. In the 1620s and 1630s the Gaelic and Old English Lords joined forces in opposition, with their faith and resentment for new land policies, as their common enemy. As the Earl Of Stafford wanted more centralization to England, higher taxation and greater support for the Anglican Church, unity with the opposition grew. In 1641, after the execution of Strafford in 1640, coupled with the resentment of the Catholic populace, a horrific rebellion broke out in Ulster. The rebellion was supported by Catholic forces in the South and led to the murder of thousands of Protestants. This led to impression the Protestants were the minority and defenseless. By 1648, as a result of the rebellions and a number of alliances, the Kings authority was restored.   

The Role of Oliver Cromwell (and the Puritan)

In 1649 Oliver Cromwell assumed power over England after the execution of Charles I. Cromwell was determined to conquer Ireland for both political and religious reasons. Cromwell led an army to Ireland in 1649 and captured the City of Drogheda, and Catholic troops were slaughtered. The New Model Army, a parliamentary army remodeled by Cromwell in 1645 to fight for Parliament, defeated the Catholic forces, in part due to the Ulster rebellion which saw thousands of Protestants slaughtered.

Oliver Cromwell abolished the Irish Parliament and it became a part of the English Parliament in Westminster, alongside Scotland. Cromwell also confiscated 11 million acres of land, mainly in Central Ireland, from those who supported the King previously. The land was redistributed to his soldiers and officers. In 1658, at the time of Cromwell’s death, Catholics only owned one fifth of land in Ireland.

The Role of Charles II (and the Restoration)

In 1660 King Charles II was restored as the English monarch, and although was Catholic, did not do much for the Irish. Although Charles II was more tolerant than other monarchs, he didn’t want to antagonize the Protestants in England and risk his throne. Charles II didn’t get rid of the Cromwellian land arrangements either, which had favoured the minority Protestants.  

James II, Charles II successor, crowned in 1685, was an avowed Roman Catholic and Irish Catholics held hope this would lead to improvements. James II pro Catholic policies began to antagonize the dominant Protestant political classes in Ireland. With the birth of Charles Edward Stuart, Protestants feared that there would be a succession of Catholic monarchs.

Leading Protestants appealed to William of Orange, the Dutch Protestant leader of the Netherlands, to invade England to save the Protestant faith. This began the Revolution of 1688 (Glorious Revolution). James II fled to France, a Catholic majority, and William and Mary were crowned monarchs of England. William of Orange (III) and Mary, the daughter of James II, became monarchs of England, Scotland and Ireland. William inherited the principality of Orange from his father, William II, and his mother Mary was the daughter of King Charles I of England. In 1677, he married his fifteen-year-old first cousin, Mary, the daughter of his maternal uncle James, Duke of York. James II returned to Ireland where he had hoped to rally Catholic supporters. His efforts to regain the throne were thwarted and he was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

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