The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The National Liberation Movement in Ireland. The Act of Union (1801)

Category: 18th century

The end of the eighteenth century witnessed a new stage in the national liberation movement of the Irish people against British yoke. The successful American revolution, reinforced by the infiltration of radical ideas from France had encouraged the Irish to intensify their struggle for independence. Under the influence of the War of Independence Britain introduced some limited reforms in Ireland, but only the Protestant minority experienced their advantages. The acts of the Irish Parliament were subordinate to British approval, and the harsh religious and economic grievances directed against the Catholic majority still remained. A Belfast lawyer named Wolfe Tone took the lead in forming the society of United Irishmen (1791), an organization of bourgeois radicals which aimed at complete separation and independence for Ireland. Branches of United Irishmen soon sprang up in all Irish towns. On the French model Wolfe Tone called for a republic with universal suffrage and the abolition of feudal privileges of the landlords and the official Anglican church.

Another group, called the Defenders, sought to abolish grievances against the Catholics and to gain economic concessions. Despite the struggle of these organizations the main grievances remained unremedied.

Wolfe Tone went to France to seek for aid. The French responded positively, however, it was quite ineffective. The British government took harsh measures against the Irish. As a result of a wave of repressions United Irishmen had to go underground after 1794. Nevertheless, it continued with its clandestine activities preparing for a mass uprising in 1797. Unfortunately, the British authorities forestalled these attempts by arresting the leaders of the uprising on the eve of the rebellion. Thus, the whole movement was deprived of centralized leadership.

When in 1798 the Irish eventually rebelled Britain drowned the movement in blood. Wolfe Tone was captured and died in an English prison. Many active participants of this heroic movement were either sentenced to death or imprisoned and deported to the new overseas colonies.

British statesmen decided to end the Irish cause for independence by ;dis~ solving the Irish Parliament thus destroying the last remnants of limited independence. The British Parliament also passed the Act of Union, and it went into effect in 180 JL Ireland henceforth became a part “6f Great Britain losing its independence completely. True, for the sake of hypocrisy it was given the ‘right to send more representatives to the British Parliament. But these members were to belong to the Protestant ascendancy who were in a privileged position as compared with the overwhelming Catholic majority deprived of all political and social rights.

Moreover, the British government abolished all Irish customs duties and introduced free trade, which meant that the goods of the Irish industry were no longer protected by tariffs. The newly-developing Irish industry could not withstand British competition and it was doomed. Political suppression was coupled with economic disaster. The collapse of the Irish industry meant new hardships for the Irish people. There was now only one remaining option — emigration and it developed on a mass scale. Ireland, as K. Marx observed, as a result of the Union of 1801 was reduced to an agricultural hinterland of England supplying it with agricultural produce and recruits.

« ||| »

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.