Ireland: A Brief History: Part III: English Occupation

It would take England another 400 years after the Norman Invasion to subdue and consolidate Ireland completely. Wars, including the Nine Years’ War, Wars of the Three Kingdom and the Williamite War, which caused huge losses of life, both soldiers and civilians, as well as resettlement and repression led to an English stronghold.

During the English conquest of England, Henry VIII named himself the King of Ireland and established Tudor rule of law. The Nine Years’ War, which ensued under Elizabeth I, included battles and skirmishes all over the country. In the end, rebel Irish chieftains fled to Spain in search of an ally. Their lands were considered forfeited and were then consolidated. The Ulster Plantation was established under James I. It was used as a means of pacifying Ireland by resettling Scottish and English Protestants into Catholic Ireland. It’s believed that somewhere around 25,000 to 40,000 Irish lived in the area of the Ulster Plantation before the Nine Years’ War (1593 – 1603). By 1622 there was an estimated population of 19,000 settlers. Landowners, which included wealthy English and Scottish families had to resettle a certain amount of English-speaking people. It was difficult to resettle many, and the work required more men than the resettlement conditions required, so many of those native to the area stayed, though they were given poorer land and most lost their previous homes. Some Irish, who had stayed loyal to England were granted extra land. One of the reasons that it was perhaps difficult to recruit settlers was that at the same time, the Virginia Settlement in Jamestown seemed a more attractive venture, both to people and investors.

By the 1630s, it is estimated that the population of English-speaking settlers was near 80,000. The area had few settlements, as the Irish were nomadic, following their cattle to the best places. Towns were built and many can be dated by the uniform style of the center of town (usually a main street ending in a square or diamond). Conversions to the Protestant faith were rare and usually were a means of political or social gain, without true belief. Catholicism and Gaelic did not wane in the Ulster Plantation amongst the natives.

For a short period it seemed that the Ulster Plantation, as well as Ireland as a whole had adjusted enough to English rule that it would not see anymore widespread rebellion. However, in 1639 the English Civil War broke out and rebellion in Ireland took a new turn. The first rebellion was staged by Scottish Presbyterians after Charles I attempted to change the Ulster Plantation into Anglican. Charles I also attempted this in Ireland and even raised an army of Irish Catholics, which the English and Scottish parliaments condemned. Not long after an Irish Catholic rebellion occurred, killing about 4,000 settlers and force 8,000 more to flee. The population of settlers never recovered. Soldiers were sent in 1642 and fought off and on with rebels until 1650.

During the English Civil War, the Irish Confederates allied with English Royalists which resulted in the Battle of Rathmines, over the control of Dublin. Cromwell came with an army to end the fighting. He went on to suppress and massacre the Royalists and Irish, causing such death tolls that the memory of festered for some three centuries. While in previous reigns, compliant Irish were allowed to keep there land, under Cromwell it was confiscated and redistributed to English soldiers, settlers and creditors. During Cromwell’s rule, the Protestant Ascendancy was established in Ireland. Through battle, disease, famine and guerrilla warfare, an estimated half of Ireland’s population perished during the Cromwellian conquest. Thousands more were shipped to the West Indies.

One hundred years after the English Civil War a Great Frost which lasted over a year, killed potato crops and resulted in the famine of 1740. At least an eighth of the population died. Little was done by the Irish government. Another large amount of the population emigrated for survival.

However, Ireland ‘s economy started to improve from industry and trade. In 1782 Ireland was granted legislative independence. In 1798 Irish Catholics and Protestants rebelled, but were dispelled and as a result an Acts of Union merged Ireland with England creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. 

Despite an earlier surge in the economy from industry Ireland did not benefit from the Industrial Revolution. This, and the Great Famine, which occurred from 1845 – 1851, caused the population to fall by over thirty percent from starvation and emigration. The population, which was about eight million before the Great Famine, did not exceed this number until 1961, as the Irish continued to emigrate.

It was at this time that Irish Nationalism began to take hold. From the 1800s on, relaxing English rule or abolishing the Acts of Union were attempted many times. The idea of Home Rule became popular, but always failed to pass. When act was finally passed in 1914, it was put on hold until after World War I. Due to dissent in Ulster, a provision was made to keep Ulster as part of the United Kingdom. This exclusion would be the groundwork for Northern Ireland. 

On Monday, April 24, 1916, at the height of WWI, an armed and organized group of Irish Republicans staged the Easter Rising, a six-day assault of street fighting and gun battles with the English army. At first the English suffered heavy casualties, but by Saturday the rebellion was extinguished, though some fighting occurred on Sunday. Ireland was put under martial law and thousands were interned, without just cause. Most of the leaders were executed. The rebellion and England’s handling of the aftermath turned huge numbers of Irish into supporters.

In 1919 an Irish Republic and government was set up, while the IRA began a guerrilla war that ended in a truce in 1921. The Irish-Anglo Treaty created the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland remained as part of the United Kingdom.

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