Background to Rebellion in Ireland

After the plantations and wars of the sevententh century, by the eighteenth century the make up and wealth distribution in Ireland had changed considerably. The population of Ireland was made up of three distinct groups:

  1. Catholics: made up 75% of the population, yet owned only 15% of the land and had no political power
  2. Anglican (Church of Ireland) owned the vast majority of the land and had huge political and financial power.
  3. Presbyterians: Mainly based in Ulster; had done well in business and farming but were banned – like the catholics – from being elected to parliament.

* Both Catholics and Presbyterians had to pay ‘tithes’ (religious tax) to the official church of Ireland (Anglican church).

To protect the interests of the protestant ruling classes, a number of harsh laws called the Penal Laws were introduced. These included:

  • No Catholic could build or attend schools or churches.
  • No Catholic priests, bishops or religious orders were allowed to remain in Ireland.
  • No Catholic could buy land from a Protestant and any land that was inherited had to be ‘subdivided’ between the sons, keeping the Catholic farms small and unviable.
  • No Catholic could become a solicitor, barrister or judge
  • No catholic could live in a town.

The result of these laws was to keep millions of Catholics poor and uneducated with little chance of making any progress in life. It also caused huge bitterness among the population. Many Catholics – as well as the Ulster Presbyterians – were impressed by the equal, just and fair societies that the Americans and French were trying to create following their revolutions. They also felt that with the help of the French army they could achieve the break from Britain that they felt was needed to create an equal and tolerant society. They eventually set up a group to help them achieve their aims through violence if necessary called the United Irishmen.


History@ Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna.

Published on May 8, 2010 at 6:22 pm Comments (0)
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