From 1801 onwards Ireland had no Parliament of its own; Irish MPs (drawn from
the ascendancy) sat in the Westminster parliament in London where they were a
small minority. Westminster was unwilling to grant major concessions to
Catholics, despite persistent agitation.
In 1823 a Catholic barrister, Daniel O'Connell, established the Catholic
Association to press for full liberty for Catholics and rapidly converted it
into a political mass-movement. O'Connell's success forced the London
parliament to grant Catholic Emancipation in 1829, removing virtually all the
disabilities against Catholics.
O'Connell, the most popular figure in the country, now sought repeal of the Act
of Union of 1800 and the restoration of the Irish parliament. He set up the
Repeal Association and modelled his campaign on that for emancipation. The
agitation was characterised by mass meetings, some attracting hundreds of
thousands of people. The London Government resisted and when a Dublin rally was
banned in 1843, O'Connell acquiesced. This marked the effective end of the
In the 1840's the Young Ireland movement was formed. The most influential of
its leaders was Thomas Davis who, like the United Irishmen, expressed a concept
of nationality embracing all who lived in Ireland, regardless of creed or
origin. An attempt by the Young Irelanders to stage an insurrection failed in
1848, but their ideas strongly influenced later generations.
The end of war in Europe in 1815 had a drastic impact on the economy. The war
had led to a huge growth in tillage farming to supply the armies, and a
dependence on the potato as a staple food. When war ended there was a change
from tillage to pasture, causing agrarian unemployment. Population increased
rapidly and reached 8 million by 1841, two- thirds of whom depended on
agriculture. In this precarious agrarian economy the failure of the potato crop
in 1845, due to blight, proved disastrous. The crop failed again in 1846, 1847
and 1848 and, coupled with severe weather, resulted in famine.
By 1851 the population had been reduced by at least 2 million due to
starvation, disease and emigration to Britain and North America.
The latter half of the 19th century was characterised by campaigns for national
independence and land reform.
The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), also known as the Fenians, was founded
in 1858. The Fenians, a secret society, rejected constitutional attempts to
gain independence as futile. Among the leaders of the Fenians were James
Stephens and John O'Leary. The Fenians staged an armed uprising in 1867. The
rising was no more than a token gesture and was easily put down. The IRB
continued in existence, however. A constitutional movement seeking Home Rule
was set up by Isaac Butt. The Home Rulers, who sought a separate parliament
subordinate to London, won half the Irish seats in the 1874 election.
Leadership of the movement soon passed to Charles Stewart Parnell.
The strained relations between landlords and their tenant farmers were a
constant social and political difficulty. In 1879 Michael Davitt founded the
National Land League. The League aimed to secure basic rights for
tenant-farmers - fair rent, free sale and fixity of tenure. Parnell became
president of the movement. Many Fenians also joined. The result was a great
national campaign of mass agitation from 1879 to 1882 which forced the British
Government to pass a series of Land Acts. These eventually abolished the old
landlord system and transferred ownership of the land to the people who worked
it. Parnell then used the agrarian movement as the basis to agitate for Home
Rule in the 1885 election.
The Home Rule party swept the country outside eastern Ulster. Gladstone, the
British Prime Minister, responded by introducing a Bill in Parliament to grant
Home Rule but this was defeated in 1886, as was another in 1894. The impetus of
the Home Rule campaign was effectively lost with the death of Parnell in 1891.
However, the years after Parnell's death saw the growing emergence of a
The Gaelic Athletic Association, founded in 1884, promoted the national games
while the Gaelic League, founded in 1893 by Douglas Hyde and Eoin MacNeill,
tried to revive the Irish language and culture on a nationwide basis.
At the same time Arthur Griffith developed a new political party in the period
1905-08 known as Sinn F�in - 'we ourselves'. The Sinn F�in policy was that
Irish MPs should withdraw from Westminster and establish an independent
parliament. Sinn F�in had close links with the IRB.
The Dublin labour dispute of 1913 produced another group, the Irish Citizen
Army, which was socialist but also separatist. In 1912 another Home Rule bill
was introduced in Westminster. This brought considerable success to the Irish
Parliamentary Party, now led by John Redmond. However, resistance to the
measure was strong in north-east Ulster. It was led by Sir Edward Carson who
set up the Ulster Volunteers to oppose Home Rule. In response, the Irish
Volunteers, largely controlled by the IRB, were founded in Dublin.
The Home Rule bill was finally passed in 1914, but its implementation was
shelved upon the outbreak of war. John Redmond encouraged Irishmen to enlist in
the British Army hoping this would sustain British support for Home Rule.
Others disagreed with this policy and in 1916 the Irish Volunteers, led by
Patrick Pearse and the Irish Citizen Army led by James Connolly, staged a
rebellion against British rule.
The Easter Rising of 1916 was put down but the decision of the British to
execute several of the leaders alienated public opinion. In the 1918 general
election Sinn F�in totally defeated the Irish Parliamentary Party. The Sinn
F�in representatives now constituted themselves as the first D�il, or
independent Parliament, in Dublin. The D�il was headed by �amon de Valera. The
British attempt to smash Sinn F�in led to the War of Independence of 1919-21.
The Irish forces were led by Michael Collins. After more than two years of
guerilla struggle a truce was agreed.
In December 1921 an Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed and 26 counties gained
independence as the Irish Free State. Six Ulster counties had been granted
their own parliament in Belfast in 1920 and remained within the United Kingdom.
The establishment of the Free State was followed by a civil war between the new
Government and those who opposed the Treaty. �amon de Valera led those who
opposed the treaty. A truce was negotiated in May 1923 but the Civil War
claimed the lives of many who had been prominent in the struggle for
independence, among them Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha. Despite its
brevity, the Civil War was to colour attitudes and determine political
allegiances for decades.
The first government of the new State was headed by WT Cosgrave of the Cumann
na nGaedheal, later Fine Gael, party. From the 1930s until the 1970s the Fianna
Fail party, founded by �amon de Valera, dominated Irish politics. Building on a
progressive diminution of the constitutional links between Britain and Ireland,
a new constitution was introduced in 1937 and Ireland remained neutral during
the second world war.
In 1948, the Republic of Ireland Act severed the remaining constitutional links
with Britain. Ireland was admitted to the UN in 1955. During the last 20 years,
coalition governments have, as elsewhere in Europe, been the norm. These
coalitions have involved one of the two larger political parties in combination
with the Labour Party, Democratic Left or the Progressive Democrats, Ireland's
membership since 1973 of what is now the European Union has had profound
effects. The intervening period has witnessed major changes in the political,
social, economic and cultural life of the country.