Act of Union – Ireland becomes part of Britain

Daniel O'Connell - Peacefully campaigned for 30 years to achieve equal rights for Catholics

Between 1649 and 1653, Oliver Cromwell invaded and re-established British rule in Ireland with brutality that saw a third of Ireland’s population killed or sent into exile.

Catholics continued to face persecution following Cromwell’s suppression of the rebellion.

Early settlers and Vikings
Norman invasion
Ireland becomes part of Britain

They had a brief ray of hope when they supported James II’s claim to the English throne against William of Orange but that was extinguished when James was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

In 1798, the Catholics staged another rebellion but that too failed. It had a major consequence, however, the British responded in 1801 with the Act of Union which created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The fight for equal rights for Catholics

During the early part of the 19th century, the Irish saw themselves as second class citizens in their own country. The Test Act established that only members of the protestant Church of England or protestant Church of Ireland could hold public office be employed by public bodies.

It meant Catholics couldn’t be members of parliament and found it harder to get employment.

Daniel O’Connell and the Catholic Relief Act

A young lawyer called Daniel O’Connell, who became known as the Liberator fought a successful campaign for Catholic rights.
He gained the support of the Irish born Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington – the same man who defeated Napoleon.

Daniel O'Connell - Peacefully campaigned for 30 years to achieve equal rights for Catholics
Wellington helped to ensure that the Catholic Relief Act 1829 was passed by the British parliament. It allowed Catholics to become MPs.
Catholics were still obliged to help fund the Protestant Church of Ireland, however, and so the fight for greater equality continued throughout the 19th century.

The demand for Home Rule and Irish independence

Robert Emmet - Irish nationalist rebel leaderThe demands for equal rights changed to demands for Home Rule and Irish independence in the latter half of 19th century.

Robert Emmett had led an unsuccessful rebellion in 1803. There was another rebellion by the Young Irelanders in 1848 and yet another by the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1867. They too both failed but the demand for independence continued to grow.

The Great Famine

Skibbereen from a series of illustrations by Cork artist James Mahony (1810-1879)
Between 1845 and 1849, potato blight led to a catastrophic famine in Ireland.

Potatoes were the staple diet of the Irish peasants and when the crop failed they had no other source of food. This was because most of the country’s other food sources such as wheat and livestock were owned by British aristocratic landlords.

Even though millions of people were dying of starvation, most of Ireland’s wheat was being exported to Britain and Europe so that absentee British landlords could maintain their profits.

Most people either starved to death or emigrated. Ireland had a population of eight million before the Famine; that nearly halved because so many died or emigrated.

The Easter Rising and the push for independence

The demand for Irish independence to grow as Ireland entered the 20th century and was thrown into focus again with the Easter Rising of 1916.

It only involved about 1,500 men and it was suppressed by the British Army within six days, but it paved the way for Irish self-government.

The leaders of the Easter Rising were executed. This outraged Irish opinion and the call for independence became too loud for the British to resist.

In 1922, the Irish Free State came into being. It made Ireland – except for the six counties of Ulster which preferred to remain British – a self-governing dominion of the British Commonwealth. This put it on the same basis as Australia and Canada at that time.

In 1949, the Free State severed all political ties with Britain and became the Irish Republic.

Early settlers and Vikings
Norman invasion
Ireland becomes part of Britain