The Making of the Act of Union (lead-up)


1. The Ascendancy in 18th Century Ireland

Key Issue: In what ways was Ireland subordinate to England pre 1800?

Defeat of James II in Boyne in 1690 meant the defeat of Catholicism (confirmed by King George I in 1714 with the defeat of the Jacobite rebellions in 1715 and 1745). Penal laws passed against Catholics after 1689- couldn't vote, sit in parliament, limited in rights to purchase land. Some penal laws applied to Irish Dissenters inc. Presbyterian community of Ulster. These could generally vote but as non-anglicans they couldn't hold public office.

It was this that lead to the 'Ascendancy'. The Anglican social elite's power stemmed from owning most of the land as by the mid 18th century, Catholics owned only 5% of the land when they formed 75% of the population. The Anglican Church of Ireland (CoI) was the est. church despitee only representing 15% of the Irish people. It had reps in the HoL and had the right to collect tithes which was resented by Catholics & Presbyterians (Presb's). CoI was a major instrument in English control over Ireland.

Ireland was something of a colony. Administration was controlled by the Lord-Lieutenant (British govt's rep in Ireland), meaning Ireland had no control over it's executive. Below him were ministers and officials (many of them Englishmen) known as 'The Castle' and in charge of the day-to-day running of the Irish govt. The Chief-Sec's job was to get govt's legislation through Irish parliament, this tough task could only be done by gaining support through distribution of titles and offices controlled by govt.

Despite existing since the 13th century, the Irish parliament's power was limited and Ireland was subject to the laws of the Westminster parliament and could not pass laws without the British government's approval (due to Poyning's law 1494 and Declaratory Act of 1719). The Septennial Act (which gave general elections every 7 years) didn't apply to Ireland.

Nevertheless, the Irish government was not always amenable to govt direction, particularly concerning Irish economic interests when the parliament could rely on public opinion. E.g. In 1725, the govt retracted a new Irish coin made in England (Wood's Ha'Pence) because of public pressure. Some suggest that from this, 'Protestant nationalism was born'.

2. The Age of Revolution

Key Issue: For what reasons, and with what results, did a rebellion break out in 1798?

Protestant nationalism advanced after the 1750's, where in the Irish House of Commons the 'Patriots', once lead by Henry Grattan, denounced the subordination of Ireland to England and demanded legislative independence for the Irish parliament. The Catholics weren't unnaffected by this, forming the Catholic Committee in 1760 as a reflection of of their grievances. Grattan once said 'the Irish protestant can never be free until lthe Irish Catholic had ceased to be a slave.' With this an unofficial alliance was built between the moderate reformers.

In the 1760's, some concessions were to be made. The Lord-Lieutenant should be a permanent resident in Ireland and reforming the patronage system began.


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