The Raleigh Irish Festival – September 28th.

The Raleigh Irish Festival was born from an established Irish event which has been hosted by Ancient Order of Hibernians Wake County Division # 1 over the years at the Knights of Columbus.   This event started out as an Irish family picnic – and over the years grew into an Irish music fest. The fest had been outgrowing the space at The Knights hall for quite a while – so organizers from various Irish establishments and organizations got together and started talking about hosting the event in the most central place we could find so more people would be able to come and be part of the culture and heritage we are all so very proud of.

Moore Square is set in the heart of the Raleigh (200 South Blount Street).  It is not so big as we will get lost – nor so small we will feel cramped.  The Square is also a home base for the Raleigh St Patrick’s Day parade festivities – and of course right on the doorstep of Tir Na nOg Irish Pub. It was fitting we decided this would be the perfect new home for Raleigh Irish Fest.
This is our 2nd year at Moore Square …
This event is brought to you by Hibernian Charity of Wake County, the 501C (3) arm of the Wake County Ancient Order of Hibernians, & and 3 Irish Jewels Farm, a nonprofit organization, is an ongoing effort to establish a working farm in the Triangle Area where adults with autism can live and contribute. We hope you will come out and spend the day with us.
The Event admission is FREE!
Bring the kids — it is a family affair!
We are very grateful to Sam Adams for their Support
  • Food will be on sale & provided by Moore Square restaurant’s
  • The Irish Pub is brought to you by Sam Adams Brewery
  • Entertainment is sponsored by various individuals and local business
  • Sponsors can be found on Sponsor page
Please support them or ask how YOU can become a sponsor.
Raleigh Irish fest Committe

2009 Dinner Dance

Other 2007 Pictures

2007 Parade

2007 Irishfest

2007 Dinner

Gov. Burke Gravesite Cleanup

History of the AOH

In the Beginning
The Protestant Reformation that swept Europe in the 16th century was marked by Royal intrigues over control of the Roman Church’s wealth, and conflicts over which religion could be practiced. Violence erupted in many countries. Elizabeth I declared the Church of England to be the State religion, and considered Ireland part of her state. Most Irish did not agree. The Papacy launched a counter-reformation and Ireland became a battlefield between the two forces as the Irish, who embraced the Church introduced by St. Patrick, became the target of a campaign to reduce Rome’s power by converting the masses to Protestantism. The persistence with which the Irish clung to their religion drove the English to extremes in repression. Penal laws disenfranchised Irish Catholics from the political, social, and economic life of their own country, and with their religion outlawed and their clergy on the run, they became an underground society practicing their religion in secret.

Not surprisingly, secret societies were formed to protect the values under attack. In various locales, groups with names like Whiteboys, Ribbonmen, and Defenders were identified with attacks on landlords, but each society included in its avowed purpose the protection of the Roman Church and its clergy. As time and government prevailed, some societies were suppressed, but most reorganized under a new name for the same purpose – defense of faith and homeland. History provides us with the names of many of these organizations, and even limited details of some. We know, for example, that the motto of the Defenders in 1565 was Friendship, Unity, and True Christian Charity, but the secret manner in which these societies operated left few records for modern analysts. As a result, a true history of their times may never be written.

Secret Societies Exported
What history does tell us however, is that continued oppression and periodic crop failures forced many Irish to flee to other lands for survival. The inclination toward secret societies which had developed in Ireland by now became an Irish defense mechanism, especially among those emigrants committed to the ethnic slums of the lands to which they fled. Initially formed as fraternal associations to promote the welfare of its members and families, like the Hibernian Sick and Funeral Society in England, they soon found a militant dimension necessary to protect their church and clergy and defend members from bigoted opposition. In early nineteenth century America, the Ancient Order of Hibernians with its motto Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity became the most recent link in the evolution of those ancient societies. Organized with the same intention of defending Gaelic values under attack, it can claim continuity of purpose and motto unbroken back to the Defenders of 1565. The need for a defensive society in America was the same as it was in Ireland.

Colonial America was an extension of England in language, customs and traditions and though American historians claim religious freedom back to William Penn’s Pennsylvania, John Locke’s Carolina, Roger Williams’ Rhode Island, and many others, this freedom did not include Catholics. These were still English colonies and though the English were willing to accept other Protestant sects, they discriminated against Catholics because of a biased belief that Catholics owed their allegiance to a foreign prince – the Pope. By 1700, New York’s Catholic population was almost stamped out by drastic penal laws. Then came the Revolution, and in spite of the large number of Catholics who supported Washington, the spirit of the leading colonists was still intensely anti-Catholic. The first flag raised by the Sons of Liberty in New York was inscribed No Popery. Not much changed after independence either. At the Constitutional Convention in 1777, a strong anti-Catholic faction was led by John Jay, soon to be first Chief Justice of the United States, who denied civil rights to Catholics until they swore an oath renouncing the authority of the Pope. Thereafter, Catholics remained barred from public office unless they took that Test Oath. This was the America to which a steady flow of Irish Catholics emigrated after the failed rising of 1798 in Ireland.

The Early Irish in America
As the Irish population grew, anti-Catholic forces celebrated Pope Day, and carried straw effigies of St. Patrick on March 17 which were desecrated to taunt the Irish. The new Irish were quick to defend their honor; their reaction was swift, and violence was a normal result. The influence of the growing Irish population finally forced the city to ban such effigies in 1802. Then, in 1806, Francis Cooper became the first Catholic elected to the New York Assembly; he was told he would have to take the Test Oath. A petition signed by the parishioners of St. Peter’s – the city’s only Catholic parish – complained that the oath denied Catholics the opportunity of discharging their civic duties, and again, the large number of signatures prompted State Senator and city Mayor De Witt Clinton to sponsor a bill that abolished the Test Oath. But some forces were not happy, and a few months later, an anti-Catholic mob attacked St. Peter’s Church. They were held off by members of the Irish community who formed a guard around the building, but the confrontation sparked two days of rioting

Anti-Catholic bigotry, cloaked in the guise of American patriotism, emerged in a nativist prejudice against immigrants –– especially the Irish, who began arriving in large numbers. A period of extreme intolerance was launched in the early 1800s that began with social segregation, resulted in discrimination in hiring, and reached its climax in the formation of nativist gangs such as the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, the True Blue Americans and others bent on violence against the Irish Catholic immigrant population. These gangs would coalesce in 1854 into the American Party or ‘Know Nothings’. Reminiscent of the penal laws, they sought legislation against the immigrant population who, it was stated, diluted American principles. The growing number of Irish, fleeing conditions in their native land, had become a focus of that prejudice. They were driven to the most difficult and demanding forms of labor where even minimal safety and welfare standards were ignored. In Ireland, the bias of their colonial masters made it necessary to guard their activities from public scrutiny; in America the prejudice from nativists and abusive employers made similar secrecy necessary. Gradually, they came together in the same type of secret societies that had protected them in Ireland.

Nativist prejudice grew from intolerance to violence. St. Mary’s RC Church in New York was burned to the ground in 1831; in 1832, 57 Irish railroad workers suffering from Cholera near Malvern, Pennsylvania were refused medical attention, died and were dumped in an unmarked mass grave; in 1834, the Ursaline Convent in Massachusetts was burned down; while in 1834 and 35, nativist gangs attacked the Irish neighborhood of Five Points in New York resulting in several major street brawls that lasted for days.

The AOH is Born
Then, in 1836, according to The Miner’s Journal, a newspaper in Pennsylvania’s Schuykill County anthracite coalfield region, and other newspapers, journals and verified sources of information, we have learned that a contingent of miners from a local group called the Hibernian Benevolent Society traveled to New York’s St Patrick’s Day parade. While there they met with a group of New York Activists from the St. Patrick’s Fraternal Society. The subject of the meeting is not recorded, but since nativist activity was becoming a national threat, it is not difficult to imagine the Irish seeking to coalesce several societies into one major defensive organization. Thus was born The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH). In several versions of the their own history, written and expanded over its lifetime, reference is made to the founding of its first Division at New York’’s St James Church on May 4, 1836 –– less than two months after the historic meeting of the New York and Pennsylvania activists. Coincidentally, another Division was formed at the same time in the coal-fields of Pennsylvania. Local tradition notes that one Jeremiah Reilly of Cass Township, Hecksherville, Schuylkill County, PA started the first AOH division there, but no records have been found to authenticate this.

Know nothing activities spread across the country. In 1854, construction of the Washington Monument was halted when nativists stole and destroyed a granite block donated to the project by Pope Pius IX since they would tolerate no Catholic stone in that icon to America’’s first president. The following year, a nativist attack on an Irish neighborhood in Louisville, KY caused 22 deaths and considerable arson and looting. Although the secrecy surrounding the early operation of the AOH makes their origins and their reaction to such attacks difficult to define, it is not unlikely that those who had been members of secret societies in Ireland and England called on their collective experience, and banded together in this new land for the same or similar defensive purposes and dispensed home-grown justice. Soon, other societies like the Hibernian Friendship Society in Arlington Virginia, founded in 1831, joined the growing union of Irish societies that became known as the Ancient Order of Hibernians. As nativist bigotry spread across America, so too did the AOH. True to their purpose, they provided social welfare benefits to members and stood guard to defend Church property. After their formation, actual attacks were few and far between, but the long, cold, and lonely nights of vigil were many. At about this time, a society in Ireland adopted the name Ancient Order of Hibernians and the organization now had Irish links.

As the heroism of the Irish Brigade and other Irish units in the American Civil War had America cheering for the exploits of the sons of Erin in American uniform, the honesty, devotion, and natural charm of the Irish girls, who had found employment as domestic help, were winning admirers on the home front. The natural result of this new regard was a decrease in prejudice against the Irish, and the Know Nothing movement, recognized for the bigoted group it was, faded away. It would emerge again in organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, and other groups dedicated to ethnic hatred and anti-Catholic propaganda, but never again would America politically support a national army of zealots. The AOH, on the other hand, grew stronger. It followed Irish immigrants as they worked their way across the country.

The Early AOH
The early AOH in America remained a defensive, yet secret, society, and while little is known of its specific activities, it is known that it assisted Irish immigrants in obtaining jobs and social services. Membership was well-guarded and restricted to Irish-born. Even minutes books used member numbers instead of names to protect identities. The first national conventions of the Order were held in New York, but as the Order grew, other jurisdictions began seeking the honor, with Boston becoming the site of the first non-NY gathering. Other controversial issues of the early Order included opening membership to Irish Americans so that American-born sons of immigrants could join and the right of the AOH in Ireland to speak for the Order when they were still dominated by the Crown. At the same time, the militant Fenian Brotherhood began to infiltrate the AOH and run their people for top AOH offices. In the midst of all these issues the AOH split!

In 1883, the Land League called for a Philadelphia convention of all the Irish organizations in America to support Charles Stewart Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary Party in their fight for Home Rule. The Irish AOH endorsed Home Rule and Alexander Sullivan, a former member of AOH Div 8, Chicago, who had been suspended for non-payment of dues, aspired to Presidency of the new American branch of the Land League. Sullivan conspired with Henry Sheridan of Div 8, to have the Division financial secretary give him credentials as the Division representative to the convention instead of an officer named O’Malley, who had been elected by the membership. Sullivan was nominated for President of the American Land League, and Andy Brown, County delegate from St Louis, seconded the nomination guaranteeing a subscription of $60,000. if Sullivan were elected. Sullivan was elected. When asked where the money would come from, Brown replied,“from the AOH”. Sullivan went to AOH National Delegate (President) Jeremiah Crowley, asking that an assessment be levied on every member to honor the pledge he made at the Convention. The assessment was so ordered with no regard for the feelings of the members – many of whom vehemently objected to the Irish AOH position.

Division of the Order
Meanwhile, many of the rank and file of the American AOH refused to communicate further with Crowley, and appointed Francis Kiernan as National Delegate until the next National Convention in Cleveland on May 16, 1884. At that convention, Crowley appeared and, after a bitter credentials battle, was seated. At the end of a stormy convention, Henry Sheridan of Chicago, Sullivan’s co-conspirator was elected National Delegate by a slim majority, and Crowley was made Chairman of National Directory. Three months later, a notice in the New York Times announced that another National Convention of the Order had been held on August 13 in New York City during which the members of the National Board, who were elected in Cleveland, were tried and expelled on charges of conspiring to introduce Irish National Politics into the American Order and merge it with the fragmented Fenian Brotherhood. John Nolan (formerly of the Irish AOH) was elected National Delegate.

On August 26, the `expelled’ Board sent a circular to all Divisions reporting, “a conspiracy has been unearthed in New York which has been in secret operation for 18 months, headed by Hugh Murray of New York County and aided by one Mr Nolan, ex-member of the Irish AOH.” They accused the `conspirators’ of holding a mock convention, electing officers, and seceding from the organization. They also revealed that they had come to New York to determine the state of affairs, and learned that before the Cleveland Convention had even met, the New Yorkers had raised $800. and sent Mr Nolan to Ireland with a message to the Irish AOH that he would be elected National Delegate for America if the Irish AOH would support them as the legal AOH. The circular reported that the Irish order agreed, and, by that agreement, had conspired with the `New York traitors’ and thereby demonstrated that they were “unfit to preside at the head of an organization of the magnitude of ours”. The Cleveland Board therefore announced that they had severed all links with the group that they had once “looked to as a faithful friend and father” adding, for good measure, that they were a drain on the Order in America, intellectually a disgrace, and had sacrificed the whole organization for a few New York favorites. It was signed by the Cleveland National Board including Henry Sheridan, National Delegate and Jeremiah Crowley, Chairman.

Law suits followed by both sides over Division and County property and the right to use the name `Ancient Order of Hibernians’. There were now two organizations in America: one took the name of the AOH, Board of Erin, and the other the AOH in America. American branch also changed the title of National Delegate to National President. Some of the Board of Erin members in Ireland continued to send correspondence and merchandise to the Board of Erin in America, while others recognized only the AOH in America. In 1886, National President Nolan of the American Board of Erin traveled to the Board of Erin Convention in Ireland to stop them from communicating with the AOH in America. He charged that some of the Board of Erin members had continued their support for the American faction, and the animosity which had split the Order in America was thereby exported to Ireland and they too split with expulsions and law suits resulting.

American Reconciliation
Thus did politics, personal greed, and petty jealousy bring to a shameful and disgraceful state, one of the noblest of the ancient Orders of Ireland. It would be many years, filled with accusations, lies, and treachery before saner heads prevailed and the two factions in America were brought to true brotherhood through the intervention of Antrim-born Bishop James McFaul of Trenton, NJ.  At an AOH national convention in Trenton, Bishop McFaul encouraged the warring factions of the AOH to come together and charter a merger. The American Branch, represented by its President, P.J. O’Connor of Savannah, GA and the Board of Erin Branch, represented by its National Delegate, Rev. E.S. Phillips of the diocese of Scranton agreed and the Board of Erin Branch was re-absorbed into the American Branch in July, 1898.

The sad part is that the bond between the American and Irish branches of this noble order were never officially reconciled. The intervening years have dimmed the recollection of the dispute, but the memory that one existed was never truly forgotten.

Years later, the apolitical and religious posture of the Irish organization dictated their decision to support Parnell’s struggle for an independent Ireland through Parliamentary reform and they became champions of Home Rule in Ireland. The appearance in the early 1900′s of a more militant faction never swayed the AOH Board of Erin from that commitment, and they were often criticized for not being outspoken disciples of the revolutionary action proposed by the heroes of Easter Week. They remained true to their principles, and gave neither support nor opposition to the militants during the 1916 insurrection, the War of Independence, and the Civil War that followed. This again strained relations with the American AOH who supported the militants although AOH divisions in Ireland who remained affiliated with the American Board did take part in the rising.

For years, the two Boards remained as distant cousins who never spoke. Few remembered, or even knew, the old animosities, and fewer still held grudges against the branch of the Order across blue highway home, yet the breach remained – in spite of the fact that the AOH in America proudly pointed to their Irish heritage and the fact that the Irish organization had a litany of proud accomplishments and opposition to the Crown.

International Reconciliation
Then, in 1981, Jack Connolly, President of the AOH in America, stopped into an AOH hall in Ireland. His historic gesture, opened dialogue between the two branches of the Order, and resulted in the visit of a group of Belfast Hibernians to Boston and New York to march in their St Patrick’s Day parades. Hospitality was provided to visiting Hibernian officials during the next few administrations, but little of significance occurred until 1992 when Board of Erin Secretary Frank Kieran visited America. Hibernian hospitality was extended by the American Board and, in conversations held during that visit, it was proposed that the two branches consider a joint project. At the 1994 American National Convention in Louisville Kentucky, it was announced that the joint project would be a memorial to the victims of the Great Hunger to be erected in Ireland in 1995.

On August 20 1995, the dream came true as the American and Irish National Boards gathered in Ennistymon, Co. Clare to dedicate that memorial. In unveiling the memorial, Dail Eireann’s Minister of State, Donal Carey, noted that this was the first national monument in all of Ireland to the victims of the Great Hunger, and it took the AOH to do it. It was a proud moment for the AOH, and a visible indication of what unity can achieve. More significant, but less publicized was an event that took place days earlier on August 12, just after the American Board had arrived in Ireland. It was the first joint meeting in history between the AOH National Boards of America, Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales. That meeting opened a new chapter in Hibernian history, which was confirmed by the hospitality extended in Hibernian Halls in Counties Louth, Down, Antrim, and Derry where the American Board was hosted and celebrated. The American Order also marched in solidarity with Board of Erin AOH in Co Derry in commemoration of the Feast of the Assumption and later, Bloody Sunday. As a result of those historic gatherings and marches, the prejudice of the past has been buried, and the AOH now stands, not only as the oldest Catholic Lay organization in America, but as the largest Irish Catholic society in the world with Divisions across the United States, and close ties with the AOH in Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.

The AOH in America Today
In America, the Division is the basic unit of the Order. Divisions are combined into County Boards, which are in turn governed by State Boards, and an overall National Board elected every two years. Annual dances, concerts, and parades sponsored at all levels of the Order raise millions for charity while providing a showcase for the positive contributions the Irish have made in every walk of American life. Divisions and Hibernian Halls across the country have traditionally provided a welcome for new immigrants. Here, the unique art, dance, music, and other interests of the Irish are fostered and preserved, making the AOH a home away from home for many. They are at the forefront of support for issues concerning the Irish such as Immigration Reform, MacBride Legislation, and the Right to Life. They serve their Church well, yet, they never forget their ancestral homeland, and can always be found lobbying, praying, and working for the total independence of a united 32-county Ireland –– as their constitution avows: “by all means constitutional and lawful”.

The initials AOH may tell the story best. Those who say it means Add One Hour are describing the easygoing, no rush attitude of many of its members, while America’s Only Hope has been used to define the loyalty of the Irish to the principles of their adopted land. In any case, its members are best described by the statement, To be Irish is a Blessing, To be a Hibernian is an Honor.

1798 Irish Rebellion

1. Background to the rebellion

The last decade of the 1700s was a most important time in Irish history. Republicanism and
Loyalism both found real identity, the Orange Order and Maynooth College were both
founded as the century ended with the rebellion in Ireland and the subsequent Act of Union.
The repercussions of these events define Irish history even up to the modern day.

The rebels were very influenced by the effects of uprisings in America, France and Australia.
They seized the opportunity to try to create a society not based on religion but based on
democratic principles and freedom of expression. This policy was to prove popular with Irish
people of different creeds who all wanted the same thing, freedom from English rule.

This philosophy was to provide a means whereby counter-revolutionaries could try to
disrupt the organisation by inciting sectarian hatreds and fears within the movement.

Protestant ascendancy

The social and political systems in Ireland in the 1790s was such that the vast majority of
the population of over 5 million people were excluded. Only the ruling Protestant class,
comprising of about 10% of the population, were entitled to vote or to sit in parliament. The
vast majority of the land in Ireland was owned by Church of Ireland emigrants from
England. Ireland was independent in theory but in practice it was ruled by the English
parliament who severely restricted the growth of the Irish economy. The presbyterian class
were also excluded and many emigrated to America to seek out a more favourable situation.

The effects of worldwide revolution

It is not surprising, therefore, that when the American colonists revolted against British
government in the 1770s, they found a sympathetic ear amongst their kin in Ireland. In
1778 France, Britain’s traditional enemy, entered the war on the American side, thus
threatening Ireland with invasion. The British government was caught without an army to
defend Ireland, since its regular troops had been sent to America, nor the revenue to raise
an alternative, due to the economic dislocation caused by the war. An Irish Protestant army,
the Volunteers, was raised to fill the breach, financed locally. Unfortunately for government
it became the focus for various grievances, both political and economic. A convention of
Ulster Volunteers (predominantly Presbyterian) at Dungannon in 1782 demanded
parliamentary reform (a broadening of the franchise and the abolition of ‘rotten’ boroughs)
and Catholic emancipation (the abolition of remaining anti-Catholic laws). However a
national Volunteer convention the following year split on the Catholic question and
Volunteering declined thereafter.

The United Irishmen and the Catholic Convention

The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 with its ideals of liberty, equality and
fraternity provided fresh impetus to the reform movement in Ireland. In the autumn of 1791
Societies of United Irishmen were founded in Belfast and Dublin with the twin aims of
parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. The leading ideologue was Theobald Wolfe
Tone, a Church of Ireland lawyer from Dublin, who, having witnessed the disarray of the
Volunteers on the Catholic question years earlier, was determined to forge a united reform
movement of the various denominations. In addition he increasingly focused critical
attention on the cornerstone of the existing Irish political system, ‘the connection with
England’, although his evolution into fully fledged separatist and republican was to take a
while longer. He found willing allies amongst the middle class leaders of the Catholic
Committee who had recently displaced their more conservative land-owning predecessors.
Determined to push more aggressively for concessions from government the new Catholic
Committee appointed Tone as their secretary and over the course of 1792 mobilised for a
‘Catholic Convention’ held in the Tailors’ Hall, Dublin in December. The Convention
presented its demands directly to the London government, over the head of the implacably
hostile Dublin administration. The London government, anxious to maintain the loyalty of
the Catholic majority in the face of the impending war with revolutionary France, conceded
almost all of the demands, except the right of Catholics to sit in parliament.

Popular politics and Defenderism

The Catholic Convention had a politicising effect out of all proportion to the 233 delegates
who directly participated. The delegates were elected in a series of meetings that reached
down to parish level involving broad sections of the people in political activity for the first
time. At the same time the country was awash with a deluge of political pamphlets. In
particular the campaign politicised and broadened the horizons of the Defenders. This
shadowy organisation first made its appearance in County Armagh in the late 1780s as a
defence against the arms raids on Catholics of the ‘Peep o’ Day Boys’, forerunners of the
Orange Order, who, as a symbol of Protestant supremacy, were anxious to maintain the ban
on Catholics bearing arms. By 1792/93 Defenderism had spread throughout south Ulster
and north Leinster (it had even penetrated into Dublin City), and its propaganda had
become more articulate and socially radical in tone. Throughout this period Tone, Samuel
Neilson, Thomas Russell, and other radical United Irishmen, established contact with them
which was to provide the basis for a mass-based revolutionary United Irish organisation
later in the decade.

Loyalist reaction

Meanwhile the upholders of the status quo in Ireland were not idle in the face of these
challenges. Along with the carrot of concessions to Catholics went the stick of repression:
the gunpowder act which placed restrictions on firearms; the militia act, which envisaged a
largely Catholic rank-and-file home defence force officered by Protestants, and which
provoked widespread disturbances; and the convention act, which outlawed any repeat of
December 1792′s ‘Back Lane parliament’. The latter in particular stymied United Irish plans
for a repeat of that success on the issue of parliamentary reform. An Ulster convention,
dominated by United Irishmen, demanding parliamentary reform met at Dungannon in
February 1793 just before the convention act was passed. The Dublin Society of United
Irishmen was dispersed in May 1794, a fate shared by like-minded reform movements in
England and Scotland. In the circumstances of Britain’s war with revolutionary France
demands for reform were equated with subversion. The war acted as a pressure-cooker
polarising the situation even further and Ireland became a crucial theatre in this wider
ideological struggle. At grassroots level the struggle was joined by the Defenders who
became increasingly bold in their actions. As law-and-order deteriorated in the countryside
government repression intensified, culminating in commander-in-chief Carhampton’s brutal
campaign against the Defenders in 1795. Liberal Protestant opinion was outraged at the
scale of the illegalities many suspected Defenders were transported without a trial. The
government response was the insurrection act which retroactively enshrined Carhampton’s
activities in law.

The Orange Order and the founding of Maynooth

Sectarian hostilities flared up anew in County Armagh, culminating in the expulsion of
thousands of Catholics and in the foundation of the Orange Order, dedicated to the
maintenance of Protestant ascendancy. Under landlord and government sponsorship it
spread rapidly over the following years providing the government with a mass-based
counter-revolutionary alternative to the United Irishmen. A more subtle variation of the
overall counter-revolutionary strategy was the foundation of a Catholic seminary at
Maynooth. Catholic seminarians would no longer be obliged to get educated in France where
many of them had developed an enthusiasm for the revolution. Thus the government
cultivated the support of a Catholic hierarchy itself fearful of the spread of ‘French

The recall of Fitzwilliam

Early in 1795 the arrival of Fitzwilliam as lord lieutenant had raised Catholic hopes only for
Those hopes to be dashed by his sudden recall having over-stepped his brief. His successor
Camden reinstated the policy of defending Protestant Ascendancy at all costs. The United
Irishmen, meanwhile, had continued to meet clandestinely under various guises. The recall
of Fitzwilliam removed whatever lingering hope they may have entertained for constitutional
reform. The Catholic Committee dissolved itself (on the basis that ‘there was no longer a
Catholic question only a national question’); a new constitution was drawn up for a single
mass-based revolutionary United Irish organisation; and Tone was dispatched to France (via
America) to solicit military aid for an armed revolution.

Bantry Bay and the ‘dragooning of Ulster’

By the end of 1796 Tone’s mission had borne fruit in the form of the dispatch of 16,000
French troops under General Hoche to Bantry Bay. Bad weather and bad French
seamanship, however, prevented the landing of the force which in all probability could have
liberated the country. Within Ireland, meanwhile, the United Irishmen had build a
formidable underground network, especially in Ulster where they claimed 100,000 armed
and organised men. While they waited confidently for another French invasion attempt,
government forces went on the offensive. Throughout the spring and summer of 1797 the
army under General Lake, augmented by the Orange Order, was let loose on the people of
Ulster. The ‘dragooning of Ulster’ effectively disarmed and crippled United Irish organisation,
especially in the middle and south of the province.

2. The rebellion

The United Irishmen go-it-alone

By the winter of 1797/98, with hopes of a renewed French attempt fading, the United
Irishmen were forced to adopt a go-it-alone military strategy focused on Dublin. Their
organisation was strengthened in and around the capital and it also expanded in south
Leinster. The planned insurrection was to have been a three-phased affair: the seizure of
strategic positions within Dublin city; co-ordinated with the establishment of a crescent of
positions outside in north County Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow; and backed up by the
engagement of government forces in the counties beyond to prevent reinforcement.
Disaster struck on 12 March 1798 with the arrest of most of the Leinster leadership. Further
arrests on the very eve of the rising in May effectively decapitated the movement. The
seizure of Dublin from within was aborted; as they waited for orders that never came,
United Irish positions outside the city succumbed one by one; of the counties beyond, only
in Wexford did the United Irishmen meet with success. A fortnight later (7-9 June), despite
the mauling at the hands of Lake’s forces the year before, the United Irishmen of Antrim
and Down managed to rise up but they too were quickly defeated.


The Wexford insurgents met with a string of early successes but were ultimately prevented
from spreading the insurrection beyond their own county by defeats at New Ross (5 June)
and Arklow (9 June). Massive government forces began to move in for the decisive military
showdown at Vinegar Hill, outside Enniscorthy (21 June). Although the insurgents suffered
defeat, the bulk of their forces escaped encirclement and carried on the struggle for another
month, one group in the Wicklow mountains and the other in a ‘long march’ into the
midlands before being worn down and forced to surrender. A month later (22 August) over
a thousand French troops under General Humbert landed at Killala, County Mayo, but it was
too little too late. Despite some initial successes, including a spectacular victory at
Castlebar, Humbert and the United Irishmen who flocked to his standard were defeated at
Ballinamuck, County Longford (8 October). The insurrection of 1798 was over.

3. Effects of the Rebellion

The defeat of the United Irishmen also signalled the end of Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland
as the Act of Union of 1800 abolished the parliament in College Green and moved all
authority back to the parliament in London.

Some United Irishmen welcomed this development as the first step on the road to
parliamentary reform as did many of the Catholic peasantry who envisaged their election in
the English parliament. Catholic Emancipation followed in 1929 by which time the context
had changed from being a wholly national issue to being a Catholic issue.

The United Irishmen ideals of a non-sectarian democracy became obscured by the politics of
the ballot box based on religion. The rebellion of 1798 heightened the awareness to the
Catholic peasantry of the situation that they were in and showed them that there may be
alternatives to be won.

Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Famine, Parnell, Davitt and the land reform movements, all did
the same thing as the majority of people in Ireland demanded more and more freedom and

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An Gorta Mor, 1845-1849



The potato was the principal source of nutrition for the vast majority of the
poorer classes because this crop produced more food per acre than wheat and
could also be used to generate income. The practice of Conacre/Land Division
meant that peasants needed to produce the biggest crop possible. The most
variety of potato was the ‘Aran Banner’ which, whilst producing high yields also
was very susceptible to Blight.

Many farmers had a few animals; the pig, easily fed on left-overs and requiring
little space, was quite common. In many cases , however, other crops and
animals were used to pay the rent and were never regarded as food


At the start of the famine over one half of the population of the country lived in
small 1 roomed dwellings. Little or no furniture and animals would be
accommodated with the occupants of the. The other half would live in 2 storey
houses or mansions – landlords or wealthy tenants – mostly found along the East
and the South Coast. Two thirds of the population were involved in agriculture.

The arrival of the month of June indicated the start of the hungry or meal months
in rural Ireland as old potatoes were not dug until August. People simply had
nothing to eat or at best could manage a meal of porridge. Hunger was
commonplace and small scale famines were therefore not unknown.


The potato became the staple diet of much of the country during the early 1800s
as it was ideally suited to the Irish climate, could be grown even in poor soils,
gave a high return per acre and a single acre could support a family of 5 – 6

By 1945, it is estimated that about one third of the entire population was totally
dependent on the potato, and in poor regions, like Mayo, it was the only food
eaten by up to nine – tenths of the population.


The policy of ‘Laisse Faire’ (meaning to leave alone) meant that Governments did
not interfere in business markets or the economy in general. This policy was
disastrous when famine struck as it meant that there was no way of quickly
rectifying the crisis. Scarce food became costly and the poor simply starved


While the population of Europe rose throughout the 19th Century, population
growth in Ireland was particularly dramatic. In 1800, the population was about 5
million. By 1841, it had risen to over 8 million according to the census of that
year. This growth can be explained by the fact that people married early in life
and they tended to have large families.
Unlike Britain, Ireland lacked major industrial centres. Jobs were scarce and there
was little point in trying to save up by waiting to get married. a part of the family
farm on which to grow food and a house built with stones and ‘mud kneaded with
straw’ was the most any married couple could hope for. Early marriages were
followed by large families – children were seen by parents as insurance against
starvation in their old age. As a result subdivision and holdings were gradually
reduced to tiny plots.


In the early summer of 1845, on the 11th September of that year a disease,
referred to as blight was noted to have attacked the crop in some areas. In that
year, one – third of the entire crop was destroyed. In 1846, the crop was a total
failure. This report came from a Galway priest.

“As to the potatoes, they are gone – clean gone. If travelling by night, you would
know when a potato field was near by the smell. The fields present a space of
withered black stalks”.

Though 1847 was free from blight, few seed potatoes had been planted, and so
the famine continued. Yet the country was producing plenty of food. As the Irish
politician, Charles Duffy wrote: “Ships continue to leave the country, loaded with
grain and meat”.

As food was scarce people would eat anything such as nettles, berries, roots,
wildlife, animals, dogs and cats in order to survive.

In the mid 1840′s, Bishop Loras of Dubuque, Iowa, visited Ireland. He was so
appalled by the conditions that he found there that he submitted a letter to the
London Tablet. Here is a portion of that letter:

I assure you, dear sir, the scene of poverty and misery in some quarters was
wonderful (that is, awful), and I am told that it is still worse in other counties. I
saw many poor cottages covered with straw, half buried in the ground, and
occupied by poor Catholic tenants, who cultivate in the sweat of their brow small
fields divided by poor green hedges or half-tumbled walls.

The manner in which many were clothed was a sure indication of great poverty
and unavoidable sufferings. At every station, at least in towns, the stage was
surrounded by whole families of beggars, who, by their pressing demands, would
elicit charity from the most hardened heart. Many of those cottages were
crumbling in ruins and abandoned by their tenants, who had emigrated to some
more hospitable shore. As I was traveling along I saw occasionally some of those
extensive and princely estates occupied by rich English lords, whose dwellings
and parks are surrounded by old lofty walls and shaded by quite annuated trees.
The contrast between great opulence and extreme poverty was truly appalling,
and one is at a loss to understand how this state of things can be tolerated in this
age of light and philanthropy.

Another contrast I cannot help noticing. As soon as I crossed the Channel from
Dublin to Holyhead, In England, I perceived great change for the better in the
face of the country, and in the look of the people; so much so, that one could
hardly believe that Ireland and England were both under the same laws, and
protected by the same government; and more than that, the poor Irish are either
incarcerated or transported, whenever they make any attempt to better their
truly miserable condition.


Subsistence-level Irish farmers found their food stores rotting in their cellars, the
crops they relied on to pay the rent to their British and Protestant landlords
destroyed. Peasants who ate the rotten produce sickened and entire villages were
consumed with cholera and typhus. Parish priests desperate to provide for their
congregations were forced to forsake buying coffins in order to feed starving
families, with the dead going unburied or buried only in the clothes they wore
when they died.

The potato crop of 1845 was destroyed by a fungus, Phytophthora infestans,
commonly known as Blight, which had spread from North America to Europe. By
the early autumn of 1845 it was clear that famine was imminent in Ireland, but
British government reaction was slow and incapable of responding to the
magnitude of the crisis.


Landlords evicted hundreds of thousands of peasants, who then crowded into
disease-infested workhouses. Other landlords paid for their tenants to emigrate,
sending hundreds of thousands of Irish to America and other English-speaking
countries. In many cases, these ships reached port only after losing a third of
their passengers to disease, hunger and other causes.

Conditions in the workhouses were desperate and often the only way to get food
was to fight for it, leading to misery, violence and even more despondency.

Diseases in the workhouses were common and included Typhus, Relapsing Fever.
Dysentry, Bacillary Dysentry. Scurvy and Asiatic Cholera. There was little in the
way of medical care for the victims.


The condition of the ships in which tens of thousands of people emigrated were
appalling as many middle-men used sub-standard vessels and carried too many
people, with a view to making a quick profit. On one of these coffin ships, of the
348 passengers, 117 died at sea; on another, going to Canada, 158 died of a
total of 476 passengers.


During the winter of 1845-1846 Peel’s government spent £100,000 on American
maize which was sold to the destitute. The Irish called the maize ‘Peel’s
brimstone’. Eventually the government also initiated relief schemes such as
canal-building and road building to provide employment. The workers were paid
at the end of the week and often men had died of starvation before their wages
arrived. Even worse, many of the schemes were of little used: men filled in
valleys and flattened hills just so the government could justify the cash
payments. The Irish crisis was used as an excuse by Peel in order for him to the
repeal the Corn Laws in 1846, but their removal brought Ireland little benefit. The
major problem was not that there was no food in Ireland – there was plenty of
wheat, meat and dairy produce, much of which was being exported to England –
but that the Irish peasants had no money with which to buy the food. The repeal
of the Corn Laws had no effect on Ireland because however cheap grain was,
without money the Irish peasants could not buy it.

In 1846 the major disaster began. This was due to number of factors. In 1845 the
crop only partially failed. It totally failed in 1846. Peel’s government was defeated
in England and Lord John Russell became Prime Minister of a Conservative
Government. He had a different attitude to that of Peel:

“It must be quite clear that we cannot feed the people…
We can at best keep down prices.”

The starving people had no money however to buy food at any price, so keeping
the prices down was useless. The Assistant Secretary of Ireland at this time was
Charles Trevelyan, who believed in laissez faire, the policy of ‘leaving well alone’.
To give anything to the people for nothing would, he said, result in

“Having the country on us for an indefinite number of years.”

He stopped the public works and sent back a boat load of Indian Corn which had
arrived from the U.S.A. The death toll steadily mounted, due to starvation and to
the spread of typhus and cholera. Thousands flocked to the overcrowded
workhouses and into towns – spreading disease and causing more deaths.

In September 1847 Russell’s government ended what little relief it had made
available and demanded that the Poor Law rate be collected before any further
money be made available by the Treasury. The collection of these rates in a
period of considerable hardship was accompanied by widespread unrest and
violence. Some 16,000 extra troops were sent to Ireland and troubled parts of
the country were put under martial law. The potato crop failed once more in
1848, and this was accompanied by Asiatic cholera.

In 1847 the Government realised that their policies were not working and made
money available for loan and established soup kitchens. Russell’s Government
ended what little relief it had made available in late 1847 and demanded that the
Poor Law rate, a tax on property to fund relief in Ireland, be collected before any
further money be made available by the Treasury. The collection of these taxes in
a period of considerable hardship was predictably accompanied by widespread
unrest and violence. Some 16,000 extra troops were sent to Ireland and troubled
parts of the country were put under martial law.

Government efforts were also helped by some local landlords who lowered rents
and distributed clothes and food to their tenants. As a result, many landlords
went bankrupt. The Quakers (The Society of Friends) also did much to help.



The Irish Famine of 1846-50 took as many as one million lives from hunger and
disease, and changed the social and cultural structure of Ireland in a number of
profound ways.

The Irish language, which was already in decline, suffered a near fatal blow from
the Famine, since it was the more remote areas which still used Irish that were
most affected by the famine.

Land holdings became larger, as the tendency to subdivide the family farm
declined. From now on, the farm was given to one son and the others often had
little choice but to emigrate. The Famine also changed centuries-old agricultural
practices, hastening the end of the division of family estates into tiny lots capable
of sustaining life only with a potato crop.

The famine affected the poorest classes – the cottiers and labourers – most of all,
the cottier class being almost wiped out.


It is estimated that at least one million people died from starvation and its
attendant diseases, whilst a further 1 million emigrated during the famine years.
The population of the island dropped from over 8 million in 1845 to about 6
million in 1850. By 1900, over 4 million had left Ireland and emigration continued
well into the 1950′s – averaging 60, 000 a year. Early marriages almost
disappeared and a decline in the birth rate resulted.


The millions who left Ireland on the emigrant ships took with them a hatred of
England and English rule that has survived to the present day. Suddenly, Irish
people realised that they had to take control of their own affairs. England had
failed in its obligations to the people that it ruled and a new generation of rebels
and agitators were born. Parnell and Davitt fought for and achieved land reforms.
The Gaelic Athletic Association was formed to promote a greater sense of Irish
identity. Rebels such as Padraig Pearse were expounding the need for national
independence from England. The 1916 Easter Rising and the subsequent War of
Independence, Civil War and ultimate Independence have roots in the Great
Famine and the 1798 Rising by the United Irishmen that proceeded it.


The Landlord class was ruined by the famine. The Government introduced the
Encumbered Estates Act in 1849, making it easier for landlords to sell off their
land. The land acts later in the century fought for by Parnell and Davitt finally put
paid to this hated system of authority in rural Ireland.

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