But no political cause swelled the population as much as the potato. Introduced by Raleigh in 1610, the cultivation of this important tuber developed with extraordinary rapidity. The Elizabethan wars were most injurious Dependence on the potato. to industry, for men will not sow unless they hope to reap, and the very essence of military policy had been to deprive a recalcitrant people of the means of living. The Mantuan peasant was grieved at the notion of his harvest being gathered by barbarian soldiers, and the Irishman could not be better pleased to see his destroyed. There was no security for any one, and every one was tempted to live from hand to mouth. The decade of anarchy which followed 1641 stimulated this tendency fearfully. The labour of one man could plant potatoes enough to feed forty, and they could neither be destroyed nor carried away easily. When Petty wrote, early in Charles II.’s reign, this demoralizing esculent was already the national food. Potatoes cannot be kept very long, but there was no attempt to keep them at all; they were left in the ground, and dug as required. A frost which penetrated deep caused the famine of 1739. Even with the modern system of storing in pits the potato does not last through the summer, and the “meal months”—June, July and August—always brought great hardship. The danger increased as the growing population pressed ever harder upon the available land. Between 1831 and 1842 there were six seasons of dearth, approaching in some places to famine.
The population increased from 2,845,932 in 1785 to 5,356,594 in 1803. They married and were given in marriage. Wise men foresaw the deluge, but people who were already half-starved every summer did not think their case could well be worse. In 1845 the population had swelled to 8,295,061, the greater part of whom depended on the potato only. There was no margin, and when the “precarious exotic” failed an awful famine was the result.
Great public and private efforts were made to meet the case, and relief works were undertaken, on which, in March 1847, 734,000 persons, representing a family aggregate of not less than 3,000,000, were employed. It was found that labour and exposure were not good for half-starved men. The jobbing was frightful, and is probably inseparable from wholesale operations of this kind. The policy of the government was accordingly changed, and the task of feeding a whole people was undertaken. More than 3,000,000 rations, generally cooked, were at one time distributed, but no exertions could altogether avert death in a country where the usual machinery for carrying, distributing and preparing food was almost entirely wanting. From 200,000 to 300,000 perished of starvation or of fever caused by insufficient food. An exodus followed which, necessary as it was, caused dreadful hardship, and among the Roman Catholic Irish in America Fenianism took its rise. One good result of the famine was thoroughly to awaken Englishmen to their duty towards Ireland. Since then, purse-strings have been even too readily untied at the call of Irish distress.
Great brutalities disgraced the rebellion of 1798, but the people had suffered much and had French examples before them. The real originator of the movement was Theobald Wolfe Tone (q.v.), whose proffered services Rebellion of 1798. were rejected by Pitt, and who founded the United Irishmen. His Parisian adventures detailed by himself are most interesting, and his tomb is still the object of an annual pilgrimage. Tone was a Protestant, but he had imbibed socialist ideas, and hated the priests whose influence counteracted his own. In Wexford, where the insurrection went farthest, the ablest leaders were priests, but they acted against the policy of their church.
The inevitable union followed (1st January 1801). From this period the history of Ireland naturally becomes intermingled with English politics (see English History), and much of the detail will also be found in the biographical Union of Great Britain and Ireland. articles on prominent Irishmen and other politicians. Pitt had some time before (1785) offered a commercial partnership, which had been rejected on the ground that it involved the ultimate right of England to tax Ireland. He was not less liberally inclined in religious matters, but George III. stood in the way, and like William III. the minister would not risk his imperial designs. Carried in great measure by means as corrupt as those by which the constitution of ’82 had been worked, the union earned no gratitude. But it was a political necessity, and Grattan never gave his countrymen worse advice than when he urged them to “keep knocking at the union.” The advice has, however, been taken. Robert Catholic Emancipation. Emmet’s insurrection (1803) was the first emphatic protest. Then came the struggle for emancipation. It was proposed to couple the boon with a veto on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops. It was the ghost of the old question of investitures. The remnant of the Roman Catholic aristocracy would have granted it; even Pius VII. was not invincibly opposed to it; but Daniel O’Connell took the lead against it. Under his guidance the Catholic association became a formidable body. At last the priests gained control of the elections; the victor of Waterloo was obliged to confess that the king’s government could no longer be carried on, and Catholic emancipation had to be granted in 1829. The tithe war followed, and this most oppressive of all taxes was unfortunately commuted (1838) only in deference to clamour and violence. The repeal agitation was Repeal agitation. unsuccessful, but let us not be extreme to mark the faults of O’Connell’s later years. He doubtless believed in repeal at first; probably he ceased to believe in it, but he was already deeply committed, and had abandoned a lucrative profession for politics. With some help from Father Mathew he kept the monster meetings in order, and his constant denunciations of lawless violence distinguish him from his imitators. His trial took place in 1844. There is a sympathetic sketch of O’Connell’s career in Lecky’s Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland (1871); Sir Thomas Wyse’s Historical Sketch of the late Catholic Association (1829) gives the best account of the religious struggle, and much may be learned from W. J. Fitzpatrick’s Life of Bishop Doyle (1880).
The national system of education introduced in 1833 was the real recantation of intolerant opinions, but the economic state of Ireland was fearful. The famine, emigration and the new poor law nearly got rid of starvation, but the people never became frankly loyal, feeling that they owed more to their own importunity and to their own misfortunes than to the wisdom of their rulers. The literary efforts of young Ireland eventuated in another rebellion (1848); a revolutionary wave could not roll over Europe without touching the unlucky island. After the failure of that outbreak there was peace until the close of the American civil war released a number of adventurers trained to the use of arms and filled with hatred to England.
Already in 1858 the discovery of the Phoenix conspiracy had shown that the policy of John Mitchel (1815-1875) and his associates was not forgotten. John O’Mahony, one of the men of ’48, organized a formidable secret society in America, which his historical studies led him to call the Fenian brotherhood (see Fenians).
The Fenian movement disclosed much discontent, and was attended by criminal outrages in England. The disestablishment of the Irish Church, the privileged position of which had long been condemned by public opinion, was then decreed (1869) and the land question was next taken in hand (1870). These reforms did not, however, put an end to Irish agitation. The Home Rule party which demanded the restoration of a separate Irish parliament, showed increased activity, and the general election of 1874 gave it a strong representation at Westminster, where one section of the party developed into the “obstructionists” (see the articles on Isaac Butt and C. S. Parnell).
Isaac Butt, who died in May 1879, led a parliamentary party of fifty-four, but the Conservatives were strong enough to outvote them and the Liberals together. His procedure was essentially lawyer-like, for he respected the House of Commons and dreaded revolutionary violence. His death left the field