Ireland - History - Union With Great Britain

Union With Great Britain

The passage of the Act in the Irish Parliament was ultimately achieved with substantial majorities, having failed on the first attempt in 1799. According to contemporary documents and historical analysis, this was achieved through a considerable degree of bribery, with funding provided by the British Secret Service Office, and the awarding of peerages, places and honours to secure votes. Thus, Ireland became part of an extended United Kingdom, ruled directly by a united parliament at Westminster in London.

Aside from the development of the linen industry, Ireland was largely passed over by the industrial revolution, partly because it lacked coal and iron resources and partly because of the impact of the sudden union with the structurally superior economy of England, which saw Ireland as a source of agricultural produce and capital.

The Great Famine of the 1840s caused the deaths of one million Irish people and over a million more emigrated to escape it. By the end of the decade, half of all immigration to the United States was from Ireland. The period of civil unrest that followed until the end of the 19th century is referred to as the Land War. Mass emigration became deeply entrenched and the population continued to decline until the mid-20th century. Immediately prior to the famine the population was recorded as 8.2 million by the 1841 census. The population has never returned to this level since. The population continued to fall until 1961 and it was not until the 2006 census that the last county of Ireland (County Leitrim) to record a rise in population since 1841 did so.

The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the rise of modern Irish nationalism, primarily among the Roman Catholic population. The pre-eminent Irish political figure after the Union was Daniel O'Connell. He was elected as Member of Parliament for Ennis in a surprise result and despite being unable to take his seat as a Roman Catholic. O'Connell spearheaded a vigorous campaign that was taken up by the Prime Minister, the Irish-born soldier and statesman, the Duke of Wellington. Steering the Catholic Relief Bill through Parliament, aided by future prime minister Robert Peel, Wellington prevailed upon a reluctant George IV to sign the Bill and proclaim it into law. George's father had opposed the plan of the earlier Prime Minister, Pitt the Younger, to introduce such a bill following the Union of 1801, fearing Catholic Emancipation to be in conflict with the Act of Settlement 1701.

A subsequent campaign, led by O'Connell, for the repeal of the Act of Union failed. Later in the century, Charles Stewart Parnell and others campaigned for autonomy within the Union, or "Home Rule". Unionists, especially those located in Ulster, were strongly opposed to Home Rule, which they thought would be dominated by Catholic interests. After several attempts to pass a Home Rule bill through parliament, it looked certain that one would finally pass in 1914. To prevent this from happening, the Ulster Volunteers were formed in 1913 under the leadership of Edward Carson.

Their formation was followed in 1914 by the establishment of the Irish Volunteers, whose aim was to ensure that the Home Rule Bill was passed. The Act was passed but with the "temporary" exclusion of the six counties of Ulster that would become Northern Ireland. Before it could be implemented, however, the Act was suspended for the duration of the First World War. The Irish Volunteers split into two groups. The majority, approximately 175,000 in number, under John Redmond, took the name National Volunteers and supported Irish involvement in the war. A minority, approximately 13,000, retained the Irish Volunteers' name, and opposed Ireland's involvement in the war.

The failed Easter Rising of 1916 was carried out by the latter group in alliance with a smaller socialist militia, the Irish Citizen Army. The British response, executing fifteen leaders of the Rising over a period of ten days and imprisoning or interning more than a thousand people, turned the mood of the country in favour of the rebels. Support for Irish republicanism increased further due to the ongoing war in Europe, as well as the Conscription Crisis of 1918. The pro-independence republican party, Sinn Féin, received overwhelming endorsement in the general election of 1918, and in 1919 proclaimed an Irish Republic, setting up its own parliament (Dáil Éireann) and government. Simultaneously the Volunteers, which became known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), launched a three-year guerilla war, which ended in a truce in July 1921 (although violence continued until June 1922, mostly in Northern Ireland).

In December 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was concluded between the British Government and representatives of the Second Dáil. It gave Ireland complete independence in its home affairs and practical independence for foreign policy, but an opt-out clause allowed Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom, which it immediately exercised as expected. Additionally, an oath of allegiance to the King was to be taken. Disagreements over these provisions led to a split in the nationalist movement and a subsequent civil war between the new government of the Irish Free State and those opposed to the treaty, led by Éamon de Valera. The civil war officially ended in May 1923 when de Valera issued a cease-fire order.

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