The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
The pressure on Ireland from the early Stuart governments eventually broke out in the 1641 Irish Rebellion. The Gaelic Irish rebelled and allied with the Catholic "Old English" to form the 'Catholic Confederation'. Old racial divisions between native Irish and the Old English (that is Irish Catholics of English descent) were papered over as an alliance against Protestant English exploitation of Ireland exploded violently. During the 1620s as a means of raising money, the government of Charles I had offered "graces" * to the Irish Catholics, but had gone back on his word. Furthermore, the Lord Deputy during the 1630s, Thomas Wentworth, aroused great fear amongst Catholics' for the safety of property and considerable resentment in response to harsh treatment, his policy of "Thorough". Wentworth established stability in Ireland, but this was superficial, based as it was on fear, and collapsed almost immediately after the Lord Deputy was recalled to England by the King.
* [Concessions such as relaxation of penal laws]
The Catholic allegiances of the Old English prevented alliance with Charles I during the Civil War (although negotiations did take place and troops were sent), and by the time the Catholic Confederacy collapsed in 1649 the Parliamentarians had won the war and were on the eve of executing their King and erecting a devout Protestant commonwealth. In service of the new regime Oliver Cromwell campaigned in Ireland during 1649 to bring the rebellion to an end. His brutal policy of merciless slaughter of Catholics, notably at Drogheda and Wexford, brought death and destruction to Ireland in the name of God and the commonwealth. It has gone down in the annals of Irish history as a pre- eminent example of English persecution of the Irish.
After being conquered by Cromwell Ireland was temporarily united with England as Protestant Irish sat in Westminster during the Protectorate Parliaments. There were attempts to embark on large-scale confiscation of Catholic property and plantation in the hope of strengthening the English presence in Ireland. "Transplantation" (1654-55) involved the physical displacement of thousands of Catholics in favour of Protestant settlers and soldiers of the Army. However while the "New English" landowning class was consolidated, the Cromwellian settlement of Ireland neglected to effectively introduce the necessary sub- stratum of Protestant land-working yeomen. Only in Ulster did such a scale of plantation take place, although racial and religious antipathy between Scottish Presbyterians and English Anglicans was a notable division among Protestants settled in Ireland.
Charles II's Restoration monarchy left much of Cromwellian Ireland in tact. In a compromise over the land question, the Act of Explanation upheld the position of the new Protestant "planters" in Ireland against the appeals of "Old English" and Gaelic Irish. One notable change after the puritan interlude was the return of High Anglican bishops to Ireland with the Restoration of the Church of England in 1660. Although their efforts to coerce the Catholic majority of the population failed, during the later 1670s after the Popish Plot the government stepped up persecution of Catholics (and Presbyterians following disturbances in Scotland).
The reign of the Catholic Stuart King James II saw a sudden and fundamental shift in royal policy towards Ireland. During his three years on the throne James II favoured Catholicism in both England and Ireland in an attempt to lay the foundations for the resumption of the Catholic faith in England. When the Protestant ruling elite rebelled against the King's policies and invited William Prince of Orange to defend the Protestant faith in England, James II fled to Ireland, controlled by his own supporters and where he received refuge. His Irish Parliament of 1689, packed with the Catholic "Old English", was most notable for its reversal of the land settlements that had favoured Protestant "planters" since the Tudors.
However at the Battle of the Boyne (1690) James II's Catholic counter-revolution was crushed, and in the aftermath of Catholic defeat followed yet further reinforcement of the Protestant landowning class, the development of the Protestant Ascendancy. The relationship between the Protestant settlers in Ireland and the English government was that of mutual dependency - the Protestants formed a clear minority in the total population of Ireland and were reliant on England for political, military and economic support. They were however England's only allies in Ireland by the late seventeenth century. Catholic officials