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In the late eighteenth century, land was largely owned by English landlords and worked by Irish tenants. At this time, tillage was very profitable; tenants' dependents could afford to marry and have children at a younger age because they were able to support themselves on smaller amounts of land. The population expanded one estimate is about 17 percent per decade to 6. The land was often sub-let and sub-divided, and an increasing population survived with an ever more precarious security.

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In the early part of the nineteenth century, the price for Irish agricultural products decreased and so the ability of tenants to support themselves on small pieces of land also decreased. At the same time, the price of dairy products rose, and farmers could no longer afford to buy them. The potato was introduced to Ireland in the eighteenth century, and dependence on the potato as a single crop increased the peasant's vulnerability, as occasional failures of the potato crop illustrated.

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In , the potato crop failed badly, and, worse still, it continued to fail in subsequent years as well. Peasants had to chose between paying the rent on their land with their other crops and possibly starving , or eating their rent and being liable to eviction. Pasturage had become more profitable than tillage, and the Famine provided many landlords with the excuse to change to a more profitable type of farming by clearing the land of tenants.

Tenants were forced to either emigrate or starve. The British goverment first ignored the Famine; eventually, some work was provided to permit people to earn enough to buy food, and food prices were kept down by the threat of selling government stockpiles. However, relief efforts were patchy, and not enough work was available. The population of Ireland was estimated to be about 8. By , the population was down to 6. Many had died from starvation; those who emigrated, and those who survived in Ireland, remembered the inadequate and uncaring response of Britain.

More than any other single event in Irish history, the Famine came to epitomize, for many Irish people, the quintessential example of British attitudes to its neighbor. Another result of the Famine was to imprint on Irish minds the consequences of not owning one's own land. There had always been political agitation to achieve this goal, but it increased and became more organized in post-Famine Ireland.

By the 's, Irish peasants had largely achieved their goals of "fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale". Especially significant was the Land Act of which provided government loans to tenants for three quarters of the cost of buying the tenant's holding. By , 60 percent of cultivated land had been purchased by tenant farmers.

As Thornley said: "the insecure tenant of the 's became the peasant proprietor of the twentieth century", and the result was to "convert the great bulk of the Irish peasantry from social revolution to social conservatism" The right of private property approaches the nature of a sacred and unalterable principle in Irish society; it is enshrined as such in the Constitution:. The State acknowledges that man. The State accordingly guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the right of private ownership or the general right to transfer, bequeath, and inherit property.

Article Private ownership has become an unquestioned goal for many Irish families, to the exent that efficiency of land use has often become secondary to the accumulation of land. The effects are felt in the contemporary urban context as well. People are determined to own rather than rent, and to own a house with some land around it rather than an apartment in a block of flats. Ireland has the highest percentage of private house owners of any European country Curry , see also NESC a and the demand rarely meets the supply. Dublin politics is often the politics of land and housing.


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By the end of the nineteenth century, both the religious and land issues had been largely settled. Political agitation, and the general extension of the franchise to a greater proportion of people, had forced a great measure of religious freedom. Most tenant farmers had been aided in buying their land and were no longer dependent on landlords. There still remained, however, the national issue. Irish national identity remained an issue for many people. At the very least, people felt that decisions affecting Ireland should be made in Ireland, and by Irish people.

In the wake of a general revival of interest in things Irish including the Irish language and Irish sports in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Irish nationalist feelings grew. It had not always been easy to weld Irish M.

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A "home rule" bill was actually passed in , but the advent of World War I postponed its implementation. When it was finally passed in , it applied only to Northern Ireland.

In the south, constitutional politics had, by this time, succumbed to revolutionary politics. Although constitutional methods gave Irish citizens more political power than they previously had, such methods seemed unable to achieve independence. The Protestant-dominated industrial north-east had no desire to sever its links with the United Kingdom, and feared becoming a minority in a Catholic Ireland.

The British Parliament did not have the will or ability to deal with Ulster's defiance, and, as this became more obvious, public support for constitutional parties began to wane. The final blow to constitutional politics was the Easter uprising of A small number of revolutionaries occupied various government offices and other buildings, and had to be dislodged by force. Although the rebels had little public support at the time, the British government punished the revolutionaries severely, executing seventeen of them under conditions of extreme secrecy.

Such actions created a public sympathy for the revolutionaries which had been previously lacking, and constitutional politics was discredited by the impotence of the Irish M. Irish disenchantment with British administration was further heightened by the introduction of conscription in Northern Ireland; the specter of being forced to fight for a British cause was not popular. As the British continued to over-react in attempting to stamp out any acts of rebellion, more and more people were pushed into supporting the nationalist cause.

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This was expressed, electorally, by support for political parties which refused to recognize the British government. Conflict between British and Irish forces escalated, and the War of Independence began in Guerilla fighting lasted three years, until a truce was arranged on July 9th, Then followed negotiations which, on December 6th , led to a Treaty providing for Irish independence, with certain conditions. These conditions subsequently created far more problems and difficulties than the conflict which had preceded the Treaty.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty fell short of nationalist aspirations on two counts. Firstly, Ireland remained a part of the British Empire, although it had substantial local autonomy. Secondly, the six counties of north-east Ireland Ulster remained part of the United Kingdom, although there was a vague provision for a re-drawing of boundaries. One faction felt that the Treaty represented the most that could then be achieved. Another faction felt that the Treaty was inadequate. The pro-Treaty faction was, marginally, in the majority and the Treaty was accepted; the anti-Treaty faction rejected both the Treaty and the Irish Provisional government which the Treaty established.

The pro-Treaty faction became the government of the Irish Free State, and set about enforcing its legitimacy. The conflict over the Treaty spread throughout the country and became violent and sometimes vicious. A civil war followed, and the conflict continued until when the the anti-Treaty forces stopped their armed resistance but, significantly, did not turn in their arms; future resistance was not ruled out. The civil war period created two opposing political factions, which became the basis for the country's two major political parties.

By , de Valera and others in the political wing of Sinn Fein had broken with the Irish Republican Army over the issue of continued armed resistance. However, they still refused to participate in parliamentary politics and continued to fight elections as abstentionists. Public support for a political party without a parliamentary voice began to wane.

In , the Government passed a law which made abstentionist politics impossible, and de Valera, who was the leader of Sinn Fein, had to either return to the I.

click here He chose to contest future elections on the basis of participating in parliamentary politics; candidates would occupy any seats which his newly founded Fianna Fail party won. After the election, Fianna Fail obtained a majority in Parliament, and formed the government. The existing government became, gracefully, the opposition and so constitutional politics overtook revolution. The two groups created during the civil war became the two major political parties of independent Ireland. There had been little demand for total independence on the part of most Irish; increased local autonomy within a British framework would have satisfied most people.

It is thus not surprising that Irish independence was not accompanied by major social or economic transformations; although some of the leaders wanted such change, there was no support from the public at large.


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  • The new state carried on in much the same way as the previous British administration; what had changed was the rhetoric. Ireland remained a conservative region on the periphery of the United Kingdom, sharing with it common social, economic, and political values and structures. This period of time not only set the pattern for future Irish politics; it also demonstrated the post-independence continuity of pre-independence values and structures. The anti-treaty faction might have remained committed to armed resistance and denied the legitimacy of the Free State government; most chose instead to challenge the government through the electoral process.

    The Free State faction could have retained its control over the government apparatus, originally obtained by its military superiority. Instead, it forced the anti-Treaty forces to contest elections. The government's subsequent electoral defeat was foreseen by all, but the government was willing to pay this price in order to encourage the anti-Treaty forces to commit themselves to constitutional, rather than armed, opposition.

    De Valera's new government could have purged the bureaucracy of all "Free Staters" and given jobs to their own supporters. Instead, most officials were retained, and so the administration of government remained separate from politics. These were all crucial junctures; Irish politics remained conservative, stable, and constitutional as a result.

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    Political independence did not change the economic relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Over ninety percent of exports were still destined for the British or Northern Ireland market: "The Irish Free State remained part of an economic complex of which the United Kingdom was, as before, the predominate partner" Lyons The prospects for a decreased dependence on trade with the United Kingdom were limited: agricultural products, sold to Britain were the basis of the Irish economy, and tariffs to encourage industrialization could cause retaliation against Irish exports.

    Irish dependence on the British market was clearly demonstrated when de Valera and his Fianna Fail party won the election, and the "economic war" began. Tenants who had bought their land before independence owed payments to the British government, since the British government had advanced the necessary loans.

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    Under the terms of the Treaty, the new Irish government was to continue payment of land annuities, on behalf of the new landholders. To Fianna Fail, such payments were part of the continued political domination by Britain.