MARY ANGLAND continues her series on famous battles that helped shape the country


The defeat of the Catholic Jacobite forces at the Battle of Aughrim and the Flight of the Wild Geese, in its aftermath, left the Protestant Ascendency, firmly in control on the island. The vast majority of the population was the Catholic peasantry who owned no land and had no political power to change things.

In Ulster, the Presbyterians lived in better conditions, though like their Catholic countrymen, they had no political power either. The great bulk of the land was held by a small group of influential Anglo-Irish families who were members of the Church of Ireland. This situation was bound to cause unrest.

Many of the Anglo-Irish families were absentee landlords, living in England while the work on their vast estates in Ireland was done by their Catholic peasant tenants. These landlords considered themselves to be English and were loyal to the crown.

As Ireland moved into the 1700s, the country could be divided broadly into two geographical areas. The north and the east were well developed, had infrastructure such as roads, and its inhabitants were rich from the export trade. However, the rest of the country, particularly the west and along the western seaboard were quite dismal, there were no roads, the area was underdeveloped and the people operated a cashless, subsistence economy.

In the 1740s, there were unusually cold winters and a series of bad harvests, leading to famine in which over 400,000 died. Agrarian unrest began to grow – the people’s complaints were all legitimate ones. Landlords were becoming wealthy from grain export, forcing tenants to rely more and more on the potato as their staple diet.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own