From A Concise History of Ireland by P. W. Joyce
968. The Young Ireland Party now determined to attempt revolution. But the government, knowing all their plans and intentions, began to take measures. Mitchel was arrested and sentenced to transportation. William Smith O'Brien, Thomas Francis Meagher, and John Blake Dillon went down to the country in 1848, and tried to raise an armed rebellion: but the people did not join them, and, after a trifling skirmish at Ballingarry in Tipperary, the rising was easily put down. The leaders—including Smith O'Brien, Meagher, and several others—were soon arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. But the sentence was commuted to transportation for life, and they were all sent to Van Diemen's Land; from which many of them afterwards escaped. These events, it may be said, brought to an end the Young Ireland movement.
969. The famine had ruined the majority of the landlords as well as of the people, and most of the estates were heavily in debt. In 1849 the Government formed a court in Dublin to sell encumbered estates. The purchasers bought the estates as they stood, and no allowance was made for the tenants' improvements, so that most of them lost the savings effected by the labour of their lives. In 1860 the government made an attempt to remedy this, but it came to nothing. The new owners generally raised the rents, and there were evictions, resistance, and outrages; while the people continued to emigrate by tens of thousands.
970. About 1862 James Stephens founded what was called the "Society of the Fenian Brotherhood," with the object of bringing about the independence of Ireland by force of arms. It was a secret oath-bound Society, but the Government were made aware of all the proceedings by spies. In 1865 Stephens and several others were arrested: but after a few days Stephens escaped from prison by the help of the warders, who were themselves Fenians unknown to the authorities. All the others were sentenced to penal servitude.
In 1867 another rising was attempted: but it was easily suppressed. The Fenians formed a plan to seize Chester Castle, containing a great store of arms: but it was never carried out, as the authorities discovered the plot in time.
In the same year (1867) two Fenian prisoners were rescued from a prison van in Manchester: the police officer in charge was unintentionally shot dead, after which three of the rescuing party were tried and hanged. Towards the end of the year an attempt was made to blow up Clerkenwell prison in order to release a Fenian prisoner, which caused the death of several persons and grievous injury to many others.
971. Partly on account of these events, the minds of Englishmen began to be turned to the need of some reform and improvement in the condition of things in Ireland: and Mr. Gladstone, the Prime Minister at the time, directed his attention to the disestablishment of the Irish Protestant church, which had been the established church since the time of Elizabeth (119). It was shown in Parliament that it had not been able to carry out the intention for which it was originally established, the conversion of the Irish Catholics, who, instead of diminishing, had been relatively increasing. After much determined opposition the Protestant Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869, so that it was no longer in connexion with the government; but due precaution was taken that none of the Protestant clergy then living should suffer any loss.
972. In 1870 Mr. Gladstone made another attempt to secure that the Irish tenantry should be compensated for their improvements in their farms in case of eviction: but the working of the Act was obstructed in various ways, and it did little good.
973. In 1878 the Intermediate Education Act was passed, providing for Intermediate Education in Ireland by payments to schools and by prizes to successful students. The funds were supplied from the money left after the disestablishment of the Church: and the system has been highly successful.
974. The condition of the Irish tenantry continued to be very bad: and about 1879 a "Land League" was formed by Michael Davitt, to agitate for reform and improvement. This League subsequently exercised great influence in the country and in parliament. In 1880 Charles Stewart Parnell was elected head of the Irish Party, and turned out the greatest Irish popular leader of modern times after O'Connell. He was a great Leader of Men, and by him the members of the Party were held together in a manner never equalled, so that they acted and voted as one man.
The land agitation became daily more intense and violent, and boycotting was very generally brought into play against those who resisted or opposed the movement. An attempt was made to put down the whole agitation by a Coercion Act passed at the instance of Mr. Forster, chief secretary for Ireland, giving the authorities power to arrest and keep in prison, without trial, all persons "reasonably suspected" of breaking the law. During the passing of this bill, Parnell and another Irish member, Joseph Biggar, obstructed and delayed the proceedings in every possible way, by taking advantage of the rules of the House of Commons, but not breaking them. In spite of all they could do, however, the bill was passed (1881).
975. By far the most important Act to reform the Irish land laws was passed by the Gladstone Government in 1881. By this law a Land Court was formed for fixing fair rents—"judicial rents," as they are called; and it was also laid down that so long as a tenant paid his rent he could not be evicted. This Act acknowledged the tenant as joint owner with the landlord. While it was passing through the Commons Mr. T. M. Healy, M.P., induced the Government to insert a clause of great importance, exempting the tenants' improvements from rent: a provision which is now known as the "Healy clause." In the cases brought before this court the rent was reduced on an average by 20 or 30 per cent. The rent once fixed by the court was to remain so for 15 years, when it would be again revised. Although the justice of the decisions of this court has often been questioned, by both tenants and landlords, it continued to do much good for the country.
976. Meantime great numbers of "suspects" were in jail all through Ireland under Mr. Forster's Act. At last matters came to a climax when Mr. Parnell and several other leaders were arrested and put into Kilmainham jail (1881). While here, Parnell and the others issued the "No rent manifesto"—advising the tenants all through Ireland to pay no more rent. It was, however, condemned everywhere by the clergy; and the people took little notice of it, but continued to pay their rent as before. After this the Government suppressed the Land League by proclamation.
977. After Parnell's imprisonment the state of the country became worse than ever, and outrages increased everywhere. The Government at last became convinced that his arrest, and Mr. Forster's Act that led to it, were a mistake. They released all the suspects and dropped the Act. It was now determined to adopt a conciliatory policy, and the government appointed Lord Frederick Cavendish chief secretary in place of Mr. Forster, who had resigned. The people of the whole country were in high hopes of better times; but these hopes were all dashed by a terrible crime. On the 8th of May, 1882, Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Thomas Burke, under secretary, were murdered in open day in the Phoenix Park by some members of a gang calling themselves "Invincibles," whose chief means of carrying out their plans was assassination. The news of this crime was received with horror all through Ireland as well as in England. This was followed by a severe Coercion Act, and all conciliatory measures were ended. In a little time the murderers were all brought to justice; five of them were hanged, and others of the Invincibles were sent to penal servitude.
In the autumn of 1882 Mr. Parnell founded the "Irish National League" to help in advancing the cause of Home Rule, and to advocate further reform in the Irish land laws. In 1888, 1884, and 1885 there were a number of dynamite outrages in London which had been plotted in America: but after a time the outrages ceased, and the Coercion Act was allowed to drop out of use.
978. In 1885 an Act was introduced and passed at the instance of Lord Ashbourne, then lord chancellor of Ireland, setting apart £5,000,000 to lend to the tenants of small holdings to enable them to buy out their farms when they could come to an agreement with their landlords; and thus become their own landlords. The tenants were to pay back the loan by annual instalments. After purchase, too, the amount the tenant had to pay yearly was less than the rent he had to pay the landlord. A few years afterwards another Act of the same kind, with the same amount of money, was passed.
These two Acts—so far as the money can go—have done great good: a large number of tenants are taking advantage of them: and they are remarkably punctual in paying back their instalments. After a certain number of years, when the purchase-money has been all paid back, the land will be quite free, with nothing to pay except rates and taxes. When a man owns his farm for ever, he has every inducement to improve it by draining, fencing, subsoiling, and so forth: and, as a matter of fact, nearly all those who have purchased their land work with great heart and spirit, and are every year becoming more comfortable and independent.
979. A dozen years before this time the Home Rule movement was set on foot by Isaac Butt (in 1874) to agitate for an Irish Parliament in Dublin: but he and his party were outvoted in the House of Commons, and the movement came to nothing. Mr. Gladstone now became convinced that it was necessary to give Ireland Home Rule; and for that purpose he introduced a bill in 1886, which was received with great favour by the Irish Nationalist party. But a considerable number of the Liberal members of parliament—hitherto Mr. Gladstone's followers—were opposed to the bill. They did not want to give a Parliament to Ireland, and they severed themselves from Mr. Gladstone's policy, forming a separate party who were, and are still, known as "Liberal Unionists," meaning that they still remained Liberals, but insisted on a single united Parliament for England and Ireland. When the question came on in the House of Commons, these voted with the Conservatives against the Home Rule bill, the Government were defeated, and the bill was thrown out. The rejection of the Home Rule bill caused intense disappointment to the great majority of the Irish people, and gave great satisfaction to the Irish Conservative minority.
980. The land troubles continued, and evictions went on increasing, till at last some tenants adopted what was called the "Plan of Campaign." This meant that on any estate where the landlord insisted on what were considered impossible rents, the tenants in a body agreed to retain all the rents in their hands till some settlement was arrived at. Many landlords were forced to give reductions; but as time went on the Plan was often greatly abused, by being brought to bear on landlords that deserved well of their tenants, who now found it impossible to obtain their rents, and were, in many cases, reduced to poverty. Sometimes also dishonest persons, pretending to act in accordance with the Plan, refused to pay ordinary debts, such as those incurred for goods got on credit. Boycotting also was often practised against individuals; and what with all these causes of disquietude the country became very much disturbed.
981. In 1887 a Crimes Act for Ireland was passed, giving the authorities greater powers to arrest and prosecute persons for various specified offences. There were frequent collisions between the police and people; and in a scuffle at Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, the police fired a volley by which two persons were killed and several wounded. A proclamation was issued suppressing the National League (977) in a large part of the south and west of Ireland. The state of disquietude continued: meetings were proclaimed, but were held in spite of the proclamations; the police and people often came into collision. Several of the leaders were imprisoned, among them Mr. William O'Brien, and Mr. T. D. Sullivan, then Lord Mayor of Dublin.
But with all this weary state of unrest there are a few pleasanter features to be recorded. Considerable numbers of small farmers continued to buy out their farms under the Ashbourne Acts (978); and hundreds of tenants applied to the Land Court to have judicial rents fixed (975), so that the Land Commissioners had much more business on hands than they could get through.