The Tithe War

Patrick Weston Joyce

951. I will sketch here, in a short chapter, the leading events of the reign of William IV., which are intimately connected with those of the period just concluded.

In 1830 George IV. died and was succeeded by his brother as William IV This brought on a general election; and O'Connell and several other Catholics were returned from Ireland.

952. In the end of 1830 Wellington resigned, and was succeeded as prime minister by earl Grey. The marquess of Anglesea became lord lieutenant for the second time; E. G. Stanley chief secretary; and William Plunket (940) lord chancellor.

953. O'Connell resumed his agitation for repeal, reviving, in this same year, the Catholic Association under the name of the Society of the Friends of Ireland. This was suppressed by proclamation; and he founded the Anti-union Association, which was also suppressed. In the following year, 1831, for attending a meeting in defiance of the proclamation, he was tried and convicted: but it all went for nothing, for he was never called up for punishment.

954. In 1831 the chief secretary the Right Hon. E. G. Stanley, in a letter to the Duke of Leinster, announced the foundation of the system of National Education in Ireland. Its two fundamental principles were, and are still.—(1) Combined literary and separate religious instruction for children of different religions: (2) No interference with the religious principles of any child. Commissioners were appointed who were intrusted with government funds: and in 1832 they began to give aid to schools. From that time to the present the National System has worked with uninterrupted success.

955. In 1832 was passed the great English Reform bill. In the same year another on similar lines for Ireland was introduced by Mr Stanley and passed. Several small "rotten" or "pocket" boroughs were disfranchised; the representation was more evenly distributed; and the number of Irish members was increased to 105. Tenants of £50 a year and leaseholders of £10 a year were to have votes. O'Connell and Sheil fought hard but vainly to have the franchise restored to the forty-shilling freeholders.

956. The Catholic peasantry were still called on to pay tithes (758), and also the "Church-rate" or Church-cess, a tax to keep the Protestant churches in repair: and they continued to be harassed by the exactions of tithe-proctors (858) and others, who if the money were not forthcoming seized the poor people's cows, furniture, beds, blankets, kettles, or anything else they could lay hands on.

957. At last about 1830 there arose a general movement against tithes: the people resisted all through the south of Ireland; and for many years there was a "Tithe war." The military and police were constantly called out to support the collectors in making their seizures: and almost daily there were conflicts, often with loss of life. At Newtownbarry in Wexford, in 1831, thirteen peasants were killed by the yeomanry and police; in 1832 eleven police and several peasants were killed in a tithe-conflict at Carrickshock near Knocktopher in Kilkenny: and many other such fatal encounters took place.

958. There was determined resistance everywhere; and the cost of collection was far greater than the amount collected. Hundreds of Protestant clergy got little or nothing and were reduced to poverty. To relieve these temporarily, government advanced a million on loan. Then there was a Coercion act: but still the people resisted. All this time O'Connell, seconded by Sheil, struggled both in and out of parliament for the total abolition of tithes.

959. In 1833 government passed the "Church Temporalities Bill"; which reduced the number of Protestant bishops from eighteen to ten; and of archbishops from four to two. It also abolished Church-rates (956). The money saved by this Act was left with the Church. The Tithe war went on till at last, some years later (in 1838) the tithes—reduced by 25 per cent.—were put on the landlord instead of the tenant. But the tenants had to pay still; for the landlords added the tithes to the rent.

960. On the 20th of June 1837 William IV. died and was succeeded by his niece the Princess Victoria who was then just over eighteen years of age.