Back to main menu
History of Ireland BACK

1877 - 1886: The Land League, Home Rule and Unionism
< Previous History Menu Next >

After the Famine, the price of food rose rapidly and Irish farmers began to get better off as they made money on this market. In response, the Irish landlords raised taxes. However, after 1876, the food-bubble burst and many farmers fell on hard times. Despite this, as well as poor harvests in 1877-1879, the landlords did not reduce the taxes. Many farmers found they could not pay their rent and were evicted from their cottages and land. Many of these evicted farmers, who were now homeless, formed a new land-reform movement headed by Michael Davitt, a farmer from Mayo. They wanted to change the law to reduce the power of landlords and allow peasants to own their land.

At the same time another man, Isaac Butt, had started the Home Rule Party. The aim of this party was to repeal the Act of Union and reinstate Ireland's Parliament. He wanted a regional Irish Parliament that could pass laws separately from the main Parliament in London, but did not want complete Independence from Britain. This was viewed by some as a perfect in-between solution for Ireland. In 1874, the Home Rule Party won 59 seats in Parliament. In 1879, Charles Stewart Parnell, had become the leader. His problem was apathy - most Irish didn't really care about regaining their own Parliament.

However, his fortune changed when Davitt invited Parnell to speak out against evictions and to call for an increase in peasant land rights. He got massive support, and by merging the Home Rule and Land campaigns, he had boosted his own cause as well. In 1879, the Land League was formed and Parnell became its President. Its aims were to get more rights for tenant farmers and reduce evictions. He also believed that an Nation could be forged out of the people living in Ireland. This belief was called 'Irish Nationalism', (which is today often confused with Irish Republicanism, which is a belief in making Ireland an independent republic).

The first tactic by the Land League was to boycott any peasant who moved into a farm where the previous farmer had been evicted. This was designed to force the new peasant to leave, so that the landlord would get no rent. However, between 1879 and 1882, the violence from these boycotts got so bad that it became known as the Land War. The Parliament tried to solve the problem in 1881 by passing the Land act. This set up fair rates of rent, and many Irish farmers saw their rent reduced by 20%. However, it did not help many of the poorest farmers, so the violence continued.

There were now several groups in Ireland. The Home Rulers wanted the Act of Union repealed and Ireland given back its own Parliament, but not made an independent country. Against the Home Rule movement were those who felt that the Act of Union was good for Ireland and wanted to retain it. These were called the 'Irish Unionists'. They were mostly wealthy Protestants, because Catholics had not recovered from the years of segregation that had gone before. Against the Unionists were those who felt that Ireland could be made into a self-governing nation. These were called the 'Irish Nationalists'. The Nationalists had to tackle several problems because some aspects of what constituted a nation (a unique and widely spoken language and a common religion) were missing. Irish was only spoken in small areas and the Irish were both Protestant and Catholic. The final group was those who wanted to create a self-governing republic in Ireland. These were called the 'Irish Republicans'. They differed from Nationalists in that they wanted an independent country above anything else. Nationalists were more interested in nationhood on the island, and did not place as much emphasis on independence.

< Previous History Menu Next >