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History > Ireland Scotland Wales

Irish History

Strides Toward Independence (1850-1940)

One outcome of the Great Famine was the rise of strong political movements favoring Irish independence. Some of these movements worked toward violent overthrow of British rule, others sought reform from within. Charles Stewart Parnell, who rose to prominence in the 1870s, advocated reform by constitutional means. Parnell was the first to call for Home Rule; i.e., self-government for Ireland. Two diametrically opposed movements were born: Unionists sought integration into the U.K., while Nationalists fought tooth-and-nail for expanded autonomy from Britain. The British considered granting independence to Ireland many times, but each time they yielded to the strong objections of Ulster-based Protestants, who still harbored ill will toward the Catholics to the south.

The British Parliament passed a bill in 1912 allowing Home Rule. Before it was enacted into law, however, World War I swept Europe and Home Rule was delayed. In 1916, the Sinn Fein group of Irish republicans (founded in 1905, Sinn Fein means “ourselves alone”) attempted a coup in Dublin, called the Easter Rising; British troops easily squashed the rebellion, and executed many of the rebel leaders.

When the Irish people elected a decidedly republican government in 1919, all hell broke loose, in the form of a fiercely fought guerrilla war waged against British counter-insurgency forces. These dreaded Black and Tans, as they were called, frequently staged armed offensives against ordinary civilians.

Despite this conflict and violence, Home Rule moved forward. A treaty for limited independence was agreed upon in 1922 with several conditions, including a boundary line splitting the country into two separate sections--the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.

As it turned out, the treaty contained terms that both sides could hate. Bitter disagreements over the provisions of the treaty erupted into the Irish Civil War, fought from 1922 to 1923, which resulted in more than 3,000 deaths.

Article Series: A Brief History of Ireland
Part 1 Beginnings (Prehistory to 300 A.D.)
Part 2 Christians, Vikings and Brian Boru (300-1100)
Part 3 The Bloody British (1100-1700)
Part 4 Punishment and Starvation (1700-1850)
Part 5 Strides Toward Independence (1850-1940)
Part 6 The Irish Republic and the Troubles Up North (1940 to present)

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