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  • Jacobitism in Eighteenth-Century Ireland:A Munster Perspective
  • David Dickson (bio)

Once upon a time eighteenth-century Ireland seemed simple: it was the story of a new landowning class that had inherited the earth in the wake of Catholic defeat in 1691—and proceeded to grind down the dispossessed and to persecute the old church for more than half a century. Such was their success, so the argument went, that Ireland enjoyed three generations of deathly peace, and it was only with the new politics imported from revolutionary America and France and with new wealth from the towns that the ruling order was challenged, divided, and, in the final act, bailed out by London in 1798-1800. Most historians since the 1960s have rejected this "penal" paradigm, with its subtext of a heroic but silenced Catholic nation, and have concentrated on such themes as the opening up of the public sphere and of political discourse, and on the transformation of the material world (with commercial growth, urbanization, artistic patronage, and a new print culture). But there was one problem common to nearly all new work on eighteenth-century Ireland: it was based on English-language evidence. Thus the old assumption that there was a silent and illiterate Catholic majority toiling away in a Protestant-controlled world remained generally unchallenged until the recent appearance of two monumental studies that are principally based on Irish-language evidence: Breandán Ó Buachalla's Aisling Ghéar (1996) and Eamonn Ó Ciardha's Ireland and the Jacobite Cause, 1685 - 1766 (2002). Ó Buachalla has laid out the vast evidence of an enduring and all-encompassing loyalty toward the House of Stuart, running through [End Page 38] nearly two centuries of Gaelic Irish literature, ranging from passionate celebration to apocryphal lament. Ó Ciardha has linked together the literary and nonliterary evidence of a popular and subversive support for the dynasty that was bubbling beneath the surface for sixty or more years after James II's defeat at the Boyne. (And Vincent Morley's Irish Opinion and the American Revolution, 1760 - 83 (2002), with its more restricted focus and taut methodology, has elaborated the case.)

But the question remains—indeed, it is all the more pressing—as to why eighteenth-century Ireland remained a land at peace, even during moments of invasion and rebellion in Scotland and England as in 1715 and 1745, when supporters of the ousted Stuart dynasty challenged the Hanoverian/Whig regime. There are no simple answers, and fresh ways of looking at the issue are needed. One such approach is to investigate law, order, and disaffection at the strictly regional level. Any regional case study by its nature will reveal subthemes and complexities that national surveys cannot resolve. This essay focuses on South Munster, one region where trouble—if trouble there was going to be—might most have been expected: between the mid-seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries Cork city had been the most dynamic provincial center in the country, and rural society in its commercial hinterland was profoundly affected by the growth of foreign trade—principally the export of cattle products to markets around the North Atlantic. South Munster was distinctive in another way as well. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries it had been the site for the largest colonization project outside Ulster, involving substantial English immigration before the wars of the 1640s and the emergence of several exceptionally wealthy families of English extraction, most notably the Boyles. A century later, Protestant numbers were still relatively large in the region. We can thus assume that both the intensity of agrarian change and the heightened tensions of a colonial society might both have contributed to the combustibility of the far south. To what extent, therefore, was it the heartland of Jacobitism, and if it can be so described, how far does that resolve the wider question?

On 23 October 1745 the 104th anniversary of the 1641 rising was marked by more than the usual round of commemorative services in Church of Ireland churches. It was a time of renewed war with [End Page 39] France and, more importantly, a time of profound crisis in Britain: Charles Edward, the Jacobite heir, was consolidating support...


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