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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Evolution of Irish catholic nationalism, 1844-1846 :an analysis of the cultural conflict that evolved out of British administrative failure in Ireland under the union Quigley, Kathleen Mary Molesworth


This inquiry analyzes the necessity for the Irish Repeal Party's alliance with the Catholic Church, especially during the two crucial years prior to the Great Famine, The Repeal Party during this time sought to defend the predominantly rural subsistence Irish society against British policies of coercion and assimilation. The main organization at the national and popular level to unify this Irish resistance to British policies was the Irish Catholic Church. Daniel O'Connell acted as the bridge between the Parliamentary Irish Repeal party and the Catholic Church. This was closely linked to his aims and methods which he conceived in the immediate practical terms of Irish survival against the threat of cultural and economic extinction. He therefore rejected as unrealistic the more absolutist doctrine of nationality of his Young Ireland critics and rivals within his party. He recognized that their ultimate ideals of physical resistance to the almost total military control that Britain exercised over Ireland would be futile, and possibly disastrous for the Irish people. He insisted, instead, on "moral force" and Constitutional methods to achieve peaceful co-existence with Ireland's more dominant neighbour, Britain. His Catholic alliance was essential to these pragmatic and constitutional ends. The introductory chapters set the historic framework for this most important phase of the British-Irish conflict from 1844 to 1846 which was centered around a struggle for control of the Irish Catholic Church. Ireland's development is traced from a position of almost complete domination and control by Britain and a lack of organized resistance at the Act of Union in 1800, to a political voice and organized resistance at a national and popular level in 1844. In this historical process, Daniel O’ Connelly Repeal Party, supported by the Irish Catholic leaders, acted as a major catalyst. Next, the trial of Daniel O'Connell in 1844 on charges of sedition against the British government is examined as a model in miniature of the British-Irish conflict that had raged in the preceding years. It was the culmination of this conflict, showing that the accused was also, in a political sense, the accuser. O'Connell’s acquittal was a moral refutation of British policies that supported the Protestant government oligarchy practice of discrimination against Catholic Ireland. Furthermore, it and the subsequent repercussions in Britain, aggravated the growing dissension within the ruling British Conservative party. From this point, the policy of the British government towards the Irish Repeal Party took a more devious turn, and never again directly challenged O'Connell. Rather, it attempted to divide the Irish nation, and especially its Catholic leaders, by coercion and bribery. Also in 1844, the British government failed to persuade the Papacy to compel the Irish Church leaders to abandon Repeal. Instead, it only succeeded in strengthening the bonds between Catholicism and the national movement of O'Connell, which had become a "cause celebre" in the Catholic context of Europe. By 1845 the British policy towards the Irish Catholic Church had shifted to belated recognition and half-hearted conciliation. The increased Maynooth Grant of 1845 was a prime example of an isolated and limited gesture. The goodwill engendered by this was counteracted by the strength of the anti-Catholic opposition to the Bill. In addition, the immediate subsequent introduction of the Academical Institutions (Ireland) Bill, without consulting the Irish Church leaders, and with its implied threat to Irish culture and Catholic influence, further reduced the favourable impression that the British government had created among the Irish Catholic leaders by the Maynooth Grant. These British policies revealed the weakening of the government's efforts at ideological assimilation, and the strength of the Catholic base of Irish nationalism under the leadership of Daniel O'Connell. The ensuing controversy within the Repeal Party from 1845 between the more secular physical force Young Ireland nationalists and O'Connell's Catholic supporters served to intensify the latter's link with his moral, force and constitutional objectives. It was not his failure of leadership in his last two years, as his critics have supposed, that temporarily interrupted his constitutional movement at his death. It was, rather, the major tragedy of the Great Famine, compounded by British administrative failure and the consequent abortive Young Ireland rebellion in 1848, that left the constitutional movement without a strong leader. O'Connell's heritage and most permanent contribution was to give the Irish Catholic Church a more unified and active political role within the national movement, and thus provide a base during those years from which the Irish constitutional national movement in the late nineteenth century could be launched.

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