A history of Ireland in 100 objects

 

Act of Union Blacklist, early 19th century

This long list, written out in this instance by the barrister and writer Jonah Barrington, circulated in a number of manuscript copies in the early 19th century. (Just one page of 19 is shown here.)

On one side of the page are the names of members of the Irish parliament in 1799. On the other are the rewards they received for voting in favour of the Act of Union, which abolished Ireland’s status as an independent kingdom and created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: “Richard Hare, put two members into Parliament, and was created Lord Ennismore for their votes . . . Colonel Heniker, a regiment, and paid £3,500 for his seat by the Commissioners of Compensation . . . got a peerage; Peter Holmes, a Commissioner of Stamps; George Hatton, appointed Commissioner of Stamps; J. Hutchinson, a general, Lord Hutchinson; Hugh Howard, Lord Wicklow’s brother, made Postmaster General; William Handcock, Athlone, (an extraordinary instance; he made and sang songs against the Union in 1799, at a public dinner of the Opposition, and made and sang songs for it in 1800); he got a peerage . . . Hon. G. Jocelyn, promotion in the Army, and his brother consecrated bishop of Lismore.”

The decision to move rapidly ahead with a full union was London’s response to the violence of 1798 and, in particular to the continuing war with France. The prime minister, William Pitt, imagined the union as the only way to draw Catholics into loyalty – a matter of increasing urgency given that a third of the British army was Irish. The lure was to be Catholic emancipation and the abolition of an exclusively Protestant and generally reactionary Irish parliament.

At Westminster the Irish playwright and radical Richard Brinsley Sheridan attacked British treatment of Ireland. Pitt, remarkably, conceded that British policy “tainted and perverted by selfish notions treated Ireland with illiberality and neglect”. The implication was that union would prevent the ascendancy from pursuing that “selfish” self-interest.

Meanwhile, the Irish Catholic bishops secretly adopted resolutions in favour of accepting state salaries for clergy and a government veto on the nomination of bishops – a move towards a new alliance of Irish Catholicism and the British state.

But would the Dublin parliament abolish itself? In January 1799 the chief secretary concluded, in the face of a hostile Irish House of Commons, that “the measure could not be proceeded with until the mood of the country changed”. In March many Orange lodges passed motions against the union.

Faced with such opposition, the government resorted to wholesale bribery. It broke its own laws to do so: the secret service was limited to expenditure of £5,000 domestically but spent £32,336 in buying votes for the union. On February 6th, 1800, the House of Commons in Dublin voted for union by 158 votes to 115. On August 1st the Act of Union became law, to come into effect on January 1st, 1801. Oliver MacDonagh called it “the most important single factor in shaping Ireland as a nation in the modern world”. Officially, the two islands now contained “one people”. It was hoped they would enjoy equal treatment under the law.

Thanks to Mary Broderick

* Where to see it National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, 01-6030200, nli.ie


Click on the Open Library icon of the second record at tinyurl.com/cqfa2yvto read Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation, Jonah Barrington’s 1833 publication, online

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