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Did the Act of Union matter, both in the short and the long term?

Did the Act of Union matter, both in the short and the long term?

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Rachel Woods. Originally submitted for History and Philosophy , with lecturer Liam Kennedy in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Rachel Woods. Originally submitted for History and Philosophy , with lecturer Liam Kennedy in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Did the Act of Union matter, both in the short and the long term?
The Act of Union between Britain and Ireland that came into effect on the1st January 1801 passed relatively quietly through parliament yet altered the courseof the Irish economy, industry, culture and political landscape for the remainder of the nineteenth century. In examining whether the Act of Union mattered in the short and long term, therefore, we must look at the various areas of Irish life to which thelegislation affected and importantly, to whom. The 'Irish' as many contemporarieswould have otherwise assumed, were not a homogenous group and the linking of  Ireland with Britain would effect each differently depending on social status,religious affiliation and cultural ties. Drawing upon primary and secondary sourcesand from historical debates, the effects of the Act of Union on the Irish economy and industry, politics, society, religion and culture will be addressed concluding that it mattered to everyone in Ireland as it effected them all but in differing ways depending on how much the ties with Britain were beneficial. This can be seen through the Repeal movement which was largely made up of peasants, small farmers and Catholics from the South and West of Ireland compared to the opposition, mostly from Ulster with vested economic, industrial or familial interests in the Britishconnection and also through the means the British government used to combat theGreat Famine in the 1840s.
 Key Words:
 Act of Union, Irish question, Famine, economy, religion‘The Act of Union forms the matrix of modern Irish history’ 
The Act of Union between Britain and Ireland became law on the 1
January1801, fusing two very different countries and nations together. It created the UnitedKingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, under which Ireland now had obligations to
O. MacDonagh, cited in L. Kennedy & D. S. Johnson, ‘The Union of Ireland and Britain, 1801-1921’in D. G. Boyce & A. O’Day (eds.)
The Making of Modern Irish History, Revisionism and the Revisionist Controversy
, (London, 2002) p34
Britain such as a free trade market between the two islands and the payment of 2/17
sof imperial expenses, sending representative peers to the House of Lords and sending100 MP’s to the House of Commons in Westminster. Regarding the churches of England and Ireland were united as The United Church of England and Ireland.
TheUnion was to be the end of the Irish problem for Britain which had seen as threats toits security through violent rebellions throughout the eighteenth century, to be part of the expanding British Empire and for some to ‘refine’
the Irish people. It mattered because of the immediate changes it brought about (or did not bring about) in Ireland.The passing of the Act of Union was met with a considerable lack of appeal inIreland. Petitioning against the proposed union was widespread in Ireland, both beforeand after its passing by the Catholic and Protestant hierarchy, the local people, theProtestant Ascendancy and by the Irish MP’s of Grattan’s Parliament
. The Union wasalready forming opinions even before it was given Royal Assent. Paul Ruddacknowledges in 1799; ‘there is hardly a man in Ireland who has not already made uphis mind,’
 and would this eventually lead on to the rise of nationalism within Irelandas the union did not recognise their differences. This essay will address the Act of Union through the short and long term effects it had on Ireland politically,economically, culturally and socially.
Articles I- VI, Act of Union, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/apgb/Geo3/39-40/67/contents
The English were indifferent to the Irish. Many in England saw the Irish as savage, barbaric, foolishand giddy. The Union, many hoped, would have a civilising nature on Ireland as they would learn some‘English refinement.’ T. Bartlett, ‘Britishness, Irishness and the Act of Union’, in D. Keogh & K.Whelan (eds.)
Acts of Union: The causes, contexts and consequences of the Act of Union
(Dublin,2001) p47
The clergy and Catholic hierarchy were involved in petitioning the Irish people. The politicalagitation in Grattan’s Parliament was led by John Foster, the Speaker of the House of Commons, alsoincluding Henry Grattan and Irish Patriot Whigs; cited in lecture Prof. Peter Gray 07/10/2010.
P. Rudd, ‘An Answer the Pamphlet entitled arguments for and against a Union’ (Dublin 1799), in D.Keogh & K. Whelan (eds.)
 Acts of Union
The political consequences of the union meant that the Irish parliament wasabolished and was now represented at Westminster through 100 M.Ps in the House of Commons and 32 in the Lords. Grattan’s parliament was removed and there werewidespread fears that Dublin would soon be affected and loose its capital status and benefits it had experienced as the city of parliament, now only used as anadministrative centre. The short term political consequences of the union allowed for the development of some conflicting positions of power. The Lord Lieutenancy waskept along with the new Chief Secretary, despite calls for the positions removal, andthe scope of his authority was called into question on various occasions in the earlyunion period.
There was redistribution of Irish seats as part of the union which meantthat there were more county seats giving rural areas an influence in politics whichwould eventually see the Catholic voice being heard. Reforms that were introduced inBritain also benefitted the Irish electorate such as the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and1884 which were part of the constitutional changes for democracy. They extended thefranchise to those who had previously been ignored due to economic or social positions.
The union mattered for the relationship between the Irish population and thegovernment in the short term which would have long term consequences. In 1801there was a political crisis caused by the passing of the Act of Union which saw theresignation of Pitt and collapse of the ministry because the expected Catholicemancipation did not follow the union. The distinctively Catholic faith of the Irish
S. J. Connolly, ‘Aftermath and Adjustment’, W. E. Vaughn (ed.)
 New History of Ireland, Vol. V: Ireland Under the Union, I 
(Oxford, 1989) p1-2
The Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884 recognised the changes to the population that had occurredin Britain as the middle and working classes were given the right to vote and more representation for the larger towns and cities was granted. In Ireland the electorate nearly doubled as a result of the 1832act and increased even more from the 1867 and 1884 acts. The middle class Catholic MP in parliamentis a direct result of these acts as Ireland was no longer characterised by upper class Protestants inWestminster.

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