Archives Diary: A Landowner’s View of the 1798 Irish Rebellion

Detail from an illustration by George Cruikshank with the caption, “Battle of Rofs, “Come on Boys, her mouth’s stopt.”, which appears in a book entitled History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798; with Memoirs of the Union, and Emmett’s Insurrection in 1803 by W.H. Maxwell, Esq. London: G. Bell, 1894. (Burns Stacks Unit Four DA949 .M5 1894 IRISH)

Detail from an illustration by George Cruikshank with the caption, “Battle of Rofs, “Come on Boys, her mouth’s stopt.”, which appears in a book entitled History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798; with Memoirs of the Union, and Emmett’s Insurrection in 1803 by W.H. Maxwell, Esq. London: G. Bell, 1894. (Burns Stacks Unit Four DA949 .M5 1894 IRISH)

Throughout Ireland’s history, tension between Ireland and England over political and religious control resulted in a series of violent clashes. Since 1691, England largely controlled Ireland by establishing an Anglo-Irish aristocracy, frequently referred to as the “Protestant Ascendancy” or “The Ascendancy.” The United Irishmen was an organization founded in the late eighteenth century by both Protestants and Catholics to initiate parliamentary reform and to advocate for greater religious freedom for Catholics and several Protestant sects.  By 1798, the organization evolved into a radical rebellious group.  Inspired by the American and French revolutions, members of the United Irishmen staged a rebellion in late May 1798. The uprising first broke out in counties around Dublin and the rebels waited for promised French military support.

First page of a letter written by Edward Stratford, Second Earl of Alborough, MS2001-41, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

First page of a letter written by Edward Stratford, Second Earl of Alborough, MS2001-41, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

During the 1798 Rebellion, Edward Stratford, the Second Earl of Aldborough, supported the suppression of the rebels. The owner of a large estate in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, Stratford was close to much of the action and may have been targeted for his elite status. As colonel of the Aldborough legion of volunteers, he kept the legion on duty for all of 1798. His tenants often noticed how he would drive around the countryside, “assuring everyone of his countenance and protection” (p. 203 from Picturesque Dublin:  Old and New by Frances A. Gerard, Hutchinson & Co.: 1898). In a letter dated June, 1798, to his brother Benjamin Stratford, Edward encouraged him to punish any captured rebels. He advocated for the mounted cavalry to have 15-foot- long pikes and “Carabines” to face the rebels who had burned his fields and caused so much damage to his estate. Such a violent outlook on the rebels was not uncommon and exemplified the tension between the landowners and tenants.  Due in part to the French failure to land in time to support the rebellion, government forces overran the United Irishmen. After five months of violent bloodshed, the rebellion ended in October of 1798.  With the support of Stratford and other landowners, the British Parliament implemented the Act of Union, which officially unified Ireland and England in 1801.

Illustration of a pikeman from the back cover of History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798; with Memoirs of the Union, and Emmett’s Insurrection in 1803 by W.H. Maxwell, Esq. London: G. Bell, 1894. (Burns Stacks Unit Four DA949 .M5 1894 IRISH)

Illustration of a pikeman from the back cover of History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798; with Memoirs of the Union, and Emmett’s Insurrection in 1803 by W.H. Maxwell, Esq. London: G. Bell, 1894. (Burns Stacks Unit Four DA949 .M5 1894 IRISH)

The Act of Union eliminated the Irish Parliament and weakened the Ascendancy’s authority in Ireland.  Irish Catholics still had limited political and economic power.  Stratford’s 1798 letter is just one example of archival  collections relevant to Irish History that are available for  your use at the Burns Library.   If you are interested in some of the images from this blog post, you can look at the book History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798; with Memoirs of the Union, and Emmett’s Insurrection in 1803 either in the Burns Library Reading Room or online through the HathiTrust Digital Library.  For more information on Edward Stratford, the Second Earl of Aldborough, read his biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which is available under the “Research Databases” link on the Boston College University Libraries homepage.  For help with doing research in Irish Studies, read the Irish Studies LibGuide.   If you have any questions, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or via e-mail at burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Erin Garrity, John J. Burns Library Bookbuilders of Boston Intern and Boston College, Class of 2011

About John J. Burns Library

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 250,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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