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Irish peasant women in revolt: the Land League years

  • Janet K. TeBrake (a1)
Extract

Between 1879 and 1882 a mass agrarian movement, led by the Irish National Land League, became a strong, all-encompassing force in Irish life for a brief but crucial period. This movement, one of the largest agrarian movements to take place in nineteenth-century Europe, has been treated as a nationalist movement, with emphasis of study placed on the role, contributions and aims of the league’s national leaders. These men, seeking their own varieties of self-government, saw the land movement as means to a political end. To them the land agitation provided a stepping-stone to national independence. It was the Irish peasantry, however, motivated primarily by economic considerations, that provided the driving force behind the movement, and at this level Irish peasant women made major contributions to the agrarian revolt. In this study the Land League movement is viewed as an agrarian protest movement; its purpose is to examine in particular the roles played by the Irish peasant women during the Land League period.

These contributions have not been adequately recognised in historical literature. Recently the role of the Irish peasant has been duly acknowledged, but in these discussions a male image usually appears. When the Irish women’s role in the land movement is examined, it is done so in the context of the organisation known as the Ladies’ Land League. These studies concentrate on the activities of the upper- and middle-class urban leaders, particularly the Parnell sisters. But to dwell only on the Ladies’ Land League as the focus of women’s participation in the Land League movement is far too narrow, for it obscures the fact that hundreds of peasant women were fighting the Land War on a daily basis long before the formation of the women’s organisation. The papers of some of the local branches of the Land League provide evidence which shows that Irish rural women participated in the Land War from its beginning. Although the archival sources of the Land League period are biased towards men, enough material regarding the peasant women’s activities, admittedly limited and somewhat sparse, does exist to allow a strong argument to be put forward that peasant women performed effectively in the Land War.

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1 See Clark, Samuel and James JrDonnelly, S., (eds), Irish peasants: violence and political unrest, 1780–1914 (Manchester, 1983).

2 See, e.g., Ward, Margaret, Unmanageable revolutionaries: women and Irish nationalism (Dingle & London, 1983); Moody, T.W., ‘Anna Parnell and the Land League’ in Hermathena, cxvii (Summer 1974), pp 517 .

3 N.L.I., Irish National Land League papers (hereafter I.N.L.L. papers), MS 8291; N.L.I., Anderson papers, MS 11289; Documents of the Roundwood branch of the Ladies’ Land League, Co. Wicklow (N.L.I., MS 17794); Minute book of the Maryborough branch of the Ladies’ Land League, Queen’s Co. (N.L.I., MS 2070); S.P.O., Chief Crown Solicitor papers, no. 52,1882; S.P.O., Irish National League papers, 1/414,1882; S.P.O., Irish Crime Records.

4 Lee, J.J., ‘Women and the church since the Famine’ in MacCurtain, Margaret and Corráin, Donncha Ó (eds), Women in Irish society: the historical dimension (Westport, Connecticut, 1979), p. 37 ; Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, ‘The role of women in Irish society under the new English order’, ibid., pp 28–9; Cullen, Mary, ‘Breadwinners and providers: women in the household economy of labouring families, 1835–6’ in Luddy, Maria and Murphy, Cliona (eds), Women surviving: studies in Irish women’s history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Dublin, 1990), pp 85, 106–11.

5 Lee, ‘Women and the church’, p. 37; Bourke, Joanna, ‘Women and poultry in Ireland, 1891–1914’ in I.H.S., xxv, no. 99 (May 1987), pp 293310 .

6 Lee, ‘Women and the church’, pp 37–8.

7 Estimate of Nolan, Janet, Ourselves alone: women’s emigration from Ireland, 1885–1920 (Lexington, Ky, 1989), pp 13, 103.

8 Lee, Joseph, The modernisation of Irish society, 1848–1918 (Dublin, 1973), p. 3 .

9 Daly, Mary E., Social and economic history of Ireland since 1800 (Dublin, 1981), pp 9091 ; Lee, Modernisation, pp 3-4.

10 See Arensberg, Conrad M. and Kimball, Solon T., Family and community in Ireland (2nd ed., Cambridge, Mass., 1968); Brody, Hugh, Inishkillane: change and decline in the west of Ireland (New York, 1974).

11 Hearn, Mona, ‘Life for domestic servants in Dublin, 1880–1920’ in Luddy, & Murphy, (eds), Women surviving, pp 148-9; Caitrfona Clear, ‘The limits of female autonomy: nuns in nineteenth-century Ireland’, ibid., p. 21; Fahey, Tony, ‘Nuns in the Catholic church in Ireland in the nineteenth century’ in Cullen, Mary (ed.), Girls don’t do honours: Irish women in education in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Dublin, 1987), p. 7 ; Eibhlin Breathnach, ‘Charting new waters: women’s experience in higher education, 1879–1908’, ibid., p. 77.

12 Heam, ‘Life for domestic servants’, p. 147; Fahey, ‘Nuns’, p. 26; Breathnach, ‘Charting new waters’, p. 77.

13 On educational opportunities for women see O’Connor, Anne V., ‘The revolution in girls’ secondary education in Ireland, 1860–1910’ in Cullen, (ed.), Girls don’t do honours, pp 3154 .

14 Lee, ‘Women and the church’, pp 41–2; see Connell, K.H., Irish peasant society: four historical essays (Oxford, 1968), pp 11361 .

15 Tilly, Charles, ‘Britain creates the social movement’ in Cronin, James E. and Scheer, Jonathan (eds), Social conflict and the political order in modern Britain (New Brunswick, N.J., 1982), pp 25-6.

16 Clark, Samuel, Social origins of the Irish Land War (Princeton, 1979), p. 356 .

17 Tilly, ‘Britain creates the social movement’, p. 27.

18 Eviction forms (N.L.I., I.N.L.L. papers, MS 8291).

19 Lee, Modernisation, p. 5.

20 Moody, T.W., Davitt and Irish revolution, 1846–1882 (Oxford, 1981), p. 345 .

21 Luke Elcock, secretary, Drogheda branch, Co. Louth, eviction forms, n.d. (N.L.I., I.N.L.L. papers, MS 8291).

22 Martin Mulvihill to Dublin headquarters, 30 June 1881 (ibid).

23 N.L.I., Anderson papers, MS 11289.

24 Connaught Telegraph, 14 June, 1881; unsigned letter from Co. Mayo to Dublin headquarters, 24 May 1881 (N.L.I., I.N.L.L. papers, MS 8291).

25 Unsigned letter from Foxford(?) branch, Co. Mayo, n.d., attached to eviction form (N.L.I., I.N.L.L. papers, MS 8291).

26 Joseph Conway, secretary, Quinnan branch, Co. Cork, to Thomas Brennan, Dublin, 25 Nov. 1880 (ibid.).

27 Unsigned letter from Foxford(?) branch, Co. Mayo, n.d., attached to eviction form (ibid.); Francis Burne, secretary, Carrick-on-Shannon branch, Co. Leitrim, n.d., attached to eviction form (ibid).

28 James Duggan, secretary, Cashmore branch, Co. Tipperary, n.d., attached to eviction form (ibid.); John Donohue, secretary, Aughavass branch, Co. Leitrim, n.d., attached to eviction form (ibid.).

29 Protection of Person and Property Act, 1881 (44 & 45 Vict., c. 4).

30 Moody, Davitt, pp 456–7.

31 Ward, Unmanageable revolutionaries, p. 18.

32 Connaught Telegraph, 19 Feb. 1881.

33 Documents of the Roundwood branch of the Ladies’ Land League, Co. Wicklow (N.L.I., MS 17794).

34 Minute book of the Maryborough branch of the Ladies’ Land League, Queen’s Co. (N.L.I., MS 2070).

35 Documents of the Roundwood branch of the Ladies’ Land League, Co. Wicklow (N.L.I., MS 17794).

36 Ibid.; Minute book of the Maryborough branch of the Ladies’ Land League, Queen’s Co. (N.L.I., MS 2070).

37 Connaught Telegraph, 28 May 1881.

38 Ibid., 19 Feb. 1881.

39 Ward, Unmanageable revolutionaries, p. 23.

40 S.P.O., Irish National League papers, 1/414, 1882.

41 Connaught Telegraph, 19 Feb. 1881.

42 Letter dated 16 Feb. 1881 from the minute book of the Maryborough branch of the Ladies’ Land League, Queen’s Co. (N.L.I., MS 2070).

43 Quoted in Moody, Davitt, p. 481.

44 Connaught Telegraph, 12 Feb. 1881.

45 Quoted in Ward, Unmanageable revolutionaries, p. 23.

46 Connaught Telegraph, 19 Feb. 1881.

47 R. v. Hannah Reynolds: brief on behalf of the crown (S.P.O., Chief Crown Solicitor papers, no. 52, 1882).

48 S.P.O., Irish National League papers, 1/414, 1882.

49 See Ward, Unmanageable revolutionaries, pp 40–247.

50 Collins, Finola A., ‘The Ladies’ Land League’ (unpublished M.A. thesis, University College, Cork, 1974), cited in Clark, Social origins, p. 339.

51 These studies include Davis, Natalie Zemon, ‘Women on top’ in her Society and culture in early modern France (Stanford, 1965), pp 12451 ; Dekker, Rudolf M., ‘Women in revolt’ in Theory and Society, xvi (1987), pp 33762 ; Thomis, Malcolm I. and Grimmett, Jennifer, Women in protest, 1800–1850 (New York, 1982).

52 Tilly, ‘Britain creates the social movement’, pp 29, 30.

53 Thomis & Grimmett, Women in protest, p. 92.

54 Bew, Paul, Land and the national question in Ireland, 1858–1882 (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1979), p. 92 .

55 Davitt, Michael, The fall of feudalism in Ireland (London, 1904 ; repr., Shannon, 1970), pp 216–17.

56 Connaught Telegraph, 17 Jan. 1880.

57 Marlow, Joyce, Captain Boycott and the Irish (New York, 1973), p. 137 .

58 Ibid.

59 Connaught Telegraph, 17 Jan. 1880.

60 Davitt, Fall of feudalism, p. 217.

61 See Davis, ‘Women on top’; Dekker,’Women in revolt’; Thomis & Grimmett, Women in protest.

62 Dekker, ‘Women in revolt’, p. 345; Thomis & Grimmett, Women in protest, pp 53–4.

63 Davitt, Fall of feudalism, p. 217.

64 Connaught Telegraph, 17 Jan. 1880.

65 J.J. Barrett, report to Dublin, n.d. (N.L.I., I.N.L.L. papers, MS 8291).

66 Cork Examiner, 19 Apr. 1881.

67 Dekker, ‘Women in revolt’, pp 344–6; Thomis & Grimmett, Women in protest, pp 54, 55.

68 P.G. Neville(?), Tuam, Co. Galway, to Dublin headquarters, 16 Oct. 1880 (N.L.I., I.N.L.L. papers, MS 8291).

69 Connaught Telegraph, 17 Jan. 1880.

70 J.J. Barrett and T. Reilly, reports to Dublin, n.d. (N.L.I., I.N.L.L. papers, MS 8291).

71 MacCurtain, Margaret, ‘Women, the vote and revolution’ in MacCurtain, & Corráin, Ó (eds), Women in Irish society, p. 47 .

72 Clark, Social origins, p. 312.

73 Marlow, Captain Boycott, p. 141.

74 JrDonnelly, James S., ‘The Rightboy movement, 1785–1788’ in Studia Hib., xvii-xviii (1977-S), p 142 ; O’Neill, Thomas, ‘From famine to near famine, 1845–1879’ in Studia Hib., i (1961), p. 166 .

75 Clark, Social origins, p. 312.

76 Lyons, F.S.L., Charles Stewart Parnell (London, 1977), p. 135 .

77 Clark, Social origins, pp 314–15.

78 Nash, Gary B., The urban crucible: the northern seaports and the origins of the American revolution (abridged ed., Cambridge, Mass., 1986), p. 82 .

79 The Times, 20 Sept. 1880.

80 N.L.I., Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union pamphlets and leaflets on boycotting, untitled, 1890, p. 104.

81 S.P.O., Irish Crime Records, vol. 8, B, W.P.2., no. 439, 1881.

82 Research for this study was funded in part by the Women in the Curriculum Program, University of Maine, Orono, Maine. An early version was presented at the Third International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women, Dublin, 10 July 1987. The final version benefited greatly from the comments and criticisms of William J. Baker, Richard Judd, Wayne Ph. TeBrake and Jason Thompson.

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Irish Historical Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-1214
  • EISSN: 2056-4139
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