Maura Cronin, Agrarian Protest in Ireland, 1750-1960.
Maura Cronin, Agrarian Protest in Ireland, 1750-1960, Studies in Irish Economic and Social History 11 (Dundalk: Dundalgan Press/Economic and Social History Society of Ireland, 2012, 75 pp., 9[euro] paperback)
The activities of secret societies including rural protest movements, though not urban ones, have long fascinated historians, contributors to this journal among them. While there is a tendency to see protests over land ownership as traditional, it may be suggested that all land protests were political. Since land confiscation and redistribution were political acts, responses to their effects can be seen as political acts too. Cronin's enlightening survey begins with the mid-eighteenth-century secret societies. From Whiteboys to Peep O'Day boys, these rural protesters were concerned with issues of local importance. But then all history is local. What is local is reflected in the national and international trends. Hence, the growth in sectarianism in Ulster in the late eighteenth century is reflected in aspirations of the Peep O'Day boys. They were particularly associated with defiance towards the Defenders, who used religious metaphors in their pursuit of political and economic equality. One of the most impressive elements of this pamphlet is the author's capacity to compress complexity without distorting it. For example, when discussing the late nineteenth-century land acts she makes clear that they did not eliminate rural unrest, in fact they actually encouraged tenants to pursue even more radical change.
Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century we are given the socio-political context of Whiteboys, Rightboys and Oakboys. The more overtly political Defenders and Peep O'Day boys are assessed in the light of our greater awareness of the political ferment associated with the 1790s. Cronin does not pretend that the violence perpetrated against humans and animals was anything less than severe. However, murder was rare until that fatal decade at the end of the eighteenth century. Moving on to her own excellent research, especially on Munster in the nineteenth century, the pre-famine economy encouraged class based protests, with the Caravat-Shanavest protests in east Munster exposing the class-based elements in rural Ireland. For students of the famine, Cronin is excellent on the increase in violence post 1845. The twentieth century is not neglected and land redistribution released pent-up tensions in the Irish Free State. The Land Commission may be seen as a massive system of social engineering.
One small quibble: unfortunately David Dickson's seminal 2004 article on Munster Jacobitism is absent from the bibliography although it is rightly referred to in the text. This pamphlet is ideal for students but for those researching this important topic for many years, Cronin's insights will also enlighten.
Margaret O hOgartaigh
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|Author:||hOgartaigh, Margaret O.|
|Publication:||Irish Economic and Social History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2014|
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