Professor Terence Dooley and Dr Ciarán Reilly are amongst the contributors to an excellent volume entitled Death and the Irish: a miscellany Salvador Ryan (ed.).
While the land question from the mid-Victorian period to the eve of the First World War plays a prominent role in Irish historiography, historians have tended to overlook its importance in post-independence Ireland and have generally assumed that there was no land question after 1922. Terence Dooley debunks this myth. In this first systematic analysis of the land question in independent Ireland, he contends that agrarian agitation proved to be an important stimulus to political revolution during the period 1917 to 1923. He assesses the dangers which agitation posed for the Provisional Government after 1922 and argues that the 1923 Land Act not only ended agrarian agitation but also made a major contribution to ending the Civil War. Dooley emphasises the significance of Irish Land Commission to Irish rural life in an extensive analysis of the working of the Land Commission after its reconstitution in 1923. The commission became the most important (and controversial) government body operating in independent Ireland. It acted as a facilitator of social engineering, compulsorily acquiring lands from traditional landlords, large farmers, graziers and negligent farmers and passing them on to smallholders, ex-employees of acquired estates, evicted tenants and their representatives, members of the pre-Truce IRA and the landless. It migrated over 14,500 farmers onto lands totalling almost 400,000 acres. The continued hunger for land and the impact of land acquisition and division on so many people ensured that the land reform question remained one of the most potent political issues until the early 1980s.
Built to inspire awe and deference, the country homes of Irish landlords were traditionally referred to as 'big houses'. In post-Famine Ireland, these edifices stood as implacable symbols of the economic and social strength of the landed class who resided in them. Their mystique attracted both curiosity and contempt. However, in less than ten decades, the whole fabric of Irish landed society had been totally transformed by economic, social and political developments, and this seemingly indomitable bastion had begun to crumble.
As the demise of ascendancy life set in, houses and demesnes, once thronging with guests and busy with social events and hunting parties, became ghostly shells on the landscape; many were partially closed off, sold, burned or completely abandoned.
Drawing on big house and landed estate records and personal memoirs, Terence Dooley gives an insight into the lives of members of the privileged landed class, their efforts to retain their status and, ultimately, their inability to survive the socio-political upheaval of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He also investigates how the few survivors hung on in spite of various assaults on their lifestyle - from the Land League to the War of Independence and the foundation of the Irish Free State.
By 1912, a revolution had already taken place in Monaghan, a bloodless revolution that had resulted in the overthrow of one ruling elite to be replaced by another. What began in 1912 with the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant, followed the next year by the founding of the Ulster Volunteer Force, might be considered from the Protestant perspective as an attempted counter-revolution. It was at the very least a determined effort to remain part of the British Empire, which for most Monaghan Protestants was their spiritual and ancestral home. Constitutional nationalists were not prepared to give up the gains they had made. Separatist nationalists wanted more and so for them the 1916 Rising represented the beginning of unfinished business. In this political maelstrom there were agrarian agitators who sought the final solution to the land question; 2,500 young men who went to war, one-fifth of whom never returned and the others to a very changed country; and paramilitaries who divided along sectarian lines providing an extra dimension to events of the period. Thus, between 1912 and 1923, Monaghan politics and society were transformed for a second time, not least of all by the imposition of the border with all the attendant social and economic problems partition brought. Because of Monaghan’s socio-religious demographic and its borderlands location, this book offers an intriguing insight to how the period 1912–23 played itself out at local level.
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This volume of essays emanates from the highly successful Historic Houses of Ireland Conference held at NUI Maynooth each year since 2003. Edited by: Terence Dooley, Director of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at NUI Maynooth, and Christopher Ridgway, Curator of Castle Howard in Yorkshire, UK.