Rushe: Monaghan in the Eighteenth Century

Pdf Rushe, Denis Carolan. Monaghan in the eighteenth century. Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, 1916.
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Monaghan in the 18th century by Denis Rushe Carolan (1852-1928) was published in 1916. It describes the economic, social, religious and political changes and development that occured in 18th century County Monaghan in the aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and prior to the Act of Union 1800. The period was characterised by Protestant hegemony, penal laws discriminating against Catholics and Presbyterians, corruption, landlords, poverty, famine, secret societies, hedge schools, rebellion and the continued decline of Gaelic language, culture and tradition.

The Cromwelllian invasion and the Williamite Wars marked the defeat of the Catholic Gaelic Irish in particular the MacMahons and the Old English aristocracy which was replaced by an Anglo-Irish Anglican elite. The Catholic Irish and Presbyterians were deliberately discriminated against economically, politically and religiously by a series of penal laws. The penal laws would remain in force until the late 18th century when they began to be repealed culminating in Catholic Emancipation in 1829.

The Catholic Church was forced underground with priests ministering in secret while risking arrest torture and execution. Masses were said in secret or in remote locations. The wealthy Catholics who could afford it sent their children abroad while the poor depended on hedge schools because their education was legally prohibited.

In County Monaghan , the Catholic and Presbyterian poor were forced to pay tithes to the established Anglican Church and became tenants and landless peasants paying exorbitant rents to Anglican landlords. Poverty, crop failures and eviction meant many lived a precarious existence in danger of starvation or were forced to emigrate to the New World . The government and legal system was controlled by and served the interests of the Protestant elite encouraging Catholics and Presbyterians to create secret societies as their only means of redress. Occasionally violent groups vandalised estates, attacked landlords or battled the militia.

However liberal-minded Anglo-Irish Protestants in the Irish Parliament, which achieved legislative freedom in the late 18th century, sought to improve the plight of the Catholic poor. They succeeded in achieving a limited franchise in 1793 while penal laws began to be relaxed due to the influence of secular Enlightenment values. The flax and linen industry was however dominated by Protestants who depended on alliances with the landlords, who also served as officers in the yeomanry.

The United Irishmen, a secret society of mainly Anglo-Irish Protestant radicals hoping to imitate the French and American revolutions, were very active in Monaghan in the 18th century. They infiltrated the Volunteer militia and yeomanry, originally created to see off a French invasion, which became a hotbed of radicalism. Four members of the Monaghan militia were executed in Belfast for treason in May 1798. However the following month when the Monaghan militia participated in the suppression of the rebellion led by Henry Joy McCracken in Antrim town, they committed atrocities apparently to deliberately undermine lingering allegations of disloyalty.

The Anglo-Irish administration was discredited and the British government decided a unified realm uniting the kingdoms of Britain and Ireland would best counter the threat of French invasion. Through a campaign of bribery, offers of peerages and other favourable terms, enough votes in favour of union were obtained from Irish parliamentarians and peers and the Irish Parliament and House of Lords merged with the British Commons and House of Lords. Robert Cuninghame, 1st Baron Rossmore sat in the House of Lords from January 1801until his death the following August when he was succeeded by his nephew.

Denis Carolan Rushe was born in Monaghan in 1852, educated at St. Louis Convent, MacCartans' seminary and later Trinity College Dublin before becoming a solicitor in 1878. He served in a variety of roles such as president of the Monaghan conference of the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, Secretary of the Fermanagh Board of Education and Secretary to Monaghan County Council from 1899 to 1924. He was also a supporter of the Gaelic League and a local historian. He died in 1928.


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