Sources: 1.) Whelan, Kevin. The Tree of Liberty: Radicalism, Catholicism, and the Construction of Irish Identity. 1760-1830. United States: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996. Irish History Tree of Liberty Paper The Protestant Landowners in the 1690's grew tired of attempting to collect taxes from a relatively poor Irish population. Middlemen were therefore appointed to manage the lands, collect taxes, and ensure profitability.
The owners of the lands may have been Protestant but the workers were often Catholic causing landlords to place a buffer between themselves and their often angry tenants. The solution came from dispossessed Irish Catholics who could conduct their business for them. These Middlemen provided the means by which they were to effectively govern the local population allowing Ireland to become a colony and not an ancien regime. This new and effective method allowed for the consolidation of property and the accumulation of wealth. "These accumulated leases laid the basis for the striking success of middlemen in the more expansionary conditions from the 1740's onwards". (pg. 4) Catholics were not all taken from their lands; some resisted the Protestant surge and kept their holdings. These few landlords were crucial in rebuilding the Catholic influence in Ireland as they provided the base on which other Catholics could build.
Middlemen even had clans with which they used to enforce their territory. "These Sullivan's are a desperate and dangerous gang, so connected and related that there is no breaking them without military force". (pg. 15) Gaps in law were found which allowed others to stay on their lands, the dispossessed landowners kept records of their family's holdings in hopes of their eventual reacquisition. Catholics finally got their chance in the 1790's when the penal laws were lifted. Now it was much easier for Catholics to compete for lands. This led to a new breed of Catholic middle man who increased the divide between the common people and landlord. "This Catholic advantage was of pivotal significance when the middleman system was undermined in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries". (pg. 49) Eventually causing the system's failure under the new economic stress.
Many Protestants began to flee to the United States under new Catholic pressures. Landlords were forced to deal directly with their tenants. Popular Culture provided the spark that re-enkindled the Irish Catholic fire in Ireland. Songs and poetry constantly reflected the woes of the common Irish Catholic. Newspapers and essays came about allowing the spread of revolutionary sentiments and were popularized as radicals made use of the printing press. The United Irishmen published the Northern Star which expressed their enlightened views formed from French and American Influence.
It spread quickly as means of distribution improved. There were three zones of distribution based on how many days it took to reach its location. Many people were not able to read but this did not stop them from listening to others. People subscribed in groups as many could not afford it on their own but this only helped encourage discussion. Enlightened clubs were formed under false names as to not attract suspicion.
The Protestant and English alike began to worry though as the popularity of the paper spread. Literacy and political thought amongst the poor began to change Ireland. Revolution was waiting to be unleashed. First the ineffectiveness of government would have to be exposed, followed by the physical action in which the wrongs are remedied. The conservatives of course scoffed in response to this movement. They saw the poor as ignorant and unable to grasp political, social, or cultural thought.
Conservatives bribed newspapers to provide positive views of the government. The radical views eventually died down as conservatives ensured that no more enlightened documents were printed. The United Irishmen were weakened as their rebellion failed leaving room for Protestants strike back. The Protestant conservative reaction was harsh as expected, starting with the banishment of Catholics to the South. Banishment was accompanied by propaganda as many people began to make false claims of Catholic attacks and savagery upon themselves and their lands. This propaganda as intended sparked fear into Protestants and ensured the harsh treatment of the Catholics.
The Orange Order grew strengthening in retribution to the revolutionaries. The United Irishmen had both a conservative and radical stance on the events of the rebellion. The conservatives claim that they were stuck between an unstable government and the angry peasants of the land, while the radicals kept in secrecy plotting the best possible course of action to strike back. This was much the same as the Catholic view, divided into conservative and radical points of view. The line between the two is blurred however as many would say anything to avoid getting their neck stretched. Whelan's interpretation is adequate.
He looks at it objectively with a realistic and open mind. The bias on this issue is what clouds the truth. I agree that it should be not looked from one side or the other but researched from both perspectives to gain a balanced idea of what happened. The Tree of Liberty was enlightening. I appreciated most the actual writing from the people of that time, most of all the poetry.
I am of course biased to the Irish Catholic side, as my fathers ancestors were, but I did my best to see all sides.