Ireland under English rule: a colony or a burden?

Essay by hanno October 2004

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"Although formally part of the same state, [Ireland after the Act of Union] was not and could not have been ruled in the same fashion as Great Britain".

The Act of Union had aimed to lessen the threat of Ireland being used to launch a military attack on Britain. It had aimed to uphold the privileged position of the colonists' descendants, the landed Protestant ascendancy; and it had meant that Ireland could be governed from London to rather than rule herself. All these were the features of a colony. Other features typical of a colony might be, perhaps: -a situation where the mother country benefits financially from the colony, and -the dependence of the colony on the mother country.

In most of the above criteria, however, Ireland became less like a colony in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But it did so without successfully becoming more integrated into the United Kingdom.

Instead there was a growth in the independence movement.

Colonists, or their descendants, generally hold a privileged position in a colony's society. In the case of Ireland, the landed Protestant ascendancy did so; but this position was being eroded over the years. Catholic Emancipation had been something of a threat to the Ascendancy's position, but within Westminster wealthy Protestants remained the dominant force. Further widening of the franchise, however, reduced still further the dominance of wealthy Protestants. The Ballot Act of 1872 made voting secret, thereby putting an end to the potential for bribery and intimidation during polling. Furthermore, after 1884, all male householders were entitled to vote. That the widening of the Irish franchise by half a million voters had swamped the conservative ascendancy class is shown by the fact that, as J.J. Lee writes: "[t]he 1885 election completed the process...of eliminating English parties in southern...