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Rural Ireland, 1850 - 1950: Timeline of events

See a timeline of major historical events affecting rural Ireland between 1850 and 1950.

1850 - 1869

  • In the immediate aftermath of the Great Famine (1845-1850) families and communities were decimated and dispersed by death and emigration.

  • In 1841 the population was almost 8.2 million. By 1871 it was 5.4 million.

  • This period also saw the emergence of the Irish Republican (or Fenian) Brotherhood, a secret society whose aim was the achievement, by force, of an Irish republic.

1870 - 1882

  • Many farmers joined the Irish National Land League, founded by Michael Davitt in 1879, with Charles Stewart Parnell as its president, to lobby for lower rents and ownership of the land. The Ladies' Land League was founded in January 1881.

  • The Land War (1879-1882) consisted of mass demonstrations and outbreaks of civil unrest and focussed on the conditions of tenancy and ownership of land organised by the Land League. In 1881 the Ladies' Land League took over the organising of this mass campaign, with the Land League outlawed and  male leaders imprisoned.                                                                               
  • Emigration continued on a large scale, with a surge in departures in the late 1870s and early 1880s; associated with poor harvests, evictions and agrarian turmoil.
  • The Land Law (Ireland) Act (1881) provided for fixity of tenure for tenants so long as the rent was paid, free sale of the tenant’s interest in their holding and fair rent fixed by an independent land court. The Act was significant in acknowledging both the tenant and the landlord interest in the Land.

  • From 1882 the political campaign for Home Rule led by Parnell began, seeking an Irish Parliament based in Dublin.

1883 - 1891

  • Political unrest died down but social and economic change continued to affect the lives of rural people. This was a period of relative prosperity. The 1883 Labourers’ Act provided houses for labourers at low rents. The rate of emigration decreased.                                                                 
  • Unlike other countries, women comprised slightly more than half of emigrants after 1880.
  • The Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) was established in 1893 to promote the Irish language and in 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association was founded to promote Irish games.

  • A series of Land Acts revolutionised the landholding system in Ireland from one of territorial landlord estates to that of owner occupiers. The Landlord and Tenant Act of 1870 was followed by further land acts in:

    • 1881 (Gladstone’s Second Act)

    • 1885 (Ashbourne Act)

    • 1891 (Balfour Act)

    • 1903 (Wyndham’s Act)

    • 1909 (Birrell Act)

1892 - 1915

  • During this period substantial numbers of tenant farmers were able to purchase their own land.

  • The Congested Districts’ Board established in 1891, supported cottage industries in order to provided farm families with additional sources of income.                                                                 
  • ​Emigration remained high, averaging about 43,000 annually from 1900 to 1913.
  • The establishment of co-operative creameries in this period regularised milk prices.

  • In 1909 the Old Age Pension was introduced.                                                                                   
  • Irish Countrywomen's Association established in 1910.
  • As a result of the activities of the Gaelic League instruction in the Irish language were introduced in some primary schools.

  • Within Ireland there were divisions at the prospect of Home Rule. The Irish National Volunteers was set up in 1913 to defend Home Rule and the smaller Ulster Volunteer Force was founded in the same year, to oppose it.

  • At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 many Irishmen joined the British Army and fought in the trenches.

1916 - 1923

  • Although the 1916 Easter Rebellion was largely confined to Dublin, the subsequent War of Independence (1919-1921) was fought in many places throughout the country.

  • The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 established twenty-six of the thirty-two counties as a self-governing dominion to be called the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) within the British Commonwealth.                                                                                                                                 
  • The Irish Free State came formally into existence on 6 December, 1922.
  • The subsequent Civil War (1922-1923) was fought between the State and those who opposed some of the terms of the Treaty. It divided communities and families and ended when those opposed to the treaty called a ceasefire.

1924 - 1950

  • Following Independence people learned to deal with the official institutions of the new state including an expanded civil service administration.                                                                           
  • From 1932 women civil servants and national school teachers lose their jobs upon marriage.        
  • Dependency on migratory seasonal work continued, especially for those from Counties Mayo and Donegal.
  • In the 1930s, farmers suffered because of a trade war between Ireland and Britain but prices rebounded during World War Two when neutral Ireland supplied food to Britain.

  • In 1948 the Republic of Ireland Act was passed and the last ties to Britain were severed.

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