Strong(e)/Strang(e) Research in Britain and Ireland

Researching Strong(e)s and Strang(e)s in Britain and Ireland; 2nd Edition (Rootsweb)

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(N:Saturday 3 January 2004)

R: (Saturday 3 January 2004)

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The Protestant Ascendancy:
The Georgian "Century of Peace":
Events leading to 1798 Rising:
The Act of Union:
The Catholic Emancipation:
The Great Famine:
A Struggle of Race, Religion, and Political Domination:
End of Page

[Editor's Note: This page grows out of a draft originally prepared in about 1991, worked on briefly in 1997, and laid aside until 2004. Unfortunately, some of the references used in developing the original draft have been lost or misplaced; thus, there is no footnoting of the material. Some of the material is sourced from other materials in print. Since this chapter was first drafted in 1991, much additional information, often better written than this humble author's best efforts, has become available. For links to many sites which will amplify the information herein, and better eliucidate the reader, simply search the web! However, the present composition represents my analysis, for what that is worth, in an attempt to round out the rest of the text.]

This is a brief history of the country in which our Strong ancestors lived and died. Under these conditions they made their homes, and raised their children. Existence in Ireland was never easy and because of the many troubles, they probably were called upon to defend their way of life at one time or another. Many of these Strongs belonged to the "Established" Church, the Church of Ireland. This is significant because it tells us that they were a part of the Protestant minority in Ireland, and gives us a clue to their origins before the family came to Ireland. An understanding of the historical background is an important step towards the further investigation of the history of our Strong family in Ireland.

The Protestant Ascendancy: Sarsfield took many of the surviving Catholic landlords with him when he fled to France after the Treaty of Limerick. The lands they abandoned in Connaught were confiscated and put into Protestant hands. By 1700 there were hardly any Catholic landlords in all of Ireland.

With their control of the land as well as an effective administrative system in place, the "Protestant Ascendancy" was established. Its members were primarily English and included descendants of those who had settled during the Tudor and Stuart periods, Cromwellians as well as Old English (Anglo-Normans). Dominated politically and socially by the landed class, but extending through all ranks, it became the most powerful political force in Ireland. Property meant power, and with nearly all of the land in the possession of the Protestants, this is where the political power lay.

Because the Protestant Ascendancy was dominated by English and English descended landowners it is not correct to assume that it was the puppet of the English crown. On the contrary, the political power wielded by the Protestants in Ireland in the eighteenth century often was nationalistic in nature, resentful of England's political and trade restrictions. While they did not forget their English heritage nor their need for English military support, the Protestants of Ireland came to think of themselves as "the Irish people" and their sense of nationalism was based upon the Protestant Ascendancy and celebrated by the Battle of the Boyne.

Although the Treaty of Limerick signed by William of Orange in 1691 promised fairness and toleration towards the Roman Catholics, the Protestant Parliament in Ireland refused to confirm the civil articles of the Treaty. Later, in 1697, a much watered down version of the articles was passed by the Irish Parliament which went on to enact the Popery Code or Penal Laws in 1704. [See also Chapter V, Tests, Dissent, and The 1689 Revolution.] Clearly in violation of the spirit of the Treaty of Limerick the new Penal Laws were intended to subdue the Catholic majority and eventually eliminate any form of Catholic gentry. The native Irish were to be reduced to hewers of wood and drawers of water. The Penal Laws stated in part,

"Whereas it is notoriously known that the late rebellions in this kingdom have been contrived, promoted and carried on by Popish archbishops, bishops, Jesuits and other ecclesiastical persons of the Romish Clergy.

And forasmuch as the peace and publick safety of the kingdom is in danger, by the great number of the said archbishops which, not only endeavour to withdraw His Majesty's subjects from their obedience, but do daily stir up and move sedition and rebellion...

No Catholic may sit in the Irish Parliament.

No Catholic may be a solicitor, game-keeper or constable.

No Catholic may possess a horse of greater value than 5. Any Protestant offering that sum can take possession of the hunter or carriage horse of his Roman Catholic neighbor.

No Catholic may attend a university, keep a school or send his children to be educated abroad. 10 reward is offered for the discovery of a Roman Catholic schoolmaster.

No Catholic may buy land or receive it as a gift from a Protestant.

No Catholic may bequeath his estate as a whole,but must divide it among all his sons, unless one of those sons become Protestant, where he will inherit the whole estate.

No Catholic may be the guardian of a child. The orphan children of Catholics must be brought up as Protestants."

Under these harsh restrictions, Irish Roman Catholics could never increase their estates, hold any kind of political office, or even vote. All political power was taken from them. The aim of the Penal Laws was the total subjugation of the Catholic majority and in this it was effective.

But there was a twist. Queen Anne's Privy Council added a clause which extended the restrictions to those who refused to take the sacramental test. Therefore the Protestant Dissenters, mostly the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of Ulster, were also disenfranchised by the Penal Laws. Although some land-owning Catholics and Presbyterians with political ambition converted, the vast majority did not and the Church of Ireland saw no real growth in members. Dissatisfied and disenfranchised, the Scotch Irish Presbyterians of Ulster began emigrating to North America. They would continue their exodus throughout the eighteenth century and took with them to America their ideals of political independence... which helped foment the American Revolution.

The Georgian "Century of Peace": George I became King of Great Britain in 1714. The great grandson of James I, he succeeded Anne by the terms of the Act of Settlement of 1701, which assured the succession to the House of Hannover and its Protestant heirs. George was first and foremost Elector of Hannover, and during his reign had little interest in British affairs, let alone Ireland, and did not even learn to speak the English language.

Eighteenth century Ireland is notable for its peacefulness. From the end of the Revolutionary War in 1691 to the rebellion of 1798 there were no major conflicts. Unfortunately, along with the peace was widespread impoverishment.

The native Irish peasants, though largely unaffected by the Penal Laws, which were aimed at those who owned property, lived in conditions of extreme poverty. England imposed trade restrictions, most notably the Woolen Act of 1699, which hurt the Irish economy, which was heavily dependant on the export of agricultural products. But the linen industry flourished in the north around Belfast and in the latter half of the century agricultural conditions improved. Later, in the 1770's, the British government, which a gotten into a spot of trouble with the American revolutionaries, decided to try to appease the Irish Protestants and abolished trade restrictions. Britain withdrew her troops from Ireland for use against the Americans and Irish Protestants formed groups of "Volunteers". Then as the war with America worsened, the Irish Parliament was granted more and more legislative freedom.

In 1778 the first of the Catholic Relief Acts was passed and Catholics who took an oath of allegiance were given new rights. A Protestant named Henry Grattan from Dublin led the liberal reform movement and in 1782 attained full legislative freedom for Ireland's Parliament. Grattan's vision of Ireland was "an ideal Protestant nation that contained free and happy Catholics, an independent nation in partnership with England, sharing the same monarchy."

Events leading to 1798 Rising: But "Grattan's Parliament" was doomed. After the French Revolution in 1789, those new ideals spread and reached the ears of Irish radicals, including the remaining Presbyterians in the north. Sensing the threat, the Irish Protestant Establishment, the ruling Ascendancy, closed ranks with their English allies. In 1793 the Irish Parliament restored political rights to the Catholic majority.

But the reformers wanted more. They saw the struggle as between the Parliament of Ireland, representing the property owners and the Establishment, versus the reformers, ignited by the concepts of democracy, who wished a government that was representative of the entire population. Invigorated by the success of the American and French Revolutions, they demanded complete constitutional change and the establishment of a democratic state.

The reformers were strong, but still very much in the minority, even in Ulster, where the Protestant Orange societies were loyal to the crown and constitution. The United Irishmen, a Protestant organization supported by the Roman Catholics was led by Wolfe Tone and was strongest in Ulster.

The 1798 Rising: By 1796 the United Irishmen had become committed to violent overthrow of the government and sought aid from the government of France. The French promised help which never reached Ireland though, being intercepted en route by the British navy. On the 24th of May, 1798 the rebellion broke out but was confined to the counties of Antrim, Down and Wexford.

In Antrim and Down, Presbyterian farmers armed with pike and musket were easily dispersed by the government. The entire rebellion was over in six weeks. The leaders were rounded up and arrested. Wolfe Tone was in France at the time, but later returned, was arrested and committed suicide. The Protestant Ascendancy, although victorious, felt caught between the old power of the Pope and the new ideals of democracy from France and America. This fear eventually led to the Act of Union with Great Britain in 1800.

The Act of Union: There was resistance initially to the concept of Union in Ireland, but it was overcome when it was seen that this was the only way to secure British aid and the maintenance of Protestant privilege, although there was no hope of saving the Protestant Ascendancy. Many profited from their support, receiving "Union Titles" and lands. One of the titles awarded at that time is the Baronetcy of Tynan Abbey, held by the Stronge family seated there. The first Baronet Stronge of Tynan Abbey was Sir James Stronge, who received the title in 1803... one of many who received such a "Union Title". Those opposed to the Union viewed it not as a marriage but as a brutal rape, with Ireland herself compared to an Heiress, whose chambermaid and trustees had been bribed, while she was dragged, protesting to the alter.

The British, still struggling with Napoleon's France, viewed the Union as a military necessity; they needed a secure ally in Ireland. Prime Minister William Pitt held out the prospect of, but did not promise, emancipation and Irish Catholics were strongly in favour. The Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland was passed by the Houses of Parlia- ment of both nations in 1800 and came into effect January 1, 1801. Great Britain and Ireland became the United Kingdom with one Parliament at Westminster. There was free trade between the countries and their churches were merged to form the United Church of England and Ireland.

While the two Parliaments had been united, Ireland however retained her own executive. The Lord Lieutenant, the Council and the Law Courts remained in Dublin and reflected the spirit of the old Protestant Ascendancy. The landlords who had made up the Ascendancy were still very much in a position of political power, controlling important organizations such as the magistracy, the police, the grand juries and municipal corporations. When they had accepted Union it as the means of protecting their privilege and they meant to maintain this. The existence of this separate executive was also a visible reminder of Ireland's former independence. There was marked economic growth immediately after the Union and until the end of Britain's war with Napoleon in 1815, when markets declined.

The Catholic Emancipation: Full emancipation for the Catholics was pre-eminent issue of the first half of the nineteenth century. Prime Minister Pitt resigned when he was unable to pass emancipation because of stern opposition from King George III. Irish Catholics were led by Daniel O'Connell, an avid opponent of the Union, who was able to link the cause of Irish nationalism with that of Roman Catholicism. The formation in 1823 of the Catholic Association, which collected a penny a month from its subscribers, united the peasantry and gave O'Connell the political power he desired. In a brilliant move, O'Connell stood for a by-election in County Clare in 1828. By law he was not permitted to sit in Parliament, but there was no law against his running for Parliament. He won by a landslide. In the face of this rising opposition, the British Parliament in 1829 granted full political rights to Ireland's Catholics via the Catholic Emancipation Act. O'Connell subsequently secured a seat in the House of Parliament and in the 1830's set about to eliminate the tithe system which required Irish Roman Catholics to pay tithes to the established Church of Ireland, which they despised.

The "tithe wars" in Ireland, in which Catholics withheld their payments to the Church of Ireland forced the Whig government, supported by O'Connell to modify (though not eliminate) the tithe system. The government also introduced Poor Laws to Ireland, set up a national system of elementary education and reformed the municipal corporations in 1840 allowing Catholics greater control. The old Ascendancy was giving way to the new spirit of liberalism.

With the defeat of the Whig government and the rise of Peel's Tories in 1840, O'Connell began a campaign for the repeal of the Union. The Repeal Association, founded in 1841, tried to pressure the government into action by holding mass meetings in Ireland at historic sites such as Tara.

These meetings were often attended by tens of thousands who came to hear O'Connell speak. One such meeting was planned to take place in 1843 at Clontarf, site of the ancient victory by King Brian Boru over the Vikings. The British government used this event to force a confrontation. They brought in extra troops, ordered their navy warships into Dublin Bay and trained the guns of the fort on the meeting place. Then, at the last moment the the meeting was banned.

Faced as he was with this predicament O'Connell, who was long an opponent of violence, decided to obey and cancelled his meeting. He was determined that repeal would come through constitutional means, driven by the popular support of the Irish people. But Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel was equally determined to preserve the Union and was able to use his Parliamentary majority to do so. The repeal movement of the 1840's eventually died. O'Connell's legacy was his raising of the political consciousness of the Catholic population.

The Great Famine: The potato, which was introduced to Ireland in 1590 by Sir Walter Raleigh, was an ideal food as it grew well in the Irish climate, was high in nutritional value, and produced an excellent yield. One acre of farmland was capable of producing up to six tons of potatoes annually. The potato became the staple food, and millions of Irish depended on it. During the preceding century and a half of relative peace since the Revolution of 1691, the population of Ireland had been steadily on the increase. In 1800 it was estimated to be four million and by 1841 had doubled to over eight million. Ireland was said to be the most densely populated country in Europe, with County Mayo in Connaught having 475 people per square mile of land.

Over the years as land passed from one generation to another, it was subdivided into smaller and smaller parcels. By the 1840's the majority of families lived on farms less than five acres, and many smaller than that. Those who could, leased out small plots, usually less than one acre to landless peasants or "cottiers", who depended on the potatoes they were able to plant there. This practice, known as "conacre" was widespread through-out Ireland. As farm sizes got increasingly smaller, the Irish peasant became more and more dependant upon the potato, as this was the only crop available with sufficient yield to allow him to feed his family on such a small acreage.

But a farmer had little choice but to divide his land among his children: the only alternative was to turn them out to starve. Those who could afford it had another option; emigration to North America or Australia. Emigration was seen as a viable solution to Ireland's economic problems, particularly after the end of the Napoleonic War.

Canada was the most popular destination in the years preceeding the famine, with cheap fares, the lure of land grants, its British style of government and an existing population which was largely of Irish descent.

The Potato Famines: By the 1840's the population of Ireland was totally dependant upon the potato crop for survival. But the potato was unreliable. Many total or partial failures had been reported over the years, with ensuing famine conditions. In 1728, 1739, 1740, 1770 and 1800 the crop had been completely destroyed. Partial failures had occurred in the years 1807, 1821, 1822, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833, 1834, 1836 and 1837. Note the coincidence of such crop failures with the pattern of lease renewals discussed in the next chapter.

The crop suffered a total failure in 1839 and partial failures in 1841 and 1844. In the very warm and damp summer of 1845, about a third of Ireland's potato crop was destroyed by a parasitic fungus similar to bread mould. This first failure did not spell disaster, as most peasants had enough reserves to make it through the winter. But 1846 was once again warm and humid and the fungus destroyed two-thirds of the potato crop. The hardest hit areas were in the west, Galway and Mayo, where the population was densest. To compound matters, the following winter was severe and many died of starvation and exposure. 1847 brought a more temperate dry summer and the potato crop was free of the fungus. But many had not planted that year after the two previous disasters. In 1848 the humidity, and consequently the fungus, returned and the potato crop was again destroyed. There were further failures in 1849 and 1851. Estimates are that over a million died, and another million emigrated during the period.

The British government of Sir Robert Peel took action as early as 1845. A scientific inquiry was set up to determine, unsuccessfully, the cause of the blight. Indian corn was bought from America and public works programs were set up so that the peasants would have some money with which to buy the maize. But if potatoes were the basis of the Irish diet, then grain was the staple of the Irish economy. Tenants and landlords alike depended on the production of grain to pay their bills. Peel therefore insisted on the continuance of exports of Irish grown grain, while importing American corn maize to help feed the starving. Peel's actions were considered humane for the times. He even advocated repeal of the Corn Laws, against the policy of his own political party, to help alleviate the situation in Ireland. But his insistence on the continuing exports of Irish grain has cursed him in the eyes of the Irish. Peel was replaced by Lord John Russell in 1846 and his new Whig government cut off all government purchases of food, leaving the supply up to free enterprise in an arrogant gesture of laissez-faire. The situation in Ireland was desperate, though and even this government felt compelled to introduce new works programmes.

In the final analysis, perhaps the famine was unavoidable. An overcrowded nation which was so dependant on a single crop was certainly flirting with disaster. The famine was primarily a scourge of the peasants, who were of course, mostly Catholics. Protestant landlords and tenant farmers, who were the grain producers fared much better. People in the cities were better off than those in rural areas. All of this combined to deepen the sectarian hatred that had existed for centuries. The famine was perhaps nature's way of relieving the poverty and overcrowded conditions. The dramatic reduction of the population, through starvation and emigration, brought it roughly into line with the available resources of the nation.

One lasting effect of the famine is the shift in patterns of emigration. From the early part of the nineteenth century until the famine, the most popular place for emigration was clearly to Canada. Irish descended Canadians come primarily from a pre-famine ethnic group. But during the 1850's, emigration to Canada all but dried up. The new popular destination was the United States, where tens of thousands of poor Irish descended upon American cities along the east coast, with New York and Boston the principal destinations. Where ever they arrived ghettos of poor Irish were soon to be found.

     Table 1. Population Changes by County 1841-1851


                    Donegal              -14
                    Derry                -14
                    Tyrone               -18
                    Antrim               - 9
                    Down                 -11
                    Belfast City         +24
                    Armagh               -16
                    Monaghan             -29
                    Fermanagh            -26
                    Cavan                -28
                    Leitrim              -28
                    Sligo                -29
                    Mayo                 -29
                    Roscommon            -32
                    Galway               -27
                    Longford             -29
                    Westmeath            -21
                    Meath                -23
                    Louth                -16
                    Dublin County        + 5
                    Dublin City          +11
                    Kildare              -16
                    Kings                -23
                    Queens               -27
                    Wicklow              -22
                    Carlow               -21
                    Wexford              -11
                    Kilkenny             -22
                    Waterford            -16
                    Tipperary            -24
                    Clare                -26
                    Limerick             -21
                    Kerry                -19
                    Cork                 -24

     source:  Kenneth Neill,  An Illustrated History  of  the
Irish People, page 113.
A Struggle of Race, Religion, and Political Domination: The struggle of the Irish people over the centuries has been one of race, religion and political domination. In her book, The Great Hunger, Cecil Woodham-Smith offers this viewpoint:

"The hostility between England and Ireland, which six centuries had failed to extinguish, had its roots first of all in race. After the first invasions, the first conquests, the Irish hated the English with the hatred of the defeated and the dispossessed. Never-theless, eventually the English and the Irish might have fused, as the English and the Scots, the English and the Welsh have, for practical purposes, fused, had it not been that in the sixteenth century racial animosity was disastrously strengthened by religious enmity.

The crucial event was the Reformation. The ideas of liberty which the English cherish and the history of their country's rise to greatness are bound up with Protestantism, while Ireland, alone among the countries of northern Europe, was scarcely touched by the Reformation. The gulf which resulted could never be bridged. In the political division of Europe which followed the Reformation, England and Ireland were on opposing sides. Henceforward, Irish aspirations could only be fulfilled, Irish faith could only flourish, through the defeat of England and the triumph of her enemies."

Let us spend a bit of time examining further the Scots-Irish and other Emigrants in Chapter XIII.

End of Page

The Protestant Ascendancy:
The Georgian "Century of Peace":
Events leading to 1798 Rising:
The Act of Union:
The Catholic Emancipation:
The Great Famine:
A Struggle of Race, Religion, and Political Domination:
End of Page

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Created: Saturday 3 January, 2004 Prior drafts: 1991 & 1997
Last Updated: Saturday 3 January, 2004

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