The Age of George III

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Ireland in the American War (1776-83)

The Irish resented the fact that the American colonies had been able to declare their independence from Britain n 1776, whereas Ireland was still tied to Britain. Even worse, the American cessation of trade and the British embargo on Irish trade to America and Europe had wrecked the Irish economy. There was a series of bank crashes in Ireland.

1778 saw the direct involvement of France in the American War of Independence when the French declared war on Britain. There was a serious threat of Ireland being invaded by the French. In Ireland the Protestants set up the Irish Volunteers who armed themselves, carried out military drills and wore uniforms made of home-made fabric which caused damage to the English woollen industry.

In ten days in May 1778, two Irish banks crashed and nineteen merchants went bankrupt; there was a great deal of distress in Ireland as a result of the decline in the economy. At the same time food prices increased because the British government was buying food in Ireland to supply the British army in America :Cork was the last docking point for ships sailing for America.

The British army needed to recruit more men to fight in America so in 1778 Sir George Savile, a leading Rockinghamite Whig, put a Catholic Relief Act to parliament which would allow Roman Catholics to join the British army without having to take the religious test. A similar Act was passed in Dublin. As part of this legislation, the Williamite Penal Laws were relaxed and Catholics were allowed to join the army, have freedom of worship, hold some public offices, take up some professions and lease land for 999 years.

In 1779 the Dublin parliament introduced Irish non-importation agreements on British goods, similar to those which had been introduced in America in 1765 and 1768. The Dublin parliament also voted a short Money Bill - that is, they voted less money for the year than they should have done in order to maintain the government of Ireland. The Dublin MPs demanded freer trade with England and the Irish Volunteers provided the "muscle" to back the demands.

Lord North found himself facing possible rebellion in Ireland and made trade concessions but he also raised Irish duties to English levels which had an adverse effect on an already weak Irish economy. In 1780 North introduced further concessions to Irish trade; in April 1780 Henry Grattan attempted an Irish Declaration of Independence which was defeated by the "Undertakers".

The University of Minnesota Law Library has put on line transcripts of the Penal Laws. They can be found here.
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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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