seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Hearts of Steel Storm Belfast Barracks

The Hearts of Steel, also known as the Steelboys, an exclusively Protestant movement originating in County Antrim due to grievances about the sharp rise of rent and evictions, is involved in conflict in Ulster on December 23, 1770. Five hundred members of the Hearts of Steel force the release a prisoner in Belfast.

The Hearts of Steel arise in 1769 in opposition to unjust and exorbitant rents, chiefly exacted by middlemen, speculators or “forestallers,” who take lands from absentee landlords at greatly increased rents and make their own profit by doubling the rents on the poor tenants.

In 1770 in Templepatrick, County Antrim, a local landlord evicts tenants and replaces them with speculators who can outbid the locals for the land. At some point a local is arrested and charged with maiming cattle belonging to a merchant from Belfast, which spurs the farmers of Templepatrick to take up arms and march on Belfast to demand his release. The protestors surround the barracks and threaten to burn the house of Waddell Cunningham, who is one of the new speculators in Templepatrick. The soldiers in the barracks fire upon the protestors killing several and wounding others. The protestors eventually set fire to Cunningham’s house and as the fire threatens to spread and destroy the town of Belfast itself, the mayor decides to free the prisoner.

Further consternation is caused by the sharp increase of rents throughout Ulster. At the same time the leases expire for Lord Donegall‘s south County Antrim estate. While he keeps his rent at the old prices, he greatly increases their renewal fee. These coincide with several years of severe harvest failures which result in high bread prices. The result of this is that people are unable to support themselves or their families, being left in the utmost state of deprivation and destitution, with many evicted from their land for failure to pay.

The Hearts of Steel protests and uprisings quickly spread throughout the county and into counties Armagh, Down, and Londonderry, which are also subject to the Hearts of Oak protest movement with which it merges. One tactic of the protestors is the “houghing” of cattle, which involves laming cattle by cutting the leg tendons. They also force farmers to sell food at prices they set, and demand anyone letting out land to do so at the cost of 12 shillings per acre. Landlords are threatened that if they try to collect the cess from anyone that their houses will be destroyed.

The disturbances are so widespread in the affected counties that the Irish government passes legislation to severely punish the “wicked and disorderly persons.” By the later half of 1772 they send the army into Ulster to crush them. Men are hanged while many others are said to have drowned trying to flee across the sea to Scotland. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Townshend, privately blames the landlords and their actions for the disturbances and so issues a general pardon in November 1772.

(Pictured: The Hearts of Steel storming the barracks at Belfast, December 1770 | Linen Hall Library)


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Death of Novelist Maria Edgeworth

maria-edgeworthMaria Edgeworth, Anglo-Irish writer known for her children’s stories and for her novels of Irish life, dies on May 22, 1849 in Edgeworthstown, County Longford.

Edgeworth is born at Black Bourton, Oxfordshire, England on January 1, 1768. She is the second child of Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Anna Maria Edgeworth (née Elers). She spends her early years with her mother’s family in England, until her mother’s death when Maria is five. When her father marries his second wife Honora Sneyd in 1773, she goes with him to his estate, Edgeworthstown, in County Longford. There, she assists her father in managing his estate. In this way she acquires the knowledge of rural economy and of the Irish peasantry that is to become the backbone of her novels.

Domestic life at Edgeworthstown is busy and happy. Encouraged by her father, Edgeworth begins her writing in the common sitting room, where the 21 other children in the family provide material and audience for her stories. She publishes them in 1796 as The Parent’s Assistant. Even the intrusive moralizing, attributed to her father’s editing, does not wholly suppress their vitality, and the children who appear in them, especially the impetuous Rosamond, are the first real children in English literature since William Shakespeare.

Her first novel, Castle Rackrent (1800), written without her father’s interference, reveals her gift for social observation, character sketch, and authentic dialogue and is free from lengthy lecturing. It establishes the genre of the “regional novel,” and its influence is enormous. Sir Walter Scott acknowledges his debt to Edgeworth in writing Waverley. Her next work, Belinda (1801), a society novel unfortunately marred by her father’s insistence on a happy ending, is particularly admired by Jane Austen.

Edgeworth never marries. She has a wide acquaintance in literary and scientific circles. Between 1809 and 1812 she publishes her Tales of Fashionable Life in six volumes. They include one of her best novels, The Absentee, which focuses attention on a great contemporary abuse in Irish society: absentee English landowning.

Before her father’s death in 1817 she publishes three more novels, two of them, Patronage (1814) and Ormond (1817), of considerable power. After 1817 she writes less. She completes her father’s Memoirs (1820) and devotes herself to the estate. She enjoys a European reputation and exchanges cordial visits with Scott. Her last years are saddened by the Irish famine of 1846, during which she works for the relief of stricken peasants.

After a visit to see her relations in Trim, Maria, now in her eighties, begins to feel heart pains and dies suddenly of a heart attack in Edgeworthstown on May 22, 1849. She is laid to rest in a vault at Edgeworthstown Church.

The feminist movement of the 1960s leads to the reprinting of her Moral Tales for Young People, 5 vol. (1801) and Letters for Literary Ladies (1795) in the 1970s. Her novels continue to be regularly reprinted in the 21st century.

(Pictured: Maria Edgeworth by John Downman, 1807)