The first clash of the Tithe War takes place on March 3, 1831 in Graiguenamanagh, County Kilkenny, when a force of 120 yeomanry attempt to enforce seizure orders on cattle belonging to a Roman Catholic priest. Encouraged by his bishop, he has organised people to resist tithe collection by placing their stock under his ownership prior to sale.
The Tithe War is a campaign of mainly nonviolent civil disobedience, punctuated by sporadic violent episodes, in Ireland between 1830 and 1836 in reaction to the enforcement of tithes on the Roman Catholic majority for the upkeep of the established state church – the Church of Ireland. Tithes are payable in cash or kind and payment is compulsory, irrespective of an individual’s religious adherence.
After Emancipation in 1829, an organized campaign of resistance to collection begins. It is sufficiently successful to have a serious financial effect on the welfare of established church clergy. In 1831, the government compiles lists of defaulters and issues collection orders for the seizure of goods and chattels. Spasmodic violence breaks out in various parts of Ireland, particularly in counties Kilkenny, Tipperary and Wexford. The Royal Irish Constabulary, which had been established in 1822, attempts to enforce the orders of seizures. At markets and fairs, the constabulary often seize stock and produce, which often results in violent resistance.
A campaign of passive resistance is proposed by Patrick “Patt” Lalor, a farmer of Tenakill, Queen’s County (now County Laois), who later serves as a repeal MP. He declares at a public meeting in February 1831 in Maryborough that he would never again pay tithes and, although the tithe men might take his property and offer it for sale, his countrymen would not buy or bid for it if offered for sale. Lalor holds true to his word and does not resist the confiscation of 20 sheep from his farm, but is able to ensure no buyers appear at subsequent auctions.
Following the clash at Graiguenamanagh, the revolt soon spreads. On June 18, 1831, in Bunclody, County Wexford, people resisting the seizure of cattle are fired upon by the Royal Irish Constabulary, who kill twelve and wound twenty. One yeoman is shot dead in retaliation. This massacre causes objectors to organise and use warnings such as church bells to signal the community to round up the cattle and stock. On December 14, 1831, resisters use such warnings to ambush a detachment of 40 Constabulary at Carrickshock, County Kilkenny. Twelve constables, including the Chief Constable, are killed and more wounded.
Regular clashes causing fatalities continue over the next two years. On December 18, 1834, the conflict comes to a head at Rathcormac, County Cork, when armed Constabulary reinforced by the regular British Army kill twelve and wound forty-two during several hours of fighting when trying to enforce a tithe order reputedly to the value of 40 shillings.
Finding and collecting livestock chattels and the associated mayhem creates public outrage and proves an increasing strain on police relations. The government suspends collections. In 1838, parliament introduces a Tithe Commutation Act. This reduces the amount payable directly by about a quarter and makes the remainder payable in rent to landlords. They in turn are to pass payment to the authorities. Tithes are thus effectively added to a tenant’s rent payment. This partial relief and elimination of the confrontational collections ends the violent aspect of the Tithe War.
(Pictured: The battle at Carrickshock, from Cassell’s Illustrated History of England’, volume VII – 1895.)