The Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape

Chapter Three:  Revolution, Emancipation, Starvation, page 2

Toneís ill-fated rebellion of 1798 was followed by the infamous Act of Union in 1801, when the Irish Parliament essentially voted themselves out of existence and merged with the Parliament of Great Britain.  With the Union, Ireland merged with England into a single United Kingdom, meaning that all Irish political matters were decided by the British Parliament in London.  Under the Act, the Irish would send 32 peers to the House of Lords and 100 MPs to the House of Commons.  Many Irish Catholics supported the Act, believing that Catholic emancipation would soon follow.  In this they were disappointed.  Protestants, though initially opposed, soon saw that their continued position of power could only be guaranteed through alliance with the British Empire.  The Act passed by a slim margin; many opponents of the Act were convinced to vote for it through an elaborate system of "compensation" and promise of future patronage--perhaps standard practice in 18th-century political life, perhaps an act of bribery as the Nationalist tradition has long insisted.    

For the British, and for the bulk of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, this was virtually a military necessity:  the threat of a Catholic uprising was so forceful that the British were convinced the only way to maintain control of the country was through British military strength; hence Britain insisted on direct control of Ireland from London. Britain knew that Ireland was the weak link in its own national defenses: enemies of England, particularly France, could land in Ireland and be only a channelís crossing away from the English countryside. England could not allow such a precarious situation to exist in Ireland, and so England took direct control over the island. But the effect of this would be to diminish the power of Irelandís native ruling Protestant class, and embolden the growing Catholic middle and lower classes.  The slow decline of the Protestant Ascendancy, and the growing discontent of the Catholic middle class, would be the dominant pattern of Irish political life in the 19th century.

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