Young Ireland

   Young Ireland was a group of Protestant and Catholic nationalists associated with the Nation newspaper in the 1840s. Thomas Osborne Davis, a Protestant, and Charles Gavin Duffy and John Blake Dillon, both Catholics, founded the weekly Nation in 1842. It quickly acquired a readership of 250,000. Contemporaries gave the men associated with the Nation an impressive name, Young Ireland. Liberal and romantic nationalists, notably Giuseppe Mazzini ’s Young Italy, challenged traditionalists in many European countries. Unlike them, Young Ireland did not base its nationalism on a distinctive language.
   The Nation ’s contributors were youthful compared with the elderly Daniel O’Connell, the hero of Catholic Emancipation (letting Roman Catholics serve in the British Parliament). Young Ireland can be viewed as a generational and ideological revolt against O’Connell’s leadership. It regarded O’Connell as too closely allied with the Whigs in London and the Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland. Like O’Connell, it wanted the repeal of the 1801 Act of Union to restore a separate Irish Parliament, but unlike him it refused to be distracted by lesser reforms. O’Connell rejected and Young Ireland accepted a British proposal for nondenominational colleges. Although it refused to condemn violence, Young Ireland’s Irish Confederation, organized in 1847, was cautiously constitutional in its tactics. Nearly all the middle class intellectuals and paternalistic landlords who made up Young Ireland lacked sympathy with radical antilandlord peasants. As an exception, John Mitchel, a Protestant, called for a rent strike and a refusal to pay the local taxes, called rates.
   It was the example of revolutions in France and elsewhere on the continent that induced the essentially moderate Young Irelanders to adopt the rhetoric of revolutions in 1848. Without any realistic planning, William Smith O’Brien led a pathetic uprising in County Tipperary. Several Young Irelanders were exiled to Australia. Young Ireland had little impact on Irish history, certainly less than the Irish famine of the 1840s. The main significance of Young Ireland was that it was nonsectarian in a country in which religion increasingly colored national identity. Of the individuals, Davis was the most influential. Before he died in 1844, still in his early thirties, he helped inspire a secular Irish nationalism rooted in history and hostility to English culture. His ballad, “A Nation Once Again,” enjoyed widespread popularity.
   See also <>.
    Davis, Richard P. The Young Ireland Movement. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1987.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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