James Connolly


A Forgotten Chapter of Irish History


Forward, 9 August, 1913.
From the collection: Ireland Upon the Dissecting Table, Cork Workers’ Club 1975.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.

A writer in Forward recently expressed the desire that someone would prepare literature that would be suitable for the conversion to Socialism of Orangemen. It is a desire with which I most heartily sympathise. I cannot resist the feeling that the Socialist movement of these countries has a legitimate grievance against the Socialists in the North of Ireland for never having seriously essayed this task, before. Unfortunately the Socialists of this district seem to have been possessed with the idea that it was good tactics to talk about every place under the sun except about the North of Ireland, to read every history except Irish history, and to profess unlimited faith in the democracy of every country except Ireland.

This it was, and is argued, showed a good broad-minded attitude, proved that they were true internationalists, whereas to talk about Ireland, to dissect and analyse the claims made by Irish politicians, to expose the hollowness of their shibboleths to direct attention to the merciless expropriation that underlay the so-called religious issues of past wars in Ireland, and the equally callous desire to hide present exploitations on the part of those who seek to keep alive animosities supposedly arising out of these wars – all this is supposed to betray a parochial, Chauvinistic, narrow spirit alien to the true Internationalist.

I have always argued that although the Socialist movement requires a world-literature, a stock of books dealing with capitalism as a world force, constituting as it were the classical literature of the movement, yet that each country requires also a local or native literature and spoken propaganda translating and explaining its past history and present political developments in the light of the knowledge derived from a study of Socialist classics.

Any country which is content to depend solely upon these great Socialist classics will never have a Socialist movement of the working class; it may have a Socialist sect of a few true believers, but it cannot hope for the adhesion of the great mass of the toilers.

It is only when Socialism is brought down from the clouds and is shown to have a direct bearing upon the political life of each country as a reflex of the economic history of that country, and to have a message bearing upon the political problems of the day, it is only then that Socialism has an opportunity of developing from being the cult of a few to become the faith of the many.

In every country this has been learned, and in proportion as the local literature grew, the Socialist movement of which it was the expression grew also. The stronger and the more widespread is that local translation of Socialist generalisations the more deeply rooted, not the less, became the faith in the world-wide nature of the movement.

As long as the movement in this district is content to draw its literature from England and its illustrations from British conditions, so long will it be but an echo of the fight of our British brothers and sisters. So soon as we build up a literature and spoken propaganda dealing with conditions in Ireland, as our fathers knew and as we know them, so soon will the movement here draw strength and power to itself.

Like the mythological character who lost his strength when raised from the earth, but renewed his strength and power whenever his feet once more came in contact with the soil – so the Socialist movement drains itself to mere impotence or raises itself to power in proportion as it rests upon the immediate realities of the people to whom it is appealing.

The industrial movement, the rebellion in the shops, ships, docks, and factories needs to care little for the moment about questions arising out of past history, but the Socialist movement seeking to challenge the political powers of the political lords, or the rights of ownership of the machine lords, cannot evade the duty of an investigation of the historical origins of these powers and rights.

And when we find that the landlords and machine, or mill and factory lords of our own country have become the political leaders of our own district, nothing can absolve us from the duty of investigating and exposing the sources of that social power which has also vested them with their evil political dominance.

These things are of course commonplace among the thoughtful Socialists elsewhere, but are, I am sorry to relate, regarded as extraordinary innovations here. The fact is indicative of the unformed state of our Socialist movement, and the immense spade work that is still to be done.

When that ex-Orange exponent of Socialism does arrive, he will not lack materials to go upon if he is courageous enough to resolve to give his readers the facts about the past record of the Orange aristocracy they now so slavishly worship.

As a humble contribution to his arsenal, allow me to state briefly the story of the Antrim Leases of 1772.

I have pointed out before that the Ulster plantation of James I, was a scheme under which the lands stolen from the natives were given to certain Crown favourites and London companies, and that the rank and file of the Protestant English and Scottish armies were only made tenants of these aristocrats and companies. Tyrone, Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh, Armagh and Cavan were entirely confiscated. The plan was worked out by Sir Arthur Chichester, ancestor of the Marquis of Donegal. For his share in the transaction he received the entire territories of the clansmen of Sir Cahir O’Doherty; the London companies, which had financed the war, received 209,800 acres out of a total of 500,000 acres, and other ancestors of the Orange aristocracy got the rest. In addition to the above-mentioned plunder, when Sir Arthur Chichester resigned his Position as Lord Deputy in 1616, he received certain lands in Antrim and the title of Baron of Belfast.

All the Antrim lands were settled by a Protestant tenantry, the Catholics being driven to the hills and glens. As was natural from the political circumstances of the time, and in order to preserve the appearance of fairness, these Protestant tenants were at first granted very long leases. Under the security of tenure afforded by these leases, they worked hard, reclaimed the land, built houses, drained, fenced and improved the property. Also under the terms of the promise given by William III, when in answer to the petition of the English woollen manufacturers he suppressed the industry in Ireland but promised bounties to the linen industry as a compensation, the cultivation of flax and the manufacture of linen grew up in Antrim as a further contribution to the prosperity of the tenants of Lord Donegal.

But in and about the year 1772 the leases began to expire all over the country. What happened then is best told in the words of the Remonstrance of Northern Protestants sent to the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Townsend, in that year:–

“The landlords thirsted to share the people’s benefits by raising their rents, which would have been very reasonable to a moderate degree, but of late they had nun to great excesses. When the tenant’s lease was ended, they published in the newspapers that such a parcel of land was to be let, and that proposals in writing would be received for it. They invited every covetous, envious, and malicious person to offer for his neighbour’s possession and improvements. The tenant, knowing he must be the highest bidder, or turn out he knew not whither, would offer more than their value. If he complained to the landlord that it was too dear, the landlord answered that he knew it was, but that as it was in a trading country, the tenant could make up the deficiency by his industry. Those who possessed the greatest estates were now so rich that they could not find delicacies enough in their own country to bestow their wealth on, but carried it abroad to lavish there the entire day’s sweat of thousands of poor people.”

The two worst extortioners were Lord Donegal and a Mr. Upton. On the estate of Lord Donegal a large number of the leases expired simultaneously. The landlord refused to renew them unless he received the enormous sum of £100,000 in fines, as a free gift for his generosity. As the tenants could not raise this great sum, they offered to pay the interest upon it in addition to their rent, but this was refused, and then some “hard-headed, shrewd, and enterprising” Belfast capitalists offered the money to my lord and secured the farms over the head of the tenants, who were accordingly evicted. According to Froude in his English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (and Froude was a bitter, malevolent and anti-Irish a historian as ever wrote)–

“In the two years that followed the Antrim evictions, thirty thousand Protestants left Ulster for a land where there was no legal robbery, and where those who sowed the seed could reap the harvest.”

Those who remained at home did not accept their fate with complacency, nor show that voluntary abasement before the aristocracy characteristic of their descendants today. They formed a secret society – the “Hearts of Steel” – which strove by acts of terrorism to redress some of their grievances. In a manifesto issued by this organisation in 1772, the following sentence appears:

“The supreme judge himself had excited them to commotion to cause the landlords on whom no mild means will prevail to observe the pale faces and the thin clothing of their honest Protestant subjects who had enriched the country by their industry.”

When in the same year six of their number were arrested and lodged in the town jail of Belfast, the members of this society assembled from all parts of Down and Antrim, marched upon Belfast, stormed the jail, and released their comrades. The thin clothing and pale faces of honest Protestant workers are still in evidence in Belfast, but the only things they are storming nowadays are the homes of their fellow sufferers who profess different political faith.

Here then is the reality as against all the vaunted ‘Civil and Religious Liberties’ which the Carsons and their bend tell us were established at the Boyne. Some day I will tell the equally shameful story of the suppression of political liberty, of how the Protestant workers were kept outside the franchise whilst the upper classes manipulated the powers of the State to their own enrichment.

But this story of the Antrim Leases will serve as an illustration of my point that in the treatment of Protestant workers by Protestant exploiters in Ulster, our coming historians will find plenty of material upon which to base his appeal to the Orange masses.

The worker who grasps that point will then be able to comprehend the teaching conveyed in the following statement of principle upon which the Independent Labour Party of Ireland is based, and which it adopted as its own at the joint conference of Socialist bodies in Ireland which saw its formation:

Whereas the political history of Ireland is a record of the attempts of successive races and classes to obtain possession of the band and other sources of national wealth in order that the yoke of slavery may be laid upon the necks of the non-possessors, and,

Whereas in this fight for economic supremacy the mauradraces and classes have utilised in the past every possible appeal to racial sentiment, patriotic devotion and religious bigotry, hiding under the various rallying cries the ever-present desire of a dominant section for power and plunder, and,

Whereas the working class of Ireland today, like the working class of every other nation, is the heir and representative of all the defrauded and dispossessed generations of the past, embracing in its ranks the descendants of the men and women who, no matter what banner they fought under or what cause they invoked were despoiled and subjugated alike in victory and defeat:

Therefore be it Resolved –

“That recognising that, despite their diverse origins, the workers of Ireland are heirs of a common spoliation, and sufferers from a common bondage, that the watchwords are rallying cries of the various parties, led by the various factions of our masters, are but sound and fury, signifying nothing to us in our present needs and struggles; and that it is no longer a question of Celt against Saxon on Catholic against Protestant.

“But of All the Workers Against All the Exploiters, we, representing wonders from North and South, unite under the following constitution in a common association against the common enemy for the ownership of our common country and the World for the Workers.”


Last updated on 19.8.2007