Irish History: The 1800s

The 19th Century was a Critical Period of Rebellion and Famine in Ireland

The 19th century dawned in Ireland in the wake of the widespread uprising of 1798, which was brutally suppressed by the British. The revolutionary spirit endured and would reverberate in Ireland throughout the 1800s.

In the 1840s the Great Famine ravaged Ireland, forcing millions facing starvation to leave the island for a better life in America.

In the cities of the United States, new chapters of Irish history were bring written in exile as Irish-Americans rose to positions of prominence, participated with distinction in the Civil War, and agitated to oust British rule from their homeland.

The Great Famine

Irish Emigrants Leaving Home
Irish Emigrants Leaving Home. New York Public Library

The Great Famine ravaged Ireland in the 1840s and became a turning point for Ireland and America as millions of Irish emigrants boarded boats bound for American shores.

Illustration titled "Irish Emigrants Leaving Home - The Priest's Blessing" courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Daniel O'Connell, the "Liberator"

Daniel O'Connell
Daniel O'Connell. Library of Congress

The central figure of Irish history in the first half of the 19th century was Daniel O'Connell, a Dublin lawyer who had been born in rural Kerry. O'Connell's relentless efforts led to some measures of emancipation for Irish Catholics who had been marginalized by British laws, and O'Connell attained heroic status, becoming known as "The Liberator."

Fenian Movement: Late 19th Century Irish Rebels

Illustration of a Fenian attack on an English police van
Fenians attacking a British police van and freeing prisoners. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Fenians were committed Irish nationalists who first attempted a rebellion in the 1860s. They were unsuccessful, but leaders of the movement continued to harass the British for decades. And some of the Fenians inspired and participated in the eventual successful rebellion against Britain in the early 20th century.

Charles Stewart Parnell

Engraved portrait of Charles Stewart Parnell
Charles Stewart Parnell. Getty Images

Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant from a wealthy family, became a leader of Irish nationalism in the late 1800s. Known as "Ireland's Uncrowned King," he was, after O'Connell, perhaps the most influential Irish leader of the 19th century.

Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa

Photograph of Irish rebel O'Donovan Rossa
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa. Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa was an Irish rebel who was imprisoned by the British and eventually released in an amnesty. Exiled to New York City, he led a "dynamite campaign" against Britain, and essentially openly operated as a terrorist fundraiser. A Dublin funeral in 1915 became an inspirational event that led directly to the 1916 Easter Rising.

Lord Edward Fitzgerald

Lithograph of the arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald
Depiction of the bedroom arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Getty Images

An Irish aristocrat who had served in the British Army in American during the Revolutionary War, Fitzgerald was an unlikely Irish rebel. Yet he helped organize an underground fighting force which might have succeeded in toppling British rule in 1798. Fitzgerald's arrest, and death in British custody, made him a martyr to Irish rebles of the 19th century, who venerated his memory.

Classic Irish History Books

Cloyne, County Cork
Cloyne, County Cork, from Croker's Researches In the South of Ireland. John Murry Publisher, 1824/now in public domain

Many classic texts on Irish history were published in the 1800s, and a number of them have been digitized and can be downloaded. Learn about these books and their authors and help yourself to a digital bookshelf of classic Irish history.

Ireland's Big Wind

A freak storm that struck the west of Ireland in 1839 resonated for decades. In a rural society where weather forecasting was based on superstition, and timekeeping was equally eccentric, the "Big Wind" became a boundary in time that was even utilized, seven decades later, by British bureaucrats.

Theobald Wolfe Tone

Wolfe Tone was an Irish patriot who moved to France and worked to enlist French help in an Irish rebellion in the late 1790s. After one attempt failed, he tried again and was captured and died in prison in 1798. He was regarded as one of the greatest of Irish patriots and was an inspiration to later Irish nationalists.

Society of United Irishmen

The Society of United Irishmen, commonly known as the United Irishmen, was a revolutionary group formed in the 1790s. Its ultimate goal was the overthrow of British rule, and it attempted to create an underground army which could make that possible. The organization led the 1798 Uprising in Ireland, which was put down brutally by the British Army.

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McNamara, Robert. "Irish History: The 1800s." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, McNamara, Robert. (2020, August 26). Irish History: The 1800s. Retrieved from McNamara, Robert. "Irish History: The 1800s." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).