The Penal Laws

The Penal Laws

Placing this period in a timeline is difficult because the penal laws merely began under William of Orange, who personally opposed them. Queen Anne, George I and George II, however, were quite in favor of the punishments.

These regulations affected every aspect of Irish life. Restrictions instituted by the Protestant English Parliament included:

The laws were quite effective and dominated life in the 18th century. Most Catholic aristocracy and gentry had been coerced into Protestantism, and land restrictions expanded the middle class. The net result was little empathy for the rural masses.

Peasants were crowded into small tenements on rented land, which they held on to by paying exorbitant rents. Additionally, they had to support the Catholic and Anglican churches, further draining their economic power.

No one was exempt from the cruelty of the penal laws.
Even the elderly were evicted from their land.
Absentee lords who owned Irish land but preferred to live in England continued to extend their pastureland, further alienating the poor.

Poverty has limits, of course, before it results in revolution. After enough land was taken for cattle grazing and small-town militias had formed, Catholic Ireland followed the standard formula of rising against oppression.

Visits from the constabulary to ensure evictions were routine.