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The Penal Laws in Ireland.

History of Ireland.

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The Penal Laws


Immediately following the Williamite War, the government confiscated another 405,000 hectares of land. By 1704, Roman Catholics owned no more than one-seventh of the land. Even this amount was later reduced by the operation of the extremely harsh religious laws that were passed between 1692 and 1727 these laws were in violation of the Treaty of Limerick.

Known as the Penal Laws under them Bishops and members of religious orders were banished. Parish priests were allowed to remain, but no new priests could be ordained. The government expected that Roman Catholicism would die out.

Other laws aimed to keep Roman Catholics poor and without power were as follows. When a Roman Catholic landowner died, his estate had to be divided equally among his sons. No Roman Catholic could purchase land or lease land for more than 31 years. A Roman Catholic could not carry arms or own a horse worth more than five pounds. Roman Catholics could not teach in a school or send their children abroad to be educated. No Roman Catholic could sit in Parliament or vote in a parliamentary election. Also, they could not take part in local government, or serve on a jury, hold any government office, or become a lawyer or army officer.

The religious laws could not be enforced fully, but the other penal laws were. By the 1770's, Roman Catholics had been disposed to the extent that they held only one-twentieth of the land. A few prospered in trade, but most of them were tenant farmers, paying high rent to their Protestant landlords and tithes to the Protestant state church, or land less labourer's, living in great poverty. As the population grew, competition for land increased. More poor people relied on potatoes alone as their staple diet.

The Decline of Irish Culture.

After the Irish aristocracy lost their lands, a decline in Gaelic learning set in the poets and chroniclers were reduced to poverty. But Irish was still spoken by poor people particularly in the west and western islands. Though the ruling class and the Protestants in Ulster used English.

The Presbyterians of Ulster were allowed to vote in parliamentary elections, and a few of them became Members of Parliament. But they did not have full civil rights, and they had to pay tithes to The Church of Ireland. Thousands of them became discontented and emigrated to America.