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The Bowles of Canada and their Roots in Ireland and Great Britain

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Background to the Protestant/Catholic 'Troubles' Particularly in Some Southern Counties in the early 1800's


Note: this page is currently under construction


Back to The Connection Between The Bowles of Kilcooly, co. Tipperary and The Bowles of Oola, co. Limerick

Note: this is not a history of the 'Troubles' in Ireland in general.  It is just some background to the situation in early 1800's Ireland that some of the Bowles families lived in, particulary those Bowles families in the counties of Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Queen's county (now county Laois) which had both Protestant and Catholic branches.

In the 1600's the Protestants in Ireland were typically landowners with largely Irish Catholic tenants.  Then the landowners started attracting English tenants to improve more of their land and to introduce new agricultural methods not yet practiced by their more traditional Irish tenants.  Separate communities were established initially and occasionally they met resistance, sometimes violent as in the rebellion in 1641, but gradually they became intermixed as next generations moved to find opportunities.  In the 1700's throughout southern Ireland and in Tipperary in particular it became common for people of both religions to be neighbours.  Gradually and over several generations relations between the Protestant and Catholics had eased up considerably and it became legal for them to intermarry.  By the end of the 1700's there were many families with branches of both religions and a new identity for being 'Irish' developed in the tenantry, which for the first time spanned several religions (Protestant, Catholic, Presbyterian, Quaker etc.) and which included many with family names of English origin.

To me this peaceful coexistence represented one of the most hopeful times for Ireland since its occupation by the Norman English in the 1100's.  Admittedly, there was still a long way to go.  Catholics couldn't vote or hold their own land but there were movements in England and even with some Protestant landowners in Ireland in support of Catholic rights. 

There were also the tithes.  The Protestant Church of Ireland was the state religion and every landholder was required to pay a tithe based on a percentage of his annual production to support his local C of I parish church and minister.  Every member of every church was as usual also expected to support their own religion's parish church.  That was fine for the Protestants who were left with just payments to their own but the other two largest religions, the Catholics and the Presbyterians, who were non-conforming Protestants, had to support both their own church and one they didn't even belong to and which already received the support of the richest landowners in the country.  Sometimes that became even a worse abuse of Protestant privilege.  The local parish C of I Minister was often selected by these major landowners and was frequently one of their own or their landowner's friend's younger sons who were given the job as 'a living'.  Sometimes the son then hired a cleric to perform their responsibilities while they remained at home living off that living.  In these cases it's easy to see how the Catholic tenant with a small holding who was already struggling to support his family and his own church might resent that additional fee he had to pay to the young son already living easily in his father's great house, either in their full view nearby or worse, in the case of an absentee landholder, somewhere back in England.

The local C of I Minister would hire a collector to visit every tenant in his parish to collect the tithes owed to him.  These collectors were hired to be effective and the tenants generally had no legal rights to their land other than at their landhold's 'pleasure'.  The collector could seize the tenants stock or other produce if the tenant was unable to pay and he could call upon armed employees of the landowner on his visits.  In the worst cases, should some tenants band together to resist the collections, the collector could call upon the army or local militia to support him.  In such cases the tenants evictions often followed with their houses being levelled to the ground.  In the late 1700's such incidents were rare as the tithes were low and they had been a fact of life in Ireland for hundreds of years since formation of the English church under Henry VIII.

The Society of the United Irishmen was formed in 1791 with a Protestant landowner, Wolfe Tone, as its leader and with a goal of Parliamentary Reform leading eventually to Irish self-government.  The English Parliament yielded partway with the Catholic Relief Act of 1792 which gave Irish Catholics the right to vote but only if they had free-hold of land valued at 40s ( £2, which was a large amount at that time).  The United Irishmen movement gained popularity quickly throughout Ireland with its leadership mainly prominent Protestant and Presbyterian landowners in the north of the country.  The broader membership in the south, especially in Tipperary, Kilkenny and Wexford, had a larger proportion of Catholic members and less support from the Protestant landowners.  Here the United Irishmen became gradually became more militant which had the direct result of a militant response from the English opponents of the Society. 

The Orange Order was formed in 1795 to defend England's interests in Ireland against this growing United Irish nationalism and quickly spread throughout the country with local Lodges established in every county.   Gradually the United Irishmen's intention to use only peaceful means to achieve parliamentary reform became increasingly militant even in the leadership ranks.   Finally a general uprising by the United Irishmen was held in 1798 but it was quickly quashed by English troops which in many cases had been given advance notice of the date set for the rising most likely by Protestants within the ranks of the United Irishmen who had a divided loyalty and drew a line at attacking the English.

England then moved to prevent a repeat of such a united threat by turning the United Irishmen against each other.  The Protestant and Presbyterian leaders were praised for their peaceful intentions, although Tone was arrested and given a death sentence for having arranged with France to land troops in Ireland to support the uprising, while only the Catholics were blamed for turning to open rebellion.  Actions that had been taken by Protestant led groups in the south were downplayed but news of actions taken against Protestants, specifically by a Catholic force within the United Irishmen called The Defenders, was spread in print and through government agents in the Protestant communities.  The major such event during the rebellion was The Massacre of Protestants at Scullabogue in County Wexford which I've documented separately as it involved the Bowles family of Wexford.

In 1800 the English Parliament put an end to the emerging Irish nationalism by the Act of Union which abolished the Irish Parliament and brought Ireland directly under England's control on all matters.  What had been a united movement towards self-government was successfully redefined by the English governors as having been merely a Catholic attack on the privileges enjoyed by the English Protestants in Ireland.  The Orange Order thrived with the support of the English army , the county militias and the police forces which resulted in a strengthening of the resolve of The Defenders and other Irish Republican groups which ultimately became the militant IRA.  The stage was set for the next hundred years of religion-based struggles which would tear apart many of the Irish families which had intermarried peacefully between the two religions in the late 1700's.

 That was the situation for several Bowles lines in Ireland with both Protestant and Catholic family members which I've found in Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and in Queen's County (now Laois) and for many other Bowles lines in almost every county in Ireland who found themselves surrounded by unhappy neighbours who increasingly saw them as unfairly privileged.  Which indeed they were.


This site was last updated 10/19/18