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AE-HN504 Land and the Irish, 1741-1939

‘Held in fee simple’.  It’s a phrase whose roots lie in Feudal times, well-known in the legal profession and vaguely familiar to anyone who has ever purchased a house or a farm. But that legal concept encapsulated the aspirations of generations of Irish peasants. They killed, burned, slashed, scalded, boycotted, and were hanged, for the entitlement to ‘fee simple’, the right to possess, enjoy and bestow their own ‘real estate’. They formed secret ‘Ribbon’ societies with exotic names like ‘the Peep O’Day Boys’ ‘the Terry Alts’ or ‘the Rightboys’. And they turned on their equally penniless neighbours in envious rage as often as they tweaked the noses of their landlords.

From the Down Survey to the Ordnance Survey; the Whiteboys of the 18th century to the Black Hand Gang of the 1920s; the incendiary terror of Wildgoose Lodge to the horrors of Maamtrasna; the gibbeting of Patrick Devane in 1816 to the hanging of Poff and Barret in 1882; the Tithe War to the Ranch War; the Diamond to Dolly’s Brae, 'Land and the Irish, 1741-1939' will examine the events and the personalities of centuries of Irish agrarian upheaval that commenced in annexation (the ‘planting’ of British settlers on Irish soil), continued in conflict (tenant against landlord as well as tenant versus tenant) and culminated in default (the refusal of an independent Irish government to continue the payment of land annuities).  

Dates Schedule Time Venue/Location Fee €
16 Apr 2024 to 04 Jun 2024 Sessions: 8
16, 23, 30 April 7, 14, 21, 28 May, 4 June
10:30 National Library of Ireland


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7 Tuesdays

16, 23, 30 April 7, 14, 21, 28 May, 4 June

  • Captain Moonlight and the 'Boys': the 18th century insurrections of agrarian secret societies  (Whiteboys, Rightboys, Oakboys, Steelboys, Peep O'Day Boys)
  • The 'Old Vest' and the 'Cravat': the Caravat - Shanavest conflict (1806-1810)
  • The insurrection of Captain Rock: the Rockite uprising of the 1820s
  • The Tithe War 1831-36 
  • Mapping the Land: The Ordnance Survey and the Griffith Valuation
  • Emptying the land – the Famine clearances 1847-55
  • The Indian Summer of the Irish landlord 1848 – 1878
  • The Land Wars of the 1880s
  • Buying out the landlords: tenant purchase 1885-1909
  • ‘Use the hazel’: the Ranch War 1906-09
  • The Fourth Land War: land seizures during the War of Independence
  •  ‘One more cow, one more sow, one more acre under the plough’: land policy in an independent Ireland, 1922-39 

The following is a selection of recommended texts for those interested in reading further around the course content. We advise that you do not buy books in advance of the course as your tutor will discuss the list and suggest the most relevant reading for particular interests.


Paul Bew, Land and the National Question in Ireland, 1858-82 (New Jersey, 1979).

Fergus Campbell and Tony Varley (eds.), Land questions in modern Ireland (Manchester, 2013).

Samuel Clark and James Donnelly Jr. (eds.), Irish Peasants: Violence and Political Unrest 1780-1914, (Wisconsin, 1983).

Raymond Crotty, Irish agricultural production, its volume and structure (Cork, 1966).

L. Perry Curtis Jr. The Depiction of Eviction in Ireland 1845-1910 (Dublin, 2011).

Gillian Doherty, The Irish Ordnance Survey: History, Culture and Memory (Dublin, 2004).

James S. Donnelly Jr., Captain Rock: The Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821-1824 (Cork, 2009).

Terence Dooley, ‘The land for the people’: the land question in independent Ireland, (Dublin, 2004).

Terence Dooley, The big houses and landed estates of Ireland, a research guide (Dublin, 2007).

Terence Dooley, The Murders at Wildgoose Lodge:Agrarian Crime and Punishment in pre-Famine Ireland (Dublin, 2007).

P.J. Drudy (ed.), Ireland: Land, Politics and People (Cambridge, 1982).

Myles Dungan, Four Killings (London, 2021).

William L. Feingold, Revolt of the Tenantry: the Transformation of Local Government in Ireland 1872-1886 (Chicago, 1984).

David Fitzpatrick, Politics and Irish Life, 1913-1921: Provincial Experience of War and Revolution (Cork, 1999).

Kyle Hughes and Donald M. Macraild, Ribbon Societies in 19th-Century Ireland and its Diaspora (Liverpool, 2021).

Donald E. Jordan Jr, Land and Popular Politics in Ireland (Cambridge, 1994).

Margaret Kelleher, The Maamtrasna murders: language, life and death in 19th century Ireland (Dublin, 2018).

Margaret O’Callaghan, British high politics and a nationalist Ireland (Cork, 1994).

Cormac Ó Gráda, The Great Irish Famine (Cambridge, 1989).

Cormac Ó Gráda, Ireland before and after the Famine (Manchester, 1993).

John E. Pomfret, The Struggle for the Land in Ireland, 1800-1923 (Princeton, 1930).

Barbara Lewis Solow, The Land Question and the Irish Economy, 1870-1903 (Cambridge, Mass. 1971).

W.E. Vaughan, Landlords and Tenants in Mid-Victorian Ireland (Oxford, 1994).

Cecil Woodham Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849 (London, 1991).



Fergus Campbell, ‘Irish Popular Politics and the Making of the Wyndham Land Act, 1901-1903’, The Historical Journal, Dec., 2002, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Dec., 2002).

Fergus Campbell, ‘The Last Land War? Kevin O'Shiel's Memoir of the Irish Revolution (1916-21)’, Archivium Hibernicum, Vol. 57 (2003).

Daniel J. Casey, ‘Wildgoose Lodge: the Evidence and the Lore’, Journal of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol.18, No. 2 (1974).

Gale E. Christianson, ‘Secret Societies and Agrarian Violence in Ireland, 1790-1840’, Agricultural History, July, 1972, vol.46, No.3 (July 1972).

James S. Donnelly Jr, ‘The Whiteboy Movement, 1761-65’, Irish Historical Studies, vol. 21, No. 81 (March 1978).

James S. Donnelly Jr. and James J. Donnelly Jr., ‘The Rightboy Movement 1785-8’,  Studia Hibernica, 1977/1978, No. 17/18.

James S. Donnelly Jr., ‘The Great Famine and its interpreters, old and new’. History Ireland, Issue 3, Autumn 1993, Volume 1.

James S. Donnelly Jr., ‘Hearts of Oak, Hearts of Steel’, Studia Hibernica,

At the end of the course, students will have become aware of the complexities of the agrarian struggle over two centuries of Irish history and evaluate texts on the basis of a more nuanced approach to a subject that is often viewed in binary and simplistic terms. 

Myles Dungan is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster who currently presents the weekly RTÉ Radio 1 programme The History Show. He is an Adjunct Lecturer in the UCD School of History and is the recipient of two Fulbright Awards. He has taught Irish history in UCD, Trinity College and the University of California, Berkeley.  He holds a PhD from Trinity College, Dublin and is the author of more than a dozen books on Irish and American history (including Four Killings, Conspiracy: Irish Political Trials, Irish Voices from the Great War, How the Irish Won the West and Mr. Parnell’s Rottweiler). 

Lecture and PowerPoint presentation.