In 1848, on this day in the village of Ballingarry, police and military troops clashed with "Young Irelanders", the nationalist forces led by a member of parliament named William Smith O'Brien.
Irish Rebellion Gains Momentum into Revolution1848 was a year of revolt all around Europe. France's King Louis-Philippe had fallen to the Second Republic, Germans overthrew many of their local lords, and even the stalwart Austrians gained a constitution to balance the power of an absolute monarch. In Ireland, times were especially hard. The Potato Blight, beginning in 1845, had caused famine to last for years. The British government did very little to aid them, and now was the time for them to aid themselves.
Under the Union Act of 1800, Ireland had been joined with Britain into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Since its passing by Parliament, there had been men working against it in Ireland known as the Repeal Association. The political movement remained marginal before stepping up to fame as the Young Ireland movement in 1839. Along with new powers granted to the Catholics in the 1832, the movement gained force all over the country. A splinter group, the Irish Confederation, began the push for all-out independence and a wholly Irish parliament.
After the success of the French revolution in February, the Irish began to make their moves. While leader William Smith O'Brien hoped for a bloodless revolution, the government was more fearful and suspended habeas corpus on July 22. O'Brien and his followers decided to act to oppose this force of politics. Battles erupted around County Tipperary, culminating on July 29 in the village of Ballingarry.
O'Brien and other Young Irelanders had fortified The Commons and awaited the approach of police and military troops. A group of 46 under Sub-Inspector Trant had been spotted, and the rebels pursued them into a two-story farmhouse where the police set up defense and took the family hostage. O'Brien approached the house and explained to the police that if they were to surrender their arms, they would be allowed to return home as fellow Irishmen. After a long moment of thought, Trant surrendered.
"A few hours later, a band of one hundred more police under Sub-Inspector Cox appeared, being met by the surrendering police as well as a crowd of hundreds of pike-wielding, jubilant rebels. In shock, these police surrendered, too. All through the night, word spread of the victory, and O'Brien worked to harangue his people to never give up the fight for independence.
On July 30, the British army approached the fortified Young Irelanders. The commanders were slow to assault such a massive, poorly armed but publicly acclaimed band, but at last the battle ensued. Tactically, the battle became a draw, and the army retreated for the night. O'Brien, however, called the battle a great victory and spread word of the success of the revolution in more-than-literal terms. All over Ireland through August, revolts would begin, and the British landowners and Loyalists would be chased from the island. On August 23, O'Brien and his followers of men, women, and children would take Dublin and call for elections to an Irish Parliament. O'Brien was named Prime Minister, a position he would hold for fifteen years until his death in 1864.
In September, while the Royal Family retired to Balmoral in Scotland, Prince Albert would come to Ireland with a massive force of British troops. He suggested an armistice, to which O'Brien agreed, and the two would begin to mastermind a fair treaty that would grant Ireland its own parliament, but still keep the emerald isle as part of the British Empire. Seeing the forces willing to fight to maintain conquest, O'Brien agreed. The Act of Irish Parliament passed narrowly in 1849, with many Loyalists crying out against it. With renewed Irish loyalty, however, the empire would blossom.
Loyalists and English would gradually leave Ireland while the Catholic Irish stayed and worked to improve their country with O'Brien's reforms over the rest of the nineteenth century. Industry, especially manufacturing, grew with economic incentives from the Irish Parliament and a workforce of millions (many scholars predict these men may have emigrated to America). The Irish would be instrumental troops in World War I as well as the counter-invasion of the Continent against Hitler's soldiers in 1941, leading to the downfall of Germany in early 1944.
Moreover, the Irish Parliament would give Britain a model for treatment of its colonies and creating productive home-rule. Fending off the Communist incursions of the 1950s and '60s, the British Empire would continue to dominate the world along with its ally and former colony, the United States of America. With the fall of their competitor the Soviet Union in 1992, Britain would lead the world into its next millennium as an empire upon which the sun would never set.
Ireland, meanwhile, would be a land of marginal success. Its industrial heyday was long over, with crime and unemployment rampant, though the 1990s would cause a renewed surge of economics in technology as the Silicon Isle of Europe.