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The Militia in Eighteenth-Century Ireland

The Militia in Eighteenth-Century Ireland: In Defence of the Protestant Interest

Neal Garnham
Volume: 8
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Militia in Eighteenth-Century Ireland
    Book Description:

    The militia in eighteenth century Ireland was a contentious issue: initially only those of a certain social and political class could participate, dissenters and Catholics being excluded, and the degree of enthusiasm with which people participated was an indication of their commitment, or otherwise, to the regime. However, as this book demonstrates, the militia as an issue changed over the course of the eighteenth century, with, from about 1760, demands for the reform of the militia being a key issue spearheading demands for wider constitutional reform. The book traces the militia in Ireland from early Protestant militia forces in the sixteenth century, through formal establishment in 1716, to demise in 1776 and re-formation in 1793. It shows how the militia played a larger role in the defence of Ireland than has hitherto been realised, and how its reliability was therefore a key point for government. It discusses how political debates about the militia reflected changing views about the nature of the Irish establishment and how these changing views were incorporated in legislation. It examines how the militia operated as an institution; considers how the militia reflected social and political divisions; and compares the militia in Ireland with similar bodies in England, Scotland and Europe more widely, relating debates about the militia in Ireland to wider debates about whether a country is best defended by a professional soldiery or a citizen army. NEAL GARNHAM is a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Ulster and the author of two books and more than twenty articles published in refereed academic journals.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-960-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction: Militia Issues
    (pp. 1-4)

    Historians have long recognised the importance of the militia in eighteenth-century England, Scotland and the American colonies. This has been seen to lie not just in its military roles, but in its provision of a key political battleground, on which issues of the relationships between rulers and ruled, and the structure of the constitution, were disputed.¹ Militia-type organisations outside the Anglophone world have also drawn the attentions of historians, in particular those in the United Provinces, Geneva and France.² The rights of citizens to bear arms, their consequent roles in the state, and the implications of such service for subjects...

  7. 1 To 1691: Precursors
    (pp. 5-13)

    The practice of Protestant civilians in Ireland banding together to act in defence of themselves and the state probably dates back to the earliest efforts of the Crown to establish Protestant colonies in the country. Under the Tudors and Stuarts a series of ‘plantations’ were undertaken, in which English, and eventually Scottish, settlers were brought to Ireland and established in communities across the country. The intentions were to develop the country economically and socially, promote Protestantism, and secure the territory from both foreign invasion and domestic rebellion. The creation of King’s and Queen’s Counties from the territories of Laois and...

  8. 2 1692–1716: Establishment
    (pp. 14-34)

    Even before the Williamite war had ended proposals were being made for militia reform in Ireland. The fact that the force was ‘only voluntary’ was seen as a distinct disadvantage. Moreover, it was realised that this was an issue in which ‘the king’s conjunction with the parliament’ was essential to allow a satisfactory outcome.¹ The force existed only under royal prerogative, being called together by royal proclamation as circumstances demanded. The aim now became to establish in Ireland a militia force that would enjoy a statutory existence and control. A statutory force, while giving parliament a say in its existence,...

  9. 3 1716–59: Maintenance
    (pp. 35-59)

    The creation of a statutory militia in Ireland marked out a new phase in the force’s development. For the first time the militia had its foundations in law, and not just in established practice and precedent. The 1716 act had been passed in the wake of a threatened invasion. Earlier attempts to pass such legislation had failed for a variety of reasons. For some at least, the final act was a compromise, with Dissenters barred from commissioned service. The act’s passage underlines the complexities of the legislative system, and the divisions within it. Clashes over the militia had taken place...

  10. 4 1760: Action
    (pp. 60-72)

    On 21 February 1760 the French privateer, surgeon and smuggler Francois Thurot anchored his squadron of three small ships off the County Antrim coast at Kilroot, just north of the town of Carrickfergus.¹ His journey to this point had begun in early October the previous year when he had left Dunkirk with a force of five ships and more than a thousand troops. Evading the Royal Navy blockade, he had sailed north to Gothenburg and taken on supplies. From here he had travelled to Bergen, before heading to the Faroe Islands. Four days’ sailing then placed the small fleet off...

  11. 5 1761–69: Reform Debated and Attempted
    (pp. 73-88)

    The landing of Thurot at Carrickfergus allowed the King’s Irish subjects to exhibit their implacable loyalty. In particular Ulster’s Protestants could both demonstrate their unswerving fidelity and bathe in the afterglow of their own supposed martial prowess. It also provided an issue around which parliamentary Patriotism could crystallise, in opposition to the alleged incompetence of the Dublin administration. Debates concerning the militia in Ireland became central to this. In the meantime the Seven Years War continued to be fought in its many theatres, and the Irish militia continued to carry out its accepted tasks. The death of George II and...

  12. 6 1769–78: Reform Achieved
    (pp. 89-100)

    Lord Townshend emerged in the wake of the confused sessions of 1767–9 as a resident lord lieutenant. Whereas previous viceroys had stayed in the country only for as long as the meeting of parliament made it necessary, Townshend, either on his own initiative or at the behest of the London government, made the decision to become resident in Ireland for the entire duration of his tenure of office. His appetite for reforming the government of Ireland went much further than this symbolic measure, however. Frustrated by the inability and unwillingness of the undertakers to deliver the augmentation promptly, Townshend...

  13. 7 1778–82: Volunteering Ascendant
    (pp. 101-122)

    The Militia Act of 1778 was the product of the Patriot opposition in the House of Commons. Militia reform had been a concern of this group for almost twenty years. The act ultimately passed into law, however, only because it had become acceptable to the government in London, where previous opposition to militia reform had been overcome by the need to establish a force that would be capable of strengthening Irish defences during the war and of maintaining internal security at a time when the regular army garrison was being depleted.

    In the meantime the people had taken matters into...

  14. 8 1782–85: Fencible Men and the Militia Reconsidered
    (pp. 123-141)

    By the end of June 1782 the Irish Volunteers had been in existence for more than three years. Their members were almost exclusively Protestant, invariably loyal, and consisted overwhelmingly of the ‘middling’ class of men. They were predominantly led by their social betters: men from the established elites who controlled the land and politics of the country. This large, armed body of men outside the confines of the law was regarded with suspicion by the government. This was not least because they were perceived as having played key roles in the establishment of free trade and legislative independence. Arguably, Volunteering...

  15. 9 1785–93: Indecision and an act
    (pp. 142-163)

    By the mid 1780s Ireland and Britain were at peace with the world. The Volunteers had lost their raison d’être, and the debate over a militia in Ireland had been transformed. A militia was now clearly seen by all as an antidote to the residual Volunteering phenomenon. Establishing an Irish militia would defeat the political pretensions of the Volunteers and the small radical minority in parliament who still supported them. This situation politicised the Irish militia issue more heavily than had been the case since the 1760s. However, the fundamental constitution of the debate was now very different and, with...

  16. 10 Conclusions
    (pp. 164-170)

    In eighteenth-century Scotland, where no militia was formed until 1797 despite sustained agitations for such a force from much earlier, support for a militia was largely centred around two key themes: the national and the social. A Scottish militia was promoted because of a need to preserve Scottish ‘national independence after the Union’, and the necessity of maintaining harmonious ‘social relations’ through local military service.¹ In England the militia issue was more complex. At first support for a statutory militia was clearly an attempt to oppose and limit Crown power and influence, and also to balance the ambitions of central...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-192)
  18. Index
    (pp. 193-198)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-199)