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Army, police and society in Ireland:
Civil, military and police relations in King's County and County Donegal c1870-1902

Legg, Philip

Army, police and society in Ireland: 
Civil, military and police relations in King's County and County Donegal c1870-1902 Thumbnail


Philip Legg


This thesis makes a detailed contribution to the study of social relations between tenantry, landowners, police and the military, and reveals continuities and complexities often missing from more generalised accounts. It begins by arguing that the prevailing framework of traditionalism versus revisionism in Irish history is too restricting, and agrees with those who want it opened up to wider approaches for a better understanding. By comparing two selected counties, this work uses local studies to examine Irish history in general - which is a well-established method for the period 1916-1923, but less so for the late nineteenth century.

Evidence of continuous disturbances throughout the period, albeit of varying intensity, supports the theory of a ‘Long Land War’. It is important, however, to notice that there were other causes of friction apart from the pressures of nationalism and agrarian reform. In this conflict, the evidence suggests that widespread intimidation was both commonplace and effective on an often reluctant population, and questions how far nationalism was a really popular ideal. It is argued here that nationalism did slowly become stronger, and was fostered during the South African War.

Agrarian reform made more tangible progress, partly through the actions of the various leagues, but also through a collapse of government and landlord resolve. The position of the Catholic clergy as leaders of agitation is well established and supported here – but less discussed in the secondary literature is the role played by the women of tenant families. This study argues that ordinary women played a vital part in all agitation and resistance, and that this role deserves much wider recognition..

It is well documented that sport and culture were used by the nationalists to nurture support, but this study will argue that the authorities did the same thing. Army reforms also helped to identify military units with specific areas, and economic considerations about the buying power of the army played a moderating role in limiting opposition. The militia, whilst certainly ill-disciplined at times, have too often been dismissed as ineffectual, but it is argued here that they served a useful social function, and that their importance was as imperial reinforcements, not as a gendarmerie for dealing with discontent at home. It is also argued that excessive violence was sometimes used by the authorities, but it will be shown that Catholics in both the RIC and the army performed their duties with very few exceptions, and so recruiting Catholics was not a cause of weakness for the authorities. The RIC in particular, however, were vilified for the work they carried out and the way that they sometimes performed it.


Civil, military and police relations in King's County and County Donegal c1870-1902. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2019
Keywords Ireland, army, police, County Donegal, King's County
Public URL
Award Date Dec 11, 2014


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