Irish Agrarian Societies: The Ribbonmen, Part of the Plot of “Lady Chandler’s Sister: Book 3 of the Twins’ Trilogy”

Whiteboyism, the subject of Monday’s post, essentially ceased to operate toward the end of the eighteenth century, although it never truly disappeared, for it resurrected its head in the Munster region (Counties Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford) in the early nineteenth century. Unlike the whiteboys who proceeded them and the Rockites that followed, the Ribbonmen were more working class—farm laborers. Neither was it based in Catholic consciousness nor nationalism, but rather it acted as a force with which to be reckoned in defense of the rural poor. 

Grain prices dropped nearly 45% between 1814 and 1815. Therefore, farmers could no longer pay their rents to landowners, for the price of rents had been set when grain earned a higher wage. Laborers were ultimately thrown off their lands. Complaints also occurred to threats of evictions. 

One must remember during the early part of the 1800s, there were three major famines in Ireland: 1814 to 1816, 1821-1823, and 1831-1834. 1816 is often referred to as the Year Without Summer, and devastation hit Europe, England, the United Stares, etc.

Some experts point to an event on an estate in County Limerick as the impetus for the formation of the Ribbonmen. Supposedly, the new agent attempted to evict a large number of tenants who had fallen behind in the payment of their rents, but the truth is it was a combination of things: closing of common grazing grounds, the decline in grain prices, and another poor potato crop. Prior complaints had carried for the tithe wars as their banner. Meanwhile, Ribbonism, whose supporters were usually called Ribbonmen, was a 19th-century popular movement of poor Catholics in Ireland. The movement was also known as Ribandism. The Ribbonmen was active against landlords and their agents, and opposed “Orangeism, the ideology of the Protestant Orange Order. 

“The society was formed in response to the miserable conditions in which the vast majority of tenant farmers and rural workers lived in the early 19th century in Ireland. Its objective was to prevent landlords from changing or evicting their tenants. Ribbonmen also attacked tithe and process servers,  and later evolved the policy of Tenants’ Rights. The existence of “ribandmen” was recorded as early as 1817. The name is derived from a green ribbon worn as a badge in a button-hole by the members.

“Depending on the district, the society was variously known as the Fraternal Society, the Patriotic Association or the Sons of the Shamrock. The Ribbonmen’s organisation was similar to that of the Whiteboys or the Defenders of earlier periods. They were organised in lodges, and during the 1820s were in contact with certain organizations of Radicals in England.

“The ideology of the Ribbonmen supported the Catholic Association and the political separation of Ireland from Great Britain, and the rights of the tenant as against those of the landlord. The Ribbonmen were involved in violent (and sometimes deadly) riots with the Orange Order in the north of Ireland, and elsewhere used violence to resist paying tithes to the Protestant Church of Ireland. As the agitation for Catholic Emancipation grew, the tension between Ribbonism and Orangeism increased.

“On 26 July 1813 the Battle of Garvagh in County Londonderry  took place. Up to two hundred Catholic Ribbonmen attempted to destroy a tavern in Garvagh where the Orange Lodge met. They were armed with sticks and bludgeons, but Protestants were waiting inside armed with muskets and repelled them. One of the Ribbonmen was killed and the rest couldn’t gain access to the tavern and dispersed. The clash was commemorated in the song “The Battle of Garvagh.” [Ribbonism] [Murray, A.C. (1986). “Agrarian Violence and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Ireland: the Myth of Ribbonism”. Irish Economic and Social History13: 56–73.]

Pat Feeley tells us in his article Whiteboys and Ribbonmen, that Ribbonism leaned toward agrarian issues, not sectarian or political ones. When the price of cattle and other livestock rose in the pre-Famine years, landlords, many of them absentee ones, reduced the number of tenant farms and laborers – requiring less and less tillage. Most of the outbreaks of violence was between laborers and farmers. Feeley tells us, “Ribbonism spread through the rich farmlands of the Golden Vale, through the midland counties and into Roscommon and East Galway. It was not found in the western coastal districts where the farms were poor and the class divisions not so pronounced…. Violence was employed on a calculated, specific basis, in contrast to the gratuitous bloodletting of the faction fights and the sectarian riots. Victims were carefully selected for some infringement of the Ribbon code. Attacks were always clearly linked to a specific code — a particular eviction, a rise in rents, a protest against labourers being hired from another county. There was rarely much difficulty in ascribing a motive; the perpetrators took pains to publicise the reasons for the violence as a warning and a lesson to others. Violence was preventive or deterrent.” 

Other Sources: 

An Irish Apocalypse? 

Captain Rock: the Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821-1824 

Captain Rock and the Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821-1824

Ireland’s Forgotten ‘Rockite’ Rebellion 

Irish Immigration to Britain 

Political Dimension of Irish Rockite Movement

Whiteboys and Ribbonmen 


Arriving March 25, 2019 

Lady Chandler’s Sister: Book 3 of the Twins’ Trilogy 

LCS eBook Cover-01

Sir Alexander Chandler knows his place in the world. As the head of one of the divisions of the Home Office, he has his hand on the nation’s pulse. However, a carriage accident  on a deserted Scottish road six months earlier has Sir Alexander questioning his every choice. He has no memory of what happened before he woke up in an Edinburgh hospital, and the unknown frightens him more than any enemy he ever met on a field of battle. One thing is for certain: He knows he did not marry Miss Alana Pottinger’s sister in an “over the anvil” type of ceremony in Scotland.

Miss Alana Pottinger has come to London, with Sir Alexander’s son in tow, to claim the life the baronet promised the boy when he married Sorcha, some eighteen months prior. She understands his responsibilities to King and Crown, but this particular fiery, Scottish miss refuses to permit Sir Alexander to deny his duty to his son. Nothing will keep her from securing the child’s future as heir to the baronetcy and restoring Sir Alexander’s memory of the love he shared with Sorcha: Nothing, that is, except the beginning of the Rockite Rebellion in Ireland and the kidnapping of said child for nefarious reasons.

An impressive ending to the beautifully crafted Twins’ Trilogy – Starr’s ***** Romance Reviews

Love. Power. Intrigue. Betrayal. All play their parts in this fitting conclusion to a captivating, romantic suspense trio. – Bella Graves, Author & Reviewer






About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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