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Riotous Assemblies

ISBN: 9781856356534
€19.99 €17.99



A collection of papers presented by historians at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick on riots and public violence across Ireland from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries, including: 

  • The Dublin Parliamentary Elections 1613
  • Urban Riots and Popular Protest in Ireland 1540 to 1640
  • Riot at Cook Street, 1629
  • Recovering the freight of the Julia: Conflict on a Connemara Island
  • The political mobilisation of the Irish poor, 1851-1878
  • The Irish and the English criminal justice system in London
  • Conditioned Constitutionalists‰Ûª: The reaction of Fianna Fail grass-roots to the IRA Border Campaign, 1956 - 1962
  • Notorious Anarchists‰Ûª: The Irish Smallholder and the State during the Emergency (1939-45)
  • Government responses to gang violence in pre-Famine Munster
  • Riot at Glenosheen, 1822

To find out more about the authors, click here.


ISBN 9781856356534




.. happily this interesting and at times engaging book does justice to the varied, complex phenomena of riots. - David Lynch, To read the full review please click here. 


Newstalk - Maura Cronin appeared on Talking History on 19th of June. To listen to the full interview please click here.



Riotous Assemblies: Rebels, Riots & Revolts in Ireland
Edited by: William Sheehan & Maura Cronin

This book grew from a conference held at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, in September 2009. The question underlying the conference theme was simple: why have people in Ireland become involved in rioting? A simple question, it led us in the course of discussion to many other questions. Why did riots occur? Who rioted? What was the government response to public disorder? When did a riot or public violence have legitimacy and who defined legitimacy? How can we as historians restore the voices of ‰Û÷ordinary‰Ûª people, as expressed in these events, to the grand narrative of history?
History is perhaps no longer written by and for the great. Many generations of historians have recalled the voices of the forgotten to enhance our understanding of the past. This volume, as the different chapters show, offers a contribution to that ongoing work. As relatively few ‰Û÷ordinary‰Ûª people have left behind full and complete accounts of their lives, records of rioting or public action by crowds are often the only evidence we have for the grievances or fears of these ordinary people. One of the key problems of this type of historical recovery is that as historians we have to rely on official or semi-official sources as the basis of our analysis of these past events, since the poor and unimportant leave little behind for historians to explore. But as many of the chapters in this book so skilfully show, even these sources can be read against the grain, allowing those submerged voices to speak once more.
This book ranges across a wide spectrum of Irish history. Clodagh Tait explores urban rioting and disorder in early modern Ireland, as does Stephen Carroll in his examination of the 1613 Dublin parliamentary election. Noreen Higgins-McHugh focuses on the rural scene with an analysis of collective violence during the tithe war in Munster. Daragh Curran revisits the O‰ÛªConnellite age of monster meetings, but details the phenomenon from an Orange and loyalist perspective through the analysis of a meeting in the Tyrone town of Dungannon. Mel Cousins brings us back to urban Ireland, and shows that violent protest was not simply a matter for the street but something that could occur within the walls of the workhouse, while John McGrath explores the pattern of urban disorder in Limerick City over a wide sweep of the nineteenth century. John Cunningham takes us west, with a unique micro-history which explores a conflict in Conamara surrounding the shipwreck and salvage of the Julia.
Subsequent chapters extend into twentieth-century Ireland. John O‰ÛªCallaghan provides an intriguing study of political street fighting in Limerick just prior to the outbreak of the War of Independence. Bryce Evans and Stephen Kelly explore various Fianna Fáil governments‰Ûª fears of, and attempts to control, public violence within the Irish state. Liam Kelly‰Ûªs chapter sheds new light on the history of the Northern conflict and reminds us of the importance of locality in the emergence of protest in 1969. Finally, Eálair Ní Dhorchaigh and Laurence Cox bring this volume right up to date by exploring the responses of the modern Irish state to ‰Û÷riotous assemblies‰Ûª.
Many common themes link the chapters. One such theme is the role of local rivalry in fomenting disturbances, particularly in the urban context, as in nineteenth-century feuding in Limerick (McGrath) and the role of space and place in the outbreak of violence in late 1960s Belfast (Liam Kelly). A further theme explored by many contributors is the theatricality of public violence, whether the election-related attempt in 1629 to undermine the mayor‰Ûªs authority by snatching the king‰Ûªs sword (Empey) or the carnivalesque ‰Û÷reclaim the streets‰Ûª protests of 2002 (Ní Dhorchaigh and Cox). Many of the actors, too, reappear again and again over the course of the period. Women were active rioters in Dublin in 1629 (Empey), in workhouse protests in Dublin in the 1850s (Cousins) and in Limerick street violence in the 1840s and 1890s (McGrath). As Tait and O‰ÛªCallaghan show in very different periods, relations between soldiers and citizenry have almost always been fraught, while the potential for youth to engage in activities ranging from rhetorical rejection of authority to the fomenting of riot is as visible in local Fianna Fáil party cumainn reaction to the border campaign of the 1950s (Stephen Kelly) as it was in Lord Claud Hamilton‰Ûªs fomenting Orange protest in 1830s Tyrone (Curran) and the Limerick City youths‰Ûª rowdy game that became a riot in 1599 (Tait).
The incidents sparking disturbances, too, seem to recur over time, many riots occurring when small communities come into conflict with outside forces ‰ÛÒ billeted troops and enforcers of cess in Waterford in the 1570s (Tait), tithe-collection enforcers in Kilkenny in the 1830s (Higgins-McHugh), custom officials interfering with wreck salvage in Conamara in the 1870s (Cunningham), compulsory tillage inspectors in Leitrim in the 1940s (Evans), and police and pipeline workers in Mayo in the early 2000s (Ní Dhorchaigh and Cox). Nor did violent or potentially violent protest necessarily involve large numbers: the individual yet explosive animosity shown towards tillage inspectors in Leitrim in the 1940s (Evans) was the tip of an iceberg of popular hostility towards government policy.
Rioting is often seen as the act of the underclass, yet as Carroll, Curran, Higgins-McHugh and Empey suggest, more elite elements could frequently be involved, either as active rioters or ‰ÛÒ more usually ‰ÛÒ in orchestrating protest that they were sometimes unable (as in the Dungannon case) to fully control. Elites could also provoke rioting through their very efforts to control it ‰ÛÒ a question explored in considerable depth by Ní Dhorchaigh and Cox in relation to the early twenty-first century, but equally relevant in O‰ÛªCallaghan‰Ûªs discussion of the Limerick Catholic clergy‰Ûªs condoning of anti-military rioting in 1918, and in Carroll‰Ûªs treatment of the dubious handling of the Dublin election of 1613. Considerable skill was needed on the part of those in authority to prevent the mutterings of discontent from becoming something more violent. Perceptive officials in the 1940s went some way to countering high-handed government orders on the matter of compulsory tillage (Evans), whereas the sidelining of an equally perceptive customs official in favour of less sympathetic individuals in 1873 hastened the explosion of violence surrounding the wreck of the Julia (Cunningham).
So, one is left with the question: what caused people to riot during the 500 years that form the time span of the present book? And, more fundamentally, what was a riot? When a crowd (large or small) exploded into violence in reaction to some unpopular event or individual, its suppression or placation on the one hand, or on the other its escalation into a riot, depended on the accompanying circumstances. Ní Dhorchaigh and Cox conclude that ‰Û÷an assembly is riotous when the authorities say that it is‰Ûª and while this may not be the whole story, its emphasis on the indefinable nature of the riot does echo many of the other contributions to this book.
Riots were usually spontaneous explosions of resentment, but sometimes they were long gestating. They were not entirely plebeian in their social composition, representing something of a cross-section of society, from lay and clerical elites at the top to the (usually) anonymous ‰Û÷nobodies‰Ûª at the bottom. They were usually but not always violent; they involved some, or several, grievances ‰ÛÒ reflecting local fear of outside forces, animosity between rival groups and localities, and resentment against change. Even if the causes, course and consequences of rioting vary considerably from one period to the next, many aspects of Irish rioting over the past 500 years, though expressed in the archaic terminology of past times, are familiar to today‰Ûªs readers. When put under the microscope, as they have been by the contributors to this book, they not only make for fascinating reading but will hopefully encourage more research in this area.
Maura Cronin
William Sheehan

1: Disorder and Commotion
Urban riots and popular protest in Ireland,
In May 1577 there was a disturbance in Waterford. The lord president of Munster, William Drury, rushed in a state of indignation to meet Lord Deputy Henry Sidney at New Ross, ‰Û÷to complaine of the disorder and commotion of the Cittizens of Waterfforde in assaltinge the Quenes howse holde, where my La[dy] of Thame his wyffe, children, and some of his familys lay‰Ûª. Lord Barry was hot on the president‰Ûªs heels, to protest at the taxation (‰Û÷cess‰Ûª) imposed on his lands to pay for Drury‰Ûªs garrison and household in Munster.
In the same letter in which he noted his pacification of Drury and Barry, Sidney reported that rumours were circulating of an imminent invasion by James Fitzmaurice, leader of the first Desmond rebellion, aided by France, Spain and the pope, and that ‰Û÷his confederates here are in dayly expectauncye of his arryvall‰Ûª. Further, he claimed that agitation against cess in Dublin ‰Û÷hath wrought soche an opinion amongst the common sorte as many refuse to pay cesse, which otherwayes, most willingly would have‰Ûª. Though we have no further details of the proceedings at Waterford, or their consequences, we can guess from this context that, like their counterparts in Dublin, the citizens‰Ûª actions probably largely derived from their objections to the burden of paying for the billeting of both soldiers and the households of senior officials at a time of heightened tension in the country.
In recent times, historians have strongly challenged the assumption that politics in the early modern period was a matter engaged in largely by elite men. It is increasingly clear that, throughout the islands, people of all social backgrounds knew a lot about current affairs and ongoing debates about government, law and justice. There was a variety of means by which all sections of society, both men and women, might engage in meaningful ‰Û÷popular politics‰Ûª. As well as discussing issues and grievances among themselves, they could also seek to influence those in authority for personal, communal and political gain, and to resist changes and policies they perceived to be disadvantageous to them. It also seems they had an acute sense of the options open to them, as John Walter states, ‰Û÷to take advantage of the law or to avoid its consequences‰Ûª. Elsewhere, Walter reminds us of the ‰Û÷fragile relationship between rulers and ruled‰Ûª in early modern societies, and ‰Û÷the obligation it forced on the government to enter into a dialogue with the people‰Ûª. Despite the rhetoric they might resort to, subjects ‰Û÷were never merely the passive victims of a process that they were powerless to affect‰Ûª, and they could be articulate and proactive in local politics, finding a variety of ways by which to lobby those with influence and attempting to manipulate the decisions and behaviour of both officeholders and those involved in central governance.
Steve Hindle points out ‰Û÷the fragility of sanctions open to the government, especially when it was confronted with subtle, creative and communal resistance‰Ûª: even brute force was of little use against certain forms of opposition. Tactics, ranging from non-cooperation, petitioning, rumour, slander and libel, to riot, violence and rebellion, were the means by which populations could attempt at least to make their voices heard when they felt their interests were being compromised. They engaged in various gestures of protest, and exploited the weaknesses of the state and the threat of disorder and violence to achieve their aims. This was as much the case in Ireland as in Britain.

  • Riotous Assemblies