The Oxford Companion to Irish History

By S. J. Connolly | Go to book overview

I

lar Connacht, a district in west Co. Galway, consisting of the baronies of Moycullen and Ballynahinch and the half-barony of Ross. Noted up to the middle of the 18th century as a wild and lawless region in which aspects of the Gaelic social order survived unchanged, it was the original centre of the *Hougher disturbances, and was described in a 'Chorographical Description' prepared for William *Molyneux by Roderick *O'Flaherty but not published until 1846.

idlemen were soldiers, previously maintained by *coyne and livery, left redundant after their lords were either defeated and expropriated or had agreed to their disbandment through *composition. An estimated 24,000 professional swordsmen existed in the mid-16th century. Government policy was either to send them to *foreign armies or to execute them. Between 1609 and 1614*Chichester shipped 6,000 to Sweden and executed many others. Remilitarization during the *Confederate War caused the Catholic ecclesiastical congregation at Clonmacnoise ( 1649) to excommunicate 'idle boys' plaguing the roads as highwaymen. The Cromwellians subsequently cleared the defeated confederate soldiery by *transportation and foreign enlistment. HM

illegitimacy. The concept of illegitimacy had little meaning in Gaelic Ireland. In the early Christian period all children were legitimate as long as the child was conceived within a recognized union. A wide spectrum of unions were permitted in customary law and as a result the offspring of primary wives, secondary wives, and concubines were all accorded equal rights, though the social status of the mother might affect the eligibility to succeed to a chieftainship. In addition, in late medieval Ireland a custom referred to as 'naming' a child developed. This was an official recognition of the offspring of a casual relationship after the mother of the child had made an official declaration which was then accepted or rejected by the alleged father. Once a child was acknowledged by its father, it was entitled to participate in succession issues and also eligible to receive a share in the family inheritance, in accordance with the Gaelic-Irish custom of gavelkind (equal division between sons). In the later medieval period the Gaelic Irish often resorted to the church courts to obtain marital dispensations in order to secure the inheritance rights of a child or children who might otherwise have been labelled illegitimate in canon law.

Accounts of Gaelic Irish society in the 16th and 17th centuries, though inevitably coloured by the prejudice of New English observers, seem to indicate that attitudes to sexual activity and pregnancy outside the bounds of formal marriage remained relatively relaxed. The first available Catholic *parish registers, on the other hand, dating from the mid-18th century, suggest that by this time illegitimacy was relatively uncommon, accounting for 3 per cent or less of Irish births. The same figures indicate that less than 10 per cent of Irish Catholic brides were pregnant at the time of marriage, as compared to 40 per cent or so in contemporary rural England. Evidence collected in the 1830s by the *Poor Inquiry makes clear that women who did become pregnant outside marriage were generally ostracized by family and neighbours. The apparent change in attitude can presumably be attributed to the transition from a pastoral agrarian economy to a more settled rural society, as well as to the reshaping of popular Catholicism brought about by the *Counter- Reformation.

The proportion of illegitimate births recorded in the first years of *civil registration, at just over 3 per cent, was half or less of that recorded in most other European societies. The exceptions were the predominantly Protestant areas of Ulster, and the south-east, where illegitimacy rates Of 5-6 per cent were closer to those recorded in contemporary England. Illegitimacy rates in Northern Ireland stood at between 4 and 5 per cent up to the Second World War, dipped below 3 per cent in the period 1950-65, then began to rise again to 6 per cent by 1980. Rates in independent

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The Oxford Companion to Irish History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editorial Advisers ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Maps vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Contributors xiii
  • Note to the Reader xvii
  • A 1
  • B 33
  • C 66
  • D 133
  • E 167
  • F 183
  • G 212
  • H 233
  • I 254
  • K 282
  • L 292
  • M 333
  • N 377
  • O 397
  • P 424
  • Q 469
  • R 471
  • S 495
  • T 532
  • U 557
  • V 577
  • W 582
  • Y 601
  • Z 603
  • Maps 605
  • Subject Index 613
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