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With the Great Hunger in the 1840s and high land rents, Irish tenant farmers didn’t have an easy life in the 19th century. This is one of the reasons behind the large numbers of Irish families who decided to emigrate to the United States. Those who remained, however, became so frustrated and disillusioned with their situation that in 1850 they formed the Tenant Right League, where they met to discuss the situation and demand reform to the land law in Ireland.

From these meetings, a concept of ‘3 F’s’ was developed, finally formalised from one of the conferences in 1870: The right to Fair Rent, Free Sale and Fixity of Tenure. These 3 Fs were considered integral to improving the lot of the Irish tenant farmer, and the quest to get these principles and rights into law formed the foundation of the civil unrest in Ireland to follow over the next 40 years. So commenced the Irish Land Wars. Many examples of this agitation can be found in Findmypast’s newspapers, with some demonstrated below.

A number of reformers also appear in Findmypast’s Irish prison records, their unrest deemed sufficiently disruptive to incur a custodial sentence.

Although this situation never developed into an actual war, it was marked by large scale civil and at times violent (large riots occurred, and occasionally police were shot at) unrest amongst agrarian communities in Ireland. Such was the strength of feeling that, in the election of 1852, a large number of tenant right candidates were elected to Parliament under the platform of specifically enshrining the 3 Fs in law.

In a quirk of linguistics, the Irish land wars are responsible for the introduction of the word ‘Boycott’ into the English language. This comes from the surname of a landlord who, so disliked by the tenants he managed, was refused labour to harvest his crops, as well as service in shops, laundries and other facilities; the victim of a ‘social excommunication’ that then took on his name to describe it. This became so extreme at one point that a large number of local militiamen had to be called in to protect him, which is also found in Findmypast’s archives.

Your ancestors could have experienced this, either by being involved as law enforcers, tenant farmers, landlords or people forced moved to the United States. Explore the largest collection of Irish family history records online and find out for yourself.

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