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Article Published February 12, 2002



County Mayo (Ireland): An Outline History
By: Bernard O'Hara and Nollaig ÓMuraíle,
Copyright: Mayo Ireland Ltd.



Mayo before the Great Famine

The early decades of the 19th century saw a new outbreak of agrarian agitation with the rise of the 'Ribbon Societies' in Connacht. These sought to protect tenants against eviction by landlords who wished to clear their lands for grazing - to avail of the high prices for cattle prevailing in the years immediately after the Napoleonic Wars. Ribbonism had a strong sectarian tinge, being influenced by inflammatory pamphlets which were widely circulated at the time and which predicted the imminent overthrow of 'the Reformation'.

Sectarian tensions were further increased in this period by the activities of evangelical Protestant missionaries seeking to 'redeem the Irish poor from the errors of Popery. One of the best-known missions of this kind was that founded at Dugort, in Achill, in 1831 by a Meathman, the Rev. Edward Nangle. The activities of the missionaries and bible societies were strongly disapproved of by many, perhaps most, of the clergy of the Established Church, but they received important encouragement from two successive Protestant bishops of Tuam. Their staunchest opponent was the Mayo-born Catholic archbishop of Tuam, John MacHale, a supporter of Daniel O'Connell, a promoter of the Irish language, and a sturdy polemicist, who died at the age of ninety in 1881.

These too were the years of the campaign for Catholic Emancipation and, later, for the abolition of the tithes which a predominately Catholic population was forced to pay for the upkeep of the clergy of the Established Church.

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