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Anglo-Irish was a term used historically to describe a privileged social class in Irelandmarker, whose members were the descendants and successors of the Protestant Ascendancy, mostly belonging to the Anglican Church of Ireland, which was the established church of Ireland until 1871, or to a lesser extent one of the English dissenting churches, such as the Methodist church. Its usage continued in the Victorian era, when it described a class composed mostly of Church of Ireland adherents who had adopted many English customs.

Anglo-Irish is used to describe formal contacts, negotiations, and treaties between the United Kingdommarker and Irelandmarker. Some examples of this usage are the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, and the Anglo-Irish Summits (as meetings between the British and Irish prime ministers are usually called). In more modern times, many films that are British and Irish co-productions are often referred to as Anglo-Irish films.

In England and Ireland the term is used informally to refer to someone with ties of blood or residency or citizenship to both countries.

In the United States, people who identify with the Ulster-Scots are sometimes called Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish, while people whose ancestry can be traced to the Anglo-Irish may refer to themselves only as Irish.

Anglo-Irish social class

The "Anglo-Irish" landed elite replaced the Catholic aristocracies of the Old English and Gaelic Irish in the course of the 17th century as the ruling class in Ireland. At this time, they were usually called the New English to distinguish them from the "Old English," who were descendants of medieval Hiberno-Norman settlers. Under the Penal Laws that were in force between the 17th and 19th centuries, Roman Catholics in Ireland were barred from public office, military service, membership in the Irish Parliament, and from entering professions such as law and medicine. The lands of the old Catholic elite were largely confiscated in the Plantations of Ireland and their rights to inherit landed property were severely restricted. Those who converted to Protestantism were usually able to keep or regain their lost property.

A much larger but less prominent Protestant element in the Irish population were the French Huguenots and poorer British immigrants that arrived in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The term "Anglo-Irish" was often applied to the anglicised Protestants who made up the Irish professional and landed classes. A number of them became famous as poets or writers, including Jonathan Swift, George Berkeley, Oliver Goldsmith, Laurence Sterne, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Cecil Day Lewis, and Bernard Shaw. Some, such as Edmund Burke, played an important role in Britishmarker politics, while others, such as William Rowan Hamilton, G.G. Stokes, and Ernest Walton, were distinguished scientists. The Anglo-Irish were also represented among the senior officers of the British Army by men such as Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852); Field Marshal Lord Roberts, first honorary Colonel of the Irish Guards regiment, who spent most of his career in Indiamarker; and Field Marshal Lord Gough who served under Wellington in the Peninsular War before rising to prominence by commanding the British army fighting the first Opium War in Chinamarker. The famous composer Charles Villiers Stanford was Anglo-Irish.

The Anglo-Irish social class was often of mixed Irish-British ancestry and members usually identified themselves as Irish despite adopting many English customs and maintaining some British ties. The more successful among them often spent their careers in Great Britain or in some part of the British Empire (see Absentee landlord). In this sense, "Anglo-Irish" identified a social class. Playwright Brendan Behan, a staunch Irish Republican, famously defined an Anglo-Irishman as "a Protestant with a horse".

During the Irish War of Independence, many landlord Anglo-Irish family houses were attacked and the occupants left the country. This continued following the establishment of the Irish Free State; many members of the Anglo-Irish class left Ireland, fearing that they would be subject to discriminatory legislation and social pressure. The Anglo-Irish proportion of the Irish population dropped from 10% to 6% in the twenty five years following independence. In 1925, when the Irish Free State was poised to outlaw divorce, W.B. Yeats delivered a famous eulogy on the Anglo-Irish in the Free State's Senate:

The term is no longer commonly used for the social class since southern Irish Protestants, or Protestants citizens of the Republic of Ireland as a group, despite retaining a certain distinctive identity, have been keen to stress their Irishness and loyalty to Irelandmarker.

Anglo-Irish reaction to Irish independence

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The reaction of the Anglo-Irish to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which envisaged the establishment of the Irish Free State was mixed:

The Right Rev. J.A.F. Gregg, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, stated in a seromn in December 1921 (the month the Treaty was signed):

It concerns us all to offer the Irish Free State our loyalty.
I believe there is a genuine desire on the part of those who have long differed from us politically to welcome our co-operation.
We should be wrong politically and religiously to reject such advances.

Anglo-Irish peers

By 1700 the peerage of Ireland was composed mostly of Protestant families of British origin. One leading Anglo-Irish peer described his experience as one of the "Anglo-Irish" as being regarded as Irish in England, English in Ireland, and not accepted fully as belonging to either.

Among the most prominent Anglo-Irish peers are:

The Duke of Wellington, a renowned wit and master of the bon mot, is reputed to have responded to comments regarding his Irish birth by stating that "being born in a stable does not make one a horse" (this was an often misquoted family joke about whether he had been born in Dublin, or at an inn between Trim and Dublin) ; as regards the ferocity of his Irish Regiments in the Peninsular Wars, that "I cannot say for certain if they will scare the enemy but they frighten the devil out of me."

As Wellington's male-line family surname had been Colley up to 1728, it is apparent that many families considered as "Anglo-Irish" after 1700 were in fact of earlier Gaelic or Old English origin, and had accommodated themselves with the changed realities after the Williamite War of 1689-91. These include William Conolly, Edmund Burke, the Dukes of Leinster and the Guinness family.

A number of Anglo-Irish peers have been appointed by Presidents of Ireland to serve on their advisory Council of State. Some were also considered possible candidates for presidents of Ireland, including:

See also

Further reading

  • Peter Berresford Ellis, Erin's Blood Royal: The Gaelic Noble Dynasties of Ireland ISBN 0-09-478600-3


  1. The Anglo-Irish, Fidelma Maguire, University College Cork
  2. The Anglo-Irish, Fidelma Maguire, University College of Cork
  3. Ashburton Guardian, Volume XLII, Issue 9410, 14 December 1921, Page 5
  4. Quoted, for instance, in Neillands, Robin, Wellington and Napoleon: Clash of Arms, Barnes & Noble Books, 2002, p. 32.

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