The ‘Navalisation’ of Ireland: the Royal Navy and Irish Insurrection in the 1840s

By Jerome Devitt, published November 2015

Abstract

This article examines the role played by the Royal Navy in the deterrence and suppression of Irish nationalist movements in the early Victorian period, particularly Daniel O’Connell’s 1843 ‘Repeal Association’ and the 1848 Young Ireland Rising. The navy was seen as ‘encouraging the loyal and overawing the disaffected’ both in how it acted, and in how these actions were reported in the media. The article charts the Irish administration’s growing dependence on the navy to guarantee internal security and undertake a broad range of counter-insurgency functions. These ranged from troop transportation to blockading, and from famine relief to coastal and riverine activity to suppress localized threats. It argues that attempts to socio-economically integrate Ireland with the navy were key to its potency as a coercive force in Irish waters. It also suggests that Ireland came to hold an increasingly significant position within the Admiralty’s strategic decision-making process, concurrently fulfilling a dual role of naval counter-insurgency and home defence. All of these activities are placed within the competing frames of ‘naval’ and ‘gunboat’ diplomacy, but it is suggested that the domestic focus of Royal Navy activity in Irish waters means that the term ‘naval counter-insurgency’ describes their activity in a more comprehensive manner.

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Filed under: Atlantic | Irish Sea | Other (Nineteenth C) | Internal Waterways
Subjects include: Navies | Strategy & Diplomacy