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Discontent in Ireland

In the Middle Ages and later, England had absorbed Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and in the 1800s resistance to England's intrusion by the Irish remained strong. In Ireland, English and Scottish landlords were dominant, with Roman Catholics – a majority among the Irish – prevented from acquiring land. The landlords raised rents, and when an agricultural depression began in the 1870s those high rents remained. Many tenant farmers were evicted and became homeless. In response, a movement grew that sought reduced power for the landlords and freedom for Catholics to own land. Also in the 1870s a Home Rule movement arose mainly among the middle-class Irish of Dublin. It sought something less than full independence – a return of an Irish parliament with the power to decide domestic issues while England's parliament decided foreign policy issues.

A Land League formed that appealed to Irish nationalism and aimed at more rights for tenant farmers and reduced evictions. The Land League boycotted peasants who moved onto lands where tenant farmers had been evicted, trying to force the new tenant to leave and deny the landlord new rent. This created violence and became known as the Land War. Parliament in London created rent controls, which lowered rents for many of the Irish by 20 percent but did not help the more impoverished farmers, and the violence and the struggle for more rights and reduced evictions for tenants continued.

The leader of the Liberal Party, William Gladstone, committed the party to Home Rule for the Irish, while some in the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party remained opposed. The House of Lords killed the Home Rule bill, believing it would weaken the United Kingdom and encourage others in the empire to try to break away.

Protestants in northern Ireland remained anti-Catholic and passionately in favor of union with Britain – 50 people having been killed in Belfast alone in 1886, while many Catholic Irish remained against anything less than complete independence and for independence of all of Ireland. A division remained in Ireland between nationalists in the countryside and people in Ireland's major city, Dublin. Many in Dublin looked upon the land movement as something for peasants. Nationalists from the countryside entered Dublin to promote their cause, and some of them resorted to a traditional method regarding a difference of opinion as to what should be done: they resorted to violence against their fellow Irish.

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