Media Briefings

The deep roots of Rebellion: Evidence from the Irish Revolution

  • Published Date: April 2017

Census records from 1911 show that 19th-century famine might have inspired descendants to rebel

The Great Irish Famine of 1845-1850 may have radicalised families to the extent that their descendants participated in the Irish independence movement between 1913 and 1921, according to research by Gaia Narciso and Battista Severgnini, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference at the University of Bristol in April 2017.

The potato blight killed one million people, and caused the same number to emigrate. But according to the authors, it had another dividend: rebels who fought the British 70 years later were more likely to have come from the counties most affected by the blight.

The authors compare the 1911 census with the official list of veterans from the Irish Military Archives, and find that rebels were more likely to be male, young, Catholic and literate. It also seems clear that their decision to rebel against the British was not inspired by contemporary economic factors such as economic development or soil quality.

‘Our study provides evidence of the intergenerational transmission of rebellion generated by the Great Irish Famine’, the authors conclude.

More…

Can radical negative shocks, such as a famine, have a long-run causal effect on political events like rebellions? The authors of this study analyse the intergenerational transmission of rebellion generated by a large negative radical shock, the Great Irish Famine (1845-1850). The study investigates the impact of the Great Irish Famine on the probability of joining the Irish movement of independence against British rule over the period 1913-1921.

The Irish Famine, caused by the spread of a potato blight, was one of the biggest tragedies of modern history: over one million people died due to starvation and related diseases, while about one million emigrated out of a population of 8.5 million people. Relief provided by the British government was limited and mainly in the form of public works and workhouses, which were later replaced by Irish-run soup kitchens.

The authors explore the role and persistence of cultural transmission in affecting participation in the Irish Revolution and study the peculiar features of politically motivated rebels while controlling for other potential concurrent factors. To accomplish this, Narciso and Severgnini construct a novel dataset of Irish historical data, by matching the 1911 Irish census with the official list of veterans from the Irish Military Archives.

By combining different historical data sources, the authors are able to identify the individual characteristics and determinants of those who voiced their discontent and actively participated in the Irish movement of independence against British rule. In addition, the authors test whether radical historical events matter in the decision to participate in rebellions.

The research finds that:

• Rebels were more likely to be male, young, Catholic and literate.

• Individuals born in counties that were more severely affected by the Great Irish Famine in the 19th century were more likely to take part in the rebellion.

• The positive relationship between the extent of the famine and the probability of becoming a rebel is not due to other potential concurring factors, such as economic development, soil quality or previous rebellions.

Using detailed and complete datasets such as the 1911 Irish Census and supported by historical insights, this study provides evidence of the intergenerational transmission of rebellion generated by the Great Irish Famine.

ENDS


‘The deep roots of rebellion: Evidence from the Irish Revolution’ by Gaia Narciso and Battista Severgnini

Contact:
Gaia Narciso
Email: narcisog@tcd.ie