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"My advice to you is to marry as soon possibly as you can. Do not marry in England; for such a marriage will prove your ruin... There are some good Catholic wives to be had in England; but now it is a great venture. Never bring a Protestant wife into your family. Marry in your country as all your predecessors have done." (Lord Trimleston to his son, 1686)
A pretty massive book in which Ohlmeyer looks at the turbulent seventeenth century in Ireland (really the shorter period between the Flight of the Earls and the Williamite victory) through the lives and deeds of the people who saw themselves as Ireland's natural leaders - the resident peerage. My personal interest in the subject is that the Sir Nicholas Whyte/White of the day (not the Elizabethan statesman, but his grandson) married the daughter of Viscount Moore and managed to bag Viscount Galmoye (probably), Viscount Dillon and the Earl of Carlingford as sons-in-law; though the White/Whyte family are not mentioned directly in this book, their relatives certainly are.

Ohlmeyer's argument, to summarise brutally, is that the Irish peers were engaged in a nation-building project, almost all of them committed to support for the British monarchy (as it became in 1603), but not necessarily to the Dublin government (let alone the English parliament), and committed to a paradigm of honour which included most importantly serving the Crown in peace and war, but also meant ensuring that the peasants didn't starve and securing the familial succession so that succeeding generations could keep up the tradition. This last point comes up again and again; Ohlmeyer denotes substantial and separate chapters to birth, marriage and death among the peerage, and it is striking how often lines simply expired - underage heirs might be vulnerable to disputed successions and seemed to die early themselves rather often, and of course the wars of the 1640s and 1690s took their toll as well.

A lot of the noble houses switched religion over the decades - not just as a result of mixed marriages, but also as a result of individual conversions; but there always remained a critical mass of Catholics, if a minority, among the peerage, accepted by Protestant peers and by London as a critical part of the fabric of Irish society, until the 1690s when most of them converted or fled, ending the nation-building project. I still find it quite difficult to get my head around the fervently Catholic Irish peers wishfully thinking that James I and VI or Charles I or II was going to restore Catholicism, or even allow them to hold the public offices from which they were barred, and I suppose it is a triumph of Stuart statecraft that allowed them to think so (having said which, they were not the only ones who thought the Stuarts might be soft on Romanism, and if they were reading hard line Protestant pamphlets they would have had fuel for their fantasies).

Ohlmeyer sends a rather exhausting amount of time on the statistics and patterns of landownership (and the maps used to illustrate are not terribly clear). But one point I took away that I had not previously realised related to the Cromwellian land settlement. Ohlmeyer confirms the traditional historical version that many Catholic landowners were dispossessed entirely or transplanted to Connacht. However, a significant minority of these dispossessions were overturned on appeal to Charles II, particularly of peers who had good connections at court (and the Irish peers, Catholic and Protestant, had by and large supported Charles in his exile, which turned out to be the way to bet). Either way, peers as a group ended up owning more of Ireland's acres at the end of the process; it was the smaller and less influential dispossessed or transplanted landowners who had no redress.

Anyway, a minority interest, but plenty of food for thought.

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