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The Big House in the North of Ireland Land, Power and Social Elites, 1878-1960 by Olwen Purdue
  

The Big House in the North of Ireland Land, Power and Social Elites, 1878-1960

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Synopsis

The Big House in the North of Ireland Land, Power and Social Elites, 1878-1960 by Olwen Purdue

The Big House in the North of Ireland explores the changing fortunes of the landed elite in the six counties that became Northern Ireland from the land war of the late 1870s to the last days of the Unionist government at Stormont in the 1960s. Purdue examines the social, economic and political challenges faced by the north's landed elite - tenant agitation, the break-up of their estates and the growing political challenge initially from Belfast's mercantile class and, eventually, from populist political movements - and determines the extent to which these undermined the foundations of their influence. She discusses the strategies adopted by the north's landed class to meet the challenges it faced and uncovers the reasons for the Big House clinging on as a social and political force in Northern Ireland long after it had ceased to hold any value in the rest of the island.

Reviews

The history - or fate - of the Anglo-Irish in the 26 counties is well known. But what of that class's experience in the North? As Olwen Purdue of Queen's University explains, like the history of the two states themselves, there are as almost as many differences as similarities. In the South, the Hogan Act of 1923 had land confiscation in mind. For the North, the Percy committee brought forward recommendations to favour dispersal of estates by common consent. The North's landed class's wealth diminished little as a result - Politically, though, the dominance of the Anglo-Irish had begun to erode even before Northern Ireland was created - Nevertheless, in a conservative society, landed families still had a role to play while their counterparts in the rest of Ireland moved into political oblivion. While Dail Aeireann was populated by shopkeepers and farmers, Stormont still had its fair share of gentry. Only in the 1960s did the vicious combination of militant republicanism and fundamentalist loyalism finally destroy the landed political bastion but they continued to exert symbolic influence in other ways. Ultimately, Purdue argues, the fact their form of Irishness was not ignored, at best, or besmirched, at worst, gave them the confidence and crucial sense of purpose to survive.

Irish Examiner July 27 2009 Excellently researched and cogently argued, Olwen Purdue's examination of the fate of the Big House in Northern Ireland fills a void in the historiography of the country house on the island as a whole. Her comparative analysis with what happened further south is particularly illuminating. This book should appeal to a very broad audience.

Terence Dooley NUI Maynooth August 2009

readable and informative insight into an aspect of northern politics and society which is often taken for granted.

Book Ireland September 2009

This impressive work is distinguished by elegant prose, lucid argument, and by painstaking research in a formidable array of printed and manuscript sources. Dr Purdue explores the means by which the aristocracy of the North of Ireland adapted to the economic and political challenges posed in the 20th century. In accomplishing this task, she has not only demonstrated great professional skill, but has also modified our understanding of the social and political history of modern Ireland in clear and important ways.

Professor Alvin Jackson Department of Modern History, Edinburgh University September 2009

The Big House in the North of Ireland - uses diverse sources, from personal diaries and correspondence to estate papers, rent rolls, census data and Land Commission papers, to build a picture of the 110 great estates in the North and it also explains why only about 40 were left in the hands of their original owners by 1960. By the year 25 were derelict or had been demolished, 23 were being used for other purposes, four belonged to the National Trust and 11 had been bought by other families. The reasons - cultural, political and economic - why this state of affairs had come about are the subject of the book, a very impressive achievement - it provides a wealth of useful information.

Irish Times Noeleen Dowling Sat 3 October 2009 'The Big House in the North of Ireland fills a significant research gap by telling the story of the landed elite who occupied estates and country houses in the six counties that became Northern Ireland during the period between the land wars of the 1870s and the last days of the Stormont government in the 1960s. The work thus complements the pioneering work of Terence Dooley whose work The Decline if the Big House in Ireland: A Study if Irish Landed Families 1860-l960 published in 2001, uncovered much about the fate of the big houses - and those who lived in them - in the 26 counties that became the Irish Free State in 1922. Because socio-economic conditions in the six north-eastern counties of Ulster were so different to other parts of Ireland, Dooley made the conscious decision to exclude them from his analysis. Thus, for the first time, the balance is redressed in this new study by Olwen Purdue which provides a fascinating insight into the different and unique experience of the landed elite in this part of the island. For her comprehensive study, Purdue has made valuable use of a wide range of archival sources available to document the experiences of the landed elite in north-east Ulster. The vast collections of estate papers in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (access to which was greatly facilitated by the extensive catalogues and lists available for all of the great estates in the reading room) are used in depth, in addition to Land Commission papers and census data also held there. Materials in smaller repositories such as Armagh County Museum, Ballymoney Museum and the Linen Hall Library, as well as local libraries and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra, have also been tapped, particularly for local and provincial newspaper evidence. In addition, extensive use was made of material remaining in private hands in the country houses themselves, such as the Argory papers from the Argory, county Armagh, seat of the MacGeogh Bond family for around 120 years, which is now under the care of the National Trust. This collection includes family letters, photographs, diaries, account books and miscellaneous material. In addition to the written archival evidence, Purdue has also made valuable use of oral interviews with surviving members of individual families for her study. The oral evidence is woven into the narrative of her text with particular effect while the personal recollections and memories of members and descendants of the landed elite help the reader to get into the mindset of these people and accurately understand their identity and concerns during the eight-decade period of study. The Big House in the North of Ireland is another fine production by University College Dublin Press, illustrated with photographs and useful appendices including maps and tables, as well as succinct reference material, and should be of great interest to academic researchers and inquisitive recreational readers alike.
Dr Susan Hood Representative Church Body Library, Dublin Irish Archives Winter 2009

'This work fills an important gap in our understanding of the historic role of the Big House within Northern society and its eventual eclipse as a political and economic force. Local history enthusiasts will find this book an invaluable resource, rich as it is in regional detail and character. The author skilfully traverses the myriad of land legislation and her forensic analysis of its provisions is accessible and comprehensive. In assessing the fate of the landed elite in the twenty-six counties, who may have wondered if things could deteriorate further and justifiably felt a tad contra mundum, Purdue demonstrates how their Northern brethren were dealt a comparatively better hand by a more sympathetic polity, one which they fortuitously had helped shape. While the Big House declined dramatically, it did not disappear entirely. Indeed, quite a few are still occupied by the original families, although, gone are the trappings of power with many of their number playing but a peripheral role in Northern society, leading an existence that barely registers with the public. The Big House in the North of Ireland charts the course of this decline and illuminates a subject, which remarkably, until now, had largely been neglected.'
Mark Coalter History Ireland March April 2010

'Olwen Purdue's excellent new study of the land question (or, better, study of the landed) in Ulster during the eighty or so years prior to 1960 is to be welcomed, and for many reasons. Eschewing the conventional doctrine, that the 1903 Act essentially 'solved'
the Irish land question, her interest is less on the issue of who owned the land, the mechanism of its transfer from landlord to tenant, or the ramifications for the new owner

-occupying class, and more on the social, political and economic circumstances of this transfer over the longue duree for the major landholding families of the area - given the enduring influence of such families in Northern Ireland for decades after its creation in 1920/21, Dr Purdue's choice of topic is thoroughly justified, and her tackling of it more or less beyond reproach. ... One of the most appealing aspects of the work is its insistence that the history of the houses of the landed is as valid a part of the story being told here as are the lives of those who lived in them. What might otherwise be viewed as rather arcane matters relating to the physical maintenance of the houses are shown here to have been infused with a significance often out of proportion to the scale, or cost, of the work undertaken - the repairs, extensions, alterations and so on are seen, quite correctly, as the tangible expressions of the families
determination to keep (as Charles Stewart Parnell would never have said) a firm grip on their homesteads

. Even more valuable, if marginally less original, is Purdue's exploration of the various mechanisms by which the elites sought to retain their leadership positions at local and regional levels once their economic power-base had been eroded - via such organisations as Orange Order branches, the Anglican church, the armed forces, the Unionist party and so on. The will to adapt and survive, notwithstanding rapid political climate change, was evidently strong in such families, and Purdue chronicles their struggle in a manner that is at once rigorous and empathetic.
English Historical Review cxxxvii: 525 (Apr

. 2012)


About the Author

Olwen Purdue is currently at Queen's University, Belfast, researching poverty and welfare in the north of Ireland during the nineteenth century. Her PhD at Queen's University, Belfast, was on the decline of the landed class in the north of Ireland.

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Book Info

Publication date

26th May 2009

Author

Olwen Purdue

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Publisher

University College Dublin Press

Format

Hardback
320 pages

Categories


Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900
20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000

ISBN

9781906359218

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