The Tithe War was a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience, punctuated by sporadic violent episodes, in Ireland between 1830 and 1836 in reaction to the enforcement of tithes on subsistence farmers and others for the upkeep of the established state church – the Church of Ireland. Tithes were payable in cash or kind and payment was compulsory, irrespective of an individual’s religious adherence.
The first clash of the Tithe War took place on 3 March 1831 in Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny, when a force of 120 yeomanry tried to enforce seizure orders on cattle belonging to a Roman Catholic priest. Encouraged by his bishop, he had organised people to resist tithe collection by placing their stock under his ownership prior to sale. The revolt soon spread. On 18 June 1831, in Bunclody (Newtownbarry), Co Wexford, people resisting the seizure of cattle were fired upon by the Irish Constabulary, who killed twelve and wounded twenty; one yeoman was shot dead in retaliation. This massacre caused objectors to organise and use warnings such as church bells to signal the community to round-up the cattle and stock. On 14 December 1831, resisters used such warnings to ambush a detachment of 40 Constabulary at Carrickshock (Co Kilkenny).
The conflict had the support of the Roman Catholic clergy and the following quotation, from a letter written by the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr. James Doyle to Thomas Spring Rice became the rallying cry for the movement:
“There are many noble traits in the Irish character, mixed with failings which have always raised obstacles to their own well-being; but an innate love of justice, and an indomitable hatred of oppression, is like a gem upon the front of our nation which no darkness can obscure. To this fine quality I trace their hatred of tithes; may it be as lasting as their love of justice!”
Photo: Carrickshock Memorial, Co Kilkenny