Posted By: August 29, 2018

Bob Bateman writes about the Penal Laws, which were  described by 18th-century Anglo Irish MP Edmund Burke as “a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment, and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”


Bob Bateman,  AOH Division 18, Peekskill, New York. Past National Historian

The sentiment noted above is etched in stone on the front entrance to the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

Through the National and International print and broadcast media, everyone is (should be) aware of England’s desire to leave the European Union, the so-called Brexit. Of major concern to those of us of Irish ancestry is the ongoing debate regarding the 6 occupied counties in Ulster and the threat of a return to a Hard Border between those counties and the Irish Free State (“Republic”). What is it that the Irish National Government just doesn’t get (remember) when it comes to the treatment of the Irish People by the English Government!?

Thus the topic of this month’s Irish History column. Lest we forget, the first English Invasion of Ireland took place in 1169 (849 years ago) and we begin to see how England viewed our ancestors. Lest we forget, 325 years after the English Invasion (1695) in a blatant effort to completely subjugate the Irish the harsh Penal Laws, known then as the ‘Popery Code’, were introduced and brutally enforced throughout Ireland.

Lest we forget, here listed are the “Penal Laws” our ancestors suffered through

  • The Catholic Church was forbidden to keep church registers.
  • The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion.
  • He was forbidden to receive an education.
  • He was forbidden to enter a profession.
  • He was forbidden to hold public office.
  • He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce.
  • He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.
  • He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.
  • He was forbidden to own land.
  • He was forbidden to lease land.
  • He was forbidden to accept a mortgage on land in security of a loan.
  • He was forbidden to vote.
  • He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.
  • He was forbidden to hold a life annuity.
  • He was forbidden to buy land from a Protestant.
  • He was forbidden to receive a gift of land from a Protestant.
  • He was forbidden to inherit land from a Protestant.
  • He was forbidden to inherit anything from a Protestant.
  • He was forbidden to rent any land that was worth more than 30 shillings a year.
  • He was forbidden to reap from his land any profit exceeding a third of the rent.
  • He could not be a guardian to a child.
  • He could not, when dying, leave his infant children under Catholic guardianship.
  • He could not attend Catholic worship.
  • He was compelled by law to attend Protestant worship.
  • He could not himself educate his child.
  • He could not send his child to a Catholic teacher.
  • He could not employ a Catholic teacher to come to his child.
  • He could not send his child abroad to receive education.

Lest we forget, prior to 1169 the Irish owned 96% of Irish land and by 1806 Irish Catholics would own a meager 4% of Irish land.

Professor Lecky a British Protestant and ardent British sympathizer said in his “History of Ireland in the 18th Century” that the object of the Penal Laws was threefold:

“To deprive Catholics of all civil life; to reduce them to a condition of extreme, brutal ignorance; and to disassociate them from the soil.” Lecky proffered a fourth objective: “To expatriate the race.” All Irish culture, music, and education were banned. Many modern-day scholars agree that the Penal Laws set the stage for the deliberate, horrific injustices perpetrated by England during the “Great Hunger” (An Gorta Mor) (genocide) 1841 – 1847, and fueled the fires of the Irish Rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916.

Lest we forget, Ireland’s abundant food crops were removed at gunpoint by sixty-seven of England’s total army of 130 regiments. In 1847 alone 4000 ships carrying peas, beans, potatoes, honey, salmon, rabbits, cattle, horses, ponies, sheep, grain alcohol and butter left Ireland for English ports thus murdering between 1.0 and 1.5 million innocents while an additional 1.5 to 2.0 million Irish left Ireland. Between 1841 and 1847 England was thus able to reduce the total population of Ireland by one half.

Lest we forget, even today, 2018, under English law no British Monarch may marry a Catholic lest he/she forfeits the Crown.


In Our Motto;

Bob Bateman, Division 18 Historian


(Some information/material taken from Professor Lecky’s “History of Ireland in the 18th Century” and from MacManus “the story of the Irish Race” 1921)