Arson in Ireland: Fire and Protest in the Nineteenth Century

When:15 Apr 2014, 12:30pm - 1:45pm
Venue:Morven Brown 310 (map ref C20)
Who:Dr Gemma Clark, Global Irish Studies, UNSW Australia
Dr Gemma Clark

History Seminar Series

Abstract: In nineteenth-century Ireland, the act of deliberately setting fire to property with the intent to cause damage was a common-law crime and officially recognized protest tool; arson was a key instance of the collective rural violence (‘agrarianism’) that deeply troubled the British ruling classes. Focusing on peaks of pre-Famine (1845–9) unrest, this paper argues that arson’s accessibility as a mode of violence, and capacity for intimidation, explain its persistence in Ireland. It also assesses non-lethal incendiarism against Ireland’s particular socio-legal framework—in which offences against the person only gradually eclipsed crimes against property as matters of political and popular concern. The paper thus serves as an introduction to my wider project on arson (from 1800 to the present) and underlines the value—to the international study of violence—of histories of single aggressive acts (arson, rape, hooliganism etc.) which traditionally were avoided as topics for scholarly analysis.

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