“Billy Pitt and the Union”


Billy Pitt convinced the British that Union with Ireland would solve their problems. Ireland would gain no more from union than the Sabines gained through union with Rome. "They may take our all from us and leave us the rest." Hibernia must reject union.


Broadside Bodleian Harding B 14(314) is dated "Dublin, December, 1798." Zimmermann p. 40 cites it as a broadside ballad circulated against William Pitt.

What is the original of the "poisoned pill"? The broadside warns "Arrah Paddy beware, there's snake in these offers, For Billy can gild, whilst he poisons the pill." In 1909, in _Fallen Fairies; or The Wicked World_ W.S. Gilbert wrote "Oh, love's the source of every ill! Compounded with unholy skill, It proves, disguise it as you will, A gilded but a poisoned pill." - BS

Both Ireland and Scotland had people who, in their time, opposed Union with England. I've seen it argued that the Scots were wrong, because they needed English trade. (I'm not sure it's that simple, but the case can be made.)

Ireland, though, really did get a poisoned pill -- because they lost their own parliament (Grattan's, for which see "Ireland's Glory") but did not get Catholic Emancipation in return. Prime Minister Pitt wanted to grant voting rights to Catholics, but the English parliament simply would not go along. So while Ireland had seats in the British Commons, they weren't really popularly elected. Eventually, leaders like Parnell would learn how to use their position, and sometimes hold the balance of power between Conservatives and Liberals, but that was a long time coming. In the short run, Union simply cost Ireland self-government. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1759-1806 - Life of William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister 1783-1801 and from 1804 until his death
  • 1798 - United Irish rebellion causes England to decide on Union with Ireland
  • 1800 - Act of Union passed by British and Irish parliaments, causing a parliamentary Union to take effect in 1801

Cross references

  • Bodleian, Harding B 14(314), "A new song Billy Pitt and the Union ("Come neighbours attend, while I tell you a story"), unknown, 1798


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1798 (Zimmermann)