“The Union”


"How did they pass the Union?" Perjury and fraud. Pitt and Castlereagh used pitchcap, bayonet, gibbet and rack. "How thrive we by the Union?" Ruined trade, wealth decayed and slavery. "And shall it last?" "All Ireland thunders, No!" We'll conquer again


Moylan: "This piece was published in _The Nation_ [; it was composed "around the 1840s or 50s"].... The Act of Union of Ireland and Great Britain was passed in the Irish Parliament on the 1st of August 1800.... Its passage was assured by the exercise of an extraordinary amount of bribery and corruption, even for that time and place."

"Pitch capping": filling a cap with boiling pitch and putting it on a peasant's head. (source: "The Search for Weapons" in _1798 Rebellion_ at Rathregan National School site). [This is, in fact, the milder form of pitch capping: Robert Kee, in _The Most Distressful Country_, being volume I of _The Green Flag_, p. 98, describes the more extreme form, in which the pitch was allowed to harden slightly, then set fire. This naturally increased the torture greatly, and generally caused permanent scarring of the scalp and loss of hair. It was not generally fatal, but even George W. Bush would call it torture. - RBW]

Sparling, _Irish Minstrelsy_ p. 505: re John O'Hagan (1822-1890) "The splendid ringing songs and heartful poems which appeared in the _Nation_ over the nom de plume of 'Sliabh Cuilinn' have often roused inquiry as to their author, but although attributed with great probability to Judge O'Hagan, have never been publicly acknowledged by him."

The 1801 "Act of Union" was supported by Pitt and Robert Stewart (Lord Castlereagh). Pitt was Prime Minister and Castlereach was his Itish chief secretary. The Act formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" and abolished the Dublin Parliament. (sources: _Act of Union_ on the Spartacus Educational site site) - BS

We should note that the song is inaccurate in its charges -- though the true story is hardly better. The British did use torture (pitch-capping, half-hanging) in suppressing the 1798 rebellion (though the Irish too committed their share of atrocities, notably at Scullabogue). But no torture involved in passing the Act of Union -- because there was no need for popular support. They simply had to bribe enough members of the Irish parliament to pull it off. The bribes were huge -- viceroy Cornwallis would confess, "I despise and hate myself for every hour engaging in such work" (Kee, p. 159; Terry Golway, _For the Cause of Liberty_, p. 90; for the general chicanery involved, see those sources or Peter and Fiona Somerset Fry, _A History of Ireland_, pp. 209-212 and after). But Cornwallis and (especially) Castlereigh bought enough peers to eventually pass Union.

It is ironic to note that, around 1770, the American colonies had desperately wanted Union (that is, a place in Parliament), and had been denied it; the Irish despised Union, and had it forced upon them. British colonial policy was an amazing thing.... - RBW

Historical references

  • 1801 - Act of Union of Ireland and Great Britain


  1. Moylan 151, "The Union" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BI, Moyl151


Author: Sliabh Cuilinn (said to be John O'Hagan, according to Sparling, _Irish Minstrelsy_, pp. 505,508)(source: Moylan)
Earliest date: 2000 (Moylan)