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Abduction and rape in Ireland in the era of rebellion

Durey, M. (2006) Abduction and rape in Ireland in the era of rebellion. Eighteenth-Century Ireland, 21 . pp. 27-47.

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Abstract

In this journal in 1994 and 1995 James Kelly published two important and interrelated articles on the subject of the criminal treatment of women in eighteenth-century Ireland. The first examined the phenomenon of the abduction of heiresses, the second explored rape.1 Kelly made the best use of the limited and unsatisfactory sources available for the study of criminal activity in Ireland in this era. In the absence of the legal records (destroyed in the Four Courts fire in 1922), he necessarily relied heavily on newspapers and the still-surviving calendar of presentments and affidavits for much of his evidence. More recently Neal Garnham used the only surviving (and incomplete) indictment books, for counties Armagh and Tyrone, to conclude that rape is not a useful crime for determining the levels of violence in eighteenth-century Ireland.2 Brian Henry in his study of crime in late eighteenth-century Dublin, and Bob Reece and Barbara Hall in their studies of early Irish transportation to New South Wales, have all relied predominantly on newspapers for their information.

Newspapers as sources have both strengths and weaknesses; they can give detail and colour, but they cannot supply the sort of sustained evidence that a series of official annual criminal statistics can offer. Such an archive for Ireland will, unfortunately, never be found, but by chance there has survived a short run of official data for the years 1797, 1798 and 1799, printed as appendices in the last three volumes of the Journal of the Irish House of Commons. 4 Together with a data base of more than 2500 court-martial defendants tried in the period 1798- 1801, which I have been compiling over many years, it becomes possible to assess the extent of criminality in Ireland in the years of rebellion. This article concentrates on abduction and rape and uses new evidence to offer observations which both supplement and revise interpretations presented by earlier historians. It broadens Kelly's focus on abduction of heiresses to examine other forms of abduction; links some accusations of rape with consensual abduction ritual; suggests some limitations of newspapers as reliable sources; and assesses the impact of the 1798 Rebellion on the incidence of rape in the last years of the eighteenth century.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society
Publishers Website: http://www.ecis.ie/journal/
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/13964
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