Whiteboys

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Whiteboys,

members of small illegal, largely Roman Catholic, peasant bands in 18th-century Ireland. First organized (c.1759) in protest against the large-scale enclosure of common lands and other causes of agrarian distress, they were so called because on their nocturnal raids they often wore white disguises. They were heavily suppressed (1765), but outbreaks of similar activity recurred during periods of extreme agricultural hardship. Hostility (1775–85) was largely aimed at tithe collectors. There were similar, although shortlived, Protestant groups in Ulster, the Oakboys (1763) and the Steelboys (1770). Terrorist activity hastened the establishment of the Irish Parliament (1782), in which Henry GrattanGrattan, Henry
, 1746–1820, Irish statesman. A lawyer, he entered (1775) the Irish Parliament and soon became known as a brilliant orator. Aided by Britain's preoccupation with the American Revolution and its fear of the revolutionary potential of the Irish volunteer army
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 attempted to reform the system of tithes. Although the Whiteboys were suppressed, they set a pattern for agrarian unrest that continued under various names and later became politicized.
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Cornwall Lewis observed in 1836 that the Whiteboys had `very retentive memories' with `no statute of limitation against Whiteboy vengeance; no prescription seems to give a title where the party has taken land in contravention of the Whiteboy rules'.
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Even the passing of the Whiteboy Act of 1765, which strengthened the hand of the magistrates, had little effect, but bad harvests and food shortages in the end quieted the disturbances.