The University of Wisconsin Press

Irish Studies / History


Captain Rock
The Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821—1824
James S. Donnelly, Jr.

History of Ireland and the Irish Diaspora

James S. Donnelly, Jr., and Thomas Archdeacon, Series Editors

“A monumental and deeply revelatory study.”
—Fintan O’Toole, The Irish Times

"Donnelly's knowledge of Irish rural society is both broad and deep, and this is by far the most thorough and insightful study of this tragic, complex, and very important episode in pre-famine Irish history."
—Kerby Miller, author of Emigrants and Exiles

Named for its mythical leader "Captain Rock," avenger of agrarian wrongs, the Rockite movement of 1821–1824 in Ireland was notorious for its extraordinary violence. In Captain Rock, James S. Donnelly, Jr., offers both a fine-grained analysis of the conflict and a broad exploration of Irish rural society after the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

Originating in west Limerick, the Rockite movement spread quickly under the impact of a prolonged depression. Before long the insurgency embraced many of the better-off farmers. The intensity of the Rockites' grievances, the frequency of their resort to sensational violence, and their appeal on such key issues as rents and tithes presented a nightmarish challenge to Dublin Castle—prompting in turn a major reorganization of the police, a purging of the local magistracy, the introduction of large military reinforcements, and a determined campaign of judicial repression. A great upsurge in sectarianism and millenarianism, Donnelly shows, added fuel to the conflagration. Inspired by prophecies of doom for the Anglo-Irish Protestants who ruled the country, the overwhelmingly Catholic Rockites strove to hasten the demise of the landed elite they viewed as oppressors.

Drawing on a wealth of sources—including reports from policemen, military officers, magistrates, and landowners as well as from newspapers, pamphlets, parliamentary inquiries, depositions, rebel proclamations, and threatening missives sent by Rockites to their enemies—Captain Rock offers a detailed anatomy of a dangerous, widespread insurgency whose distinctive political contours will force historians to expand their notions of how agrarian militancy influenced Irish nationalism in the years before the Great Famine of 1845–1851.

James S. Donnelly, Jr., is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Coeditor of the journal Éire-Ireland, he is author of The Great Irish Potato Famine, The Land and the People of Nineteenth-Century Cork (awarded the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the American Historical Association), and Landlord and Tenant in Nineteenth-Century Ireland.

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The cover of Captain Rock features a colored illustration of four Irishmen at a rude table with tankards, a rifle and a paper.

December 2009

LC: 2009009443 DA
512 pp.  6 x 9 
22 b/w illus., 5 maps

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ISBN 978-0-299-23314-3
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ISBN 978-0-299-23313-6
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Copublished with Collins Press. Customers in the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Europe should order from Collins Press.

"No account of pre-famine Ireland will be considered even remotely complete without taking on board the findings of this excellent book. Accessibly written and often elegant, Captain Rock will appeal not only to historians of Ireland but also to specialists in political violence and official responses to it."
—Thomas Bartlett, author of The Fall and Rise of the Irish Nation



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Updated November 10, 2011

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