Irish (UK) general election, 1847

At the time of the last general election in 1841, the potato blight had struck Ireland and the beginnings of the Great Famine were occurring. By the time of the next general election six years later, the Famine had ravaged Ireland, with millions dying of starvation or emigrating from Ireland. The Conservative government of Robert Peel had fallen in 1846, and was replaced by Lord John Russell's Whigs. Although the Conservatives remained the largest party, the Whigs held their place as the governing party in this election, increasing their overall seat share to 292, although they operated with the support of the Irish Repeal Assocation. In Ireland itself, the Assocation emerged as the biggest party, largely due to their picking up of many town seats. The Conservatives came second, with the traditionally popular Whigs third.

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Prime Minister Russell took a laissez-faire approach to the economy, as a consequence of which he ceased the purchase of Indian corn for Ireland which Peel had begun. Instead, Russell's government had expanded the public works scheme, which by that year employed 750,000 people, who were often weak and malnourished. The schemes were not very successful in providing aid, as the pay was very low and the work itself was often unnecessary and unproductive.

Separately, the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers, had set up soup kitchens to feed the poor. The success of this action prompted the government to pass the Soup Kitchen Act in early 1847, and by its peak the soup kitchens were feeding 3 million people a day. The government changed its mind in September, however, and instead directed that relief be administered through workhouses.

The Famine was stirring considerable anti-English sentiment amongst many of the Irish population, who blamed the government for it. This sentiment would quickly grow and eclipse the somewhat modest aims of Daniel O'Connell and the Repeal Association.

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The election in Ireland was also contested by two smaller groups. The Conservative Party had endured a split prior to the election, led by former Prime Minister Peel. His followers, the Peelites, advocated free trade, and disagreed with the larger party on the maintenance of high tariffs on agriculture. By the time of the election, the Peelites numbered at about a third of the Conservative Party, and they took from it a number of important seats in Ireland, particularly in Ulster, where County Tyrone went entirely to them, along with one seat each from Cavan and Kerry, as well as several towns in Ulster. The Peelites would eventually merge with the Whigs and other groups to form the Liberal Party.

The Irish Confederation went into being as the front for a number of Young Irelanders who opposed O'Connell's moves to bring the Repeal Association closer to the Whigs. They were a nationalistic group frustrated at the lack of progress in securing repeal of the Act of Union. Although they won only two seats, in County Limerick and in Youghal, they were just the first of many new groups which would spring up and take the reins of the Irish nationalistic movement away from O'Connell and the idea of Repeal as the years wore on.