The term ‘protestant ascendancy’ appears to have been coined in 1782. However, the origins of this interest lay with the land confiscations of the 17th cent. The Ulster plantation (1608–9) brought a substantial transfer of property from the Gaelic lords to English investors and settlers; the Cromwellian confiscations (1652–3) brought the expropriation of the great majority of catholic landowners throughout the rest of Ireland. The victory of the Williamite cause in the war of 1689–91 paved the way for further confiscations, and for a series of measures designed to bolster the new protestant landed interest.
The 18th cent. was, therefore, the golden age of the ascendancy. The height of ascendancy political power came after 1782–3, with the grant of legislative independence to the gentry‐dominated Irish Parliament. But increasingly powerful catholic and dissenter interests challenged this dominance in the 1790s, and the apparent helplessness of the ascendancy during the 1798 rising made it vulnerable to English intervention. The Act of Union (1800) abolished the Dublin Parliament, and represented a severe blow to the political authority of the Irish landed interest. Further political set‐backs came with catholic emancipation (1829) and with the rise of a radical peasant nationalism. Land purchase legislation, especially the Land Act of 1903, facilitated the transfer of land to the former tenant farmers, and brought a swift end to the economic predominance of the Anglo‐Irish ascendancy.