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 Grattan 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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