The Irish revolt, or problem as it is viewed in England, began with the granting of Irish land to English and Scottish noble men. The former owners were displaced. The anger of the Roman Catholics was intense when they were forced out of their homes and pushed to adopt Protestantism. "The devotion of the Irish to their Catholic church is both a blessing and a curse" (Pomeray, 91). Throughout history, the Irish have endured conflict and persecution as a result of their devotion. The conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland were a direct result of the English invasion, the Irish dispossession, and Protestant ascendancy in the north due to English power.
For an understanding of the religious conflict on that island, we now know as the nation of Ireland, one truly has to look back at the people and culture, which dominated the nation prior to English settlement and invasion. These people, whose culture at its peak was dominated by Catholicism, were known as the "Celts". The Celtic people moved onto modern Ireland, bringing a uniquely feisty culture, around 600 BC (Cahill, 30. The Celts were a very clannish, warlike race; they were known for their ferocity in battle.
Even the Romans, who clashed with them in various places around Britain and Europe, feared their frenzied rage, which they called furor (Cahill, 82). Going into battle wearing nothing but war paint on their naked bodies; the Celts in their battle fury were a considerable and intimidating opponent. Savage in battle, the Celts also developed a very unique, influential mythology and way of life. Epic Irish stories were told about sagas such as, Cu Chula inn. A warrior of such strength and ferociousness, it is said that, he had to be cooled off in a tub of cold water after battle. He also became known as the most heroic warrior figure in Ireland's Celtic culture.
The violent warlike nature and mindset of the Celtic people in Ireland did not totally fade; even during later eras. The aggressive psyche of the Irish never completely disappeared. In the winter of 1170, King Henry the Second of England appealed to the Pope of Rome for the Church's support of an invasion of Ireland (Somerset Fry, 137). This began the religious and political involvement of England in Ireland's affairs. He attacked the following summer.
The King wished to take advantage of the confusion and internal strife caused by feuding Irish lords, which he did while the coastal cities of Ireland focused their forces inward in defense of their lords. In 1170, an English army of just under 1000 men invaded the Danish sea-city of Wexford. Perhaps if, at that time, the people of Ireland had joined together and expelled the English off the island, Ireland as a whole would not have been conquered. However, the rulers of that time were acting carelessly and stubbornly, caring only about themselves. The lord's of Ireland were basically tribal and not concerned with the fate of their neighbors (Cahill, 14). Each province would only take arms if their own land were to be invaded.
The result was that each tribe would be forced to stand alone against the entire British army. Obviously, it is much more difficult to take on a united British army alone rather than as a joint nation. Eventually, virtually every individual province of Ireland stood before the British armies alone. Defeat was inevitable. Though the conflict that has brewed between Ireland and Great Britain began with a simple issue of colonization, it went on to be focused primarily upon religious differences (Newman, 105).
After they were conquered, the Irish people were stripped of their rights, government, land, education, and voices when the English overtook their nation. Irish members of the Parliament, both Lords and Commons, were required to take the oath of supremacy enacted during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. No Catholic could take this oath. The result was a dramatic change from the Ireland ordinarily run by the church and its principles. The power along with these wicked intentions of the English was sufficient enough to control and dominate the spirit of the Irish, despite constant revolt.
Strong remonstrances from the Irish Catholics, who had been dispossessed of their estates had really no effect (Somerset Fry, 139). The Protestants were left in possession of many of the Irish lands. One of these was referred to as the Plantation of Ulster. Ulster was one of the most Gaelic parts of Ireland and was, at first, successful at resisting English settlement ambitions. However, when the English and Scottish attacked, the Plantation fell. After the fall of Ulster the armies of Scotland and England perpetuated a massacre that burned in the Irish mind.
The Scottish victory was yet another step for the conquest of Ireland. In Limerick, under Patrick Sarsfield, the Irish resisted very strongly and the English were forced to sign a treaty in October 1691. They agreed to restore religious freedom and other rights to the native Irish in return for the disbanding of Sarsfield's army. The army fled to the Continent determined to continue the fight against Protestantism. Though many Irish Catholics enthusiastically approved, The Treaty of Limerick was completely unacceptable to many of Ireland's Protestants (Somerset Fry, 314). Soon, the rules of the English parliament were applied to Ireland.
That required each member of the parliament to take an Oath of Allegiance. No practicing Catholic could comply. This broke the first tenant of the Treaty. It was common for the English to break their agreements. Historically, the colonizing British ignored treaties.
When the Irish parliament assembled once more, they decided to remain Protestant (Somerset Fry, 312). This was an attempt to keep Catholics under control and out of their way. By doing this within the safety of the parliament, they attempted to avid corruption charge, yet, continue to have complete power and have safety because of being in control. This cowardly action shows the fraudulence of allowing the English parliament in Ireland. The Protestants were determined to lessen Catholic power (Somerset Fry, 314). In fact, they made it law that Catholics could not join the army, run schools, become school teachers, become private tutors, send their children to schools abroad, obtain degrees, buy or lease a house of more than two acres, own a sword, gun or horse, and Catholics were excluded from practicing law (Somerset Fry, 166).
In addition, marriages between Protestants and Catholics were considered null and void (Somerset Fry, 167). Any priests who performed such marriages could be hung. Naturally, many Catholics were enraged by the laws that protected Protestants and punished Catholics, but by this time, the Catholics had lost much of their power. Once again, the people of Ireland were divided into two nations.
The Irish Parliamentary remained divided for nine years. Forced by a strong opinion and the actions of Sinn Fein British parliament declared "Home Rule" for Ireland in 1912 (Newman, 81). The new Home Rule Bill, was rejected by the Lords, but still became a law in 1914. The urge for freedom could not be halted. Dublin experimented the Easter Rising. The leaders of the rebellion were executed.
Once again, saw the dream drowned in blood. With the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, it was agreed that this Government of Ireland Act should not be implemented until the war was over, but by 1918, much had changed (Newman, 82). Later negotiations in 1922 led to the establishment of a "Free State" in the South. A civil war in Ireland, between those who saw this as a first step and those hardheaded insurgents who wanted complete independence for all Ireland started. More Irish blood was shed. The fighting was endless and continued to tear away at what was left of the nation.
Finally, a peace-plan was accepted by both the Catholic and Protestant parties in 1998. The great famine of 1845 to 1851 drained Ireland socially, emotionally, and economically. The country had three overwhelming concerns: the struggle of farmers to secure what financial holding they had, the fight in the north for religious dominance, and the struggle for independence from Britain). These played out through the legitimacy of government and through the desperation of revolution.
As a direct result of the famine, Ireland's populations suffered an immediate death count of approximately two million. During the two decades surrounding the famine the total populous was cut in half by the emigration primarily to Britain and the United States. The number of inhabitants was not the only thing to decrease as a result of the starvation. The once strong opposition to British rule of Ireland dramatically weakened (Newman, 67). Further, Ireland divided on the issue of union with Britain. The Nationalists, who were more commonly Catholic, still held the majority, but were in not producing the same strong separatist sentiment.
The Unionists on the other hand, led by the Protestants of the northeastern region of the island, were enjoying a tremendous boost by the Industrial Revolution. Happy and secure with their lives financially, they were less concerned with independence and more focused on economic freedom. In the twentieth century, the resistance to British rule became more formal. The writing of Arthur Griffith in 1907 founded the basis for the establishment of the political party Sinn Fein. Almost simultaneously, an underground movement became the violent arm of the freedom movement. The Irish Republican Army, or the IRA, was formed.
The conflicts involved all relate to the tension caused by English control of Irish. The IRA believed that Ireland should be ruled by the people of Ireland (Somerset Fry, 335). The IRA and its supporters believe that England has no place, no rule, and no authority in Ireland. However, this is not true.
England controls Northern Ireland, and has other non-direct control over Ireland. The Irish Republican Army was formed in order to take Ireland away completely from the British. When the IRA began to split into many different sects, in approximately 1920 some of the younger freedom fighters began to accept communist beliefs as a way to unite Ireland (Somerset Fry, 326). Others stuck to traditional forms of resistance, including violence. The resistance who still believed in violence broke off and formed the Provisional Army Council in November 1969. In the early 1970's, riots broke out.
The reasons for these actions included a sense of solidarity in the community of Catholics, and a defense against attacks by Protestants because the British Army could not provide protection. Of all the many different aspects of the IRA, violence has been predominant. In 1975, the IRA once again used violence to make itself known. Bombings in England continued the terrorism of the IRA (Newman, 92).
They still want to unite Ireland. However, Northern Protestant to unification remains. The Irish Republican Army continues to strive for unification, but meets resistance from England and Irish Protestants in the North. In conclusion, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) strives and can be expected to continue to strive for the unification of Ireland. It has used and may continue to use violence to achieve its goal (Newman, 92). The violence in the past has characterized the organization as a terrorist group.
However, recently the violence has subsided. In the history of humanity, the most definite event that has pitted one nation against another is war. It creates tensions that usually take generations of positive interactions and negotiations to relieve. It is most difficult, however, for a nation to forgive its enemies when they are the ones who were invaded, when it was on their land that people died, and when it was their children who were terror-stricken. Indeed, such feelings of hatred are so deeply rooted in ones very existence that they may never be fully erased. In the eyes of the Irish, this torment was entirely due to invasions by the English and the resettlement of Scottish and English Lords in Northern Ireland.
Though it will live in their hearts forever, it now seems that the Irish are willing to take responsibility for some of their brutality. If nations would learn from the past, mistakes like these, made by the English, and cease attempting to conquer other nations, much suffering would be avoided.
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Newman, Peter. Companion to Irish History: From the Submission to Tyrone to Partition. Oxford: Facts on File, 1991.
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