Guest Author - Tony King
By the beginning of the 19th century, Irish hatred for the English and the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland knew no bounds.
Two extremely cold winters brought about the potato blight and the Great Famine of 1845 sent forth its shivers of death to the Irish native population.
The impact of this one tragedy on the population was dramatically severe. Census numbers dropped from over 8 million in the early 1840’s to just above 4 million by the early 1900’s.
During this time also, a number if ill-fated rebellions were attempted,notably by Charles Parnell, Robert Emmet, Thomas Meagher and the leaders of the “Fenian Uprising”. All failed as abruptly and bloodily as had similar, previous efforts, but the seeds of rebellion against what the native Irish perceived as a cruel and tyrannical crown had been sown and would continue at intervals to sprout forth in full bloom.
Most of Ireland remained “nationalist”,while the north-east province of Ulster became predominantly “unionist”( in favor of maintaining the union with England), Protestant and increasingly more elitist as the Industrial Revolution brought its wealth and prosperity to a minute few.
By the end of the first decade of the 1900’s, several attempts to introduce ‘Home Rule” for Ireland had failed. In 1912, when a third attempt was made, the Unionists in the North -East were so opposed that they formed the “Ulster Volunteers” while the Catholic “Home Rulers” formed the “Irish Volunteers”, both with the dedicated goal of maintaining their individual positions by force if necessary.
An uprising at Easter in 1916 failed, but the aggressive use of force by the authorities against the rebels only served to unite Catholics and even others to a more determined effort for freedom from the Crown.
In 1919, an “Irish Republic” government was assembled in Dublin, but when this was unable to come to any form of agreement with Britain, a new form of guerilla warfare was instituted, under the leadership of Michael Collins.
After a brief period of bloody killings and maimings, the new Irish and the British governments agreed to a truce in 1921, whereby the Irish Republic was abolished and the “Irish Free State” was instituted as a dominion of the British Empire, similar to the legal but self-governing parliaments of Australia and Canada.
Northern Ireland opted out of this arrangement and remained part of the union with Great Britain, but was permitted to exercise self-control with its own parliament.
In 1937, the Irish Free State renamed itself the Republic of Ireland, and in 1948 seceded from the dominion of Great Britain.
From then to the present day, the 26 counties have remained fiercely Catholic and Nationalist, while the 6 counties of Ulster have been predominantly Protestant and Unionist.
After a series of economic ups and downs, the Republic of Ireland emerged in the late 1980’s as having one of the world’s best growth rates, and the “Celtic Tiger” was born. Modern Irish culture has adopted liberal social ideals as the power of the Catholic Church has diminished as faithful attendance to church has dropped to all time lows.
In the North, from 1921 to 1970, the six counties were ruled by the Unionist party. It’s first Prime Minister, James Craig, declared to the world that Ulster would henceforth be a “Protestant State for a Protestant people.” Discrimination against the minority Catholics continued to be severe ( as also was the reverse in the south).
In the late 60’s, mutual hatred and distrust boiled over into full-fledged riots which resulted in British troops being deployed in the province to help restore order. Much like the “Black and Tans” of the 1920’s, all that happened was an further increase in hatred and distrust from one side to the other.
The “troubles” continued to escalate and in 1972, the Ulster parliament was abolished and the civil war between various factions took the lives of over three thousand men, women and children.
The "Good Friday" agreement of 1998, developed a sharing of power in Northern Ireland, but continued infighting resulted in the elected Assembly being suspended in October 2002.
Recent elections may reflect the direction in which the country is moving. Moderate parties were effectively replaced by die-hard Unionist and “Free Ireland” politicians.
What the future holds is difficult to assess, but in the words of the old cliched saying ----the only thing that history teaches us is that men don’t learn from history.
Nothing could be more true for the land and people of Ireland.Maybe one of these days we will come to our senses and live like the educated and sophisticated people we claim to be.