History of Ireland

Historical map of Ireland from 1808


This history of Ireland was originally written in 1999 with the intention of putting the Northern Ireland conflict into historical perspective and to examine the origins of the fears and aspirations of the two communities. It is not an attempt to point to solutions. This article was drawn from several sources, especially Ireland A History, by Robert Kee.

When I embarked on this history it was to be a part of a series of potted histories of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. I knew little of Irish history. The remainder of the series, alas, was never completed. Maybe I will complete it one day.

As I worked through the available source books my attitude changed from being mildly pro-Unionist to being pro-Republican, or at least pro-Gael but with a deeper understanding of the Unionists fears and insecurities as a potential minority in an island perceived to be hostile, and I developed a deep admiration and affection for the Irish people who, in de Valera’s words, were, "... many times beaten into insensibility but each time upon regaining consciousness, took up the fight [for independence] anew... and never surrendered [Ireland's] soul".

Ireland is a small, economically poor country, having few natural resources other than water, peat and pasture in abundance, yet it has provided a contribution to European civilisation - to art, music, literature and poetry - far in excess of what could be expect of so small country.

Pervading the whole of this history is religion. Capable of inspiring great works of art, music and literature and great feats of bravery and dedication to a cause. Almost invariably to the cause of defeating other great acts of bravery and dedication done in the name of other sects of the same religion. Acts of bravery which inspired people to oppress and kill other people for having a slightly different creed or praying in a different church.

In the few instances where other causes briefly inspired people to rise up,such as the egalitarian United Irishmen movement, religion intervened in short order and brought the people back into line in one or other religious camp so the 'established order' was restored and the priests and preacher regained control of their 'flocks'.

Only rarely, if ever, has religion in Ireland been a good thing. Only rarely has it applied the supposedly Christian principles of forgiveness, reconciliation and the essential equality of Man. Almost invariably, religion has been used to justify subjection, oppression, dispossession and genocide, safe in the knowledge that that's what God would have wanted and that the perpetrators of acts of gross inhumanity were booking themselves a ticket to Heaven and dispatching God's enemies to their just deserts.

In Christopher Hitchen's words, religion has poisoned everything.

Part 1 - Celts, Vikings and Normans.A brief introduction to the origins of the Irish people and the beginnings of English influence and involvement.

Part 2 - Tudors and Plantations. Assertion of English authority over Ireland and to impose the Protestant Reformation by colonisation. The origins of Protestant dominance in Ulster.

Part 3 - Rebellion and Cromwell. The Gaelic Rebellion against Protestant domination and Cromwell's response. Mutual antagonism between the two communities reinforced by massacre and retaliation.

Part 4 - Suppression and Starvation. English repression of Catholic Gaels, dispossession of land and the Potato Famine which ensued.

Part 5 - Fenians, Parnell and Home Rule. Irish Nationalism gives rise to political expression, the Land League and demands for land reform and, eventually demands for Home Rule.

Part 6 - Orange Order and Opposition. Protestant fears over Home Rule lead to organised resistance, growing militancy and demands for exclusion from the Home Rule provisions in the south.

Part 7 - Birth of a Nation. Irish nationalism leads to uprising and guerrilla warfare and eventually Home Rule and Civil War, reinforcing Protestant fears in the North, and formal internal self-government in six of Ulster's historic nine counties.

Part 8 - The Northern State. Northern Ireland establishes "A Protestant State for a Protestant People" with the aim of maintaining the Protestant Ascendancy. Second class status for Catholics builds resentment and alienation.

Part 9 - The Troubles. The demand for Catholic Emancipation results in Protestant reaction and British military intervention and direct rule. Thirty years of virtual civil war in Northern Ireland ensue, resulting in compromise, if not reconciliation.

[Update 21 Sep 2018] This series of blog posts has now been substantially revised and extended and published as a paperback and ebook for Kindle.

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