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Ireland - an idyllic island but with a troubled history from 800BC to date.

Updated on September 1, 2016
High King Brian Boru
High King Brian Boru
Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle
Roscommon Castle
Roscommon Castle
Belfast 1969
Belfast 1969
IRA bomb on Baltic Exchange building London Apr 1993 one dead 40 injured
IRA bomb on Baltic Exchange building London Apr 1993 one dead 40 injured
IRA bomb in Hyde Park London July 1982 eight soldiers killed together with seven Household Cavalry horses
IRA bomb in Hyde Park London July 1982 eight soldiers killed together with seven Household Cavalry horses
IRA bomb on London bus Feb 1996 three passengers dead
IRA bomb on London bus Feb 1996 three passengers dead

Now that the so called “peace accord” has been exposed for the cynical sham that it is we are starting to read the same old diatribe trotted out in defence of the atrocities committed by the republican terrorists in the name of either religion or a united Ireland.

Time and again they excuse the murder of civilians on the basis of historical misdeeds.

Before we discuss this, let's clear one point first.

· There is no such thing as an Irish POW. To be a prisoner of war there must firstly be a declaration of war between two states. There has been no declaration of war between The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, in fact quite the opposite, the various terrorist groups, republican or Protestant are illegal paramilitary organisations, in both countries. The "provisional" and "real" IRA may like to claim they are at war, but only because they think it gives their activities some credibility. The propaganda spokesmen like to claim that the terrorist are "active service units" unless they are killed trying to murder someone, then they are declared "murdered martyrs". You cannot be both, either they are military personnel for whom death in combat is an occupational hazard or they are innocent, activists attempting to achieve a peaceful political solution.

However, let's take a brief look at the history of Ireland:

· In common with most places in the world, the Irish have had some form of outside rule, starting with the Vikings in 800 BC

· Christianity was introduced in about 500 AD and the Irish became fervent believers.

· In 1014 Irish High King Brian Boru, led a united tribal force against the Vikings at Clontarf, only for him to be assassinated after winning the battle. Following his murder the tribes became divided again and were quickly conquered by the Norman's who built castles to secure their possessions.

· Although Ireland had its own Parliament, its powers were very limited under Poynings' Law, passed in 1495. Effectively all legislation had to be submitted to London for approval, prior to discussion in Dublin. In addition all members of both houses, in Dublin, had to be practising Anglicans and all electors had to be both Anglicans and 40/- freeholders - thus limiting the number of eligible voters. Thus the Irish Parliament was little more than an Anglican oligarchy and therefore the majority of the Irish were unrepresented - a situation that applied to the vast majority of the English population also, it must be said.

· We fast forward to the 16th century when Henry VIII, under the Protestant Reformation, created the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, which resulted in the Irish Catholics revolting against the move.

· Elizabeth I gave parcels of good quality land in Ulster, for her selected subjects to colonise and, following this the dark side of British history was compounded by three further events:

1. English and Scottish Protestants settled in Ulster displacing many Irish inhabitants.

2. 1536-1539 the vicious Thomas Cromwell (1489-1556) ruthlessly suppressed the monasteries in England and confiscated their land. In 1536, in the north of England, the Catholics protested in a series of uprisings known as the "Pilgrimage of Grace" During this period Cromwell also came to Ireland to quell similar revolts and killed thousands of Irish Catholics in the name of God.

3. The Apprentice Boys defended Derry for William of Orange against the Catholic challenge of James II.

· Between 1689 and 1714 a series of Williamite Penal Laws were passed specifically to penalise Catholics and although they were not repealed until 1829 they effectively ceased to be applied from around 1778.

· In 1782 Henry Grattan established greater political independence from London, but full direct rule was imposed by the Act of Union 1801 which abolished the Dublin parliament but allowed Anglican Irish MPs to sit in the British parliament. The disenfranchisement of a corrupt Dublin parliament and the flight of landowners to London, led ultimately to social transformation on a large scale. Predominantly corrupt agents who were under pressure to maximise rents for the absentee landlords ran the large estates. The disastrous decision to adopt the potato as a staple food crop brought about serious even fatal consequences for the peasant population. The most favoured potato was the "Arun Banner", a large variety but very susceptible to the fungus Phytophthora infestans which had spread from North America. Warnings of various crop failures went unheeded during the first decades of the 1800s, until the Great Famine of 1845-1847 resulted in the death of abt 1 million Irish people due to starvation, cholera and typhoid. To Britain’s shame the indifferent administration merely called for reports and even provided military escorts for export shipments of meat and grain. In the winter of 1845-6 Peels government spent £100,000 on American maize, which was sold to those of the destitute with money to pay for it. The maize became locally known as "Peel's brimstone" Eventually the Government initiated road and canal building schemes to provide employment, but mostly these schemes were excuses to justify the cash payments. The basic problem was lack of money to buy food; the country had plenty of wheat, meat and dairy produce.

· Lord John Russell replaced Peel in 1846 and in January 1847 introduced loans for relief and soup kitchens. The potato crop did not fail this year but starving people flooded the towns and disease claimed more lives than starvation. Astonishingly in September 1847 Russell's government ended relief and demanded the Poor Law rate be collected, which resulted in widespread unrest and violence. Some 16,000 extra troops were sent to Ireland and parts of the country put under martial law. In 1848 the crop failed again and Asiatic cholera struck. Between 1841 and 1851 the known population of Ireland fell from 8.2 million to 6.5 million. Those that did not die emigrated to Britain or North America.

· The consequences of the Act of Union has dominated Irish history during the 19th century and only after Gladstone's commitment to Home Rule in 1885 was any consideration given to greater Irish autonomy. Since then the debate has been dominated by the irreconcilable differences between the Protestant minority in Ulster and the rest of the island. A settlement resulting in the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922 and the partition of Ireland into north-east Ulster and Eire seems to have addressed the political problem, except in the minds of those still wishing to kill one another on religious grounds.

· Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847) was a great activist in the battle for political rights for Irish Catholics and played an important part in the Catholic Emancipation Act 1829. In 1832 he became MP for Dublin and, together with some 45 others was committed to the repeal of the Act of Union. As the head of the Catholic Association he demonstrated in favour of Irish Home rule, but was forced by Feargus O'Conner and other extremist MPs into introducing this, prematurely, into parliament. In 1840 he founded the, rather unsuccessful, Repeal Association. After the demonstration at Clontarf in 1843 he was arrested and convicted in 1844 of seditious conspiracy, which was overturned by the House of Lords and he resumed his career. During the famine of 1845, O'Connell's party began to advocate revolutionary doctrines, which he had always opposed and their favour of violent opposition to British rule split the Irish ranks in 1846.

· There were two levels of radicalism in Ireland:

1. Conservative radicalism under O’Connell who wanted home rule for Ireland to be achieved by political reform.

2. Popular radicals who opposed the English Protestants and wanted to achieve their ends by the establishment of secret agrarian societies who would use violent means.

· Chartism was originally led by Feargus O’Connor, George Julian Harney and James Brontere O’Brian, but the Chartist had little impact on Irish politics and were opposed by O’Connell, who was a sworn enemy of O’Connor. With regard to the influence of Chartism on England, the Irish who had emigrated became national and local leaders and formed much of the rank-and-file of Chartism. In the later days of Chartism they would be useful for providing the violence and bringing Irish grievances into English Chartism.

At this point we can understand the disgraceful way in which the Irish had been treated by, not only, the British Government but by the rich, influential or politically motivated Irish themselves. If modern communications had existed, I have no doubt that the majority of the English would have been sympathetic to their plight also – had it not been for the fact that the average low class English were being treated in a similar way and were living in conditions of deprivation and disease themselves.

However, none of this excuses the events that happened subsequently, events that unfairly and unnecessarily shame the majority of the Irish today.

· In 1857 Irish Catholics in New York established the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) as a relief organisation.

· Irish American Civil War veterans were sent back to Ireland by the IRB and started a campaign of bombings and assassinations, in response to which the Royal Irish Constabulary was formed.

· Due to the defeat of the Home Rule bid, Patrick Pearse of the IRB came to the fore, but Home Rule was promised after the end of the Great War.

· Unwilling to wait Pearse and James Connolly led a revolt in Dublin, which became known as the 1916 Easter Rebellion and formed the IRA officially. Not surprisingly, for a country already embroiled in a bitter and bloody war, Britain responded savagely and the revolt was crushed, Pearce and Connolly executed and thousands imprisoned.

· American born, Easter Rebellion veteran Eamon De Valera became leader of Sinn Fein and continued the political drive to independence.

· Michael Collins, also an Easter Rebellion veteran became leader of the IRA and began a campaign of guerrilla warfare, having studied Russian Peoples Will tactics (use of intelligence). This involved killing British and Loyalist Irish Police in their own homes and attacking anything British. The savagery of murder in front of wives and children caused the formation of the equally brutal Black and Tans and the violence escalated.

· In 1921 a treaty was signed between Britain and Ireland creating British ruled Ulster in the North and the Republic of Ireland in the South.

· Immediately civil war broke out in the new republic with Collins and De Valera on opposing sides.

· In 1927 De Valera became Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland and opposed the IRA. The result was that some members of the IRA wanted to follow Sinn Fein and others broke away and formed the Provisional IRA, which was ineffective in its terror campaign during 1956-1962.

· Opposing factions continued to encourage sectarian unrest under the guise of a united Ireland until a riot in 1969 provoked a response from the British army that played right into the hands of the IRA. From then on, they claimed the moral right to attack the British army and remove them from Ulster so that they could attack and murder the protestant minority unhindered.

· Not content with attacking the British army, or probably because they fight back, the Provisional IRA and other splinter groups chose to attack soft targets, that present no danger. Thus the bombing campaigns that target only innocent civilians, women and children, Irish and British.

· If the terror groups ever had a just reason for a campaign of violence it has long since passed. A so called United Ireland is only in the heads of a few dreamers, Protestant and Catholic religions will always ensure a violent divide, the tribal mentality lives on in some minds and until those two issues are resolved unity is only a dream.

I see the mistrust, not of Britain, but between Irish and Irish, even after some 500 years. If a war exists it can only be solved by the Irish themselves, Britain, despite all its faults in the past is, these days, only the “patsy” in the “troubles”.

Have you ever visited Ireland?

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© 2012 Peter Geekie


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    • Peter Geekie profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Geekie 

      6 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Thank you ahorseback - sometimes its difficult to write research on two nations you love - I came to the conclusion some while ago that the correct response is blame the Governments not the people.

      Kind regards Peter

    • ahorseback profile image


      6 years ago

      As in all the writings of Irish-British relations , this is very informative. Being of Scotch-Irish decent I often marvel at the ongoing violence and hatred. Perhaps today peace has finally arrived ? Who can know. England , America .....? Why does everyone love to blame the big brother on the block even now, "Colonialists, Conquerers, bullies " ..... on and on ! Very interesting research , I love that!


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