M.O.P.E. – most oppressed people ever. This was a term coined in the 1990s to ridicule Gerry Adams’ claim that the Irish were more ill-treated than any people at any time in history. This extraordinary claim is as dangerous as it is false. It is not just part of a historical debate but a plank of Irish republicanism drive to terrorise and to oppress. Irish republicanism is that mode of thought that supports the IRA, the IRA of whatever faction. Sinn Fein can still be said to be republican even though it does not at the moment advocate terrorism. Despite Fianna Fail’s subtitle (the Republican Party) it is not republican. Yes, it harbours the aspiration for Northern Ireland to be wrested from the UK and to merge into the Irish Republic.
There were no discriminatory laws in Ireland in 1921. There had been earlier. Until Catholic Emancipation in 1829 there was extensive anti-Catholic discrimination. This was only changed by the Act of Union and a mass campaign to achieve legal equality. An Act to Prevent the Further Growth of Popery was passed by the Irish Parliament in 1704. It contained wide-ranging provisions to treat Roman Catholics unfairly. Roman Catholics required permission to travel abroad, to set up schools, for priests to come into the country. They were forbidden to own a horse worth more than 5 pounds. These laws were totally unfair. The purpose behind them was partly to pressure people into converting to Protestantism. It was also to prevent a Jacobite comeback. Priests were seen, often rightly, as being recruiting sergeants for the Jacobite cause. These anti-Catholic laws were debated, drafted and passed in Ireland by Irishmen. It was one set of Irishmen mistreating the other set. It was Irish Protestants doing this. Yet some would blame the injustices of three hundred years ago on Great Britain in 2010. This is absurd and totally unfair. Yes, the Irish Protestants were mostly descendants from migrants from Great Britain in the 17th and 16th centuries. But this does not mean that they were not Irish. Everyone in Ireland, just about, has an ancestor from Great Britain. Irish republicans claim that the Irish Protestant community could only do this as they had the backing of Great Britain. The Irish Protestants were a minority of perhaps 20% of the people and they were well-armed and highly organised. They dominated in the towns. Dublin in 1700 was about 60% Protestant. This republican claim is probably untrue. If it had come to a fight the Protestant community probably would have won. The Roman Catholic community had lost its leaders in the 1607 Flight of the Earls and after the breaking of the Treaty of Limerick in 1689. In those times most countries were very hierarchical and it was difficult for anyone to be accepted as a doyen who did not hail from the upper orders. Therefore the largely leaderless Roman Catholic community would have found it difficult to sustain a fight against the Protestant community. It is merciful that a religious war was avoided as these tend to be the worst bloodbaths of all. Witness the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War, the French Wars of Religion and the Partition of India. Because there was very little left of the Roman Catholic gentry the priests assumed an even more important role in the community than theretofore. Plus, in rural communities they were often the font of education. Many priests had been educated at seminaries on the Continent and had a broader worldview because of this.
The Act to Prevent the Further Growth of Popery was not much enforced. Scores of Roman Catholic schools flourished and there were plenty priests around.Edmund Burke argued for the abolition of the act on a number of grounds. First the act was so downright unjust. Second, even if one agree with the aim the act had utterly failed to prevent the regeneration of Roman Catholicism.
Never trust the bite of a dog, the kick of an ass and the word of an Englishman.” That was an adage in Ireland. I may have rendered it slightly wrong but the message is plain. It is clearly racist to label the English dishonest, it is little better than saying that we Irishmen are dim. There are ghastly chapters in Irish history. The Potato Famine of the 1840s, the 1798 Rebellion, the English Civil war as it effected Ireland, the Nine years war and so on. There were massacres carried out by Crown Forces such as the murders on Dursey Island. This article in not a whitewash. This article seeks to restore perspective and balance. There were atrocities committed by Roman Catholics as well as by Protestants. They were far more crimes committed by rebels than by the Crown Forces. I speak of sectarian murders from the 1640s up until the present day. The Crown Forces were subject to courts martial and could and were tried for wrongdoing. Rebels seldom to never punished their men for committing atrocities.
”Through the leaden rain seven tongues of flame made perfidious Albion reel.” – this is a line from ”The Foggy Dew”, a song written by a republican minded Roman Catholic priest about the Easter Rising. The use of the opprobrious term ”Perfidious Albion” is plainly racist. It would be equally stupid and bigotted to speak of ”Alcoholic Ireland” or ”Terrorist Ireland.” This language reveals the Anglophobic trope that informs much of republican discourse.
The Potato Famine deserves an article of its own. Put simply, it was a huge and tragic natural disaster. Irish republicans like to exploit this in order to generate odium towards Great Britain and to attempt to justify their crimes today. They wish to posthumously conscript the dead into their cause. Irish republicans like to call this horrendous event ”the Great Hunger”. They claim that one cannot use the word famine when their was an abundance of foodstuffs in the country. George Bernard Shaw in his ”John Bull’s Other Island” made this point. (Shaw is an interesting case in his own right – a study in spite and bigotry. Like many an Irish republican he spat venom at Great Britain which he made his home. He said, ”I would rather be burned at the stake by Irish Catholics than saved by English Protestants.” Even allowing for poetic licence this is still a statement of the most ghastly Anglophobic prejudice. It is in the light of this that his invention of the phrase ”An Gort Mor” must be seen). However, in ”Ulster conflict and Consensus” by Wilson one sees that this is a fallacy. More food was arriving in Ireland than leaving. The food exportation meme is dangerous. It is part of the republican bid to repaint this ghastly event as genocide. Murals in Belfast dub it ”the Irish Holocaust” and falsely inflate the figures of those who died and emigrated.
The old canard is wheeled out that Queen Victoria gave as much to the famine relief appeal as to Battersea Dogs’ Home. The Government organised relief in Ireland but it was inadequate. The relief still proves this was no genocide. Why go through the pretence of feeding people if you want them to die or leave the country? Relief work was started. Many roads in Clare were torn up to be rebuilt as famine relief work. Many railway lines date from this time. Look at Heuston Stattion in Dublin – dated 1846. Famine fever made morbidity worse.
There were famines before this such as in the 1740s. There was a famine in Great Britain also in the 1840s but it was much less severe. The late 1840s was a time of starvation through much of Europe – hence the year of revolutions in 1848. There were no more famines after the 1840s in Ireland. Why was this? The overcrowded districts were eased by emigration and better agricultural methods were used/
Republicans tell lies about the past as they do about the present. They wish to exploit the apolitical victims of this grievous happening so as to make political mileage now. This means of trying to make capital out of the suffering of people long dead is indeed reprehensible. Dishonesty and the abuse of innocent victims if not of course the sole preserve of those of one attitude. ”Dead generations” , said the Proclamation of the Irish Republic in Easter 1916, ”from which she receives her tradition of nationhood.” That is mainly what it is about for Irish republicans – ”the dead.” Theirs is a necrophile discourse. Many Irish republicans had compromised since 1798 and become moderates and constitutionalists. Yet the Irish republican movement always tries to claim the dead as being members of the most fanatical faction of Irish republicanism. This is dishonest and distasteful. It would be equally wrong for loyalists to say that they can never compromise as members of their side died for this and that and that the dead would surely advocate the most obdurate policy and therefore one must adhere to this most obdurate stance. I wonder if even ”President” Pearse himself if he were alive today, seeing the century of suffering and anguish that he brought upon Ireland would not have his heart moved to compassion and ask people to stop the violence. ”The old heart of Europe needs to be warmed with the red wine of battlefields”, he said. Maybe my wish to attribute a modicum of humanity to him was wrong in view of this most bloodthirsty pronouncement. He did not say this in ignorance in time of peace. He said this in the midst of the Great War when such outbursts were made in an informed manner.
There is often a misconception that past insurrections in Ireland were nationalistic in motivation. There were rebellions in Medieval and Early Modern Ireland but mostly they were not nationalist in character. They were often against a particular policy, tax or unpopular official. The same is true of England and Wales at that time. For instance in 1641 the Confederation of Kilkenny revolted against the Protestant settlers. The ”rebels” were ultra-loyal to Charles I. These so-called rebels are then claimed as spiritual forefathers by the republican movement of today when nothing could be further from the truth. It is a very inversion of the reality. The First and Second Desmond rebellions were about anti-Protestantism, anti-migrant feeling and opposition to Elizabeth. If successful they would not have broken with England. Far from it, they would have united more closely as they hoped to make England Roman Catholic again. They hoped that Philip II would rule Ireland, Wales, England his Spanish domains. The Williamite Wars show that most Irish Roman Catholics were loyal to the true king, James II. Yet they are claimed as having been proto-republicans. This is utterly fallacious. The only connection between the Jacobite and the republicans is that most are Roman Catholic. There you have it, sectarianism. The identification with one religious denomination as against the other is what defines Irish republicanism.
Ireland was clannish into the 17th century. Ireland was deeply divided and there were near constant feuds between the different clans just as persisted in Scotland into the late 18th century. People talk of ”divide et impera” – there was no need for the Crown to do this it was already so. There were far more rebellions in 16th century England than in 16th century Ireland. 16th century England witnessed – in no particular order – the revolt against the Amicable Grant, the last stirrings of the Yorkists, the Western Rebellion, the Pilgrimage of Grace, Kett’s rebellion, the Wyatt Plot, the Ridolfi Plot, the Rebellion of the Northern Earls etc… Perhaps part of the reason for this is that there was no so much government to rebel against in Ireland.
Until the 17th century the Irish Crown governed only the eastern part of the country and a few ports effectively. There was a policy of dyarchy rather like in India until 1947. Some territory was under direct royal administration executed by the Lord Deputy. Some territory was governed indirectly by Native Irish chieftains. They had to do homage and pay tribute to the Crown but other than that they ran their own show. The 18th century was remarkably peaceful in Ireland. There were sectarian clashes in the 1790s leading to the 1798 Rebellion. After that there was the odd ruction but on the whole the 19th century was very peaceful, certainly much more so than in most lands. It was only in the 1790s that Irish nationalism emerged as such. Indeed this was about the time that nationalism as we know it was invented full stop. In the 1790s for the first time a body – the United Irishmen – claimed that the common name of Irishman was to replace Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter. Many Roman Catholics did not regard Anglicans and those of the Nonconformist churches as being Irish. Indeed, evidence submitted to the Irish Parliament at this time said that the Irish-speaking peasantry had but one word to describe the English and the Protestants in Ireland ”Sassenach”. This speaks volumes. It explains why the misdeeds of Protestants in Ireland are bogusly blamed on England in particular and more widely on Great Britain. Even then Irish nationalism was a minor sport for some time.
In 1798 it was mainly people in the East who got involved. Yes, there was the landing in Mayo and a revolt in Skibereen. The three religious denominations formed semi-separate communities, Anglican, Dissenters and Roman Catholics.
It is held as axiomatic by many on the liberal left around the world that Irish history has been a tragedy. Jesse Jackson said so again on his recent trip to Ireland. Edward Kennedy used to say it. Our tragedies are mostly anglophobia and sectarianism. These are to a large extent the doing of republicans and to some extent of loyalist terrorists too. Overall, though, we Irishmen do not have a tragic history. Compared to many countries our history has been very happy. Much of the grief in our history has been caused by Irish republicans. At very least, most of us being southern, we missed out on the horrors of the Second World War. Look at these nations – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, the Ukraine, Romania, Poland, Israel, Palestine, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Burma, Bangladesh, China, North Korea, South Korea, Australia’s Aboriginals, Brazil, Belarus, Algeria, Chad, Nigeria, South Africa, Kazakstan, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Cyprus, Mexico, Austria, Libya, Greece, Turkey – I could go on. All of these lands have had misery – either dictatorships or huge wars, mass disease or famine; often civil wars and genocide – suffering far worse than in Ireland.
The Irish nationalists of today wish to submerge out nationality in the European Union. What an irony! Yet still be semi-hostile to our neighbour Great Britain. The United Kingdom is our partner in the EU for goodness’ sake. Why be so desperate to be separate from our brothers in Great Britain yet so keen to unite with the people of Latvia and Bulgaria. What are all the striking similarities we have with them?
People often claim that Ireland did not connect with Great Britain willingly. This is not so. We agreed at the Synod of Cashel and the Treaty of Windsor. The Pope told Henry II to bring Roman Catholicism to Ireland. Can a Roman Catholic in conscience oppose the connection then? Irish chiefs time and again acknowledged the English King as the Lord of Ireland. The Tudor policy of surrender and re-grant reinforced this. Some force was used. Ireland was created by war. Which land has not been? The pre-1171 Irish kingdoms were created by war too. People pretend that prior to Strongbow coming to Ireland always was sweetness and light. It is a myth to think of a golden age back then. There was continuous warfare between the several kingdoms. Ireland was hardly united then. It only became properly united under the Stuarts.
The shiring of Ireland was completed about 1610 that gave us our counties which are so important to our identity. Moreover, they are used for Gaelic games. Do not say that at Croke Park though. Do not tell the GAA our borders are an invention of the Crown! Let us think of all the Irishmen who have risen to high positions in Great Britain. Winston Churchill was of Irish descent. Think of the Irish Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom. The Marquis of Landsdowne was an Irishman as was George Canning and the Duke of Wellington. Andrew Bonar Law was an Irishman too. Tony Blair is half Irish and John Major is a quarter Irish. The British royal family is descended from Brian Boru. Princess Sophie is half Irish. Some of the most distinguished British soldiers of all have been Irish. Lord Alanbrooke, Lord Gort, Richard O’Connor, Sir John French (Viscount Ypres), Sir Henry Wilson, the Earl of Cavan, Montgomery of Alamein and Lord Kitchener of Khartoum were all men that Ireland can claim. Yes, Lord Kitchener surely is the most illustrious Kerryman. C S Lewis and Oscar Wilde were lionised in Great Britain as was G B Shaw despite his Anglophobia. Great Britain was even extraordinarily forgiving to Brendan Behan despite his having been an IRA man. Little such magnanimity is extended to militants in the loyalist cause. Irish actors and musicians have been very popular in Great Britain from Richard Harris to Sinead O’Connor – they were proponents of IRA terrorism yet the people of Great Britain forgave them. Honourably anti-IRA was a most talented band: U2.
Until the 1970s it was commonplace for Irishmen – including Catholics and nationalists – to volunteer for the British Armed Forces. This included men from the Republic of Ireland. They could have enlisted in the Irish Defence Forces yet many opted to serve under the Union Flag. The British military can hardly be said to be foreign to Ireland. Over the centuries hundreds of thousands of Irishmen have joined the British military. Many have won awards for gallantry and risen to the highest ranks. The institution in Ireland that best eliminated sectarianism was surely the Crown Forces – the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. In these honourable bodies Irishmen of all denominations served happily with very little sectarian animus indeed.
I have read ‘Angela’s Ashes’ by Frank McCourt. In it he recalls returning from the United States to Eire in the 1930s. His father has been in the IRA in the 1919-21 conflict. The father is always asking for a government grant on the basis of this. He is bitterly disappointed with the independent Irish State that he helped to create. Is this what men fought and died for? That is what he asks acrimoniously. One government official tells him the plain truth, ‘We were better off under the English.’ I know this is a work of literature and is not wholly reliable. It is notable that in Limerick McCourt’s Catholic family are deeply suspicious of McCourt’s father. McCourt’s father is from Northern Ireland and is a Catholic The Limerick Roman Catholics surmise that ‘there are Presbyterians in your father’s family.’ His grandmother says that the child has ‘stick up North of Ireland hair.’
My great-grandmother also lived in Limerick City. She too was of the Catholic faith. She used to say, ‘John Bull why did you ever leave us?’
.I remember reading a tome penned by Joseph O’Connor. It was perhaps his work on the world of the Irish male. He recalled that an inescapable feature of the Dublin pub scene was to meet a chap who says, ‘we should beg the English to take us back.’ I do not advocate that exactly, I would not put it in such terms. I am a unionist. One of the reasons that a unionist political party does not exist in the Republic of Ireland is that unionism needs to be two-sided. The United Kingdom must be prepared to readmit us to the Union.
In the mid 1990s the IRA was bombing London. What was the hottest show in town? Riverdance. Arlene Foster is a DUP politician who spoke of Gaelic nationalism being invented in the 19th century. ‘Gaelic’, I thought about that word. Yes, she is right. The nationalist movement cherished Gaelic heritage and denied and/or denigrated all other contributions to Ireland by other peoples. The Gaelic nationalist vision of Ireland is narrow-minded, intolerant and wilfully blind. It is singular. Yes, the Gaels played their part and made a positive contribution to shaping Ireland. Let Erin remember those who came before and after the Gaels. Patrick Pearse spoke of Ireland not merely free but Gaelic as well, not merely Gaelic but free as well. Thereby he underlined his own restricted vision of Irelad, well he had only one good eye! He called Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa ‘a Gael’. Let us call ourselves Irishmen and embrace all that that is. I am Irish. We are Irish have the blood of the Danes, the Vikings, the Gauls, the Milesians Spanish, the Anglo-Normans, the Welsh, the Scots, the Huguenot French in us. Now we welcome too Poles, Chinamen and Nigerians into our midst. Let us recognise this and celebrate it. Dublin emphasises its Viking heritage. The Vikings came to loot but then did some good. The Welsh and English did not come to loot and they did much good. Let us celebrate our heritage from Great Britain and Great Britain celebrates its Irish heritage. The people of the eastern isle are our kith and kin. We Irishmen are all Britishers. I am Irish and I am British. There is absolutely no contradiction whatsoever in that. I am British precisely because I am Irish. The British Isles forever! Long live British Ireland! God save the Queen!