Steve (akicif) wrote,

1969 And All That

Someone on a mailing list called me out when I referred to the late 1960s in Norn Iron as being "before the Troubles". Of course, what I'd meant was "before the current batch" or "before my awareness of them".

Still, it was a fair challenge and deserved a fair answer, so I sat down and tried to splurge out all the history I could remember without looking anything up (why not give folk a chance to see what my internal biases are, and where they come from):

> Didn't those Troubles start a lot earlier than that?

I don't think you could make a case for them having started before the Normans (well, there were Viking settlers in Dublin before then, but even the most hardened shinner would have a job to blame the Brits for that), but there were assorted flare-ups in almost every century since then (apparently there's a case for the Wars of the Roses having near as dammit grown out of British involvement in Ireland).

The problem was that England would keep getting involved in local ructions (either being invited in by one side or the other, or to enforce treaties, or to keep other foreigners out). This often led to a new aristocracy being imposed, or English families marrying into the local aristocracy - which led in turn to more chance of England being called in to help sort territorial disputes.

The one that really confuses some folk was when the Pope more or less gave Ireland to England (not quite as crazy as it sounds: this was pre-Reformation and the Pope in question, Hadrian IV(?) was English).

Up to the reformation, though, Ireland didn't really get any worse treatment than Scotland or Wales.

The problems really kicked off during Elizabeth's reign, when not only was there little desire on the part of the "Irish" aristocracy (by then pretty much all Anglo-Normans with Irish family names) to leave the Church, but there were strong links with the Spanish: this was not good news for the English (currently fighting the Spanish in the Low Countries and the New World, so they were feeling distinctly encircled).

So, first Elizabeth and then James started giving away land and titles (seized from the pro-Spanish aristocrats who'd fled once they realised they were on the losing side) to what were, effectively, protestant colonists. Many of these settled in the south, around Dublin and down as far as Cork, but the majority - mostly from Scotland - settled in the North.

Over the years, the southern settlers married into local society and went native. The northerners, not so much. Also, tending to be presbyterians of one flavour or another, they were even more oppressed than the catholics in the south under the Stuarts.

When the English Civil War morphed into the War of the Three Kingdoms, Charles Stuart was prepared to promise the Irish catholics better treatment in exchange for their support. Which he got just enough of for Cromwell to justify giving (southern) Ireland a small taste of what the Germanies were getting in the 30 Years War (to be fair to the English, even what Cromwell did at Drogheda was well within the parameters of the civilised rules of war at the time.

Things got a bit better after the Restoration and Dublin (although it wasn't cleansed by plague and fire) became one of the trendier places to be, with rich merchants (who of course began to Go Native) and a vibrant cultural life.

Back in England, though, things were getting messy: James II was showing signs of not being sufficiently Anglican (oddly enough, he'd started his reign by putting down a catholic rebellion in the west of England), and this was worrying Parliament. Still, James was childless and knocking on, and the next in line for the throne was Protestant.

Enter the Royal Baby (according to one rumour, smuggled into the palace in a warming pan). All bets were off, and a faction from Parliament decided they weren't going to wait (Parliament was getting decidedly frisky round about now - I think the Bill of Rights was first being drafted at this time) and sent a delegation to ask the next in line (Mary) if she could please come and be Queen, thank you very much.

By this stage she was married to William of Orange, and pointed out that they came as a set or not at all. This suited the Parliamentarians, as William had fairly recently stopped fighting the British and was knocking holes in the French and Spanish as well, and proving remarkably good at it.

James and his rump-royalists were pretty effectively chased out of Britain (apparently he could have made a deal with the Scots if he'd been prepared to accept that Presbyterians were people too), and fled to Ireland - pausing only long enough in France to pick up men and money.

And here comes another bit that confuses folk on both sides these days: the Pope (not English this time, anyway, but very anti-French) decided the European balance of power was best maintained if Catholic France got a bit of a bloody nose, and so funded Williamanmary's expeditionary force to Ireland.

Oddly enough, the catholic population on the ground didn't see things quite that way, and so they mostly joined in on James' side. Which of course put the northerners (mostly presbyterian and so not incredibly fond of Anglicanism) on William's side.

It got very messy - 30 years war with more modern technology levels of messy.

William won, and put his own mates in charge. Ireland even got its own Parliament. However, the London Parliament decided that they weren't going to risk any kind of Jacobite uprising, so they brought in a set of punitive legislation (called, with refreshing honesty, the Penal Laws) which kept the catholics out of the Dublin parliament, prevented them owning horses worth more than £5 (they could be jailed and have their horse confiscated if they refused to sell it for five guineas), and restricted freedom of assembly. Oddly enough, they didn't try banning guns, but I think there were restrictions on who could carry a sword.

Most of the rest of the 18th century passed quite peacefully and there was an almost Scottish Enlightenment-level cultural flowering. Life was good (if you weren't catholic), but slowly the aristocracy was going native again...

The northern presbyterians also began to become a bit more cosmopolitan at this time - they were only slightly oppressed compared with the catholics, but they began picking up strange ideas from the French to do with secular states and the rights of man and such like - of course, they didn't really want a secular state: they just wanted out from under the Anglican establishment.

During the American revolutionary War, the English were worried about French interference in Ireland, so they loosened the chains a bit, granting more latitude to the locals - even some of the richer catholics. Parliament also got more powers and less oversight from London. Naturally they promptly used it to clamp down on the presbyterians.

Time for another rebellion: Wolf Tone's United Irishmen (mostly fairly wealthy presbyterians and poorer catholics) negotiated for French support (this was, I think, the first time that a green flag was used rather than St Patrick's blue one). It might even have worked, if the French hadn't twice failed to land a force of any size).

The rebellion was put down quite messily: the presbyterians in the north were persuaded that they'd been conned into supporting popery (the Orange order was founded about now) and the Catholic church was given a few concessions in exchange for agreeing to support the lawful authority of the Crown (this may be related to Napoleon's conquest of Italy - and Rome in particular).

Oh, and the English gave the Irish representation at Westminster - in exchange for closing down the Irish Parliament.

This provoked a fairly unsuccessful rebellion by Robert Emmet and the survivors of the United Irishmen (less the presbyterians, mostly, but they still kept the green flag).

Over the next hundred years of so, things got better, slowly - well, apart from the appallingly mishandled Famine, and a few minor rebellions - as the Irish learned how to hold the balance of power in Westminster.

In fact, by the turn of the nineteenth century, the Liberals were on the point of giving Ireland "Dominion status" on the lines of Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

But the Tories (who used to be the high church anglo-catholic party) and the Ulster protestants weren't having any of this - so Unionism appeared as a political force (not just political - they bought arms from the Germans). And while the Ulster Volunteers were learing to drill with their semi-obsolete German rifles, the British Army in Ireland mutinied: saying that they would not fire upon Unionists.

Not to be outdone, the Nationalists also put together a militia and bought arms from the Germans.

Luckily the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assasinated in Sarajevo, starting WW1 and postponing, _sine_die_ the Governemnt of Ireland Act.

The various Volunteers all dashed off to prove their patriotism: the northerners were allowed to join up in their units and with their own officers, becoming the Ulster Division (which mostly bled to death doing too well at the Somme), but the southerners were mostly mixed through the New Army.

This left the more hard-core nationalists - the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Connolly's Irish Citizen Army and so on - behind. The war wasn't going particularly well for the allies in 1916, and so they picked their moment to rebel. They didn't manage to take Dublin Castle, but they got their second objective, the Post Office (which was also the main telephone and telegraph exchange).

The rising fizzled, the untrained rebels not even being much of a match for those soldiers who weren't considered fit enough to serve in France.

As the captured rebels were led off to internment in Wales, the majority of the population turned out to jeer, and throw rotten fruit.

All in all, a propaganda coup-in-waiting for the British.

So, what did they do? Well, over a period of weeks they shot the rebel leaders except for Eamonn de Valera (who was half American and they thought shooting him might influence America against joining the Allies) and the Countess Markievicz (who was English - she later became the first woman to win an election to Westminster and the world's first female cabinet minister). James Connolly, however, was executed tied to a chair, even though he was dying of his wounds anyway.

After the war, the rebels came back from Wales as heroes.

Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Brotherhood took almost every seat outside Ulster at the post-war election, refused to take their seats in Westmister and began the Irish War of Independence. This ended in 1921 with a treaty partitioning the island: just under two thirds of the province of Ulster remained under the British Crown (but with a local parliament - Stormont - in Belfast), while the rest of Ireland gained independence as the "Irish Free State".

So, peace and tranquillity all round? No way - the anti-Treaty faction rebelled, and the Irish Civil War did probably more damage than the War of Independence - and even now, Ireland's two main political parties are descended from the opposite sides.

Ireland very nearly had another civil war in the 1930s with the rise of the Blue Shirts (a bunch of pro-Church admirers of Franco), but that's not really relevant here.

As the twentieth century wore on, Ireland moved to true independence, finally cutting their last ties to the Commonwealth in 1948 (they'd stayed neutral in WW2, but there wasn't much else they could have done: Churchill had offered them Ulster in exchange for an extended lease on the Treaty Ports, but Dev said no. On the other hand, when the Luftwaffe hit Belfast, the Irish mobilised near as dammit every fire engine they had and sent them dashing for the border).

Meanwhile in "Ulster", as Northern Ireland was known at the time, things were getting messy. The Unionists had managed to retain unbroken hold on power since 1921, at least partly by manipulating who could vote - not only was there a property qualification, but no more than two adults per household could vote. Oddly enough, this tended to favour richer people with smaller families...

Towards the end of the 1950s some of the more enlightened Unionists started to get embarrassed about all this and began to do something about it. Captain O'Neill, the local Prime Minister, even went so far as to hold meetings with his Irish opposite number. These two things together, though, were too much for the hardcore Unionists, and this was where "the Reverend" "Dr" Paisley got his start.

The moderate Unionists were swept aside, and the nationalist SDLP were told they could whistle for electoral reform.

By the mid 1960s, the treatment meted out to the Civil Rights marchers by the police (both the regular RUC and the Infamous B Specials) had become so embarrassing that Westminster over-ruled the local parliament and sent the troops in - to protect the marchers...

Things were looking if not good, then heading that way, when the remnant of the IRA (which, according to graffiti in West Belfast, now stood for I Ran Away, as they'd not really been very visible lately) decided that while they'd done damn' all about B Special harrassment, they were going to go for the Army - who'd sneakily come along to protect "their" side.

Which is roughly when the current batch of Troubles started....

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID or here if you prefer.

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