Northern Ireland


Northern Ireland Essay, Research Paper

Matt Heizman

IS 260

Dr. Jackson


A World of Hate

A world of hate supports many conflicts in modern society. Strings of hatred entangle all walks of life. Oftentimes, the most disheartening part of most ongoing hatred is the fact that the people involved do not even know how it began. Since 1170, nothing but hatred, intolerance, and death has surrounding the culture of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a land rich in tradition and pride; the same pride sustains the separation of the Protestants and the Catholics. The Protestants wish to stay loyal to Britain and allow Britain to stay in control of Northern Ireland, while the Catholics want to break free from British rule altogether and start their own free Northern Irish state. The thought of British government in Northern Ireland has been a large determinant of the hostility between the two religious groups. The idea of the two denominations in contention has little to do with actual religious disputes. Much of the conflict has taken a political form. This complexity of a religious battle fought along political lines plays a major role in its perpetuation. One can begin to determine the reasoning behind the violence in Northern Ireland by learning about the history of the region and the conflict between Catholics and Protestants.

There was tension among the religious beliefs in the beginning of the conflict, and some tension still exists today, but little of the strife is in reference to whether the bread and wine of communion is Jesus’ body and blood or if it is just symbolic. While some Protestants and Catholics still dispute their beliefs and the proper way to worship God and Jesus Christ, a major part of the dispute exists strictly at the political level. Political tension exists everywhere, even here in the United States. The main difference between the two cultures is the level of religious tolerance we have in the U.S. that does not exist in Northern Ireland. For instance you would not see two Americans killing each over religion as often as you would in Northern Ireland. Once again, it is difficult to figure out how much of the violence in Northern Ireland is based on religious views and how much is over political views. The line between religion and politics in Northern Ireland is not distinguishable.

The strife began in 1170. Norman warriors left England and brought violence to Ireland. They were sent from their homeland by King Henry II to gain control over the region for British rule. For four centuries, the Norman warriors made an impact in Ireland. Despite their efforts with the war, it was still considered unsuccessful. The Norman campaign grew stronger when a chieftain by the name of Hugh O’Neil entered the scene. Oddly enough, Hugh did not side with the English; he led a rebellion against the British army. The rebellion was quickly destroyed. Hugh’s failure caused other Gaelic chiefs to flee from Ireland and opened the door for English in colonize Ireland.

In 1641 the Catholic population had their first chance to win back their country with the help of Charles I. Charles I led a conflict against the Parliament. Things worsened for the King when he set out to destroy all those who would dare to oppose him. He orchestrated the Great Rising, in which he sent out agents to murder a number of Protestant Ulster planters. The defeat of Charles I emboldened the sense of retribution of his enemies. Oliver Cromwell turned his hatred to revenge when he sought to, “dispatch the native Irish to impoverished west of Ireland.” He sent 36,000 Protestant soldiers to settle the land that was held mostly by English landlords. This transferred almost all the power of Ireland to Protestant settlers; loyalists to the idea of a British government in the Nation of Northern Ireland. Even with this defeat of Charles I, the Catholics did not stop trying to gain their political freedom from Britain.

James II traveled to Ireland in 1689. He did not come alone; he brought the bulk of the French army. James wished to spread religious tolerance in Ireland. An ensuing conflict with William of Orange was the only thing that stood in his way. James gained massive support from many non-Anglicans from both sides of the spectrum, Protestants and Catholics alike. But like the debacle of Charles I, Catholics in Northern Ireland chose the wrong ally. With James’ defeat by William of Orange, the Catholics found 120,000 of their people in exile. All non-Anglicans found themselves being denied their suffrage and the right to hold public office as a result of the conflict. Catholics were punished for this transgression; they were forced to divide all land among all of their heirs. This was a harsh punishment because after a few generations the estates would be so small they would carry very little power. Despite all the hardships confronted trying to gain a free nation the Catholics persevered.

The times kept changing and a new menace emerged that threatened the Northern Irish way of life. This threat was not of war or of rebellion; it was a new colony. The year was 1782 and many Irish Protestants were planning on relocating to the American Colonies. This forced the men in Parliament to take drastic action. They declared Ireland a separate sovereign nation, yet kept it subject to the English monarch. In essence, this change didn’t give the Irish the power they thought it would. However, it seemed as if the hopes and dreams of many Catholics of the nation would be realized. Little did they know of the hardships that lay ahead of them. Ireland prospered under this new arrangement throughout the mid-1780s. Catholics were granted the right of equality in land-ownership. Just as Catholics seemed to be able to gain power of their own and a good life, the ugly head of violence crept over the Irish Catholic people. During this time, many underground agencies were created to help protect people. The Peep O’Day Boys, a Protestants secret society, started to hunt and terrorize the Catholic community. In defiance of the need to endure the violence, the Catholics formed their own society called the Defenders. Rioting preceded the formation of these groups and chaos began to reign in Ireland.

With 1791 came the formation of a new Protestant group, the Society of the United Irishmen. They were led by Theobold Wolfe Tone. This society’s sole purpose was to cast Britain out of Ireland forever. Their attempts failed miserably. Rebellion broke out in Wexford; it never manifested itself anywhere else. The Wexford people suffered some heavy violence against them. From the ashes of the failure and use of force by the Society of the United Irishmen brought about a dramatic change to the Face of Northern Ireland. In Wexford, “the tradition of physical force to which the uprising began the Irish Republic Army (IRA) today sees itself as being the legitimate successor.” The IRA has gone from this beginning foundation to become “one of the greatest evils in this world.” With this rebellion the British got scared. They abolished the Irish Parliament and forced them to reunite with the British Parliament. This was accomplished with the passage of the Act of Union in 1800. With this Act, Britain exemplified their dominance over their neighboring country.

Time passed and the ex-free nation of Ireland spent a 120 years trying to undo the damage caused by the Act of Union. In this time the Catholics gained a right to sit on Parliament (in 1829 ) and the Protestants found that while they held a majority in the British parliament they had the minority in the Irish Parliament. Even with their legislative power, Catholics were still denied most of their civil rights. To this day the Catholics still feel they never fully gained all of their natural rights.

Death and destruction came upon Ireland in 1916. The Irish Republican Brotherhood headed by Patrick Pearse took up leadership. Pearse led Irish Volunteers, took over several buildings and Offices, and declared it the formation of an Irish republic. Battles were fought as if the Brotherhood was fighting a conventional war. The British army defeated the Irish Republican forces within a week. Subsequent to their defeat, fifteen leaders were executed by a firing squad. The British delivered 75 death penalties. This did not have the effect the British government had hoped. The people were furious. The next conflict that would arise, the Irish vowed they would pay no attention to rules of war.

When 1918 hit, the Catholics had little patience. They longed for their own ruling body. In a bold move mixing religious convictions with politics, the Irish people elected the Sinn Fein in to power; the political side of the IRA. This would lead to a war of Independence led by the IRA that lasted from 1919 to 1921. In 1920 the division of Northern Ireland was completed when the British government passed the Government of Ireland Act. The Act separated Ireland into two sovereign states. The six northern counties, mostly Protestant, became Northern Ireland. The southern twenty-six counties were mostly Catholic. With these political developments, a law was also passed stating the southern counties were free and independent.

Despite these gains, the Catholics were not satisfied. A split in the IRA shortly followed the Government of Northern Ireland Act. Separate factions disputed whether the free Irish state should include the northern Protestant counties. Demonstrations, rebellions, various acts, and violence ensued. Small civil wars were fought and the IRA clashed heads with many political leaders. In this time the Protestants gained complete control over the police forces. A massive breakout of discrimination towards Catholics arose. Laws were designed to allow the police to beat and arrest almost any Catholic in sight. These actions caused the IRA to take action. They started to “protect the people,” grounded in the tradition of the underground societies that protected Irish Catholics in the mid-1780s. In practice, however, the IRA, “forces people to go protest, breaking children’s knee caps if they were caught breaking laws, and forcing people to do their will.” Effectively, they were a brute squad.

The Protestant-Catholic strife continued until the infamous day of Sunday, January 30, 1972; perfectly memorialized as Bloody Sunday. On this day, British airships gunned down 13 civilians. At that moment, chaos came to Ireland. British took complete and total control over the entire country. Absent from the British control of Ireland were the ideas of due process, jury trials, and tolerance for religion. There was total discrimination against Catholics. The police were now allowed to arrest and hold people without even charging them with a crime, as well as enter any home at anytime and search for whatever they want. During the time of occupation, the police entered 170,000 Catholic homes, enough to have entered every Catholic home twice. Random vehicle checkpoints were also placed along roads to check anyone they thought were suspicious. In the words of Michael McDonald: “My dad used to carpool to work, it was him and two Catholic guys. When they would hit random checkpoints and my dad was driving the police would just look at the license and see his name, McDonald, and they knew it was a big Protestant name. But when one of the Catholic guys would drive and arrive at a checkpoint the police would see his name, O’Malley, and they knew he was Catholic. They would make him get out of the car and basically do everything but stripe search him. They made him take off his shoes and socks, and they searched the car and so on. It is true that same stuff goes on today, and I do not think it will end in my life time.” But even as the Protestants had the power of the police, the Catholics still had the IRA, which has been a “thorn in the side of peace since its beginning.”

With the all of the steps toward peace and the centuries that have passed since the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants began, the violence endures. The violence seems to transcend time: a permanent fixture in the battle for freedom from religious persecution in Northern Ireland. Neither side seems to be willing to budge. In 1998, David Trimble, a Protestant Northern Irish official was awarded the Nobel peace prize during the peace talks that took place. Still, with groups like the Democratic Union Party (DUP) and the IRA fueling the fire of conflict, it is hard to see peace in the near future. “The DUP is basically the Protestant IRA, but to me the IRA seems ten times more evil then the DUP. That might just be my Protestant roots showing through.” It seems that as long as there are groups taking to violence to solve the problems of the region there will never be an agreement and peace in Northern Ireland. While the two main groups of this conflict are classified by religious denominations, very few of the issues today have anything to do with their beliefs in God. They take on a much more political standpoint. “It seems that very few people actual talk about the groups as religious anymore, but while they are political groups now they still have the background of the religion. It reminds us how it all started and how the true separation of beliefs all began.”

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