Consequences. Ireland..

 Éire derives from the old Irish Ériu, a legendary goddess

One might imagine that the recent resurgence of violence in Ireland would make the 'old warlords' sigh dismally and turn once more in their graves. In such tragic cases the cowardly attacks seem more to stem from callous ignorance and belligerent nostalgia than anything else.

The war in Ireland is over, or at least it should be. Dominion status was granted to the Irish Free State (renamed 'Éire') in 1936 and full republican independence came in 1949. Sinn Féin, ('we ourselves') founded in 1905, is now the second largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and an important party in the Irish parliament of the Republic of Ireland. If not officially considered the political wing of the Provisional IRA, it certainly has close, historic ties with the movement. Such results and representation could be regarded as essentially what the IRA had always been fighting for.

The numerous PIRA attacks include the callous assassination of Earl Mountbatten with members of his family in 1979. Also notable and tragic was the death of IRA member Bobby Sands, leader of the 1981 hunger strike in Maze Prison. He had been elected member of Parliament for the Northern Ireland constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

There are much older wounds, some which date back to the sixteenth century. Their healing process always seems to have been hindered by intolerance, Irish obstinacy and intransigent, historic celebrations.

Since Henry VIII, who in fact had never intended to renounce Roman Catholicism and was firmly anti-Protestant, imposed his Act of Supremacy of 1534, also as head of the Church of Ireland, this led to increased repression of the Irish Catholics. Irish subjugation had little to do with religion. It was a question of power, wielded then by the Vatican. Roman Catholicism then represented a threat to the newly acquired independence of the English Crown.
The repression led to revolt (the Irish victory of Battle of Yellow Ford in 1598). The increased repression and confiscation of land continued into the following century when in 1649 the Irish Catholics loyal to the Stuarts were massacred at Drogheda by Cromwell.

One of the most important and determining events of Irish history was the Battle of the Boyne which took place some forty years later.
For the French and their king, Louis XIV, James II, a Catholic and last of the Stuart monarchs (also known as James VII of Scotland) was the legitimate king of England. For the English however, it was essential that the crown of England maintain its independent status from the Vatican. The 'glorious Revolution' consisted of the replacing of abdicated James II by his hero son-in law William (of Orange) and his daughter Mary, and a restatement of the Bill of Rights. This included a token of religious tolerance towards non-conformist Protestants, although Unitarians and Catholics were excluded from public office and universities. William and Mary had to accept the Bill of Rights which established the supremacy of Parliament above the Monarchy.

Fortunately for England most of Scotland accepted William and Mary, although those under Viscount Dundee loyal to James (including the Camerons) won a costly victory at Killiecrankie (July 27, 1689). Provided they swore allegiance to William before the 1st January, 1692, the king had agreed to pardon the chieftains. All but the Macdonalds of Glencoe did so, and this led to their treacherous massacre by the Cambells.

But to return to the battle of the Boyne.
William arrived in November 1688 with an army of 15,000 English and Dutchmen. His real interest was the defence of Holland from the threat of the then powerful and ambitious France of Louis XIV, but he claimed to have come to safeguard the reformation, and to have no particular quarrel with James, his father-in-law.

Helped by France, James II landed with French troops in Ireland in 1689. On the 1st July, 1690 William crossed the river Boyne with his army and completely routed Jame's mostly inexperienced and badly led recruits. History alleges that William and the Dutch were aghast by the savagery of the English who massacred the Irish prisoners and drove heavy carts over the bodies of the wounded. Such unjustified, needless cruelty could have been incited by the siege of Derry in 1689 when this fortified city of northern Ireland, considered disloyal to James, suffered appallingly from the siege of 105 days beset by the Jacobite army. 4000 died of starvation during this siege, twice as many as those who perished in the battle of the Boyne.

The battle of the Boyne should not be regarded as a religious war either. There were Protestants with Catholics on both sides. In fact the Dutch Blue Guards even flew a papal banner, for many of them were Dutch Catholics. It was however a crucial battle not only for interests of land and patrimony, but above all for the maintenance of independent English sovereignty, and for European political and strategic interests.

Thus William's victory saved the 'Glorious Revolution', and it is thought to have saved Europe from eventual French domination as well. But the Catholics of Ireland lost everything.
Ironically, to add to their suffering, they were even abandoned by Pope Innocent XI who had supported William of Orange against the ambitions of Louis XIV. This was claimed to be in order to maintain a balance of power on the continent. He didn't even disapprove of William's accessions to the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland. In fact on hearing the news of the victory of the Battle of the Boyne, the Vatican celebrated the event with a Te Deum.

Both the siege of Derry (Londonderry) and the Battle of the Boyne are celebrated annually with the Maiden City Festival (the siege) and the Orange March (Battle of the Boyne). Considering the deprivation of the Irish Catholics of virtually every human right, including education, as a result of William's victory, the Orangeman's Day celebration especially, could be regarded as an insensitive and arrogant annual reminder of the unjust and demeaning consequences inflicted on the Catholiques. As such it seems a contemptuous way of aggravating old Irish Catholic wounds, shunning good will and thus the possibility of full, sincere reconciliation.

The war is over. The page should be turned, and all those who have perished due to the interminable conflict, should finally be allowed to rest in peace.

Sources: F.E. Halliday 'A concise History of England', 'An illustrated History of England' John Burke, Battle of the Boyne, Wikipedia, 'The Irish Experience' Thomas E. Hachey, Joseph M. Hernon, Lawrence John McCaffrey. Satellite Image by kind courtesy of Nasa.
Text © Mirino (PW) March, 2009.


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Mirino said...

Thank you for your kind comments.
(I agree with you about humility)