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Friday, August 1, 2014

Ireland, the Fractured Emerald....

is a source of endless political controversy. My opinions on nationalism in Scotland and Ireland differ to some extent. For the former, quite obviously, my belief is that the movement is generally self-serving rubbish generated for nothing and based on nothing except erratic emotions and blatant power plays. While I still don’t necessarily agree with the latter, and heartily denounce terrorism on both sides, I can better understand Irish nationalist ideology and have some sympathy for the desire to bring about a United Ireland, just as I sympathize with the concept of retaining a United Britain.

    The British establishment, with its protectionist governments, religious prejudices, and cultural biases has had a history of being deplorable to the Irish people, lending fuel to the fire in a violent cycle of tribal sectarianism that still lingers on in the Emerald Isle. While the bulk of the Scottish people did indeed adopt a strong sense of Britishness during the 18th century, the Anglo-Irish Ascendency could easily claim Britishness while the common Irish people continued to be scorned as barbarians and second-class citizens.

    In spite of such obstacles put up by the ruling regime, most of the Irish continued to cling to their Catholic Faith and Gaelic culture. In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Protestant governments stopped just short of genocide to make them abandon their identity, they just held fast to it all the more. “No Surrender” was the Catholic maxim as much it was the battle-cry of the Protestant settlers. Cromwell, who was instrumental in wiping out or selling off almost one half of the Irish Catholic population, made a snarky comment him being unable to get the people to “let go of their beads.”

    That having been said, there was any number of times in history when relations between Ireland and the rest of The British Isles might have taken a turn for the better. Had Mary I succeeded in turning England Catholic again and cementing papal support for her claim to Ireland, the lack of religious animosity would have softened the blow of conquest. Had the King James II managed to secure lasting religious toleration for both Catholics and Dissenters, it would have been more natural for his three kingdoms to draw together. The main moment of decision was in 1801 when King George had the opportunity to embrace Catholic Emancipation and refused to do so. And the Potato Famine is a subject far too broad to cover in depth here, but suffice to say, the British government cared more about not offending the Anglo-Irish land-owners than giving proper aid to the starving Irish populace.

    All these things are tragedies, since the union of Britain and Ireland could have been a great success story beneficial to The British Isles as a whole. As ever, I believe they would have been “better together” in the long run. But things happening as they did, it is little wonder that the Irish people became more and more disenchanted with monarchial government, which they saw as representative of their woes, and wanted to get themselves out from under the British establishment. To do so, Republican activists often exaggerated past sufferings to make the “Sassenachs” guilty for everything, including unavoidable social and economic changes. Anglo-Irish and Scots-Irish cultural achievements became purposely disconnected with the “real” Ireland, and anything good that developed during the time when Ireland was in the union was overlooked.

    Thankfully, historical and cultural studies in Ireland are gradually embracing a broader, multi-faceted approach. Emerging on a world stage, she is beginning to view things through an international lens, as is highlighted in the excellent documentary series The Irish Empire. While Northern Ireland still has its troubles, the goal of creating a peaceful settlement is still being pursued with a reasonable amount of success, and The United Kingdom and The Republic of Ireland have made closer moves towards friendship than ever before, with an excellent example set by Her Majesty, The Queen.

    But even with all this (or perhaps because of all this), I wonder if having Ireland divided is really a tenable position. It’s not just a matter of geography, after all, but contains manifold psychological factors on both sides. I have quite a few Ulstermen for friends, some of whom have done so much to support me in my unionist efforts. They rightly dread they would lose that very important aspect of their identity and economic security should a reunification of the island ever take place. On the other hand, I cannot help but sympathize with those who have always seen Ireland as a single nation and would like to see it reunified once again. It’s a form of “unionism” when you get down to it.

    I personally would be more than pleased to see the day that all of The British Isles were reunited into a single entity, but I highly doubt that is one the horizon. I do wonder if a compromise might ever be agreed upon if push comes to shove regarding reunification, something to the effect of Ireland, north and south, being reunited as a separate entity, but then becoming a commonwealth realm with the British Monarch as Head of State. Ireland would be equal to The United Kingdom of Great Britain under the title of The Kingdom of Ireland. And then maybe she could adopt a new, more distinctive flag. The harp and the crown on a green field, please? Or maybe the cross of St. Patrick, or an amalgamation of both? And maybe they could also settle on a national anthem to represent the whole island, both North and South, with enough punch to be inspirational, but not so much as to start radicals to rioting again.

    For this to be even vaguely workable in a broader context, I would advocate stronger ties being generated in The Commonwealth and the restoration of the title “British Commonwealth”, so that Britishness can clearly transcend The United Kingdom itself. Some have suggested the production of a single currency and interchangeable citizenship within The Commonwealth. While this may be virtually unworkable in reality, I think that theoretically it would serve to build a stronger sense of unity among them. All these ideas are a bit outside-the-box, but I believe in thinking outside the box. It is only when inexperienced people stop trying to present new solutions to old problems that things become hopeless. To hold to the “No Surrender” tradition that Irishman of all backgrounds have passed down, we must never let that happen.

(This article also appeared on "Open Unionism":

Kingdom of Ireland 2
An Independent Kingdom of Ireland...?


  1. Very well thought out. Thank you.

    Mack in Texas

  2. You're right, this is a fiendishly difficult problem and one which causes an ambivalence in me verging on multiple personality disorder! As a patriotic Englishman, I deplore the craven manner in which successive governments have appeased the former IRA members and collaborators now walking the corridors of power in Belfast yet, as a Catholic of Irish heritage, I am all too aware of England's extensive history of persecution, oppression and violence against the Irish people and cannot help but wonder just how long we were expecting them to let us get away with it. Don't you think the Irish had legitimate grounds to desire independence?

    The genesis of the historically negative English attitude towards the Irish is very simple. The Gaelic Christian kings and noble families were among the oldest in Europe but, rather than this being something worthy of admiration, the problem was that they were so old as to be effectively pagan, not in their beliefs, but in their origins, rituals and ceremonies. Unlike such relative arrivistes as Clovis the Frank who looked to the Pope to provide legitimacy to their kingship, the Irish aristocracy needed only to look back to their own history to find their authority as rulers; thus, to the deep disapproval of Rome and other European noble houses, they were able to unite and celebrate fully both their ancient pre-Christian royal heritage and their orthodox Christian faith.

    The Irish Church too began to show disturbing tendencies towards independence from Roman authority (mixed sex monasteries, married clergy, etc.) so that it finally became necessary for our only English Pope, Adrian IV, to issue his laudabilitur empowering Henry II to invade Ireland and bring her Church and government under English, and effectively Roman, authority. Thus began the Norman conquest of Ireland in 1167 and the beginning of nearly 850 years of bloodshed and misery.

    The supreme tragedy of the Irish Question is that what makes it most difficult to solve is the very policy that we, the English, have pursued for centuries (stuffing Ulster with pro-Union Protestants who have no wish to live under the rule of their Catholic nationalist neighbours) and which was a wonderful idea when we had the political will and resources to be an imperialist power but today means that allowing the Republic to claim the rest of the six remaining northern counties would necessitate turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of people who consider themselves just as British as anyone living in any other part of the UK. Riot and disorder (perhaps even a civil war?) on a scale the like of which has not been seen in that troubled land for centuries would doubtless follow any such decision by the British government to cede Ulster to the Republic but, regrettably, I'm struggling to see a future in which that isn't a likely, if rather distant, occurrence.

    Your solution of an independent Kingdom of Ireland being a full, voluntary part of the UK is certainly a novel one (and all the more ironic when you consider how desperately we're currently trying to hold onto the UK we already have!) and one I should love to see happen but, with the present state of public opinion, I really can't see it. But it's definitely something we should devote every effort to achieving - do you think that if the Anglican Church, after the inevitable near-future schism (probably over homosexuality), were to return to full communion with Rome that such a wonderful thing would become more likely?

  3. Hi, John,

    You bring up some very interesting points. I do completely understand why the Irish sought independence from Britain, and believe that it was for the most part justified. This, I think, was a tragedy for both parties who could have made the whole thing a success story for unity and mutual understanding. Alas, it was not to be.

    The topic of Celtic Ireland being less orthodox than Saxon/Norman England is a wonderful point I often bring up to some Irish Catholics who feel they have more of a right to the title than their British couter-parts. Indeed, the pope could never have foreseen that England would break with the Church and unleash a ferocious persecution on the Irish Catholics. She was "Our Lady's Dowry", after all!

    Indeed, there is no easy solution to the Irish problem. While a divided Ireland may seem ultimately untenable, a reunited Ireland as a republic seems almost inhumane in that the British government would be "surrendering" the Ulstermen to a fate they have fought so hard against in the name of The United Kingdom.

    My two proposed "best options" were for Ireland to completely reunite with The UK (which, as you say, is certainly not on the horizon at present), or for it to reunite as an independent kingdom as a Commonwealth Realm, hence sharing much closer ties with Britain and a head-of-state but retaining its independent and unified status.
    The likelihood of this is very sketchy, but as you assert, I believe every effort should be devoted to achieving it. I really don't think The Anglican Church splitting would really effect things all that much, since most of the practicing Protestants in Northern Ireland are Presbyterians, etc., and aside from that, I think sectarianism governs the situation more tightly than religion at this point. But still, boundaries are being overcome every day, and through prayer and level heads, who knows what compromises we might see in our life-times?

  4. You were doing well until you said the Irish Tricolour was "mediocre" and the National Anthem was rabble rousing. Using that as your baseline, one presumes you hold the Union flag and God Save the Queen in equal contempt.

    The idea of the Republic becoming a Commonwealth member, and thus 'returning' to monarchical rule in name only has been occasionally mentioned by individual members of the political, academic & media nomenclatura. The idea being that it'll help with the process of "reconciliation" with our Northern brethren and, tantalisingly, perhaps even smooth the path to an eventual United Ireland of sorts.

    The main problem with this scenario is that there is absolutely zero desire for such a thing to happen beyond perhaps a handful of talking head journalists and academics and, at best, a tiny proportion of the citizenry of the Republic.

    Nonetheless, with regards the 6 counties/Northern Ireland, Republican/Nationalist politicians will have you believe a United Ireland is inevitable due to changing demographics. Whilst I don't necessarily agree with that viewpoint, I do think that the 2 communities cannot and will never live as one, normalised, functioning polity under nominal British rule.

    As such, one possible scenario would be a repartitioning of Northern Ireland with large chunks of CNR-majority areas of counties Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh & Tyrone being ceded to the Republic of Ireland, with a rump, overwhelmingly PUL majority NE Ulster remaining within the (r)UK. A quick look at the makeup of the Council, Assembly & Westminster electoral maps should give a good idea of what this new boundary would look like.

    Right now, many Unionists will scoff at that idea, the current boundaries of NI been considered near sacrosanct within Ulster Unionist mythology. But the impending reality of the CNR minority becoming an outright majority within the next few decades, might just concentrate PUL minds.

    I realise there are two holes in my hypothesis: 1) the status of Belfast in this proposed repartitioning, an already majority CNR city which will be only more so as the years go by. What to do with a city in a new, heavily PUL NE Ulster is one I can't answer.

    2) There is a school of thought based upon answers given in the NI Life and Times Survey about questions of self-identify that a large section of the Catholic community of NI is perfectly content with things as they are. There might be some truth to that, but with the continued growth of the CNR demographic one wonders would this perceived loyalty to the status quo be tested by the tantalising prospect of any form of reunification with the southern Irish state.

  5. Hello, Anonymous from Ireland,

    My apologies for taking so long to respond! Life has just been really hectic, and I am just beginning to answer a bunch of comments that have built up on my blogs!

    Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry if I was a bit rash in my comments about the ROI flag; it's not a personal thing against Ireland, just the fact that I'm not really crazy about the tri-color design, whether it be Irish, Italian, French, etc. I actually think that the visual design of the Union Jack (and our own Old Glory for that matter) is much more unique and eye-catching. And I simply love the Crown and Harp on the green field. It's one of my favorite Irish designs. But you've brought to my attention that my comment may give offense, so I have reworded it to express my true intent more accurately.

    Indeed, as I said in the article itself, I did specify that my theories are pretty hard to put into practice in reality. As you say, the southern population really has no desire to become a Commonwealth Realm at this time, although that may be subject to change somewhere down the generational line. The whole Irish Question is a very tricky one, and I don't to belittle or shunt aside anyone's heart-felt opinions on the subject. I personally believe that the closer the British and Irish can draw together in a peaceful and equitable settlement, the better. But this is, of course, easier said and harder done.

    The most important thing is that the Irish people, north and south, learn that more things unite them than divide, which is the same case as the British and the Irish. Prayers are definitely in order for all these things.

    Again, thank you for stopping by, and feel free to do so any time.

    God bless,