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Ulster for Beginners – Part I

A few months ago Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, revealed that she knew precious little about the unusual conditions that exist in Ulster. With the recent killing of a journalist by some version of the IRA and with the 50th anniversary of the beginning of “The Troubles” coming up, it would be useful to be in possession of a concise explanation of why Ulster is the way it is and how it got that way.

Fortunately, just such an explanation exists. In 1998, the Friends of the Union published an excellent little pamphlet entitled Ulster for Beginners. I know all about its excellence largely because I was responsible for writing it.

Luckily – or unluckily? – I have kept a computerised draft all these years. It’s a bit too long for a blog posting so I have broken it up into chunks. What follows is the first chunk along with comments [in square brackets] by my older – and hopefully wiser – self. I will put up further installments assuming there are not too many objections.


Most people, when it comes to Northern Ireland, are aware of the bombings and shootings. Most people are aware that the Irish Republican Army is engaged in a terrorist campaign to create an all-Ireland republic and have been since the early 1970s. They are also aware that this is against the wishes of the majority of Northern Ireland’s citizens. Most people are aware of the existence of unionists (who want Ulster to remain British and are mainly Protestant) and constitutional nationalists who are mainly Catholic and, like the IRA, want Ulster to become part of the Republic of Ireland but, unlike the IRA, renounce violence as a means of achieving it. They are also aware of Protestant Orange Parades and the trouble that surrounds them. Most people are unsure as to how Northern Ireland ever got into this situation but are aware of the allegations of abuses of Catholic civil rights by Unionists in the 1960s, the accompanying protests which led to violence, the deployment of British troops and the start of the IRA campaign. Most people are also vaguely aware that England made Ulster a colony, peopling it with the Protestants’ ancestors and are vaguely uncomfortable with Britain’s role in Ireland over the centuries.

The aim of this pamphlet is take these fragments of knowledge and myth and help the outsider make sense of a conflict that must seem very puzzling indeed.

[Well, no marks for style. And obviously things have moved on since then.]

A Brief History of Ulster

Ulster’s original inhabitants may or may not have been a people called the Cruthin. During the 5th Century AD, historians believe [ugh], they came under a consistent attack from the Celts of Southern Ireland and were eventually driven out and went to settle in Scotland, becoming part of the Scottish nation.

English involvement in Ireland did not begin until the 12th century. For many [well, a few] centuries there had been a dispute between the Roman Catholic Church, which held sway in most of Western Europe, and the Celtic Church, which was the dominant church in Ireland. The Pope, Adrian IV, eventually grew exasperated with this state of affairs and in the Papal Bull, Laudabiliter gave Henry II the right to occupy Ireland in order to “root out the nurseries of vice.” In the 1160s and 1170s Henry carried out his wish.

[I suspect that it had rather more to do with power than a dispassionate theological analysis.]

English [or should I say Anglo-French?] rule in Ireland was haphazard and inconsistent; largely because it was so far away and that at any given moment England’s kings always had more pressing concerns nearer to home. Ulster was barely touched and remained Ireland’s most unruly province. All this changed during the Reformation. While England converted to Protestantism, Ireland did not. This fact was not lost on England’s enemies and in the early years of the 17th century, the Spanish attempted to use Ireland as a base to attack England when they landed at Kinsale. Shortly afterwards the rulers of Ulster, the earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell fled Ulster for the continent. As both earls had pledged loyalty to the crown of England their lands were forfeit. England seized her chance and prepared to colonize these lands with loyal Protestants from lowland Scotland and northern England. This became known as the Londonderry plantation. At about the same time, two Scottish entrepreneurs, Hamilton and Montgomery, bought land from another Ulster noble and established a quite separate plantation in Antrim and Down. The fact that this second plantation was so much more successful than the one in Londonderry is an early example of the superiority of private enterprise.

[There is a question here over whether the earls owned the land that was forfeit or were merely their custodians. At this point my libertarianess tends to kick in and I tend to think that it is a good thing in itself that land should be owned by somebody.

Also where I write “another noble” he was in fact a member of the O’Neill clan and he was in jail at the time. He traded his lands for a pardon.

There’s a more general point. The Irish have a dreadful tendency to find themselves on the wrong side of history. They were Celtic when the rest of the world was Catholic; Catholic when – if not the rest of the world then the important players – were Protestant; and neutral when the rest of the world was fighting the Nazis. Whether, this tendency applies to contemporary controversies is another matter.]

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part IX

29 comments to Ulster for Beginners – Part I

  • Mr Ed

    Here is an example of how outsiders can get Ulster wrong, Harry Enfield’s William Ulsterman:

    The portrayal is inaccurate as:

    1. He engages in personal abuse and foul language, which such a Protestant would not. He might have used Biblical terms and warned of consequences.

    2. He refers to ‘a legitimate and peaceful’ request, which is the language of the Marxist IRA.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Very interesting history. I was aware of the tension between Celtic (Catholicism?) and Roman Catholicism, but was not aware that it was more like a schism.

    At first, this surprised me:

    Most people are aware that the Irish Republican Army is engaged in a terrorist campaign to create an all-Ireland republic and have been since the early 1970s.

    But then i remembered that the Good Friday Agreement was reached in the same year in which Ulster for Beginners was written.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    “… colonize these lands with loyal Protestants from lowland Scotland …”

    Ah! History! There are stories that some of the more reluctant “loyal Protestants” were persuaded to leave their homes in Scotland by having the roofs burned off their houses. Also stories that the aim of sending Protestant Scots to Ireland (from which their distant ancestors had probably come) was that many of the Scots spoke a form of Gaelic close enough to Irish Gaelic to be able to keep an ear to the ground on what the Catholics were doing.

    The blood-stained name “Cromwell” is missing so far. Perhaps that comes in the next chapter?

  • Patrick, the fact that the Earl Richard of Clare was husband of the eldest daughter and proclaimed heiress of the king of Leinster (who had been deposed by the high king) probably had more to do with his vigorous reconquest of Leinster (later the Pale of Normal/English settlement) for its king (later himself) than either the Pope’s request for doctrinal correction or King Henry’s support for the expansion of his realm, especially as it was often rather nominal (the strong King Henry II held the Clares’ to account but in late mediaeval times the anglo-irish lords were not noted for their unquestioning obedience to dictats arriving from London).

  • Gavin Longmuir (July 6, 2019 at 4:13 pm), a lot of the settled Scots were former border reivers. Following the union of the crowns in 1603, King James VI (of Scotland) and I (of England) put down the reivers, literally in some cases, in others by resettling them in Ireland. (The later Scots-Irish of America were descended from them.) So your sceptical tone about “loyal” is understandable. 🙂

  • I was aware of the tension between Celtic (Catholicism?) and Roman Catholicism, but was not aware that it was more like a schism. (Snorri Godhi, July 6, 2019 at 2:27 pm)

    It was never strictly a schism – the Celts thought of the pope as the head and would ultimately yield, but they would argue. Practice had tended to diverge in the centuries when contact was minimal. As communications improved, various popes tended to see these differences as undesirable.

    The Celts used an 84-year easter cycle instead of the 532-year cycle (it was alleged they found the more complex one hard to follow). Also, while they were not quartodecimans, they (sensibly, to my mind) thought it absurd that Easter should avoid coinciding with passover on the rare occasion that the two chanced to coincide. (The Roman Catholic church seems not to have had a name for that particular concept, so assumed they were quartodecimans.) In married households where the spouses came from different churches, this could mean disagreement about when Easter was, which was very inconvenient. So in the end Rome insisted on that point.

    The celtic tonsure – shaving the left and right sides of the head, not the top – was just a fashion difference but Roman clerics tended to see it as not the thing. The Celts were also more relaxed about clergy having wives, or ‘companions of honour’ as they called them in deference to catholic feeling. And they tended to give abbots more, and bishops less, power than in the standard Roman hierarchy.

    All this meant that bulls for ‘correcting abuses’ tended to be issued from time to time, written in the usual strong terms that were customary (“nurseries of vice” and the like).

  • Julie near Chicago

    So I’ve never heard of the “border reivers”:

    –Scurry scurry–


    Very interesting!

  • John McCartan

    I’ll be charitable and say that it’s unfortunate that Patrick chose to open his explanation with a version of a daft old myth much beloved of Andy Tyrie and some of his more romantic fellows. Look him up. But since I have no truck with whataboutery ,I look forward to Part 2 or 3’s disinterested detailing of the minimally documented savagery of the “Loyalist” psycho gangs of the 70s and 80s.

  • bobby b

    If some non-European’s knowledge of Irish history comes primarily from reading things such as Uris’s Trinity, have they learned any actual history, or have they been Oliver Stoned?

  • Gavin Longmuir

    bobby b at 7.55 pm asks a very deep question. Think — what if some future historian after the debt-driven collapse of the West happened to stumble upon the last surviving archive of New York Times columns from the Trump Era, or the last playable recordings from the BBC. What would they make of the times we are living through right now? What is “actual history”?

    Was it Disraeli or Churchill who made a statement something like ‘History will prove you wrong, Sir, and I know because I will write that history’? I defer to Niall’s encyclopedic knowledge. 🙂

  • Gavin Longmuir

    If we really want to get to the roots of Irish history, would we not have to start with our old friend William the Conqueror? Having whipped the Anglo-Saxons and overrun what is now England after 1066 AD, William apparently found he had a problem — he had more Norman knights who felt they were owed lands than he had lands available to give them in conquered England. William solved his short-term problem by dispatching those excess Norman knights to invade Ireland, thereby getting those dangerous knights off his back. Many of the names we think of as classically Irish, like Fitzwilliam, are reputedly Norman French names.

    It says a lot for Norman resoluteness that they were able to install themselves in Ireland. Even the Vikings had found the inhabitants of Ireland to be a tough lot, and had mainly restricted themselves to fortifications on the coast or on navigable rivers. In a foreshadowing of what the English would later do on the west coast of Africa, the Vikings stayed in their strongholds and traded with the locals for slaves and other valuables.

    However, as bobby asks, what is actual history? And what are merely surmises or interpretations that are useful to later generations?

  • Gavin Longmuir (July 6, 2019 at 8:13 pm), Churchill said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it myself.” (He did indeed write it, making himself very popular with other historians who find him an invaluable source – Stalin never wrote any such account, while death prevented Roosevelt, Mussolini and Hitler from doing so.)

    Winning helps. When a subordinate told General Hausser (WWI) that the shooting of several hundred Belgian hostages “would look bad in history”, he replied, “We will write the history ourselves.” The Germans lost, and so didn’t.

    I do not know your quote but I don’t think Churchill said it.

    So I’ve never heard of the “border reivers”: (Julie near Chicago, July 6, 2019 at 5:42 pm)

    The George MacDonald Fraser book that your link mentions is quite readable, should you ever wish to know more.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Gavin Longmuir: It’s very improbable that only a tiny fraction of the documentation of our present era will survive; there’s an awful lot of it, and an enormous number of copies.

    However – there are suspicions that some of what we “know” of Roman history is skewed by the limited selection of contemporary texts that survived. Some of these texts are suspected of containing bogus stuff to justify political actions after the fact. For instance, was Nero really as much of a perverted tyrant as reported? If so, how did he stay in power for as long as he did? The history we have was written by the clients of those who deposed and killed him.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Rich R: “It’s very improbable that only a tiny fraction of the documentation of our present era will survive …”

    True. However, there may be grounds for concern about the accessibility of a lot of our records to future historians. I had a relevant experience on a particular project. The original project documents were only about 15 years old, but they had been prepared on a Wang word processor, and were preserved on floppy discs. Not easy to read anymore! And let’s not talk about my Jazz drives or my VHS tapes. Give it another 100 years, and how much of that will be accessible? 🙂 Skewing or bias in available historical documents is certainly a real issue.

    Niall — thanks for the correct Churchill quotation; I knew I could count on you! That quote is effectively a warning to us to be cautious about historical accounts; any historical accounts!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall, thanks for the recommendation. :>)

    bobby — Well said! 😆

  • That quote is effectively a warning to us to be cautious about historical accounts; any historical accounts!

    But not unreasonably so. Rich questions whether Nero was as bad as was said. I feel sadly confident that indeed he was. Cynicism makes one gullible, and cynicism about history makes one vulnerable to modern propaganda.

    For example, it would be very unwise to deduce from Churchill’s quote that you should think him the villain of the piece, and Hitler the victim of victor’s propaganda. Churchill’s self-deprecating joke is in its way reassuring about his account.

  • Paul Marks

    An obvious (but often neglected) point is that this is a conflict WITHIN extended families – not between “natives and settlers” as the left claim.

    Not only are the Scots an Irish tribe and not only have the same peoples lived on both sides of the narrow sea (one can see the islands off the coast of Scotland from the islands off the cast of Ulster) for thousands of years – but even SPECIFIC FAMILIES are divided.

    The most famous family name in Ulster has been, for thousands of years, “O’Neil” – but there have always been (and still are) Unionist O’Neils loyal to the Crown, not just Nationalist Republican O’Neils. The first name on the great monument to the First World War above Carrickfergus (the place where William of Orange landed in 1690 – with the support of the POPE and with his elite “Blue Guard” who were mostly made up of ROMAN CATHOLICS) is “O’Neil” – the Earl of the early 1920s – a Protestant O’Neil in this case, but many famous Ulster Generals and police chiefs were actually Roman Catholic (something that does not seem to get into modern textbooks).

    As for religion – historically it was not just Roman Catholics who were subjected to the Penal Laws of Queen Anne – it was Dissenting Protestants as well (the great majority of Protestants) who were subjected to the Penal Laws of Queen Anne – laws that were repealed in the late 18th century due to the influence of Edmund Burke.

    Unlike in most places the majority of Protestants in Ulster were NOT followers of the Established Church (the Church of Ireland – the Anglican Church), the American tradition of local churches controlled by local people (unlike the state control over the Church of Scotland established, again by Queen Anne, in the early 1700s) comes from ULSTER.

    The basic concept of the rugged American frontiersman who “fears God – but no man” comes from ULSTER.

    Even the family tree of such people as Daniel Boone, David (not “Davy” please) Crockett, Andrew Jackson…… (and on and on) is a “Scots Irish” one. Normally Protestant – although not always so. And on to Kit Carson, Audie Murphy, Marion Morrison (“John Wayne”), and on and on.

    It is not always good – violence is second nature (no FIRST nature) to such people, and drinking can destroy them (if they drink at all they tend to drink brutally – undermining their health) – but “they may not live well – but they always DIE WELL”.

    The typical Ulsterman will think nothing of coming to the aid of someone he has NEVER MET IN HIS LIFE BEFORE even if the odds are totally hopeless (say a 100 to 1).

    The old Western trope of the stranger coming to the aid of a family (or an individual) who are in danger of being ribbed and murdered (coming to their aid even at the expense of his own life) is an Ulster trope.

    Modern America remembers a certain form of “Irish Culture” – the political culture of the Big City “machines” (such as that of Chicago) where votes were traded for government benefits. The basis of the modern Democratic Party – Joe Kennedy going round Boston (as the infamous Mayor of Boston in the early 1900s had done before him) asking if he could “do anything for the poor” (with the money of other people) springs to mind. Although Joe Kennedy also spent some of his own money – which more than most of these types did.

    But the individualistic and self reliant culture of a certain form of Irishman is forgotten now. Or it is dismissed as “Redneck” culture – and treated with hatred and contempt by the education system (the schools and universities) and Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment media.

    YES such men do tend to “walk down Main Street with a Bible in one hand – but a pistol in the other hand”, but they do not shoot you IN THE BACK, or when you are unarmed.

    When the character of “Malcolm Reynolds” says in the science fiction show “Firefly” – “if I ever kill you – you will be armed and you will be facing me”, he was speaking in “Redneck” (Ulster Scots – Scot-Irish, very different from mainland Scots) cultural terms. Cultural terms that spread from the Ulster Scots (the Scots-Irish) to other ethnic groups in America – as CULTURE IS NOT DETERMINED BY RACE.

    It is a culture that is about a lot more than “making scones and keeping jam in the fridge” – not that there is anything wrong with that.

  • Paul Marks

    Money and wealth.

    The “Redneck” (Scots-Irish – Ulster Scots) cultural view of money and wealth is unusual.

    They do not defer to people who have more money and wealth than them – as was the English tradition (“why are you obeying the words of that man” – “because he is the squire – he is the man in the manner house, so OF COURSE he will decide what we will do” is very English – at least it was in the past, and it does actually settle the problem of “who is in charge?” with less fuss, and less bloodshed, than most systems), but they do not envy the rich either.

    To neither defer to the rich or to envy the rich really confuses the left.

    The “Redneck” does not really care if you have more money than he does – it does not (to him) make you a better OR a worse man than him.

    He will not obey your orders simply because you have lots of money (hence the utter hatred that the internet billionaires, and other “Woke” billionaires, have for traditional Americans – the internet billionaires say “jump” and some people do NOT jump, which is enraging for the “Woke” billionaires), but he does not rob and murder you for your money either.

    “But what about the other half of the population – what about women”.

    Well the women obey their fathers and then their husbands – as long as their fathers and then their husbands do exactly what the women want them to do.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I recently discovered that the Croziers were prominent amongst the rievers. I will never be able to watch Serenity in quite the same way again.

    @Niall. I am afraid you’re miles ahead of me when it comes to Henry II. Is your point that his invasion of Ireland had much more to do with dynastic politics than theology? Dare I ask what a quartodeciman might be? Too late.

  • William solved his short-term problem by dispatching those excess Norman knights to invade Ireland (Gavin Longmuir, July 6, 2019 at 8:42 pm),

    It would be a mistake to think of William commanding or controlling this. Norman knights sought out fighting. The frequent disputes among the Irish (see my remarks about the deposed king of Leinster above) made allies and mercenaries desirable, and Norman younger sons were good at parleying “let me help you” into “let me help myself”.

    Many of the names we think of as classically Irish, like Fitzwilliam, are reputedly Norman French names.

    The Norman-Irish lords were a recognised group in the early period. As in England and elsewhere, the Normans tended to integrate themselves out of existence so they became just Irish as the others became just English. The name Burke, for example, was originally de Bourgo, and Burke’s maternal ancestors, the Nagles also had mixed Norman/native-Irish ancestry. Scotland also saw Normans – Robert the Bruce had Norman ancestry, for example.

    They were preceded in both Scotland and Ireland by the somewhat similar Viking-Celtic lords. Somerled, who very nearly became King of the Isles instead of just Lord of the Isles, was the offspring of a Viking jarl and a Celtic princess. From him descend the MacDougalls and MacDonalds. The McCleods claim descent from Olaf the Black, King of Man and the Northern Isles (who in turn descends from the delightfully-named King Halfdan the Stingy, who sounds like a good Thatcherite. 🙂 ) The ‘typically Scottish’ name McSween is in fact the celtic form of the norse name Sweyn.

    Relations between the three towns of the ostmen (Dublin, Waterford and Wexford) in Ireland and their hinterland likewise saw many an intermarriage. And since the Normans were also Vikings – the ones who settled in France – there are obvious similarities between the Norman-Irish lords and these predecessors.

    It says a lot for Norman resoluteness that they were able to install themselves in Ireland.

    Please pardon my somewhat free rendition of the translation of the old Irish poet

    Unequal they went out to war,
    The Foreigner and the man of Gael:
    Fine linen shirts on the men of Conn
    And the foreigners in a mass of iron

    Richard Earl of Clare (nicknamed Strongbow, though probably not at the time) had found in south Wales the origins of the English longbow, which added to their tactics. The Normans fighting on horseback gave them a great advantage whenever the ground was suitable. And their use of the feigned retreat tactic – a trick for which the native Irish repeatedly fell – meant they could often lure their enemies onto suitable ground. The Irish also tended to keep a poor watch – markedly superior Irish hosts were sometimes defeated by being surprised in an ill-guarded camp.

  • … Henry II. Is your point that his invasion of Ireland had much more to do with dynastic politics than theology? (Patrick Crozier, July 7, 2019 at 8:12 am)

    My point is that it was only “his [Henry II’s] invasion of Ireland” in the sense that he did not forbid it. Somewhat like the deposed king of Leinster, the Richard who married his daughter was living on a patrimony in south Wales while trying to get back other lands that he had claim to but which had been forfeit (IIRC his father had taken the Stephen side in the Stephen and Matilda conflict, so had to pay for that when Matilda and her son Henry II wrapped it up). He therefore cared a lot about Henry II’s good opinion and was careful to get permission. However in Ireland, we are looking at the deposition of the king of Leinster by the high King as creating the context in which said deposed king could return, with a useful son-in-law, to regain his kingdom. Henry’s main function was telling Richard it was OK (i.e. would not prejudice his attempts to regain his family’s other lands). After Richard’s son died, his daughter inherited, becoming Countess of Pembroke in her own right and married William the Marshal (by permission of Richard the Lionheart). William regained all the relevant lands.

    This common pattern (repeated but then reversed in Scotland) created the situation in which the Kingdom of Leinster was ruled by a family who were vassals of the King of England.

    I recently discovered that the Croziers were prominent amongst the rievers. I will never be able to watch Serenity in quite the same way again.

    By chance I knew that – I knew a very English Crozier in Oxford who was vaguely aware the name was Scottish originally and she asked me to research it. I believe the Croziers are a sept of the Armstrongs.

    @Niall. I am afraid you’re miles ahead of me when it comes to …

    Having a liking for reading history and a very (but not perfectly) retentive memory, I can produce this historical/genealogical stuff by the yard. (You should probably not encourage me 🙂 ).

  • Snorri Godhi

    The frequent disputes among the Irish (see my remarks about the deposed king of Leinster above) made allies and mercenaries desirable, and Norman younger sons were good at parleying “let me help you” into “let me help myself”.

    Interestingly, something similar happened in Southern Italy. Norman warriors started visiting on the way to+from the Crusades, and ended up being hired as mercenaries; the land being contested by Lombards, Byzantines, and Arabs at the time.

    Eventually, the Normans stopped helping their hosts and started helping themselves. The unification of Southern Italy was the result.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    In the context of “Ulster for Beginners”, the point about William the Conqueror dispatching his excess Norman knights to Ireland is that was the start of the rulers of what is now England invading and interfering with what is now Ireland. It should not surprise anyone that nearly a thousand years of (often violent) outside interference would result in resistance from the Irish.

  • Gavin Longmuir (July 7, 2019 at 2:25 pm), early mediaeval Ireland was a violent place – as was Scotland and Wales and England, and as Ireland had been before, when raiding the British mainland had been a big thing (Niall of the nine hostages, anyone?). Read the Ulsterian cycle, or the brief mentions in Roman histories, or how Saint Patrick first came to Ireland.

    William did not dispatch knights. He was an autocrat in England and Normandy, but keeping two such feudal realms in order was a full-time occupation. Henry’s involvement was in not forbidding Richard from regaining Leinster for his father-in-law (and thus for himself). Well before the time of Cromwell, the Norman-Irish lords were pretty Irish, as far as they and everyone else was concerned. They were the ones that got dispossessed in the later turmoils, the ones who joined the Jacobites or thought about it, etc.

    Ireland was much affected by Cromwell and events in that century and later. In the times well before, it had much in common with Scotland and Wales: a violent feudal and pre-feudal place.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Niall — I respect your extensive knowledge of history, but it seems like your Anglophilia is peeking through here. 🙂

    If the surplus Norman knights who moved on to Ireland after crushing the Anglo-Saxons had done it of their own volition or as mercenaries for Irish kinglets, there would have been no need for them to swear allegiance to William and set the whole ball rolling for later English interventions in Ireland. One of the invading knights could simply have set himself up as King of Ireland, analogous to what William himself had done through brute force in what is now England. Contemporaneously, other Normans were establishing themselves as rulers in Sicily and southern Italy, without owing any allegiance to William or setting up any later English claim to Sicily (as far as I know — new information will of course be gratefully received)

    As you correctly point out, William had bigger fish to fry in the years after 1066 — maintaining control over Normandy and administering regular beatings to the Anglo-Saxons. Those landless “ronin” Norman knights were a potential threat to him if they were left to wander aimlessly about England and Normandy. Getting them out his way by dispatching them to invade Ireland was a no-lose managerial master-stroke on William’s part — either the dispatched knights would win, adding to William’s realms, or they would get massacred by the Irish, removing the threat they posed to William.

  • Gavin Longmuir (July 7, 2019 at 7:35 pm), my views may be right or wrong but they have nothing whatever to do with “Anglophilia peeking through” and everything to do with my understanding – or misunderstanding – of the feudal system, as it operated in that time and place.

    William was both the Duke of Normandy and, as one historian put it, the manager of the joint-stock enterprise for the conquest of England, in which many French, Flemish, Breton, etc., knights had taken shares. All these, when not already feudatories of William in virtue of being Normans, swore allegiance to William – that was a condition of taking part – and even those who lost out saw no reason to forfeit their chance of inheriting from relatives, if chance were to open a path to them, by formally renouncing it. William knew from his minority what he did not like about the feudal system as he found it, so was careful to make England feudal in a form he, now its King, liked.

    William was not the manager of the joint-stock enterprise of the “conquest-of-southern-Italy-and-Sicily society” and had no claim to it. It was the pope who had some claim to give the Guiscards the (legal authority to conquer the) area. (And managing lands in both Sicily and distant Normandy would have been a lot harder than in the case of the many post-conquest barons who held lands on both sides of the channel – another reason for the now-Italian-based Guiscards not to over-regard William.)

    Obviously, we are not disagreeing that much. William was not opposed to Norman knights trying their luck in Ireland, though from his own strategic point of view he might have preferred they conquer north Wales (Normans did spread into south Wales, whence the really decisive passage into Ireland originated in Henry II’s time) and in a sense we wholly agree that their success or perishing in Ireland was much of a muchness to him. I just think you attribute importance to William whereas, once they were in England, Normans would have arrived in Ireland, as they did in southern Scotland, regardless of what William then said or did – and my impression is that it was pretty regardless.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    My apologies, Niall, if I gave any offence by my jocular reference to “Anglophilia”. In theory, the presence of a smile 🙂 is meant to indicate that tongue is firmly in cheek.

    You are right that differences in our understandings of what followed the Norman Conquest of the Anglo-Saxons are probably not too significant. In terms of “Ulster for Beginners”, what is significant is that (setting aside any unpleasantness in the first millennium) in the second millennium, England and its precursors played a big role in creating the problems that have subsequently bedeviled Ireland. If Patrick had truly understood the responsibility borne by long-dead English people for creating those problems, his pamphlet would probably have had rather a different tone.

  • That’s OK Gavin – no offence was taken. I simply used your joke as a convenient way to introduce the actual roots of my views (and appreciate it might have sounded like I was annoyed).

    England and its precursors played a big role in creating the problems that have subsequently bedeviled Ireland.

    My long first comment (there will likely be more 🙂 ) in the part II thread indicates one of many occasions when Ireland and England interacted, each affecting (bedevilling if you wish) the other.

  • Paul Marks

    It should be remembered that the “flight of the Earls” was chosen act – they did not have to go to Spain and join the sworn enemies of the British Isles.

    King James the First just wanted their loyalty – it was only after they proved themselves to be TRAITORS to the British Isles that their land was taken. And not all of their families proved to be traitors – for example they have been Unionist O’Neils as well as Nationalist O’Neils.

    As for Belfast (the main Unionist city till recent years) – it was a private settlement, it was not on land confiscated by James the First.

    The Nationalists have a habit of allying with very dark forces – the Spanish tyranny, then Louis XIV (the Sun King), then the anti Christian dictatorship in Revolutionary France, then Imperial Germany, then Nazi Germany, then the Soviet Union and other Marxist (and Islamist) powers. It is not a good habit.