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Ulster for Beginners – Part II

A Brief History of Ulster (continued)

In 1641, at a time of political instability in England and Scotland, there was a rebellion in Ireland against English rule. This led to the deaths of thousands of Protestants and only ended when Cromwell restored order in 1649.

[20 years ago I didn’t know this, but it seems that Protestants in Ulster put up a stout defence.]

In 1688, the Catholic king of Britain, James II, was deposed and came to Ireland to set about recapturing the throne from the new king, William III of Orange. Protestants remained loyal to William and in Londonderry held out for 114 days when they came under siege from James’s forces. The next year, on 1st July 1690, William inflicted a decisive defeat on James at the Battle of the Boyne. The Protestants were safe.

[King of Britain, eh? I think the correct title would have been King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Were Protestants in any great danger at this time? Well, they certainly thought so.]

While Protestants were safe they were far from equal. While members of the Church of Ireland dominated the Irish parliament, presbyterians were excluded. In 1798, this led to a revolt which nationalists have labelled the “United Irishmen” Rebellion. In reality it was two rebellions, one in Ulster and one in the South. Both were put down but not before southern rebels in Wexford had carried out a massacre of their Protestant neighbours. This tends to undermine the claim that Irishmen were in some way “united”.

[This became known as the Scullabogue Barn Massacre

For those who don’t know Church of Ireland = Anglican = wishy-washy but Protestant.]

During the 19th century there was a growing movement to give Ireland some autonomy in her government. This movement did not gain any significant support in Ulster where Protestants feared that they would end up separated from the empire in a state dominated by the Catholic Church. After two unsuccessful attempts to legislate for Home Rule, an act did pass through the House of Commons in 1913. Ulster Unionists regarded this as a betrayal and resolved to resist the imposition of Home Rule in Ulster with their own army, the Ulster Volunteer Force.

In 1914, just at the moment that a civil war in Ireland seemed inevitable, the First World War broke out and Home Rule was suspended until the end of the war. Impatient for all out independence a small band of Republican extremists led a rebellion in Dublin in Easter 1916. The rebellion was quickly put down but after that Sinn Fein/IRA grew in importance and influence, eclipsing the constitutionalist Home Rulers.

[It is difficult to overemphasise the way that the Home Rule issue dominated politics at the time. It was not unlike Brexit is now.]

In the general election of 1918, Sinn Fein, demanding an all-Ireland republic, all but swept the board in what is now the Republic of Ireland while the Ulster Unionist Party all but swept the board in what is now Northern Ireland. The IRA began a guerilla war against the British presence in Ireland. The UK parliament legislated for two separate parliaments in Ireland, one for the north and one for the south. This was the first time that His Majesty’s Government had accepted that Ulster was different. The IRA refused to accept this settlement continuing its campaign against British forces. After another year of war the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed which created the Irish Free State with dominion status but kept Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom albeit with its own parliament. For all their bombings and shootings, the IRA had achieved virtually nothing which had not already been offered to democratic politicians.

[Well, I suppose dominion is better than devolution. But then again, for how long would dominion have been denied? Of course, I say it’s better but better for whom?]

Unionists wanted to believe that the 1921 settlement had settled things for good; but Irish nationalists had other ideas. Irish nationalists and republicans, simply did not accept the will of the majority in Northern Ireland and demanded that it be incorporated into their state. At the time this was not an uncommon way of thinking, with similar aspirations being held by Hitler and Mussolini.

Although an attempt had been made to incorporate Ulster into the Irish Free State in 1921-22, the IRA being defeated by the Northern Ireland Government, it was not the end of the matter. In 1937, the Free State severed almost all of its links with the United Kingdom, announcing a constitution in which Articles 2 and 3 laid claim to the whole of the island of Ireland.

[You don’t “announce” a constitution do you? But what do you do? Publish? Too weak. Promulgate? Too pompous. Enact? Introduce?]

During the 1940s and the 1950s there were sporadic attempts by the IRA to bring down the Northern Ireland’s government, which by now had based itself at Stormont, on the outskirts of Belfast. Each time these attempts foundered on the twin rocks of internment and effective patrolling by Ulster’s B-Special constabulary.

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

30 comments to Ulster for Beginners – Part II

  • Snorri Godhi

    Well, I suppose dominion is better than devolution.

    Could you please define “dominion” and “devolution” for us illiterates?

  • Gavin Longmuir

    I admit — I had to smile! “… only ended when Cromwell restored order …" And I had to laugh! “… effective patrolling by Ulster’s B-Special constabulary.”.

    Presumably, Patrick, back in those far off days, you had actually intended to write a fairly even-handed description of events in Ireland. Better luck next time. 🙂

  • George

    The passage of the Home Rule bill was a product of our progress towards a welfare state. Asquith needed Irish nationist support for his tax’n’spend policies, so he sold the Unionists in exchange for parliamentary votes. The Unionists, understandably, weren’t so keen on the deal.

    It’s an illustration that when you’re obliged to hold down a recalcitrant population, repression is the only sensible course. Concession provides only fuel for resistance: Catholic Emancipation begat Home Rule and Home Rule begat the IRA.

    Ireland’s curse has been that it’s the wrong size. Had it been a minor outlying island it would be no more controversial than the Isle of Wight. Much bigger and it would have been the repressive occupier of Britain instead of the reverse. But as things were, in the snakepit of European armed rivalry, Ireland had no chance of remaining independent.

    All this is irrelevant now, of course, since all western countries as we currently know them will cease to exist in another decade or two (or already have, depending on your definition).

  • Patrick, you will not be surprised to find I think your summary could do with a lot of qualification (which will make it much longer and less of a summary 🙂 ). So I get to write a lot of comments. Here is the first; others may follow over time.

    You have to understand that the 1641 Irish rebellion was a result of the instability in England and was made inevitable by it. In turn, it made the English Civil war inevitable.

    By an extraordinary effort, motivated by the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I made the nominal suzerainty of the English crown in Ireland effective in all Ireland, not just the Pale (Leinster). The rebels being dispossessed, the settlement plan of James I followed – but then various individuals decided this getting of Irish lands without the tedious formality of paying for them was fun and could be extended beyond James’ lawful limits. In the 1630s, Charles I made Wentworth deputy for Ireland. This strong blunt Yorkshiremen checked this exploiting cabal that had previously made progress under weak deputies, resulting in something of a golden age for Ireland – prosperity and trade increased, etc. (as you would expect from securing property rights). Wentworth also held successful Irish parliaments – to hint to Charles that parliaments were a good idea and he, Charles, should summon one in England.

    (When Wentworth first arrived in Ireland, he made a passing reference to the native Irish as “the conquered race” whereupon the Duke of Ormond told him he was unfit to be deputy of Ireland if he spoke like that. Typically of Wentworth, he respected Ormond’s plain-speaking, made the Duke his second-in-command and groomed him to be his successor.)

    However Charles did not summon a parliament in England till he had to, and they were angry. Facing the challenge of the second (long) parliament, Charles called Wentworth, his most efficient minister, to advise him, while the parliamentarians listened to Irish ‘protestant’ malcontents who told them they had lots of evidence of Wentworth being a traitor. Unlike Irish Archbishop Ussher of Armagh (an admirable figure, who was a real and sincere protestant), these complaining ‘protestants’ were simply a cabal (the Earl of Cork was prominent in the group; Lord Mountnorris was another, IIRC) who really only believed in acquiring land in Ireland by dodgy legal means. However to the parliamentarians, they looked like good protestants and Wentworth looked like a protector of Irish catholics – as in a sense he was: he ruled sternly but protected property rights and specifically prevented the deprivation of catholics who were loyal. His 1636 scheme for reconfirming all landholders in a system of modern records was deadly to the cabal’s greedy plans.

    Wentworth knew the Irish evidence against him was faked and the House would not convict, so he lured Charles’ enemies onto the disaster of prosecuting him. The very hostile house found it simply could not convict after hearing Wentworth’s defence. The alarmed parliamentary party therefore brought in a bill of attainder – Wentworth, as Charles’ cleverest advisor, was just too dangerous and (like ‘Russian collusion,’ one might say) they were trapped in their own view of him. Yes, there was no proof but he just had to be guilty – which bill of attainder procedure allowed (to their relative credit, many MPs would not utter the lie direct by convicting in a trial on obviously false evidence, though they could be sold on the more political attainder procedure).

    The evidence that was obviously faked even in England was universally known to be insolently dishonest in Ireland. The death of Wentworth was a signal to the Irish not merely that Charles was no longer in control of the situation but that the cabal (who, before Wentworth, had been obviously in the business of acquiring Irish lands by delation) were in control. The death of Wentworth menaced every catholic landowner (most of them Norman-Irish descended, BTW) with dispossession. The rebels knew that King Charles’ enemies had killed Wentworth so their leaders (with a good deal of sincerity, but the complex situation could bear much debate) proclaimed their loyalty to the King even as they revolted.

    (Patrick is correct that the revolt was accompanied with much violence and cruelty. Accounts from the very start of our period in Patrick’s last post indicate that the violence of war in Ireland was sometimes greater – sometimes took forms that shocked the Normans. And there was much bitterness – some of it understandable.)

    This rebellion in turn was what made civil war inevitable in England. By the time it occurred, Charles had assented to many reforms. Things would not have remained in the very parliamentary-dominant state of 1640/41 – Charles was eager to claw back some of his reluctant concessions – but it seemed to many Englishman that, as before in English history, a period of misgovernment had led to a parliament and reforms, and now things would be better – or at least peaceful. But the Irish revolt created a situation that could not be compromised.

    – Charles headed the armed forces or he was no king. He would command the troops, choose their generals, and he would never let parliament overrule him on that, never compromise on that.

    – To the parliamentarians, the situation was intolerable. On the one hand, the losers in the revolt were the protestants whom they very much wanted to protect by providing troops to restore order. So they wanted to raise an army. But the idea of Charles commanding these troops was terrifying to them, all the more so because the Irish rebels’ official (Norman-descended) leaders were saying they had no quarrel with Charles (Charles’ wanted Ormonde be put in charge, as Wentworth had advised before he was executed, but to the parliamentarians, the Duke of Ormonde was hated and feared only less than his boss Wentworth, and they had blocked this). They had to demand troops and demand that they control them, not the King – but legally that was high treason. They risked losing control of parliament – after which Wentworth’s death could be quite lawfully apologised for by their own executions.

    (To be fair, Hampden, Pym and Cromwell were not cowards – they feared the defeat of their religious and political vision more than the loss of their lives. They foresaw they would lose control when the slower, more Royalist members returned for the 1642 session – the King was already writing to them to hurry them up – and so skilfully precipitated confrontation. But that’s a long story in itself.)

    This was the irreconcilable point that ensured there would be not an ongoing political tussle between Charles and the opposing factions in parliament but an English civil war.

  • Mr Ed


    Thank you for your necessarily concise summary of how Ireland got to be what it is, a couple of points on this and the predecessor, partly from my own knowledge having an Irish grandparent (born in the UK before Eire departed) who had absorbed a great many grudges and myths, as well as a fanatical Catholicism, leading to a very slanted view.

    The Normals in Ireland were said to have ‘gone native’ and become ‘more Irish than the Irish’ rather than forming a stratified overlord class. I’m not sure how true this was, or it it was a function of numbers if true, but essentially they mingled and left some Norman surnames as the only evident trace.

    The big thing is in 1800/1801 the Union of Ireland with Great Britain, meaning that Ireland becomes part of the UK. Previously, the Crown of Ireland had been a personal union with the English Crown. The significance of this is that to leave the UK is a major step in the way that the Isle of Man gaining independence would not be, the Isle of Man not being part of the UK. Prior to 1801, the Irish Parliament was rigged by a limited franchise that happened to grant effective control to the ‘Protestant Ascendancy’.

    When it came to the agreement with the UK government for Ireland to become a Dominion, the whole of Ireland left the UK only for ‘Ulster’ (i.e. Northern Ireland) to immediately opt to re-join the UK and to leave the Irish Free State. The Irish Free State retained George VI as Head of State, and was a Dominion within the British Empire (more of that later) and then a Civil War broke out in the South, between the IRA faction who wanted complete independence, and those who were content with Dominion status and the 26 or 32 counties being in the Free State. The Civil War was quite brutal, I suspect that the IRA faction wanting full independence ‘the IRA’ forgot that they were dealing with colleagues who were as brutal as they were, but more pragmatic. The Free State had British Army help, and had formed a regular army. There were reports of atrocities, such as the Free State tying IRA prisoners together over a land mine and detonating it, and detonating the mine. It was claimed that the IRA complained that the Bishops were silent about what the crows ate in Kerry. Also, the government of the Free State took reprisals against IRA prisoners, the Cabinet authorising a couple of senior IRA leaders to be shot by a firing squad after (iirc) the Speaker of the Dail (Irish Parliament) was shot by the IRA. One Cabinet member protested the order, pointing out that the year before, he had been one of the condemned’s Best Man at his wedding. Collins’ reply was to the effect of ‘Sign it, or you’ll face a treason charge yourself’. He did sign. This led to the long-ish road to the Irish Republic in the late 1940s and complete legal independence from the UK (surrendered to the EEC in 1972/3).

    The Civil War led to the IRA’s defeat but de Valera (their political front man) became Ireland’s Prime Minister after accepting the Free State (as a means to an end). The IRA became effectively irrelevant until the 1960s, when it had a split and the soon to be termed ‘Official IRA’ – the direct line from those of the 1920s – who were pure Marxists effectively gave up and the Provisional IRA emerged (with unofficial covert funding from the Irish government), the Provisional IRA being less interested in Marxist niceties but still worthy of adoration and support by Marxists (including the Eastern Bloc). Both see themselves as the true Irish state, and the Free State/Republic as pawns of the Imperialists.

    Snorri – A Dominion is, or rather was, a self-governing territory under the British Crown that had its own government and effectively complete autonomy, but was legally subordinate to the UK. Canada, the Australian Commonwealth (Federation), New Zealand, South Africa (until it all got embarrassing) and Newfoundland (remember them?) were all Dominions, and were de jure entirely subordinate to the UK Parliament. This effectively ended with the Statute of Westminster in 1931 when their independence was recognised for almost all purposes (and to maintain that fiction, in September 1939, Canada pfaffed around a bit before declaring war on Germany on the 10th). Australia only became fully de jure independent of the UK in 1986. The Irish Free State being a Dominion meant it retained the British Sovereign as Head of State (so Germany and Japan had diplomats accredited to George VI right up to 1945, despite the Germans bombing Buckingham Palace etc.) and the King was represented by a Governor-General. So a Dominion is, in short, a State that is not fully independent and it might be seen as a vassal state, except it is all very British. Note that Barbados, for example, was not a Dominion on its independence, and has the Queen as Head of State. Some British colonies were Dominions as a ‘stepping stone’ to independence.

  • [You don’t “announce” a constitution do you? But what do you do? Publish? Too weak. Promulgate? Too pompous. Enact? Introduce?]

    Surely you “Declare” a constitution?

  • bobby b

    IIRC, the draft 1937 constitution was validly put to referendum, and won.

    So, as I understand it, “enact” would be the proper term. Absent a plebiscite, “impose” would probably work better.

  • Fred Z

    From way out here in colonial Canada I am forced to say that nobody cares.

    Kick the Irish, Welsh and Scots out, let them federate with the equally obnoxious and equally quasi-Gaelic Quebecois.

    Inherently useless socialists, the whole damn bunch of them, they can piss on each others boots for a change.

  • Lee Moore

    After another year of war the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed which created the Irish Free State with dominion status but kept Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom albeit with its own parliament.

    As I recall, possibly incorrectly, the Government of Ireland Act provided for an Irish Free State, but also provided for the separate Parliament of the six counties of Northern Ireland (which already existed) to opt out of the Irish Free State, which it duly did on 7 December 1922.

    Consequently Northern Ireland was not “kept” as part of the United Kingdom (except to the extent that the Irish Free State itself was so kept) – Northern Ireland departed with the rest of Ireland into the Irish Free State and then, the next day, departed from the Irish Free State back into the United Kingdom proper.

    So Northern Ireland has already been part of a United Ireland, for a day.

    I bet it was raining.

  • Lee Moore

    Kick the Irish, Welsh and Scots out

    I see no sign of the Welsh wanting to leave. And I for one have no wish to kick them out, except that I should like a wider currency for Land of My Fathers, which by an enormous distance, is the best national anthem in the world. (I speak as a mongrel Scots-Irish-Englishman with not a drop of Welsh blood.)


    (put on high volume)

    Inherently useless socialists

    There’s a difference between a socialist and a pensioner. Feed any man enough welfare and you’ll turn him a pathetic parasite.

  • Barry Sheridan

    Whatever the history of Ireland with all of its conflict there is little need for future concern as the Irish people are being replaced. Gemma O’Doherty comments on this on her Youtube blog, an example of her views can be found here ‘https://youtu.be/n_B6fr0mWAA’. It is very strange to think of this outcome given the actions of the IRA over so many years.

  • Lloyd Martin Hendaye

    The word for “ordaining and establishing” a national Constitution is “ratify”.

    Absent ratification by super-majority approval, no otherwise satisfactory Fundamental Ordinance represents valid “consent-of-the-governed under Rule of Law.”

  • Snorri Godhi

    Thank you, Mr Ed!

  • Mr Ed

    Can you ‘constitute’ a new Constitution? I’ll get my coat…

  • Sam Duncan

    “This movement did not gain any significant support in Ulster where Protestants feared that they would end up separated from the empire in a state dominated by the Catholic Church.”

    Hence the slogan, “Home Rule is Rome Rule”.

    “When it came to the agreement with the UK government for Ireland to become a Dominion, the whole of Ireland left the UK only for ‘Ulster’ (i.e. Northern Ireland) to immediately opt to re-join the UK and to leave the Irish Free State.”

    The first part is true, and often forgotten. But the Dominion of Ireland wasn’t the Free State. That came later, as a response to the original Dominion’s failure. The republicans, buoyed by the 1916 rebellion, boycotted the Dominion elections (with, as you suggest, threats of violence in the South). There was a provision in its constitution that in the event of dispute between its Provinces, either could hold a plebiscite to rejoin the UK or to become an independent state. Northern Ireland did the former. The South was deemed to have done the latter. This left the question of what to do with it, and the Free State, with an, er… slighly less dominion-ey constitution, was hastily cooked up (I’m reminded of the European Constitution becoming the Lisbon Treaty… and surprised that the Irish, of all people, fell for it). As you say, still backed by London, and thus still rejected by the republicans.

    The important point here is that it wasn’t this plebiscite which created the partition of Ireland, or the six-county Province of Northern Ireland. Before the establishment of the all-Ireland Dominion, each county voted on which Province – Northern or Southern – it wished to belong to (I say “before”; it may have been on the election ballot-paper). I’m trying not to let my prejudices show through here, but it’s hard not to argue that the creation of an international border in Ireland was the republicans’ fault in bringing down the Dominion, more or less ensuring that the Northern Province would vote to rejoin the UK.

    (I see Lee has got in before me, rather more succintly. Although as I understand it the process took rather longer than a day. Only a matter of weeks, but there was a second vote.)

    “This led to the long-ish road to the Irish Republic in the late 1940s”

    Yes, it’s worth noting that the Abdication Crisis left the Free State in the rather odd position of having an ambiguous Head of State for around a decade. Officially, under the Free State constitution, it was George IV. But his accession was never declared in Dublin, and never accepted by its government.

    “Inherently useless socialists, the whole damn bunch of them, they can piss on each others boots for a change.”

    Why, thank you. I shall cease voting Tory and/or Brexit Party forthwith.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    George wrote: “All this is irrelevant now, of course, since all western countries as we currently know them will cease to exist in another decade or two …”

    Certainly, the story of Ulster/Ireland has not reached that famous End of History. Financial analyst Martin Hutchinson speculates that Ulster will bid farewell to the UK within about a decade. (https://www.tbwns.com/2018/11/26/the-bears-lair-hasta-la-vista-ulster/). Even back in 2011, only 40% of Northern Ireland’s population identified themselves as solely British, and less than half as British at all. (https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/protestantcatholic-gap-narrows-as-census-results-revealed-29004134.html).

    There are several factors in play. Religion is declining in importance across the Western World — and formerly Catholic Ireland now has hot- & cold-running abortions and a homosexual Indian leader. The demographics of the population of Northern Ireland are anyway becoming more similar to those of the Irish Republic, with fewer staunch Protestants. Nominal Catholics will soon outnumber nominal Protestants.

    Perhaps most significantly, the debacle of Brexit has exploded the view that the denizens of Westminster are smart wise politicians. If one has the opportunity to select one’s rulers, the UK Political Class are no longer automatic shoo-ins.

  • Matthew H Iskra

    I would love to see you write a short treatise about earlier times, such as the era of the Norman adventurers, such as William Strongbow, and their descendants being “conquered” by later Norman adventurers since they first generation had become “too Irish”. Or perhaps Elizabeth I’s very successful, targeted program of eliminating Irish cultural institutions, from Brehon law to the bards.

  • Patrick, my next point of discussion is the remark, “Cromwell restored order”. Some important history is elided in such a phrase.

    A key decider of the English civil war was that the ‘parliamentary’ faction could promise the Scots Presbyterians whatever they wanted and then betray them (the English presbyterian MPs made the promises and then they were overthrown and jailed by Cromwell). By contrast, though the King could make soothing speeches he did not entirely mean, it was simply impossible for him to promise to become a catholic as the Irish/Papal negotiators asked. A faction in Ireland wanted to avoid this folly. In 1646 the mayor of Limerick, wisely alarmed at how things were going in England, made a speech begging the Irish groups to unite and help the Royalists in England on any decent terms they could get. For this proposal that catholics aid a “heretick prince”, a mob tried to kill him; a priest is recorded as shouting, “Kill all and I will absolve you” – not very Christ-like, but those presbyterian Scots ministers who at times disgusted their Scots presbyterian generals over their eagerness to kill prisoners remind us that both sides had such fanatics. (Three years later, the mayor’s faction and the mob went down to common ruin at Cromwell’s hands.)

    Thus the parliament faction got an army from Scotland and the king got no army from Ireland – but the idea that he had, or was about to, became a propaganda idee fixe with Cromwellian soldiers. The tales of Irish catholic atrocities against the Cromwellians’ coreligionists in that island lost nothing in the telling (a theme we will have sad cause to return to on the other side below). Genuine cruelties (they happened, as I noted in my comment above), told by refugee survivors of them, mingled with propaganda and inventions.

    In England, Cromwell’s soldiers very occasionally demonstrated their anti-Irish-catholic feeling in bizarre ways. In March 1644, they captured some “Irish’ soldiers. They were in fact English soldiers sent to Ireland when the revolt broke out, while the King’s authority was still intact, and so later recalled from there by his command, but they ‘came from Ireland’ and that was enough. Knowing his enemies’ temper, Prince Rupert sent a message immediately warning he would retaliate on prisoners he held if anything happened to them, but by the time it arrived, 25 of them had been hung. Even worse was the Cromwellian soldiers’ killing of camp followers after the battle of Naseby. These women were in fact Welsh but (though historians have sometime speculated on other explanations – did the fanatical puritan soldiers mistake them for witches and the Welsh for spells?) I accept the explanation that the Welsh was mistaken for Gaelic and the women taken to be Irish. Though the King’s army was often ill-disciplined, it never did anything like that – and in general, neither did the parliamentarians. (Mostly, the English Civil War was a lot more civil than the contemporary 30-years-war on the continent.)

    One of the features of the English civil war was that winning militarily made you unpopular politically. The courteous Montrose, who refused to revenge the Scots presbyterians’ tendency to order the murder of prisoners by doing the like was perhaps an exception during his brief period of success, but in London, years of Parliamentary rule meant that the townsfolk forgot how annoying it had been that the King’s courtiers were immune to arrest for debt as they experienced how annoying it was for MPs to have the same immunity. London drove the King out in 1642, but by 1648, it had elected a Royalist mayor. (On the other side, Shrewsbury, a strongly royalist town in 1643, was noticeably less enthusiastic after 3 years of being a key depot for the King’s recruiters in Wales. But in the main the King lost – and so became more and more popular.)

    So by 1649, Cromwell’s army was a tiny (and so, one may say, extremist) minority in England – but a tiny minority that could give the law to parliament (when they arrested so many MPs that the absurdly small quorum of 40 could only be met by halting all other business), to the other nations of the UK, and to the King in the regicide (“Not one in 20 will give you thanks for it”, someone correctly warned them, but they had the power to ignore even such a ratio). In Ireland, both sides had a motive for talking up the cruelty with which “Cromwell reimposed order”. Cromwell wanted to crush the rebellion with extreme speed – he knew he had rebellious Scots to crush and in England killing Charles I had merely seen Charles II proclaimed – in posters stuck up overnight where Cromwell’s soldiers were watching, and in words where they weren’t. He was desperate to wrap things up quickly. So he talked up the brutality with which he crushed rebel Irish towns for all it was worth, hoping to cow others into surrender. His enemies – then and later – had no motive whatever to whiten instead of blacken his reputation, so what he started others kept rolling.

    But, as Orwell once said, the worst thing about atrocities is not that they are lied about. The worst thing is that they happen. Brutal things happened during the revolt. Brutal things happened during Cromwell’s suppression of it. I would rather have been an Irishman during Cromwell’s suppression of the rebellion than a German in the wrong place during the 30 years war – but if you know anything about the 30-years-war, you know that isn’t saying much. Cromwell, England’s historical dictator, was much nicer than the tyrants of contemporary European nations – and much nicer than Hitler or Stalin or Mao, or even just the Roman tyrants – and his soldiers were better disciplined than typical armies of the 30-years-war, but he was still England’s dictator, a tyrant, the man who literally banned Christmas – and, thanks to the ideology I’ve detailed above, he and his soldiers were nastier in Ireland than in England.

    For the next 10 years, Ireland was “chopped into rations” to pay an increasingly mercenary soldiery. (General Monck’s ability in 1660 simply to inform his army that they would now restore Charles II demonstrates how the ideology with which these soldiers had been recruited and indoctrinated over a decade earlier had gradually been replaced with discipline and following orders over the years.)

    With the restoration, a third of Ireland returned to its former owners, but the confusion of property and law that Wentworth had tried to correct (when it had gone far less far) was now a lot worse. Some say it was the brutal Cromwellian period that interrupted an otherwise normal process of gradual feudal Norman-native assimilation of Ireland into the UK as happened in Wales and Scotland (both of which saw similar Norman and English interactions, the usual violence of those times, etc.). Others think the Cromwellian period did no good but could have been reversed – as the restoration partly did – had not later events prevented. I will doubtless write more comments on that. 🙂

  • Lloyd Martin Hendaye

    Another note: “The history of Ireland is scarred by many rebellions.” In 1641, as Churchill noted, Cromwell’s atrocities –among others, throwing slain mothers’ infants to packs of wild dogs– “sensibly darkened the progress of mankind.”

  • Lloyd Martin Hendaye (July 9, 2019 at 10:32 am), in 1641 (sixteen forty one), Cromwell was not perpetrating atrocities in Ireland. (In 1641 he was not perpetrating atrocities anywhere, though he was deep in slippery political machinations leading to death).

    Anyone suffering in Ireland in 1641 was on balance more likely to be a protestant – sometimes a protestant delator of the cabal who maybe had (some of it) coming, sometimes just a protestant being persecuted by catholics as was very common on the continent at that time (there were protestants who attempted to even the score when they could).

    In 1649 and after, Cromwell had the power to impact Ireland (I use the word ‘impact’ advisedly). Revenge was exacted (at how usurious a rate can be debated) and, more importantly, Ireland was made a farm for the next 10 years. As one of his colonels complained of the bizarre region the Burren, “Here there is not wood enough to hang a man, water enough to drown a man or earth enough to bury a man.”, which I always thought an unfortunately apt indication of their primary concern in ruling Ireland.

    But that was in 1649 and after, not in 1641 when Cromwell had a full-time job trying to procure, then (much to his and his colleagues’ surprise) merely to survive, and finally to win the English civil war.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I would like to thank Niall for his lengthy contributions, contributions which threaten to end up longer than UFB itself. I shall read and re-read them carefully.

    Incidentally, is that an Irish “Niall” or a Scottish “Niall”? Of course my Irish uncle pronounces his name the Scottish way.

    On a more general point, while 20 years ago I might have believed that the Ulster British had never, ever done anything even mildly reprehensible, I don’t anymore. Not that it matters much but we shall get on to that.

    Dominion v devolution. To my mind dominion means independence but having the monarch as head of state. Devolution means having limited autonomy. So, it might mean taxes, hospitals and schools but it would not mean trade, defence or foreign policy.

  • Patrick Crozier (July 9, 2019 at 12:58 pm), I should rather thank you for praising my turning of your sentences into pages. Many a pointed crack about how ‘generous’ I am with my information could have been understandably offered, and the trusty old “fills a much-needed gap in our knowledge” would have been an understandable joke (I make them to anticipate others doing so 🙂 ).

    Mine is a Scottish Niall in both pronunciation and ancestry. I have no traceable Irish ancestry (except that the Dalriadan Scots invaded from Ireland a millennium-and-a-half ago, and gave their name to the country by means mostly shrouded in the decent obscurity of the dark ages – luckily for them, else I’d likely have more than the 30-years-war to offer as a contrast to centuries-later events in Ireland).

    Ulster has much to be proud of, and Eire much to be ashamed of, in WWII. Go back centuries earlier and who is oppressing whom can vary over time.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    In Part I of this, Patrick C. wrote: “In 1998, the Friends of the Union published an excellent little pamphlet entitled Ulster for Beginners.”

    Excellent? Sometimes I come across things I wrote years ago. Generally, after suppressing the urge to stick my head in the toilet and flush, I shred those old documents. We all live and learn.

    To be blunt, the pamphlet unfortunately had too much of the tone of the old English colonialists — those unruly Irish natives needed the steadying hand of an English ruler to “restore order”. The reality is that the English (if we include the Normans in their ancestry) were the aggressors and took the fight to the Irish. However, if the Irish today decided that in keeping with modern times they deserve reparations from modern English men & women, they would have to join a long line of other victims of historic English expansionism — from the Africans who were the objects of several centuries of English slaving to the exploited Indian peasants to the Chinese who were the targets of Queen Victoria’s drug pushing. Whether it is individuals, groups, or nations, most of us can look back at things we are rightfully proud of – and other things that in retrospect we regret.

    History is history. We were not there, and we did not do the deeds — good or bad. All we can ask is to follow Oliver Cromwell’s dictum and paint the picture, warts and all.

    On the subject of Oliver Cromwell, if Niall has not already read it, he might be interested in Theodore Roosevelt’s 1900 volume “Oliver Cromwell”. Rough Riding Teddie Roosevelt was of course most interested in Cromwell’s use of cavalry to beat down wrong-thinking English people as well as those unruly Irish and Scots. It is also a sad commentary on our times that we have gone from a future President writing serious history to the self-indulgent navel-gazing of an Obama’s (probably ghost-written) tome. There are many of us who should seriously consider sticking our heads in the toilet and flushing!

  • Paul Marks

    There were many horrible “Penal Laws” passed in the time of Queen Anne – and I CONDEMN the Penal Laws (both against Roman Catholics and against Dissenting Protestants).

    However, with the exception of restrictions on voting, all the Penal Laws had been repealed BEFORE 1798 – due to the influence of Edmund Burke (1729 to 1797).

    It is true that Catholic landowners (landowners being the only people who could vote before the Penal Laws) still could not be elected to the Irish Parliament in 1798 (and they should have been allowed to be elected – as Fitzwilliam wanted) – but all the other Penal Laws (including the laws against Roman Catholic gentlemen owning firearms – or writing wills to keep their estates together) had been repealed BEFORE 1798.

    There was no real excuse for the rebellion of 1798 – especially not in alliance with the anti Christian dictatorship that was in power in Paris.

    No Christian of any sort should have allied themselves with the regime in Paris in 1798. And no decent atheist should have done so either.

  • Paul Marks

    As for 1690 – the elite Blue Guard of William was mostly Roman Catholic, and the Pope supported William, because James was a puppet of Louis XIV the “Sun King” – a threat to all of Europe.

  • There were many horrible “Penal Laws” passed in the time of Queen Anne – and I CONDEMN the Penal Laws (both against Roman Catholics and against Dissenting Protestants).(Paul Marks, July 11, 2019 at 10:11 pm)

    I thought they dated from earlier – from William and Mary. I may be forgetting dates or revisions, or the tendency of the thing, once started, to continue into early Queen Anne’s days. The latter part of Queen Anne’s reign saw Jacobitism become (almost) legal. The Tory October club had many crypto-Jacobite members, and both Harley and Bolingbroke kept in touch with exiled King James because he could tell them to support these (in effect) prime ministers. The 1710 to 1714 period was not an obvious time to get anti-Jacobite laws strengthened (and the penal laws would have been seen as such). After Queen Anne’s death, things reverted but (I thought) more back to where they were than to yet harsher laws.

    However, with the exception of restrictions on voting, all the Penal Laws had been repealed BEFORE 1798 – due to the influence of Edmund Burke (1729 to 1797).

    Burke secured catholic voting in 1793. Almost the only remaining legal restriction (whose removal is sometimes confusingly also called ‘complete’ catholic enfranchisement), was that catholics could not stand as MPs in the Irish parliament. Catholics could vote, but only protestants could be voted for.

    HOWEVER the disaster of the curtailed FitzWilliam presidency happened in 1795. Burke then foresaw the revolt would occur, and that he (had he lived) would have to demand its strong suppression, but he was extremely annoyed and unhappy about what had happened, and correspondingly understanding about why the southern catholic part of the (very un)United Irishmen were likely to rebel. So

    There was no real excuse for the rebellion of 1798 – especially not in alliance with the anti Christian dictatorship that was in power in Paris.

    is not how Burke put it, though on the necessity of crushing it he was clear.

    As regards catholics being able to be MPs, Burke warned FitzWilliam that in itself it was no big deal at that time – that it was far more important to displace the ‘junto’ whose control meant that repealed laws, in themselves, were not the whole story – and FitzWilliam went to Ireland under a promise to Pitt not to bring up the issue. He rashly thought this did not bind him if Sir Hercules Langrishe (protestant supporter of reform) proposed it, but the attitude taken in London (probably for political reasons unconnected with Ireland) was very much that it did. The what-if of FitzWilliam’s understanding Burke’s hints to leave it alone for the time being is another of several what-if’s that could have given Ireland a happier history. It is probable that no abrupt recall of FitzWilliam would have meant no rebellion, or no noticeable participation of the catholic peasantry in a revolt that their priests, who were more aware of how French revolutionaries treated catholics in France, mainly opposed.

  • With parts III and IV now written I’d better wrap up anything I feel worth saying about part II. 🙂

    King of Britain, eh? I think the correct title would have been King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

    Even Niall-pedant-Kilmartin thinks such elisions as King of Britain are OK in a pamphlet educating the presumed-to-be-historically-ignorant general reader. (What follows is pedantry.)

    In Henry VIII’s time (as many a historical drama has told us), heralds proclaimed, “Henry by the grace of God, King of England and of France, Prince of Wales and Lord of Ireland”. Henry changed the centuries-old ‘Lord of Ireland’ to ‘King of Ireland’ by act of Parliament late in his reign, with a view to bolstering his claim to religious authority against the pope there.

    Although there had been “high kings” in Ireland, they were like the bretwaldas (‘bretwalda’ meant ‘wide-ruler’ and/or ‘Britain-ruler’) of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy – powerful kings of individual areas whose neighbours treated them with respect but not in any real sense rulers of the whole area. By analogy with the heptarchy, the former kingdoms of Ireland – Leinster, Meath, Munster, Ulster, Connacht – formed a ‘pentarchy’ (my own word AFAIK, but it is said the erse word for ‘province’ derives from ‘fifth part’). Thus there was no actual historical kingship of all-Ireland for English kings to claim.

    The Norman-inherited kingdom of Leinster, which absorbed most of Meath, became the Pale. It could have claimed the high kingship (any Irish kingdom could, if strong enough, claim it for a generation) and thence attempt to parlay that into actual kingship of all Ireland. The English crown acquired claims to overlordship of Ireland in a patchwork of ways (some of course disputed, as Mediaeval territorial practice ensured was likely anywhere). As the high kingship itself in Ireland demonstrates, there was a tendency for rulers in the period to make some submission in words to powerful neighbours, and these promises would die with the powerful neighbour – unless their successor was of the right age and vigour to make their renewal seem prudent. Thus a long period of relative preeminence (e.g. of England in Ireland) could accumulate the idea of suzerainty in the power promised, even though the fragmented promisers had not individually expected this.

    However (as Patrick noted in part I), the pope, or some other convenient authority, could provide some overarching catch-all justification – practically unimportant but legally useful – for any area not covered by more specific arrangements.

  • Other pre-1914 points.

    The 1689 Irish catholics would have been rather unnatural rebels if they had not adhered to King James II and VII. What seemed natural in England in 1688 when James fled did not seem natural in Ireland when James (who was ordinarily not in Ireland) turned up in 1689 saying he was still their king and just facing rebellion from people objecting to his being catholic.

    The harshness of the subsequent penal laws derived in part from a political bidding war – no-one not a Jacobite wanted to be suspected of it and so each party tried to outbid the other in guarding against it.

    While Protestants were safe they were far from equal. While members of the Church of Ireland dominated the Irish parliament, presbyterians were excluded. In 1798, this led to a revolt which nationalists have labelled the “United Irishmen” Rebellion.

    Non-CofE protestants were not as excluded as catholics. The basic conforming oath could be taken by an atheist, but not by a catholic, as it consisted purely of a denial of distinguishing catholic beliefs.

    The 1798 rebellion was a very confused and fairly unnatural (and un-united) mix of mostly ‘protestant’ (atheist) supporters of the French revolution and catholics angry and alarmed at the Fitzwilliam recall, the subsequent Armagh expulsions, etc. Burke said of the two groups:

    There is no natural union between those two descriptions. It may be produced.

    (i.e. produced by bad UK government policy). Bleakly comical incidents (e.g. the revolutionary orator who repeatedly started denouncing the pope out of habit and, in the south, had swiftly to switch to denouncing the government) display Patrick’s point that these Irishmen were not united but they also display Burke’s warning that bad UK government policy had produced a temporary conjunction of very unlikely allies. The 1798 rising could easily have been a very small affair of protestant-atheist French-style revolutionaries from which the catholics held aloof. Burke worked hard to arrange that with Pitt, thought he had succeeded – and then it all messed up

  • Now some observations on 1916.

    Patrick is right to compare 1914 Home Rule to Brexit being suddenly swept off the front pages by the outbreak of WWIII. However the 1916 rising nearly never happened.

    – Correctly or mistakenly, the WWI Irish revolutionaries were fearful the historical moment was passing them by. They genuinely feared the Irish masses were gradually getting used to being in the British polity and the home-rulers were going to destroy the desire for full independence. They felt a great need to seize the moment presented by WWI, thinking it might be their last chance.

    – Decades of experience had given them great respect for British Intelligence. By 1914, they were convinced that any large conspiracy would be uncovered and destroyed. So they cleverly organised a small cabal within a nationalist organisation whose nominal leader was not a violent revolutionary but an Irish language and culture scholar, and passionate but peaceful advocate for Ireland.

    – When they decided to strike in Easter 1916, this fact caused one of two disasters that almost annulled them. Their group’s ‘leader’ got wind of their plans and simply announced that planned meetings and parades (the rising’s cover) were cancelled. He stated this in the newspapers and the organisation’s official channels. (The revolutionaries could not very well go public to say he was wrong – that it wasn’t to be a parade but an uprising.) Even those (like de Valera, intended leader of what should have been the 3rd battalion IIRC) who strongly doubted these orders, could not both safely and quickly get in touch with the actual revolutionaries to check. So the rising finally started in Dublin as a complete mess with a fraction of its (in any case small) force.

    – A second such blow to its happening at all was only averted by the British authorities. Roger Casement arrived from Germany by submarine just before the rising. The Germans who transported him thought he would start the rising but in fact he had come to demand it be called off. A period in Germany had convinced him that Germany was a more evil oppressor than the British government and the rebels must not help Germany during the war. Very luckily for the revolutionaries, British authorities detected the submarine landing and took him into custody where he (very understandably) had great difficulty persuading them that, despite how he had arrived, he was actually eager to help them. He was still trying to explain this to his interrogators (and getting nowhere) when the rising started. (It was also lucky for the revolutionaries that he arrived so perfectly well-synchronised with the rising date that his information to his interrogators about the rising was still being turned into preventive arrest lists as the rising started.)

    The subsequent political evolution of a failed and unpopular group into winners of the 1918 election is an example of what I wrote above (Niall Kilmartin, July 9, 2019 at 8:10 am) that losing a civil war can make you more popular than winning. Militarily, the rising was an unimpressive disaster that gave if anything a misleadingly weak impression of who supported it and how much of a threat it was. Irishmen who wanted to fight for Britain were mostly already doing so – in France, where many soon died on the Somme. Second-line troops and second-rate intelligence were used to ‘mop up’ the rising and many were very understandably furious at the ‘stab in the back’ so, not for the first time, a delicate political situation in Ireland was handled crudely. Thus the political present that the rising’s chaos offered unionists – not nearly such a present as its not happening would have been, but real enough all the same – was frittered away.

  • And finally (thank God, I hear readers cry 🙂 ) in this thread, two links to past comments relevant to 1922 and 1945.

    1922: I discuss an embarrassing meeting for de Valera here

    1945: I quote relevant remarks from Churchill’s 1945 VE speech here. It also describes de Valera’s behaviour (i.e official Irish government behaviour) on the deaths of two heads-of-state.

    During the 1940s and the 1950s there were sporadic attempts by the IRA…

    When WWII started, the IRA began a terrorist campaign (mainly bombing IIRC) on the British mainland. If I recall the history correctly, they eventually lost all their operatives in the campaign. This helping Hitler, ignoring Casement’s warning about a less evil WWI Germany, did not win them friends.

    (The Scottish National Party’s politics were similar in those years, as a few surviving pictures of famous members with Nazi flags show. In addition, as Orwell comments, not only were they pro-Nazi but, after Germany attacked the USSR, “the lunatic fringe of the Celtic parties even managed to be simultaneously pro-Nazi and pro-Communist”. However the SNP did not start a terrorist campaign in support of its views. [Orwell quote from memory])