The Modern Era
The Kingdom of Ireland
Effective English control had eventually become confined to Dublin, founded by Danish invaders using the stolen wealth of British Dumbarton and British slaves, and to an ever-shrinking area around it known as ‘the Pale’. Not only were the Irish chiefs beyond royal jurisdiction but many of the first Anglo-Norman settlers had become so assimilated into Irish life — indeed, becoming ‘more Irish than the Irish’ — that their loyalty was increasingly suspect. Henry VIII had become the first King, rather than Lord, of Ireland. So his daughter, Elizabeth I set out to rectify this unacceptable state of affairs. As Robert Kee pointed out: “Her deputies in Ireland were Englishmen newly appointed from England, and no longer those old Norman-English Irish lords who had so often proved to be simply their own masters in the past. Force ‘when necessity requireth’ was applied equally against the Old English and the Gaelic Irish, with unprecedented savagery”. Irish opposition to this new stage of the English ‘conquest’ was strongest in Ulster.
The two ruling clans, the O’Neills and O’Donnells, were involved in a serious rebellion from 1594 to 1601. In 1594 Hugh O’Donnell opened the rebellion by defeating an English army at the ‘Ford of the Biscuits’, with O’Neill joining him the following year. In May 1595 Sir Henry Bagenal, on his way back from relieving the English outpost of Monaghan, was ambushed at Clontibret and suffered heavy losses. In 1598 O’Neill and O’Donnell dramatically defeated Bagenal at the Yellow Ford, to the south of Lough Neagh. This defeat, which inspired risings in other parts of Ireland, shook the new English government to its foundations.
The English recovered and in 1601 under Mountjoy they finally broke the Gaelic rebellion at Kinsale, after O’Neill had been forced to leave his familiar Ulster territory to link up with a Spanish force which had landed in the south of Ireland.On 4 September, 1607, after continued harassment by Crown officials, many of Ulster’s Gaelic chieftains, including the Earls of Tyrone and Tirconnell, chose voluntary exile and sailed from Rathmullan for Europe. This ‘Flight of the Earls’ gave the English government the opportunity to declare their lands forfeit, and some 750,000 acres were confiscated by the Crown.
When the Ulster chieftains fought against the English they were not fighting ‘for Ireland’ in the modern nationalistic sense but in their own interests and to preserve their ancient Gaelic way of life. The very idea of a republican form of government would have been repugnant to the old Irish system of law. In his Life of Hugh O’Neill (1845) the Young Irelander John Mitchel pointed out that: “Furthermore there was, in the 16th century, no Irish nation. Save the tie of a common language, the chieftain of Clan Connal (O’Donnell) had no more connection with the Lord of Clan Carrha (Cork), than either one had with the English Pale. The Anglo-Norman colony was regarded as one of the independent tribes of the island.”
It was at this time that a new provincial configuration of Ireland was effected with four ‘provinces’ divided up into counties. The eastern part of the Kingdom of Breffny (Cavan) was taken from Connaught and placed artificially in Ulster while the northern part of Louth, which had been one of the most ancient parts of Ulster, known originally as Muirtheimne and defended by the legendary hero Cúchulainn, was taken from Ulster and placed artificially into Leinster. The older boundaries were, however, remembered well into the 17th century. It is ironic that today staunch Irish nationalists have lost sight of that ancient demarcation, and instead speak of the new 9 County configuration drawn up by the Queen of England and Ireland’s administrators as if it had existed from time immemorial.
The Plantation of Ulster
The ravages of the cruel and bloody war fought by the Elizabethan English against O’Neill left large areas of Ulster virtually without inhabitants. As well as that, the Crown now controlled the vast territory confiscated following the ‘Flight of the Earls’. Royal-approved settlements in Ireland had been attempted a number of times during the 1500s, and had failed. The same was the case in Scotland. So when James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery made their proposal for a private, self-financed settlement of County Antrim and County Down to the recently-crowned King James I, perhaps the King expected their scheme to fail too. Yet it was very successful, and arguably provided the King with the encouragement to proceed with the Plantation of Virginia at Jamestown the same year in 1607, the blueprint for the Plantation of (the rest of) Ulster in 1610 and the Plantation of Nova Scotia in 1621. The Hamilton and Montgomery Settlement was of Clandeboye O’Neill territory, which had originally been part of the Trian Congail, the Third of the Pretanic King Congal Claen and ancient Dal Fiatach.
King James I decided to plant settlers in Ulster, hoping that at the very least it might prove a way of ‘civilising’ this most rebellious part of Ireland once and for all. In 1610, Sir Arthur Chichester was to be “the chief architect of the Plantation in Ulster”. Yet, he was not completely happy with his task. He complained that while good English settlers were being sent to the territories now opening up in the new land of America, most of those coming to Ulster were to be Scots. Chichester, who bore no real affection for the Irish, thought no more favourably towards the Scots. “He had no special affection for Scotsmen, high or low, gentle or simple, and besides he had spent much of his time and ingenuity ever since his coming to Ireland, in the work of repelling and expelling Islesmen and other Northern Scots from the coasts of Ulster.” Furthermore others were from the Borders, descended from the British Middle Kingdoms and a threat to the newly united Kingdom.
Chichester could have saved himself much wasted effort in his attempts to ‘repel’ such immigrants from across the North Channel if he had realised just how much coming and going there had been between Ulster and Scotland throughout history. As P.L. Henry pointed out: “The mould was fixed in ancient times and modern developments continue ancient associations. We need but think of the Pictish Kingdoms in both areas, of the Ulster-Scottish Kingdom of Dalriada from the last quarter of the 5th to the close of the 8th century, of the Scottish Kingdom founded under Gaelic leadership in 842, of Irish relations with the Kingdom of the Hebrides and Argyll from the 12th century, particularly the immigration of Hebridean soldiers (gallowglasses) from the 13th to the 16th century. There was a constant coming and going between North East Ireland and Western Scotland. The Glens of Antrim were in the hands of Scottish Macdonalds by 1400, and for the next two hundred years Gaelic-speaking Scots came in large numbers. The 17th century immigration of a numerous Scots element need not be considered outside the preceding series.”
Many of these Scots, particularly those who came from areas in Scotland which in previous centuries had been populated by immigrants from Ulster, may be justly considered as returning to the home of their ancestors. Thus F.J. Bigger has written that “When the Galloway planters came to Ulster they were only returning to their own lands like emigrants returning home again.” These common origins were well known to the settlers themselves as the speech made by Sir James Hamilton in the Irish House of Commons on 1 May 1615 clearly demonstrates. However, there was to be one fundamental characteristic which would stamp these new arrivals as different from all those who had preceded them — the Reformation had swept Scotland and most of the new arrivals were to be Protestants.
The Reformation in Scotland had brought a social as well as a religious transformation. The development of a strong peasant movement against the feudal lords was expressed politically in democratic ideals as well as culturally in the form of Presbyterianism. When these Lowland Scots came to Ulster they were determined to leave feudalism behind them in Scotland. The new settlers rapidly transformed the Ulster countryside, draining in particular the drumlin country which had stood as a barrier to communication between Ulster and the rest of Ireland since prehistoric times. In extending the Scottish Lowland way of life into Ulster they were soon to see themselves as founders of a new society based on the fundamental rights of liberty, equality and fraternity.
It is wrong to assume, however, that all the settlers were Protestants, since there were Scottish Catholics as well, some of whom were ultimately of English origin. Thus a letter written by the Bishop of Derry to the Lord Chancellor in the year 1692 says, “Sir George Hamilton since he got part of the Earl of Abercorn’s grant of the Barony of Strabane has done his best to plant Popery there, and has brought over priests and Jesuits from Scotland.” It further laments that “all the Hamiliton lands are now in the hands of Papists”. A. Perceval-Maxwell has confirmed that, since both Abercorn’s and Sir Claud Hamilton’s children were converted to Roman Catholicism through Sir George’s influence, within a generation one of the most successful parts of the Scottish Plantation was led by Roman Catholics. Most other immigrants were probably at least nominally Protestant although initially their religious affiliations were not strong and the development of their ideals took place in Ulster itself, depending more on local religious leaders than on previous sentiment.
The new Scots settlers differed from the English in language on two counts. Firstly there was a significant group who spoke Gaelic and it seems that Scottish Gaelic speakers were intelligible to the Irish at this period. (Indeed, the first book ever to be printed in Irish Gaelic was a translation of the Calvinist Book of Common Order, commonly called John Knox’s Liturgy, published in Edinburgh in 1567 for the use of Presbyterians.) Secondly, the language of the others was not the standard English of today but Lallans, which is derived from the Central Scots language, known in Scotland as ‘Inglis’. This Ulster Lallans (Ullans) language is still spoken in the north-east of Ulster and in Donegal, where contact with Scotland through settlement and commerce has been close. The Scottish speech is in some ways an older form of the English language grouping than standard English and R. de Bruce Trotter in his Galloway Gossip has listed the chief points of difference between the two grammars. Church and state have been just as antagonistic to Lallans as they have been to Gaelic itself, leading to as great a contraction of the Scots-speaking districts as the Gaelic-speaking districts of Ulster.
Yet Ulster as a whole was not anglicised as quickly as Leinster. According to the 1851 census, of the nine counties in Ireland which contained the least number of Gaelic speakers only one (County Down) was in Ulster — the other eight were in Leinster. Not only were there, at that time, twice as many Gaelic speakers in Ulster than in Leinster but each of the counties Antrim, Armagh, Londonderry, Fermanagh, and Tyrone contained more than either Carlow, Kildare, Wexford or Longford. Breandan O Buachalla has stated that in the 17th and 18th centuries there was extensive intermingling and intermarriage between the new Scottish settlers and the ‘native Irish’ so that by the 19th century “there existed in Ulster several population groups, apart from many individuals scattered here and there, partly of Irish and partly of Scottish origin, who were Irish in language and who belonged to one or other of the Protestant churches.”
The Identity of Ulster
Estyn Evans agreed that “There was much more intermarriage, with or without the benefit of the clergy, than the conventional histories make allowance for. Many planters became Catholics and many natives became Protestants. It is an emotional oversimplification to see the plantation in terms of ruthless Protestants seizing the best stretches of land and chasing the Catholics into the bogs and hills.” A.T.Q. Stewart indeed believed that “a very substantial proportion of the original population was not disturbed at all.” Furthermore, while the new settlers sought agricultural land they could cultivate, the preferred environment for the old traditional way of life was hill and bog-land, providing as it did both rough grazing for livestock and turf for fuel.
The fact that many ‘native Irish’ became Protestants is well illustrated by the Hearth Money Rolls for the Presbyterian parishes of Stranorlar and Leck in Donegal for the year 1665, as well as by the presence of such old Cruthinic families as Rooney, Lowry, Macartan and Maguinness in the records of the Episcopalian Diocese of Dromore in South and West Down. Representatives of well-known Gaelic families also abound. Murphys, Maguires, Kellys, Lennons, Reillys, Doghertys and many others are quite numerous. In this Diocese of Dromore and the immediately surrounding districts the Church of Ireland bears a larger proportion numerically to the total population than perhaps in any other part of Ireland of the same area. In North Down, where 17th century settlement from Scotland was most successful, Brendan Adams has stated that “a large part of the native population became absorbed into the Protestant Church.” Thus in a book listing subscribers to church funds in the Presbyterian church in Saintfield, County Down, at least 20% of the names were native, pre-17th century names like Dugan, Donnan, Hanvey and Kelly.
Ussher’s Discourse of the Religion anciently professed by the Irish (London 1631) also shows that many Protestants in the 17th century felt that several important points of doctrine and discipline in the early Irish Church were closer to their own religious views than those of contemporary Roman Catholicism. These sentiments continued to be expressed by prominent Protestants down to modern times, notably by the Presbyterian historian James Seaton Reid in his History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (1833) and by the Gaelic scholar Nigel Mac Neill in his Literature of the Highlanders (1892). A great lover of the Bangor Antiphonary Mac Neill described the early Irish Church as “the primitive Free Church”. For him there was no doubt that “The Gaels of Ireland and Scotland were the same people, having the same language and music; and all the elements of civilisation about them were the common property of both. At the same time there are evidences that the Gaels of the North of Ireland stood in closer relationship to those of Scotland than those in the South of Ireland. And this holds true even to this very day.”
The Catholic Army of Ulster
However, although the plantation never proved to be the radical transformation the Crown might have originally intended, those Irish who were dispossessed had sufficient cause to harbour a deep-seated resentment. In 1641, with civil unrest in England between Parliamentarians and Royalists, an opportunity was offered to the Roman Catholic Irish to redress the balance, and open rebellion was declared.The plans for this rebellion were worked out by a member of one of the last Cruthinic families in Southern Ireland, the final remnants of the Loigse, the family of Columbanus, who had generally held the territory named from them, Laois. The Loigse had been ruled by the Moores from the earliest documentary period until they lost their lands to English planters in the 16th century. It was primarily against the more recent, and therefore Protestant English settlers and the Dublin government, that Rory O’More directed the first assault in October 1641. Prominent among his fellow conspirators were northern malcontents led by Sir Phelim O’Neill and with him was Sir Con Magennis of Iveagh, himself of ancient Cruthin stock. Within a few weeks the Anglo-Normans and other Hiberno-English of the Pale joined the insurrection on the side of the rebels.
It was the declared policy of the rebels at the beginning of the uprising that the Scottish Presbyterians should be left alone because of their ‘Gaelic’ origins. Thus Colonel Audeley Mervyn, in a report presented to the House of Commons in June, 1642, states that: “In the infancy of the Rebellion the rebels made open proclamations, upon pain of death, that no Scotchman should be stirred in body, goods or lands, and that they should to this purpose write over the lyntels of their doors that they were Scotchmen, and so destruction might pass over their families.” Furthermore he related that he had read a letter, “sent by two of the rebels, titulary colonels, Colonel Nugent and Colonel O’Gallagher… which was directed to, ‘Our honourable friends, the gentlemen of the never conquered Scotch nation’.” However, the conflict quickly became a sectarian one, and the distinction between the Scottish and English Protestant settlers was not maintained. The English settlers suffered most, nevertheless, and several thousand lost their lives both in the fighting and in the privation which followed.
Not for the first time in Irish history a feeling of ‘difference’ was to be displayed between North and South, only this time, ironically, it was to be exhibited by Ulster’s proud Gaelic chieftains. When Owen Roe O’Neill returned from exile to play a leading part in the Rebellion he encountered constant suspicion and intrigue from other Irish leaders, and formed his own ‘Catholic Army of Ulster’. As Jerrold Casway writes in her biography of the Irish leader, “Rather than accept assistance from Owen O’Neill and the Ulster Irish, many Anglo-Irishmen preferred the Leinster forces… Owen and his northern army, they asserted, should remain in the north where they belonged.” Rinuccini, the Papal Nuncio sent from Rome to assist the rebels, ascribed this animosity to “no other ends than the bad feeling which is cherished towards the men of Ulster.” Indeed, when Rinuccini argued with a Munsterman who was ‘a very good Catholic’ that, rather than have heretics in Munster it was preferable to have Roman Catholic soldiers from Ulster, he was told that this was not necessarily the case.
Furthermore, Owen O’Neill “knew that the northern army was the only reliable and viable force of the native Irish, and without it he and his followers would be no better than seeds in the wind.” It was the Catholic Army of Ulster which fought the greatest battle of the war at Benburb. Before the battle Owen exhorted his men with a “Caesar-like oration”, in which he told them: “You are the flower of Ulster, descended from as ancient and honourable a stock of people as any in Europe.” Even Owen Roe himself could not have known just how true that statement was.
The rebels, despite forming themselves into a Catholic Confederacy, were disunited in their tactics and objectives, and loyalties on all sides were further complicated by the outbreak of Civil War in England between King and Parliament. And if this wasn’t enough, by beheading the King in 1649, the Puritan government in England outraged and alienated their former Presbyterian allies in Scotland. These Presbyterians had entered into a ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ to protect their religion not so much against Roman Catholicism but against the impositions demanded of them by the English High Church, and whatever political and religious grievances the ‘Covenanters’ may have harboured against Charles as King of England, he was also King of Scots, and more importantly a Stuart. The Stuart (Stewart) family had in the main line occupied the ancient throne of the Scots for upwards of three hundred years. This famous but ill-fated house sprang from a Brêton (Old British) nobleman named Alan son of Flaald who was contemporary with William the Conqueror.
In August 1649, with Irish resistance already on the wane, Oliver Cromwell landed in Dublin to take charge of the Parliamentary forces there, now reinforced by 2,000 of his Ironside veterans. Cromwell’s intention was to restore this “Bleeding Nation of Ireland to its former happiness and tranquillity.” However, little of this ‘happiness and tranquillity’ was to be engendered by his methods: his campaign was exactly what he intended it to be — quick and cruel, but effective.
Oliver Cromwell – God’s Englishman
Cromwell’s campaign against the Royalist forces began with the storming of Drogheda on 11 September 1649. The resultant massacre was directed primarily against the English Royalist garrison and the clergy. A normal market was held in the town the following day. In October the Ironsides, now the finest army in Europe, took Wexford and, on finding evidence of atrocities committed against the town’s Protestant inhabitants, gave no quarter to the Irish garrison. The success of Cromwell, “God’s Englishman”, was predicated on the fact that he never fought a battle which he thought he could not win.
By the end of November the great Ulster leader, Owen Roe O’Neill, had died and the only Ulster strongholds left in Royalist hands were Charlemont and Enniskillen, while the Protestant Royalist garrisons of Cork, Youghal and Kinsale had joined Cromwell of their own volition. When Cromwell, the Lord Lieutenant and General for the Parliament of England, left Ireland on 26 May 1650 he was confident that his deputies would soon be able to finish the war, and that the Gaelic aristocracy was doomed, its caste system of social order destroyed for all time. Now Cromwell and his New Model Army could turn their attention to subduing his new adversaries, the Presbyterian Covenanters of Scotland.
Cromwell’s designs for the conquered Ireland were embodied in an Act of Settlement passed by the ‘Long Parliament’ in England in August 1652. This provided for an extensive forfeiture of land in Ulster, Leinster and Munster, ten counties of which were set aside to remunerate the Parliamentary soldiers and those who had contributed funds to the war effort. While the leaders of the rebellion had forfeited all rights to their land and property, many others who had not “manifested their constant good affection to the Commonwealth of England” were to suffer partial forfeiture, losing one fifth, one third or two thirds of their estates, according to the degree of their “delinquency”. A scheme was made whereby they would be obliged to accept lands in Connaught and Clare equal in value to the land which remained to them.
The Irish prisoners-of-war were allowed to enlist in the service of European nations and about 40,000 did so, chiefly going to Spain. Some two hundred persons were executed for their parts in the massacre of 1641, among them Sir Phelim O’Neill. Catholic priests were transported to the West Indies. The Episcopalians also suffered, as did the Ulster-Scots Presbyterians of Antrim and Down, for it was decided that they should be transported south, away from the Scottish mainland and continued support from Ayrshire (Carrick) and Galloway. Cromwell indeed drove all the Anglican bishops out of Ireland and every Presbyterian minister with the exception of five.
Although it was first announced that all “transplantable” persons should remove themselves by 1 May 1654 and that they should be liable to death if they didn’t, permission to delay for individuals was freely given. In April 1653, Cromwell dissolved the Rump Parliament and ruled as Lord Protector, and a change of policy towards the leading Ulster Scots meant that their transportation south was not carried into effect. Neither was the subsequent settlement of Ireland by Cromwellian soldiers a success, for not only did they need the Irish tenants but, despite strict attempts to prevent them, they intermarried with the Catholic Irish and within a generation many of them would become Catholics and fight for the Jacobite cause.
In 1645 Cromwell dispatched his son, Henry, to be ruler of Ireland and under his firm but mild government an increase in liberty was granted to Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopalian alike, and Ireland began to prosper again. During the remaining years of the Protectorate the ministers of the devout Covenanting sect gained a tremendous hold over the people of Galloway and Ayrshire. This was to have a profound influence on following events. Ministers were allowed to return to Ulster. An Irish State paper of 1660 states that “there are 40,000 Irish and 80,000 Scots in Ulster ready to bear arms, and not above 5,000 English in the whole province besides the army.”
Following the death of Cromwell there was a year of turmoil, brought to a close by the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Charles’s first act was to restore the Episcopalian Church in the Three Kingdoms, and in 1661 an Act of Conformity was passed which required every minister who officiated in a Parish church to confirm to the Episcopalian Church and the Prayer Book. ‘Nonconformist’ minsters were ejected from their churches, and the Parliament of 1662 confirmed the return of prelacy.Throughout most of Scotland the ministers submitted, but not so in Galloway. There the people resisted and government troops were sent to occupy and terrorise the whole area. Courts of High Commission were reintroduced and hundreds of Covenanters were fined, imprisoned, tortured or deported to the Colonies.
Eventually this could no longer be borne, and on 13 November 1666 the ‘Pentland Rising’ was initiated at Dalry. On 21 November a Covenanter force of about 1,000 men assembled at the Brig O’Doon near Ayr and marched on Edinburgh. On 28 November at Rullian Green, at the foot of the Pentland hills, they were routed, and many fled to Ulster and Holland. Following the Rising, the persecution of Galloway was increased under Sir William Bannatyne whose followers’ murders, rapes and robberies were so numerous that the Government itself became sickened. In 1669 the Act of Indulgence was proffered to the Gallowegians, but it was not enough for them and only four ministers in the whole of Galloway subscribed to it.
In Ulster, on the other hand, the Presbyterians had learnt to live with the prelacy as they had done before and because of this Charles II was so well disposed towards them that he granted to the Ulster ministers a Regium Donum or Royal Bounty. So, for the twelve years following 1670, there was nothing that could be described as persecution of ordinary people in the Province of Ulster itself. It was this difference between the two regions which resulted in an influx from Galloway of many of her impoverished citizens.
However, on the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, and the so-called Popish Plot of 1678, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates there was further anti-Roman Catholic action. Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin was arrested. Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland was unjustly accused of plotting a French invasion and conspiring to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. He was arrested in Dublin in December 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, where he gave absolution to the dying Talbot. Plunkett was eventually tried at Westminster Hall and wrongly convicted. The Scottish clergyman and future Bishop of Salisbury, Gilbert Burnet, an eyewitness, had no doubt of his innocence and praised him as a wise and sober man who had no aim but to live peacefully and tend to his congregation. Archbishop Plunkett was found guilty of high treason on June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith”, and was condemned to death. Despite numerous pleas for mercy he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 1 July 1681, aged 55, the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England.
On 13 August 1670 the Scottish Government had passed the notorious ‘Black Act’ which made field preaching an offence punishable by death. To this barbarous legislation the increasingly impoverished Hill Folk of Galloway uttered a defiance whose fire the Government attempted to extinguish in blood. In 1678 the arrival of the Highland Host under the Tory and Episcopalian James Graham of Claverhouse (“Bluidy Clavers” to Presbyterians, “Bonnie Dundee” to Jacobite Highlanders) marked the beginning of a grim final decade of persecution in Galloway. These Highlanders were “authorised to take free quarter, to seize all horses for carrying their sick men, ammunition and other provisions and are indemnified against all pursuits, civil and criminal. for anything they do whether killing, wounding, apprehending, or imprisoning such as shall make opposition to authority.”
When the Highlanders returned to their homes at seedtime, as was the custom of such Gaelic raiding parties, their place was taken by English dragoons under their own officers, who gave orders to shoot on sight. On Sunday 1 June 1679 Claverhouse and his troops attacked a field meeting or conventicle at Drumclog, but was defeated by the Covenanters. On 22 June, however, a badly-led army of Covenanters were defeated at Bothwell Bridge. Following this a merciless persecution of Galloway was initiated. A Test Act was passed in August 1681 which obliged them to accept the complete authority of the King in all matters civil and ecclesiastical and to renounce Presbyterianism. Courts were set up to enforce this, and the innocent, suspected and guilty alike were subjected to extreme torture and then either imprisoned on the Bass Rock, or in Blackness Castle. Many others were transported to the colonies to be sold as slaves.
Of these events Claverhouse wrote: “In the meantyme we quartered on the rebelles, and endevoured to destroy them by eating up their provisions, but they quickly preceived the dessein, and soued their corns on untilled ground. After which we fell in search of the rebelles, played them hotly with pairtys, so that there were severall taken, many fleid the country and all were dung from their hants; and rifled so their houses, ruined their goods, and impoverished their servants, that their wyfes and childring were broght to sterving; which forced them to have recourd to the safe conduct, and mid them glaid to renounce their principles.”
In October 1684 James Renwick assumed the leadership of the Covenanters and published his ‘Apologetical Declaration’ against the king and his ministers. The Privy Council responded with an Act which stated: “The Lords of his majesty’s Privy Council do hereby ordain any person who owns, or will not disown, the late treasonable document (the Apologetical Declaration), whether they have arms or not, to be immediately put to death.” This opened the way for summary execution without trial and the following period, covering the autumn of 1684 and the whole of 1685, became known as the ‘Killing Times’.
The growing prosperity and relative tolerance of Ulster during this period attracted not only many of the impoverished Galloway people, but also Puritans, Quakers and other Dissenters, mainly from the northern counties of England and especially from Yorkshire and Durham. These settlers were to leave their own impression on the language and personality of Ulster.
On 6 February 1685, Charles II of England died. There were suspicions among his physicians that his brother James had poisoned him to prevent him legitimising the claim of his natural son, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth. This appeared evident when the post-mortem study of his abdominal contents mysteriously disappeared. When James II ascended the throne the inhabitants of the growing town of Belfast (population around 2,000) sent a congratulatory address to the new King. But while “government in the last years of Charles II had been based upon a close understanding between the Court on the one hand and the High Church and Tory Party on the other,” James was an avowed Roman Catholic who was determined to adopt rapid methods of Romanising the country.
The fears of the Protestant population in Ireland were first engendered by the recall of Ormond, the Lord Lieutenant, whose Protestant sympathies were not in accord with James’s design for the island. According to Lord Macauley, James also “obtained from the obsequious estates of Scotland, as the surest pledge of their loyalty, the most sanguinary law that has ever in our island been enacted against Protestant Nonconformists.” With this law and the dragoons of Claverhouse he wasted and oppressed Galloway still more, the atrocities culminating with the foul murder of the Wigton Martyrs, Margaret Maclachan and Margaret Wilson in May.
However, in England itself, before James could proceed with implementing any of his designs, a rebellion was raised by the Duke of Monmouth, now a claimant to the throne. Among the radical exiles in Holland who financed his expedition was the great philosopher, John Locke. However, this ill-fated rebellion was crushed at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 15 July 1685. As G. M. Trevelyan wrote: “The revenge taken upon the rebels, first by Kirke and his barbarized soldiers from Tangier, and then by Judge Jeffreys in his insane lust for cruelty, was stimulated by orders from the King. It was the first thing in the new reign that alarmed and disgusted the Tories. In the general horror felt at the long rows of tarred and gibbeted Dissenters along the roadsides of Wessex, came the first recoil from the mutual rage of parties that had so long devastated English political and religious life, the first instinctive movement towards a new era of national unity and toleration.”
Although thus far triumphant, James’s Catholic Design was ironically thwarted by anti-Protestant legislation enforced by his cousin, Louis XIV of France. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes suppressed all the privileges granted by Henry IV and Louis XII to the Huguenots, inhibited the exercise of the Protestant religion, enjoined the banishment of all its ministers with 15 days, held out rewards for converts, and prohibited keeping schools, or bringing up children, in any but the Catholic religion. Dragoons were sent into Languedoc, Dauphine and Provence to enforce the decree, and it has been estimated that some half-million Huguenots left France as a result.
They migrated mostly to the British Isles, Holland and Germany, and brought with them their arts, industry and resentment. Their most persistent memories were the wholesale massacre of Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day, 24 August 1572, by order of the Queen Mother, Catherine d’Medici, and the Siege of La Rochelle, 1628, where out of a population of 25,000 at least 10,000 Protestants died rather than surrender to the Roman Catholic army under Cardinal Richelieu. This flood of persecuted Protestants into England made James’s Romanizing intentions well-nigh impossible to implement.
But while in England James had to tread warily, in Ireland he felt he could progress as planned. In 1686 he appointed Richard Talbot, an ardent Roman Catholic, Earl of Tyrconnell and General of the Forces in the island. Tyrconnell proceeded to dismiss all ‘Englishmen’ from the army, disband the Protestant regiments and replace them with Roman Catholics. In January 1687 Tyrconnell became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
It was well known that Tryconnell’s real intention was to drive all the recent settlers out of Ireland, to destroy the Protestant faith in general, and to restore the Irish aristocracy. In May 1689 what is generally known as the ‘Patriot Parliament’, composed mainly of the ‘Old English’, or Anglo-Irish Catholics, would, against the opposition of James himself, who looked upon his Protestant Irish subjects more pragmatically, repeal the Act of Settlement and pass an Act of Attainder against some 2,400 Protestant landowners.
While many of the Protestants prepared for the inevitable defiance, others emigrated to England, where they further enhanced the fears of its Protestant majority as to James’s intentions. However, the fears in England were not primarily religious. The Protestants feared the political implications of English Roman Catholicism more than its theology; they feared the absolute nature of its claim to represent the ultimate in social order, more than its specific ceremonies; but most of all they began to fear for their country’s parliamentary form of government.
William the Liberator
William III by Sir Godfrey Kneller
As loyalty to James ebbed in England, so the civil power of Roman Catholics increased in Ireland. By the autumn of 1688 all the judges in Ireland were Roman Catholics as were almost all the highest officers of the State. On 5 November the Liberator William Henry, Prince of Orange and Nassau, at the invitation of James’s enemies, landed at Torbay in England with an army, and by the end of the year the King had abdicated and fled to France. William was James’s nephew , his mother being Mary Stuart, her father, Charles I, being his “Grandfather England”. Mary and her husband had spent much of their fortune maintaining the Stuart dynasty, which was descended from the Old British aristocracy, and had given refuge to her brothers Charles and James from Cromwell’s agents. She was to get little thanks. William had sat on his favourite Uncle James’s knee as a little boy. It is important to remember this when William allowed James to escape following the Battle of the Boyne. Furthermore William was married to his cousin, another Mary Stuart, James’s daughter. And through his father, William was also descended from the greatest Royal Houses of Europe. There was no finer claimant to the British throne.
Ironically, this development was welcomed by Pope Innocent XI, a man of moderation who disapproved of the policy being pursued by James, and who helped finance William’s army. As G.M. Trevelyan pointed out: “Innocent had quarrels of his own with Louis XIV and the French Jesuits; he dreaded the French power in Italy and in Europe, and therefore watched with sympathy the sailing and the success of William’s Protestant crusade, because it would release England from the French vassalage. [William] was, himself, the head of a league against Louis that sought to unite Austria, Spain, and the Roman Pontiff with Holland and Protestant Germany. What the Pope and the moderate English Catholics hoped to obtain in England was not political supremacy but religious toleration.”
There was not, however, a similar constitutional crisis in Ireland where Tyrconnell still held the country firmly for King James. Even in Ulster the Presbyterians “did not at once appear against the king’s government”. According to J.M. Barkley, “What settled the issue was Tyrconnell’s ‘sparing neither age nor sex, putting all to the sword without mercy’ (to use the words of a survivor) following the Break of Dromore.”
Meanwhile the regiment of Lord Mountjoy, which was one of the few essentially Protestant ones left, was ordered to leave Londonderry, which was to be garrisoned by the Catholic MacDonnells under Lord Antrim. The citizens, fearing a repetition of the events of 1641, wanted to refuse the troops entry. However, as Robert Kee points out: “Other voices, shocked, declared that it would be unthinkable to try and keep royal troops out of a royal garrison. The Protestant Bishop of Londonderry and other Protestant establishment figures were among the latter, although the Presbyterians with their naturally independent attitude to authority were less troubled by such scruples. The official decision, however, had been taken to admit the troops in the normal way, when suddenly thirteen apprentice boys of the city took matters into their own hands, seized the keys of the gates of Londonderry and on 7th December 1688 slammed them firmly in the face of lord Antrim’s Redshanks — King James’s troops.”
Enniskillen followed suit, and throughout Ulster, defence associations were set up and councils of war elected. On 13 February 1689 William and Mary (James II’s Protestant daughter) were proclaimed King and Queen of England. On 12 March James II landed at Kinsale from France and marched north to destroy the latest affront to his authority. On 18 April he commenced the Siege of Londonderry, which lasted a total of 105 days, the longest in British history. During that time one third of the city’s 30,000 inhabitants died of injuries, famine and disease. At last, on 28 July, Derry was relieved by the British ship Mountjoy and two other vessels. Two aspects of the siege were to lodge deep within the Protestant subconscious: firstly, a ‘No Surrender!’ determination to stand firm against any perceived threats to their heritage; secondly, “an awareness that however much the northern Protestant may need British help he is also on his own” , a feeling no doubt given weight by the fact that the British ships which finally lifted the siege had been nearby right from the beginning, but hadn’t been able to summon up the courage to act.
Finally, on 14 June, 1690, King William himself landed at Carrickfergus and bonfires were lit on all the hills of Antrim and Down. Our own Prince William has now been created Baron Carrickfergus, a Norman town named after Fergus of Dalriada. At Loughbrickland in County Down William reviewed an army composed of Protestants from all over Europe — Dutch, Danes, French, Germans, English, Scots, Irish, Swiss, Italians, Norwegians and Poles. His army also included an elite unit, the Dutch Blue Guards, who were mainly Roman Catholics from Brabant, fiercely loyal to William.The European dimension was to be completed by James’s Jacobite force of Irish, French, English, Germans and Dutch. On 1 July (commemorated on 12 July but actually 11 July in modern calendars and celebrated as such on Bonfire night) the two armies met at the River Boyne, where William defeated James’s troops. When news reached Pope Alexander VIII, who was as delighted as his predecessor at what was in effect a French defeat, he ordered torchlight processions in Rome in celebration, and Te Deums were sung in the Catholic cathedrals of Austria and Spain.
The Twelfth of July
Following the Battle of the Boyne, the military position in Ireland remained fluid. The Boyne has been described as one of the decisive battles of the western world, for it signalled to Europe defeat for the French and the Jacobites — but it was not the final victory of the War. Neither was it a battle altogether characterised by the direction of the professional soldier but a magnificent drama portraying the personalities of the two kings. James had once been an able General, experienced and astute, but he was now suffering from dementia, probably related to tertiary syphilis resultant from his promiscuous lifestyle.
The Prince of Orange’s own legendary bravery was linked to a strong, yet tolerant, religious conviction and a warm attachment to the Protestant faith, which sprang from earnest thought and attention. He possessed great military genius and soundness of judgement and must have been familiar with the exploits of that earlier Guillaume d’Orange (William of Orange) , so prominent in the Old French Chansons de Geste (Songs of Heroic Deeds) of the 12th and 13th Centuries. Essentially a diplomat, who cared for the welfare of his soldiers and avoided conflict where he could, his tactics at the Boyne were proved to have been correct.
Yet, if the battle was won by William, the pursuit was not. The losses on both sides had been less than on any field of battle of equal importance and celebrity — fifteen hundred Jacobites and five hundred Williamites. But among the latter were Schomberg, the master soldier, and Walker of Derry, the heart and soul of his people. William’s physical infirmities, his wound in the early part of the battle and the fatigue he had endured exhorting his men, had made him incapable of further progress. The King could not do everything, but what was not done by him was not done at all. And so the French and Jacobites escaped to fight another day.
From October 1690 until May 1691 no military operation on a large scale was attempted in the Kingdom of Ireland. During that winter and the following spring the island was divided almost equally between the contending parties. The whole of Ulster, the greater part of Leinster, and about one third of Munster were now controlled by the Williamites; the whole of Connaught, the greater part of Munster and two or three counties of Leinster were still held by the Jacobites.
Continuous guerrilla activity persisted, however, along the rough line of demarcation. In the spring of 1691, James’s Lord Lieutenant, Tyrconnell, returned to Ireland, followed by the distinguished French general Saint Ruth, who was commissioned as Commander-in-Chief of the Jacobite army. Saint Ruth was a man of great courage and resolution, but his name was synonymous with the merciless suppression and torture of the Protestants of France, including those of the district of Orange in the South, of which William was Prince.
The Marquess of Ruvigny, hereditary leader of the French Protestants, and elder brother of that brave Caillemot who had fallen at the Boyne, now joined the Dutch general Ginkell, who was strengthening the Williamite army at Mullingar. Ginkell first took Ballymore where he was joined by the Danish auxiliaries under the command of the Duke of Wurtemburg, and then the strategic town of Athlone.
Thus was the stage set for one of the fiercest battles of that age or any other. Determined to stake everything in a final showdown, St Ruth pitched his camp about thirty miles from Athlone on the road to Galway. He waited for Ginkell on the slope of a hill almost surrounded by red bog, chosen with great judgement near the ruined castle of Aughrim.
Soon after 6 o’clock on the morning of 12 July, 1691, the Williamite army moved slowly towards the Jacobite positions. Delay was caused, however, by a thick fog which hung until noon and only later in the afternoon did the two armies confront each other. The Jacobite army of twenty-five thousand men had further protected themselves with a breastwork constructed without difficulty. The Williamites, numbering under twenty thousand, advanced over treacherous and uneven ground, sinking deep in mud at every step. The Jacobites defended the breastwork with great resolution for two hours so that, as evening was fast closing in, Ginkell began to consider a retreat. St Ruth was jubilant and pressed his advantage.
However, Ruvigny and Mackay, with the Huguenot and British Cavalry, succeeded in bypassing the bog at a place where only two horsemen could ride abreast. There they laid hurdles on the soft ground to create a broader and safer path and, as reinforcements rapidly joined them, the flank of the Jacobite army was soon turned. St Ruth was rushing to the rescue when a cannonball took off his head. He was carried in secret from the field but, without direction, the Jacobites faltered. The Williamite infantry returned to their frontal attack with rugged determination and soon the breastwork was carried. The Jacobites retreated fighting bravely from enclosure to enclosure until finally they broke and fled.
This time there was no William to restrain the soldiers. Only four hundred prisoners were taken and not less than seven thousand Jacobites were killed, a greater number of men in proportion to those engaged than in any other battle of that time. Of the victors six hundred were killed, and about a thousand were wounded. If the night had not been moonless and visibility reduced by a misty rain, which allowed Sarsfield to cover the retreat, scarcely a Jacobite would have escaped alive. And so it is that we commemorate the successful end of the Williamite War on 12th July every year.
Hugh Balldearg O’Donnell
” There are three things which will never end….The Pride of France….The treachery of England…. And the War that is in Ireland”
Jean Froissart (c 1337 – c1405)
Waiting in the wings with his own army was a remarkable man named Hugh Balldearg O’Donnell. He had arrived from Spain shortly after the Battle of the Boyne claiming to be a lineal descendant of the ancient “Gaelic” kings of Tyrconnell in Ulster, the Cenel Conaill, which, indeed, he was. But the traditional understanding that they were a northern branch of the Ui Neill dynasty was a propagandist construct of c.700-750 AD. In reality they were a Cruthin or Pretani people.
He also claimed to be the O’Donnell ‘with a red mark’ (ball dearg), a descendent of one of the first genuinely historical figures, Niall of the Nine Hostages, whom his followers thought could be described as “kings of Ireland”, who, according to ancient prophecy, was destined to lead his followers to victory. But the O’Donnells were really descended from the ancient Cruthin Kings of Tara , though he was not to know that. Many ordinary Ulster Catholics had flocked to his standard, causing great hostility on the part of the Talbot Tyrconnell who saw him as a threat to his own earldom.
Balldearg thus remained aloof from the battle. He proceeded to join the standard of William with 1200 men on 9 September, 1691, and marched to assist in the reduction of the Jacobite town of Sligo. This garrison surrendered on 16 September, 1691, on condition that they were conveyed to Limerick. Balldearg remained loyal to William and later entered his service in Flanders, with those of his men who elected to follow him. Finally betrayed by the English establishment, as was William himself, for that is what they do, he afterwards fought for the house of Austria as a volunteer in the Netherlands and in Italy. He returned to Spain in 1697, was reinstated in the army, and died a major-general in 1704.
With the surrender of Limerick on 3 October, 1691, the War finally ended and the ‘Glorious Revolution’ was complete. Most of the radical exiles in Holland, including Locke, returned to England as participants in, or in the wake of, the Revolution. Locke’s Protestantism, which perceived humankind as constituting a spiritual community within which individuals were free, equal, endowed with reason, and capable of acting for the common good, sought to establish the basis on which society could progress to enlightenment. Furthermore, Locke’s labour theory of property antedated by more than a century the economic debate which would come to dominate European political thinking. During William’s reign the National Debt was commenced, the Bank of England established, the modern system of finance introduced, ministerial responsibility recognised, the standing army transferred to the control of parliament, the liberty of the press secured and the British constitution established on a firm basis.
James vindictively blamed his courageous soldiers for his defeat. “But it was their king that condemned the Irish to hopeless failure. He called them cowards, whereas the cowardice was really his own, and he deserted them in their utmost need. They repaid him with the opprobrious nickname of ‘Sheemas-a-Cacagh’.” Many of the defeated Jacobite soldiers chose exile, and between 1691 and 1791 almost half a million such ‘Wild Geese’ left Ireland to form the famous Irish Brigades of armies throughout Europe, and of this number 50,000 fell in battle. James II’s General, Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, became a Marshal of France; Marshal Charles O’Brien, Viscount Clare and Earl of Thomond, fought for the French at Fontenoy and saved the Bourbon dynasty; Marshal Count James Roland Nugent commanded in the Austrian army, and his son Laval became a Marshal in the service of King Ferdinand V of Spain; Marshal Maxmilian von Browne rose in the service of Maria Theresa of Austria and Marshal Peter de Lacy became famous throughout Europe and parts of Asia as a commander in the Russian Army of Tsar Peter the Great. All were staunch Royalists, who would have abhorred modern republicanism.
Once again, a sense of regional identity had been noted by those outsiders who had cause to be in Ireland during these times. A tract written on the Continent in the 1620s made it clear that Ireland was ‘divided into two parts’, North and South. As Raymond Gillespie and Harold O’Sullivan commented: “This division was reflected in differing attitudes and native Irish Ulstermen were by no means comfortable in seventeenth century Munster. George Storey, an officer in the Williamite army, noted in 1691 that after the war the Ulstermen who had fled to Kerry and Clare during the war began to return home ‘which was a little odd to see’ since it was a long journey, they had no assurance of regaining their farms in Ulster and there was a real risk of retaliation from the settlers. In contrast, land in Munster was cheap and available ‘but’, Storey noted, ‘the reason for this is plain, for there is so great an antipathy between the Ulster Irish and those in other parts of the kingdom, as nothing can be more, and the feuds amongst them greater than between either and their injured protestant neighbours’.”
The Byerley Turk – Williamite War Horse
The Byerley Turk (1678–1706) fought for King William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne and is one of the most remarkable horses in history. I was presented with Jeremy James’ book on him by Eugene Keane, when our Dalaradia organisation visited the Boyne, Newgrange and Tara. I had presented Eugene with two of my books Dalaradia and 1690; King William and the Boyne as Patron of the organisation. Eugene is Head of National Historic Buildings Division of the Office of Public Works, Republic of Ireland, and accompanied the Queen and Prince Phillip on their visit to the Rock of Cashel and The Lord Bannside and Baroness Paisley, when I accompanied them , and more recently, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, on their visits to the Boyne Site.
The Byerley Turk was the earliest of three stallions that were the founders of the modern Thouroughbred horse racing bloodstock (the other two are the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian). He was born in a humble stable in the Balkans in 1678, but went on to become one of the finest fighting horses in the Ottoman cavalry. The stallion is believed to have been captured by Captain Robert Byerley at the Battle of Buda in 1686, served as Byerley’s war horse when he was dispatched to Ireland in 1689 during King William’s War and saw further military service in the Battle of the Boyne.
The Byerley Turk was reportedly a dark brown horse with large eyes, long and high set on neck with high carriage of the tail. The Byerley Turk helped form the modern Cleveland Bay. Many of his offspring were also noted to have been either bay or black. He was shipped from Hoylake in England on 12th September 1689, landing in Carrickfergus the following day, He was on the march south to Dundalk on 18th September, arriving in Dundalk on 23rd. He joined the march north again to Lisburn on 30th, where he wintered.
On 27th February 1690, he commenced the march to Downpatrick, where on 15th March he won the King’s Plate at the great race at Flying Horse Road. On 17th June he proceeded to Hillsborough to be presented to William of Orange, who had landed in Carrickfergus on 14th June. The march south to the Boyne started on 25th, culminating in the famous battle on 1st July, now celebrated on Bonfire night 11th July, due to the change in the calendar. On 2nd July James II fled to France and on 5th July William’s army mustered at Finglas, Dublin and then marched west in pursuit of the Jacobite army.
On 8th August the Byerley was at the First Siege of Limerick and during that month was engaged with reparee guerillas. The siege was lifted on 27th August and the Byerley wintered in Mountmellick. The following June 1691 he was present at the second Siege of Athlone and on 12th July took part in the great Battle of Aughrim, helping, with immense bravery, to turn the flank of the Jacobite army. 17th July saw the march to the Siege of Limerick, which lasted until August and the Jacobites finally surrendered on 26th of that month, signing the Treaty of Limerick on 3rd October 1691. The Byerley was on the march to Dublin on 7th November and was finally shipped back to Hoylake on 19th.
In 1696, Captain Robert Byerley married his cousin, Mary Wharton (sole heir to the estate of Goldsborough, near Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, England) and moved to live with her at her family home of Goldsborough Halll. After Byerley retired (as Colonel Byerley), the Byerley Turk retired to stud, first at Middridge Grange, then, from 1697, at Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough. The Byerley Turk died there in 1706 and it is believed he is buried close to the Hall. Goldsborough Hall is now a private family home which offers accommodation, which includes the commemorative Byerley suite. Surely the Turk was the best of all the fighters for Royal William, Prince of Orange, the greatest of British Kings. There are 12 Epsom Derby winners, 10 St Ledger winners, and 14 The Oaks Stakes winners listed in family 1 as his descendants.
The Scotch Irish
The Protestants of Ulster had defended Derry and Enniskillen. They had saved Ireland for the British Crown. Yet all this passed for nothing. The English Church was Episcopalian and the ‘Protestant Ascendancy’ which now established itself in Ireland was thus actually an Episcopalian “Anglo-Irish” one, that is, the ‘English in Ireland’. Having reduced the rebellious Catholics by the harsh Penal Laws under William, which were based on the French Catholic legislation against Protestants, the High Church Party had gained in strength in England, and despite William’s Calvinist objections, by the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) were pressing for complete conformity.
In 1704 the Test Act was passed which required all office holders in Ireland to take the sacrament of the Anglican Church. Although ostensibly passed to further discourage Catholicism, the real object of the Act was to place the Presbyterians on the same plane of impotence. Presbyterian ministers had now no official standing and marriages performed by them were null and void. To the High Churchmen they were actually inferior to Catholic priests, who were considered lawfully ordained in the line of apostolic succession. Presbyterians and other Dissenters could not now serve in the army, the militia, the civil service, the municipal corporations, the teaching profession or the commission of the peace. At Belfast the entire Corporation was expelled, and Londonderry lost ten of its twelve aldermen (Schism Act).
Yet for all that, the Presbyterians had long made their adjustment to religious restrictions, and most bishops of the Church of Ireland were especially tolerant in an age of bigotry. Indeed, Archbishop William King was prominent in his expression of abhorrence to the Archbishop of Canterbury, not only of the risks of increasing alienation of the Presbyterians, but of English commercial avarice in restricting the Irish Woollen trade and the practice of rack-renting by landlords, whereby a farmer’s land would be sold to the highest bidder when his lease ran out. The final straw came with the drought of the ‘teen years of the 18th century. This ruined crops, including flax, so that farmers, weavers and townspeople suffered alike. In 1716 sheep were afflicted with the ‘rot’ and many died. Severe frosts ensued, prices soared and absentee English landlords steadily increased their rents. Thus began around 1717 the great migration from Ulster to America.
An earlier emigrant to America was Francis Mackemie, born of Scottish parents near Ramelton, County Donegal. He settled in Eastern Virginia, and in 1706 was one of the most prominent members of the first Presbytery founded in America. Mackemie is justly considered to be the founding father of the Presbyterian Church in America, which was well organised to receive the new Ulster immigrants. Soon Ulster people were settling in New York State, where they founded the Orange and Ulster counties.
The first wave of migration to Pennsylvania (1717-1718) was enough to arouse the English conscience and in 1719 an Act of Parliament was passed to permit Dissenters to celebrate their own form of worship. But rack-renting continued and from 1725 to 1729 there was such an exodus of Ulster Presbyterians to the south-eastern tier of counties in Pennsylvania that their political influence was quickly becoming considerable. That influence was directed increasingly against England. A ‘feed-back’ into Ulster itself helped to make it a centre of radicalism, which was embodied in the establishment of one of the world’s first daily newspapers, the Belfast News Letter in 1737.
By 1738 these “Scotch-Irish” settlers had pioneered their way from Pennsylvania into Virginia, of which two modern counties, Augusta and Rockbridge, claim to be the most Scotch-Irish in the present United States. By 1738 their Orange County, with its country seat in the Piedmont, embraced most of the Valley of Virginia, and also much of what is now West Virginia.
The winter of 1739-40 was known in Ulster as ‘the time of the black frost’, because of the darkness of the ice and the lack of sunshine. This severe weather caused famine all over the island, and a further wave of migration from Ulster (1740-1741). The new arrivals in America now generally went through Pennsylvania down into the Valley of Virginia. Here the McDowell family especially distinguished themselves, and thus did the Ulstermen become the men of Shenandoah. Others crossed the first range of the Alleghenies to settle in the valleys of (present) Highland and Bath counties.
The Indian Nations
In America’s Historylands, a celebration of the rich historical heritage of America, due acknowledgment is given to the pioneering efforts of these Ulster settlers: “Immigrants first settled the over-mountain country: Germans, English, Highlanders, Irish, Welsh, Scotch-Irish. New England stock seasoned the mixture. Dominant were the Scotch-Irish, defiant and aggressive, who seldom neglected an opportunity to better themselves. They had undying confidence in their manhood, were as bold as the Romans, and as Indian fighters won even the Shawnee’s admiration. They were Presbyterians, though in the wilderness many turned Baptist or Methodist. They believed in freedom and equality, resented class distinction and the leisurely life. They “preferred the useful to the beautiful and even required the beautiful to be useful.” They contributed mightily to the democratization of the United States.”
Of Scotch-Irish stock was James Robertson, who founded a settlement (the site of present Elizabethton, Tennessee) on the banks of the Watauga River. For mutual protection against Indians and outlaws, the Wataugans in 1772 formed the first independent government established by white men west of the Appalachians. During the Revolution they placed themselves under the mantle of North Carolina, but had to beat off attack after attack by England’s British Indian allies. In 1779 Robertson recruited a party and led them down the frozen Cumberland River. On snow-covered bluffs they founded Nashboro (Nashville). After the war the Wataugans’ Scotch-Irish blood boiled because North Carolina continued to ignore their needs, indeed referred to the settlers as “off-scourings of the earth”. In 1784 the Wataugans resolved to break away, “forming ourselves into a separate government.”The resulting State of Franklin kept its independence for four years before finally succumbing because of economic hardship.
However, this one example of a Scotch-Irish settlement highlights the tenaciousness of purpose and the independence of attitude which these settlers brought to their new country of domicile. The extent of Scotch-Irish settlement is well illustrated in this listing by W. F. Marshall: “Ulster’s mark on America is also visible in its place names. There are eighteen towns in the United States named after Belfast. There are seven Derrys, nine Antrims and sixteen Tyrones. There is a Coleraine in Massachusetts. New Hampshire has Stewartstown. Washington, Ohio, and Iowa have each a Pomeroy. Hillsborough is in New Hampshire, Illinois, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Maine has Newry. Ohio has Banbridge. In twelve States there are twelve Milfords.”
While their ability to triumph over adversity speaks highly of the strength of character of the settlers, this uncompromising determination to establish themselves in their new land had a darker side to it — their ever-advancing settlements contributed greatly to the destruction of the Indian nations. The Indians were, as Fred A. Shannon explained, “a settled people, living in villages and practising an advanced stage of agricultural economy. They had many hundreds of cleared acres of land on which they grew corn, sometimes a hundred bushels to the acre, in addition to an equal amount of such vegetables as pumpkins, squashes, and beans. For lack of any indigenous animals that could be domesticated for draft purposes, hand implements were the only recourse for cultivation, but for several generations the white man (who looked upon them as savages because of their different complexion and habits) failed to excel these Indians in the quality of produce or the size of crops to the acre.”
Throughout all the various Indian uprisings that punctuated the early history of America the central thread was to be the Indians’ attempt to put a stop to the continuing white encroachments upon their lands. The Indians fought bravely, their most prominent victory being at the Battle of the Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn) River when Sitting Bull’s braves wiped out General Custer’s cavalry detachment in 1876, but more usually they suffered continuing defeats, including the infamous and needless massacre of nearly 250 Indian men, women and children at Wounded Knee Creek, in South Dakota on 29 December, 1890.
Forced to take to the Great Plains to survive, the Lakota (Sioux) and Cheyenne had become imbued with a new sense of collective identity and purpose. Increasingly enraged by the government’s policy to exterminate them, a policy ironically supported by those Irish American soldiers who had fought on the Northern side in the Civil War, ostensibly to free the South from Black slavery, they had decided to stand and fight. Sitting Bull’s charisma and political acumen had allowed him to emerge as their leader, following a vision of victory he had received during a Sun Dance. But it was a close run thing.
So it was that I travelled as a medical student among the Lakota (Sioux) and later, as a doctor, learned a little of their language, traditions and natural-world philosophy from the Spiritual Elders, so that I myself was later considered by some as a Wisdom Keeper also. But to me this has essentially meant that by learning their language more thoroughly by means of a Course in Conversational Lakota, bought for me by my sister Isabel Sloan Kerr Beegle in America, I could more fully understand their concept of a First Cause. My failure had lain, not with the idea itself, but with the inadequacy of the English language to express it. Wisdom Keepers all share the idea that the four-legged and winged nations, the creeping and crawling ones, the plant and tree nations,and those that dwell among the stars, are descended from and are part of a Great Holy Mystery (Wakan Tanka). All things are part of an incomprehensible totality which always was and always will be.
The American Declaration of Independence
By the end of 1775 at least a quarter of a million Ulster men and women had left Ireland over a period of 58 years, and, according to some estimates, formed one sixth of the total population of the American Colonies. To America they brought a hatred of that aristocratic landlordism exemplified by the Marquis of Donegall, who had evicted many of the small farmers who couldn’t pay the increased rents on his County Antrim estates. James Logan, the Provincial Secretary, had originally invited his fellow Ulstermen to Pennsylvania but soon complained that “a settlement of five families from the north of Ireland gives me more trouble than fifty of any other people.” He found the Scotch-Irish “troublesome settlers to the government and hard neighbours to the Indians. ”Indeed, the first armed clash to precede the Revolutionary War occurred in 1771 when Scotch-Irish settlers fought Government forces on the Alamance River in North Carolina.
On 20 May 1775 they were the most prominent signatories of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence drawn up in Charlotte, North Carolina. They subsequently supported the Declaration of Independence passed by the Continental Congress on 4 July 1776 and they composed the flower and backbone of Washington’s army in the Revolutionary War which followed.Their cause was advocated by the Belfast News Letter, and the contemporary Harcourt wrote that “The Presbyterians in the north are in their hearts Americans.” A German captain who fought alongside the British redcoats was quite explicit: “Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian rebellion.” The Pennsylvania Line, the famous force of regular troops, was of primarily Ulster descent. George Washington is reputed to have said, “If defeated everywhere else I will make my last stand for liberty among the Scotch-Irish of my native Virginia.” The birthplace of New York state was the Ulster County courthouse, burned in 1777 by the British, who were aided by the Iroquois Indians under their hero-chieftain, Brant.
The Official Declaration of Independence was written in the handwriting of Charles Thompson from Maghera, printed by John Dunlap from Strabane, given its first public reading by the son of an Ulsterman, Colonel John Nixon, and among the signatories were the following, all either born in Ulster, or born to Ulster parents — John Hancock, President of the Congress, Thomas McKean, Thomas Nelson, Robert Paine, Edward Rutledge, George Taylor, Matthew Thornton and William Whipple. The great Seal of the United States — an eagle holding arrows and a branch — was designed by Charles Thompson after a Congressional committee consisting of Franklin, Jefferson and Adams, broke up in disagreement. Edward Rutledge’s brother John chaired a committee of five states which drew up the United States Constitution. According to Alexis de Tocqueville, the United States Constitution bore Rutledge’s “personal stamp. One man made it; and it was Rutledge.”
One direct influence on the radical thinking that was now being formulated in the ‘New World’ was the work of the great Ulster philosopher, Francis Hutcheson, son of an Armagh Presbyterian minister, and who was born probably at Drumalig, Saintfield, County Down in 1694. He studied for the church at Glasgow (1710-1716) but then started a private academy in Dublin where he was particularly associated with the advanced Presbyterian libertarians, Thomas Drennan, William Bruce and Samuel Haliday. In 1729 he was appointed professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow, where he died in 1746. His most important work is A Sense of Moral Philosophy (with a Life, 1755). Hutcheson was quite explicit about the right of resistance by the people in the event of a betrayal of trust by a government. He expounded the doctrine of religious toleration and he deeply admired the tradition of armed militias for the protection of civil liberties.
The principles he espoused found their way via American revolutionary thinkers into the Declaration of Independence and are embodied in the American Constitution. Hutcheson’s influence on Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and others is explored in M. White’s Philosophy of the American Revolution and G. Wills’ Inventing America. In fact, Wills concluded that Hutcheson’s influence on Jefferson was stronger than that of John Locke. Hutcheson was a pioneer of the ‘Common Sense’ school of philosophy, influenced by Locke; his ethical system is a development of Shaftesbury’s ‘Moral Sense’ ethics, in which moral distinctions are in a sense intuited, rather than arrived at by reasoning.
The most glaring omission from the Declaration of Independence was a strong disapproval of Black slavery. Had such a clause been included it would have made the way much easier toward final emancipation via legal methods. Matthew T Mellon, in his study of the racial attitudes of America’s ‘Founding Fathers’, Early American Views on Negro Slavery, concluded that while the leading men at the time of the Revolution were all concerned with how to abolish the slave trade, economic pressures and moral indifference prevented them from energetically pursuing its abolition. “Problems grew out of the attitude of the early colonists and their European proprietors, who thought that the great natural resources of America were meant to be consumed and exploited as quickly and ruthlessly as possible.
The English manufacturers realized that the slave trade, which began in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, was a great stimulant to American agriculture and would furnish raw material for their mills. On the other hand, the presence of the English markets and their ability to absorb all the raw materials that were produced, proved a stimulant to the plantation owners to increase their laborers. And while it is true, as Jefferson claimed, that the slave trade was imposed upon the colonists by powers outside of the colonies, it is also true that the colonists too quickly forgot their scruples against it. Any student of the period must admit that with the occasional outbursts of honest indignation against slavery and the slave trade there existed a great deal of moral indifference and unconcern which allowed this great social problem to develop.”
The Loyalists of British North America
John Locke‘s ideas had provided the best theoretical justification for the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. Locke’s Two Treatises of Government sought to establish the basis for legitimate government. He first set out to discredit the argument that a king’s power was divine and not limited by human law, insisting that, on the contrary, the Bible prescribed no particular form of government, this could only be determined by the people themselves. Locke went further and claimed that “it is lawful for the people … to resist their king” when the monarch put his private interests above the interests of the community as a whole.“I say using force upon the people, without authority and contrary to the trust put in him that does so, is a state of war with the people, who have a right to reinstate their legislative in the exercise of their power.” Not only was Locke’s thinking important in its European context – the British or “Glorious” Revolution had a profound impact on French liberalism – it was an important influence upon the radicals who made the American Revolution of 1776; indeed, his Two Treaties of Government has been called “the textbook of the American Revolution”.
The voice of popular democracy had also been making itself heard with increasing articulateness. The radical Leveller movement felt that because the power of parliament was ultimately derived from the people it was the people therefore who were sovereign – parliament only possessed a purely delegated authority. Another group, the Diggers, believed that it was private property, particularly land ownership, which was at the root of all social evil and inequality, and their main spokesman, Gerrard Winstanley, depicted the rule of kings as being no different from that of thieves.
In 1649, forty years before the poor of Ireland would spill their blood for the sake of two competing kings, their more radical counterparts in England were attempting to seize and cultivate common land, in order that they could distribute the produce among the ordinary people. Such radical ideas, and the profound changes they inaugurated were not, of course, simply a reaction to uniquely English events, but reflected fundamental social, economic and political changes occurring within European society in general.
Increasingly, political struggles within society became more closely identified with the particular social and economic interests of different groups, even to the extent of overriding traditional allegiances. Thus, in America the “Scotch-Irish”, largely Ulster Presbyterian in origin, threw themselves wholeheartedly into the republican camp – an ironic situation when viewed from today’s perspective – believing that an independent American Republic was eminently more desirable for their social and economic wellbeing than continued control and interference by the British Government.
However, the growing economic and political power of these new republicans proved threatening to other sections of American society, who stayed decidedly Loyalist, including many Catholic Jacobites from the Highlands of Scotland, who had fought the House of Hanover in the 1745 rebellion and remembered the defeat of 1715, but who became staunch Loyalists because of the generous treatment they received in America from their former adversaries. Various “cultural minorities”, fearful of an increase in the power of the majority, often sought British help or protection – New Rochelle, for example, the only place where the French Calvinists still spoke French, was an area of substantial Huguenot Loyalism.
Nor were America’s Black population convinced that an alliance with radical republicans was really to their advantage. Most of the Black community were “strongly attached to the British”, according to one contemporary Loyalist source. Certainly there was a widespread fear of Black people among the newly consolidating American “establishment”, partly an extension of the perennial dread of slave revolt, and intensified by the mass desertion of slaves in response to a wholesale British offer of freedom. Indeed, we have seen that a strong disapproval of Black slavery was the most glaring omission from the Declaration of Independence and that Matthew T Mellon, in his study of the racial attitudes of America’s “Founding Fathers”, Early American Views on Negro Slavery, concluded that while the leading men at the time of the Revolution were all concerned with how to abolish the slave trade, economic pressures and moral indifference prevented them from energetically pursuing its abolition.
As the American Revolution gained momentum, the Indian peoples made some attempt at neutrality, but generally they favoured the British Government. They had no enthusiasm for the westward-pushing, uncontrollable colonial settlers who coveted their lands, and believed that the British, rather than the Americans, would be the most likely to seek restraints over this movement. Nothing highlights this allegiance better than the careers of the prominent Loyalists who emerged from among the Mohawk people, such as John Deserontyon, Aaron Hill and Joseph Brant, who commanded the Iroquois nations with great skill on the Crown side during the Revolutionary War. Even today Chief Earl Hill of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Nation, whom I met with Ed Kenny of the Ulster Accordian Band in Canada, still professes that his people “were proud of their status and designation as United Empire Loyalists”.
A delegation from the Mohawk nation came to Ulster in 1990 to attend the tercentenary celebrations of the Battle of the Boyne. During their visit they were no doubt made aware of the divisions which still run deep within Irish society as a consequence of that battle. This division must have seemed quite unnecessary to them, for in their own communities – in which Orange Lodges sit alongside self-help workshops – Protestants and Catholics are fully integrated and work together as Mohawks. It is surely high time that the communities in Ulster began that same process of integration, so that a new generation might finally escape the burden which our past history has for too long imposed upon us. As Chief Dan George has reminded us: “What wonders are children expecting while we hand them our problems? What hopes do we nourish in them while we are leading them into despair?”
I thought of the Loyalists when I stood at the memorial in Philadelphia to the unknown British Soldier of the Revolutionary War, which I was shown by my friend Paul Loane. For as many as one in three Americans had remained Loyal to George III. But in 1783 Britain finally signed a treaty with its rebellious American colonists, abandoning tens of thousands of people who were still deeply attached to the British crown. To the 12,000 refugees who had fled from the Rebels to make a new home in the swamps of Florida it was a disaster. As it was, too, for the 20,000 Black slaves who had rebelled against their masters to fight for the King. From the Southern ports of Charleston and Savannah alone, fearing dreadful reprisals, more than 20,000 loyalists, slaves and soldiers were evacuated by the Royal Navy. In New York City, originally Iroquois Mohawk territory and the heartland of Loyalism, 30,000 people fled for new lives to the Maritimes and Nova Scotia, while 2,500 travelled to Quebec and the Bahamas. This was the largest civilian evacuation in American history. There they created their “own imperial answer to the United States” and a “Loyal America in contrast to the republican America they had fled”. It became known as Canada, which in Iroquois Kannata means Village or Settlement.
In 1872 Lord Dufferin of Clandeboye became the third Governor General of Canada, bolstering imperial ties in the early years of the Dominion, and in 1884 he reached the pinnacle of his diplomatic career as eighth Viceroy of India. His statue, with a Canadian Trapper on one side and an Indian Sepoy on the other, sits in the grounds of the City Hall Belfast. I used to look out at it from my office as Lord Mayor of Belfast and latterly from the High Sheriff’s office. My friend, Lady Lindy Guinness, the last Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, is very proud of her ancestry from him. I have visited her often to speak of matters historical, and it was at her home many years ago I first met Van Morrison, Robert Kee and her then Chef Stephen Jeffers… She is descended, of course, from the ancient Cruthin kings and queens of Iveagh and the ancient British kings and queens of Albion, that country of perfidious renown.
In Africa, Loyalist exiles also established what was meant to be a utopian settlement, built by 1,000 Black slaves who had escaped to Canada, but who wished to built a new life in the land of ther ancestors. Partly organised and funded by Abolitionists, the new settlement of Freetown, however, eventually became yet another British Colony, Sierra Leone, run by white men for their own benefit, its history stained by endless riots and rebellions. Yet Freetown’s story was more than a chronicle of broken promises and false hopes. For the people who settled there achieved a greater degree of freedom than they could have had or probably still have in the United States of America. In a sense the American Loyalists were victors after all.
Ed: On American Loyalists, see FRANCE AND AMERICA – AND IRELAND, Wednesday, March 1. 2006, and the notes to British Revolution, by Dr Ian Adamson OBE, Saturday, May 15. 2010.
On Dr Adamson’s Mohawk connections, see Postscript, by Cllr Dr Ian Adamson, Wednesday, June 2. 2010
On the First Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, and on Lindy Dufferin (nee Guinness), see Clandeboye on television, Thursday, June 9. 2011.
Van the Man and The Music of the Mountains
The American expansion westward was pioneered by Ulster-Irish such as Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. Sam Houston, also of Ulster descent, organised the rebellion of the Scotch-Irish settlers in Texas against the Mexicans and established the Republic of Texas. The famous Battle of the Alamo, fought in 1836, was viewed by the Texans as a heroic effort in their struggle for independence. Not unnaturally, President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna of Mexico took a very different view and considered them traitors.
The Texas Revolution of 1835-36 resulted from several grievances against Mexico, the most important being the subversion by Santa Anna of the 1824 constitution and his assumption of dictatorial powers. The Texans won the first battle at San Antonio, with the defeat of General Martin Perfecto de Cos on 10 December 1835, but Mexican forces numbering more than 6,000 appeared at San Antonio on 23 February 1836, and besieged the Alamo, a fortress near the town. The Alamo was defended by a force of 187 Texans, led by William Barrett Travis and including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. On 6 March the Mexicans made an overwhelming assault against the post and, on capturing it, killed all of the defenders. However, on 15 March Texas had declared her independence and Santa Anna’s forces were defeated by the main Texas army under Sam Houston in April.
Although the Scotch-Irish were merging quickly now into the American nation, the Ulster speech itself was to stay alive in the hill-country of Appalachia and beyond, where Scotch-Irish traditional music may still be heard. Among the earliest songs were ballads of King William of Orange, so those who sung them became known as Billy-boys of the hill country or ‘hillbillies’. No attestation of the Scots or Northern English term “billie” meaning “friend” or “comrade” has been found in America apart from Bruce in 1801, so deriving “hillbilly” from this term is almost certainly incorrect. But William of Orange had a strong connection to the Appalachians through William and Mary College in Virginia, the intellectual epicentre of the Old Confederacy. “Hillbilly” like “Redneck” is used by outsiders in a derogatory manner and therefore generally avoided by the mountain people, except in a jocular or self-deprecating way. The first written attestation of the term by outsiders in America was as late as 1898.
Rooted deep in the traditions of the British Isles peasantry, the fiddle had become an instrument of major importance in the development of Irish, Scottish and Welsh jigs, reels and hornpipes. As with folk custom in general, traditional music themes reinforced the ancient cultural divide between North and West Britain and Ireland, and South and East Britain. Transposed to America, the hoe-down fiddle reached the peak of its development in the Southern States. Musicologist W.H. Williams has written: “Ireland’s initial impact upon American music came predominantly from Ulster… Whatever their influence in terms of cabin and barn styles, field layout, town planning, and so on, it seems likely that the greatest and most lasting contribution of the Scotch-Irish was music. And however one may define their particular religious and ethnic identity, musically they should be considered Ulstermen, for they brought with them the mixture of Scottish and Irish tunes which is still characteristic of large parts of Northern Ireland. When the great English folklorist Cecil Sharp went into the Appalachians to rediscover ‘English’ folk song, he was in fact often dealing with people of Ulster descent. Wherever they settled in large numbers and remained in relative isolation, balladry has been found ‘live and in a healthy condition’.”
The epitome of the various influences of Scotch-Irish music is Van Morrison, our greatest living musician . And that music is the oldest, deepest music in America that exists, carried from the western highland fringe of Europe by that most ancient of peoples, the Pretani, to the Appalachian mountains. It is a Serpentine trail, one made by the mountains themselves, as that vein of green mineral can be found from Georgia to Nova Scotia and on through Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall to the very Orkneys themselves. So are we made by the mountains and our music also, from the Gaelic singing of Stornoway to the Caledonian soul, from the choral psalmody of Bangor and St Gallen to the Hill songs of Tennessee. For Van searched it and rehearsed it, and he called it the birth of the Blues.
The Liberty Men
The American Revolution was to have a profound effect on the further history of Ireland in general, and of Ulster in particular. When France and Spain joined the Americans in 1778, an invasion of Ireland was feared and an armed Militia was formed. These volunteers were predominantly Protestants, and they quickly became a political force in the fight for Irish Parliamentary independence. In Dublin, Jonathan Swift, the Protestant Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, urged people to burn everything English except their coal! But it was in Belfast that those heights of radical political philosophy were reached which gave the town the name of ‘Athens of the North’. In February 1782 delegates from a number of Ulster Volunteer companies held a convention at Dungannon in County Tyrone and adopted resolutions favouring legislative and judicial independence and the relaxation of penal laws. In June of that year the Irish Parliament began to formally initiate its own legislation for the first time in over two hundred years.
As Peter Smyth wrote: “It was appropriate that Ulster should have provided the final impetus towards achieving legislative independence. Ulster had almost as many Volunteers as the other three provinces combined, and a much higher proportion of its population was politically active. This population was well-leavened with the yeast of the Presbyterian tradition of independence of thought… Grattan and other politicians, declaring that ‘Liberty is a native of the North”, echoed the popular toast, ‘May the Northern lights ever illuminate the Irish nation’. Such sentiments helped to foster Ulster’s high opinion of itself as the arbiter of national aspirations.” In 1784 the inhabitants of the town pressed for parliamentary reform and the emancipation of Roman Catholics. In 1789 they welcomed the French Revolution, while in 1791 they celebrated the second anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. However, when the new Parliament became hidebound through lack of proper reforms, the Volunteer movement went into a gradual decline.
On 1 April 1791 a group of progressive thinkers met in Peggy Barclay’s tavern in Belfast with the purpose of forming a society to promote the ideals that were inspiring so many of the Belfast radicals, men like Dr William Drennan, Robert and William Simms, Thomas McCabe, Henry Joy McCracken and Samuel Neilson. The natural extension of this meeting was the invitation to the young Dublin lawyer Theobald Wolfe Tone to come to Belfast on 14 October 1791, on which date was founded the Society of United Irishmen “to form a brotherhood of affection among Irishmen of every religious persuasion.” Tone recorded in his Diary during his first visit to Ulster in July that Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man had already become “the Koran of Blefescu”, as he nicknamed Belfast in his private correspondence.
In December the proclamation which led to the famous harpers’ festival declared that “some inhabitants of Belfast, feeling themselves interested in everything which relates to the Honour, as well as the Prosperity of their country, propose to open a subscription which they intend to apply in attempting to revive and perpetuate the ancient music and poetry of Ireland.”The following year the United Irish Society established a radical newspaper, The Northern Star, in Belfast, edited by Samuel Neilson, the son of a Presbyterian minister.
In 1793 Britain declared war on France, and Pitt, the British Prime Minister, pressurised the Irish government to raise a largely Catholic militia to defend Ireland for the Crown. The Volunteers were at the same time disbanded by proclamation, and the proprietors of The Northern Star prosecuted. The Society of United Irishmen, or Liberty Men as they knew themselves, rapidly became a secret, oathbound movement dedicated to the overthrow of the state. In 1794 a Church of Ireland clergyman, the Rev William Jackson, landed in Ireland as an agent of the French government, and was captured the following year in possession of a paper which sketched a republican uprising. This paper described the Presbyterians of Ulster as “the most enlightened body of the nation”. Jackson was charged with treason and executed in April 1795. Suspicion also fell on Wolfe Tone, who was thus forced to leave for America. Before he did do, he and the Northern leaders, Tom Neilson, Henry Joy McCracken and Thomas Russell, ascended the Cave Hill outside Belfast, where they swore to overthrow the power of England in Ireland for ever.
However, the American War of Independence had also closed the door to further emigration from Ulster for the present, and sectarian rivalry for land began to come into prominence again. In September 1795, following a long period of disturbances, Catholic ‘Defenders’ attacked a notorious Protestant ‘Peep o’Day Boys’ tavern at the Diamond in County Armagh, and were defeated in a pitched battle. Out of this skirmish was born the Orange Society which was to develop later into the Orange Order. In the autumn of 1796 a new force named the Yeomanry was enlisted for the government in Ulster, and these were chiefly Orangemen.
Yet the majority of the Presbyterians of Ulster remained true to the ideals of the United Irishmen, who had now received a new convert in the tragic young Protestant aristocrat, Lord Edward Fitzgerald. In March 1797 the government decided to disarm the North, and this was done with great cruelty by General Lake. Belfast, in particular, suffered the scourge of the Catholic and Gaelic-speaking Monaghan Militia. By May the whole island was put under martial law, and many atrocities were committed both by British Army regiments such as the ‘Ancient Britons’, a Welsh cavalry regiment, and the Orange Yeomen. The latter were not a mass movement at this time but a small, mostly agrarian society who represented the interests of the landed gentry, particularly in Monaghan and Armagh. It is doubtful, however, if United Irish feeling would have remained strong in Ulster if it had not been for the hanging of one of the Presbyterian leaders, William Orr, in September 1797. ‘Remember Orr’ was a slogan as long imprinted on the hearts of Antrim as was ‘Betsy Gray’ later on the ‘Hearts of Down’.
The United Army of Ulster
The year of 1798 was to be the First Year of Liberty for the United Irishmen. They had now some half-million members of whom about one half were armed, and of these 100,000 were Ulstermen and two-thirds of these were Presbyterians. The Rebellion of ’98, however, was doomed from the outset. The Northerners realised that they could accomplish little without foreign aid, and this was too slow in coming from the French and their Dutch allies. The almost ‘American’ Presbyterians were increasingly distrustful of France when she quarrelled with the United States early that year. Furthermore, the arrest of most of the Leinster leaders of the United Irishmen in March, 1798, followed two months later by their successors, robbed the rebellion of truly United Irish leadership. In particular the arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and the Sheares brothers placed the Leinster forces under Roman Catholic, and often priestly, control.
The leadership of the Ulster rising was placed in the hands of the young radical, Henry Joy McCracken, who was from a well-known Belfast merchant family. Thomas Packenham describes McCracken as “a remarkable man — in many ways the most attractive of all the original United brotherhood in Ireland. He displayed none of the defects of the others: the amiable fecklessness of Lord Edward, the impossible arrogance of Arthur O’Connor, or the stern self-righteousness of Thomas Addis Emmet. By birth a Presbyterian and by temperament a crusader, he had taken at once to the new philosophy of liberty and equality. He identified himself, as few of the movement’s leaders did, with a demand for social justice. For him political and religious liberty, and national independence itself, were only means to that end. This, together with his personal magnetism, his diplomatic skill and his obvious enthusiasm, had suddenly thrust him into the front of the movement in the North.”
His progressive thinking had already led McCracken to confront the establishment in Belfast. In 1788 he and some friends voluntarily organised education classes for the working class of Belfast, who were being denied such education because of their poverty. Interference from the Town Sovereign, Rev William Bristow, compelled them to cease this experiment, but McCracken soon afterwards established a cheap lending library in opposition to the Belfast Reading Society, whose charges were so high that only the rich could afford to borrow books.
When hostilities finally broke out on 24 May, they quickly took on the character of a religious and bloody war in the South. In the North, McCracken managed to rally twenty-five Antrim regiments numbering some twelve thousand men, with as many again from Down, supported by contingents from Tyrone and Armagh. He addressed his men in confident tone: “Army of Ulster, tomorrow we march on Antrim; drive the garrison of Randalstown before you and haste to form a junction with your Commander-in-Chief.”
McCracken’s confidence was misplaced. The Ulster Presbyterians were dismayed by the lukewarm support from the Northern Catholics, and then horrified by the stories of atrocity and massacre of Protestants at Scullabogue on 5 June. Nevertheless, on 7 June, the United Army of Ulster took Larne and Antrim, but was soon defeated and Henry Joy captured. On 9 June the ‘Hearts of Down’ won the Saintfield skirmish and proceeded to Ballynahinch, where on 13 June they were decisively defeated and their leader Henry Munro captured and hanged.
On 26th June 1798, my ancestor Archibel Wilson of Conlig was hanged, aged only 26 years, at the Far Rocks above my home village of Conlig for his part in the Rebellion. He died protesting his innocence and indeed it was a family tradition that his sister was the real leader of the Hearts of Down in the area.The gallows tree with chain was still there when I was a boy. The rebels certainly were very active in Conlig and letters from the village at the time are kept in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. I used to visit Archibel’s grave in Bangor Abbey Graveyard regularly on my way home from Bangor Grammar School to Conlig. It is recorded in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology that he was hanged off Bangor Pier but Granny Kerr nee Sloan said otherwise. Some years ago I was sent a copy of his Court-martial in Newtownards confirming Granny’s opinion rather than the academics, so I have retained a healthy scepticism of academics ever since.
On 17 July the noble Henry Joy was executed in Belfast. His devoted sister Mary Ann wrote lovingly of his last moments:
I took his arm and we walked together to the place of execution, where I was told it was the General’s orders that I should leave him, which I peremptorily refused. Harry begged I would go. Clasping my hands around him, (I did not weep till then) I said I could bear anything but leaving him. Three times he kissed me and entreated I would go; and, looking round to recognise some friend to put me in charge of he beckoned to a Mr Boyd, and said ‘He will take charge of you.’… and fearing any further refusal would disturb the last moments of my dearest brother, I suffered myself to be led away.
As Packenham commented, McCracken was “a gentle, idealistic man, and determined that the rising in the North, at any rate, would not be disgraced by a counter-terror in the name of liberty. And to this principle he remained true in all the horrors of the succeeding week. In contrast to the wild scenes in the South, the northern United men acted with notable restraint [during] the short-lived Republic of Ulster.”
Thus did the rebellion in Ulster collapse.
The Union of the Three Kingdoms
In Wexford there had been more success, but its sectarian nature had little to do with United Irish ideals. The seal of ignominy was set on the Southern movement when 100 Protestant captives were slaughtered indiscriminately at Wexford on 20 June. Paradoxically it was among the loyalist ranks that sectarian animosities were overcome. The Catholics of the militia and yeomanry fought side by side with Orangemen and the force which had contained the rebellion in June was an overwhelmingly Catholic one. However, urged on by their leaders, who were of the Ascendancy class, the Roman Catholic Monaghan Militia were not content with defeating the Liberty men of Antrim and Down, but burned and pillaged everything in sight, including the entire town of Templepatrick. The Belfast News Letter of 15 June 1798 reported that they had retired laden with booty. By the time the French arrived at Killala Bay, County Mayo, in August and at Lough Swilly in September, the rebellion was virtually over. Both these expeditions were defeated and Tone, who was with the latter one, was captured. Rather than be hanged the brave idealist committed an honourable suicide.
Rory Fitzpatrick gave this assessment of the Rising in the North: “The ’98 Rebellion in Ulster was ill-conceived, badly organised and ultimately pointless, but it sprang from generous hearts and the rebels died with hardly a blemish on their name. The Presbyterian community gave some of their brightest and best in a cause that was only partly their own. The patriotism which inspired the Ulster rebels was a broad one, concerned with the rights of human beings and social justice rather than narrow tribal interests. It had nothing in common with the ‘ourselves alone’ approach of the later Catholic nationalism.”
Ironically, the failure of the Rebellion led directly to an Act of Union being passed, and on 2 January 1801 the Kingdom of Ireland became part of the United Kingdom. This new Union between Great Britain and Ireland was seen by several of the imprisoned United Irish leaders as actually an achievement of some of their aims and an admission by the Westminster Parliament that the Irish Parliament had been corrupt and unjust. In 1799 Samuel Neilson had written from Fort George prison in Scotland: “I see a Union is determined on between Great Britain and Ireland. I am glad of it. In a commercial point of view, it cannot be injurious; and I can see no injury the country will sustain from it politically.”
Another ’98 leader saw in the Union “the downfall of one of the most corrupt assemblies I believe ever existed, and instead of an empty title, a source of industrious enterprise for the people.” As for the Ulster Protestants, disgusted, dismayed and finally fearful of the new sectarian aspect of ‘Irish Freedom’, many joined the Orange Order, which ironically opposed the Union Act, fearing Catholic emancipation. It is noteworthy that not a single Orange resolution in favour of the Union was passed in Ulster.
In 1802 one of the ’98 leaders, Thomas Addis Emmet, met the First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, who promised him aid. Article One of Emmet’s revolutionary proclamation provided for the confiscation of all church property, an idea not entirely relished by the Irish Roman Catholic hierarchy. Emmet’s brother Robert planned a new rebellion in 1803, but this was poorly organised and ended in debacle. Among those who turned out with the Dublin Lawyer’s Yeomanry Corps to hunt down the rebels was a young man named Daniel O’Connell.
The United Irish movement had been an unusual alliance of classes. The Presbyterian leadership were predominantly middle class, while the rank and file membership in the South were from the Catholic peasantry. Although this joining together of forces must have delighted those who strove to unite ‘Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter’, the barely-developed political consciousness of the period no doubt prevented many of the participants from realising the inherent instability and contradictions within such an alliance, especially when we take into account that both groupings would have held widely differing perceptions of just what was meant by ‘Liberty’ and ‘Equality’ — to the Protestant middle class it would have meant ‘political’ liberty and ‘commercial’ equality, while for the Catholic peasantry, with their precarious subsistence lifestyle, it would have meant something much more fundamental.
Not that all the United Irish leaders were remote from the social realities of the period. One of them, Jemmy Hope, a hand-loom weaver from Templepatrick who taught himself to read and write, was well aware of the contradictions. He had sensed that in some quarters the movement for reform was “merely between commercial and aristocratical interests, to determine which should have the people as its prey… None of our leaders seemed to me perfectly acquainted with the main cause of social derangement, if I except Neilson, McCracken, Russell and Emmett. It was my settled opinion that the condition of the labouring class was the fundamental question at issue between the rulers and the people.”
Hope began his political career by joining the Roughfort Volunteers, and then in 1795 the Liberty Men. His great ideal was to help create a movement which would restore to the people their natural right — “the right of deriving a subsistence from the soil on which their labour was expended.” With such views Hope had obviously gravitated towards McCracken. As Mary McNeill wrote: “It is not surprising that between Henry Joy McCracken and Jemmy Hope there arose a bond of deep attachment and confidence: here was the leader who cared nothing for privilege and possessions and everything for the advancement of the labouring man; here, on the other hand, was the labouring man possessed of an unusually alert and sensitive mind, able and willing to put theories into practice. There is little doubt that they learned much from each other.”
Between 1795 and 1798 Hope travelled widely throughout the island organising the working people. A member of the United Army of Ulster he played a leading part in the Battle of Antrim and distinguished himself under difficult circumstances. After the defeat of the Rising he pursued both his trade and his politics in Dublin, was involved in the Emmet Rebellion of 1803, before returning to Belfast in 1806. James Hope remained convinced of his ideals until he died in the bosom of his family in Belfast, in 1847. He is buried at Mallusk, County Antrim and his name is commemorated in Hope Street, Sandy Row, Belfast.
Daniel O’Connell and The Great Famine
During the Napoleonic Wars which followed, Irishmen of all persuasions fought together in the British Army. New regiments, such as the Connaught Rangers, fought like heroes alongside the famous Inniskillings, and it was such men whom Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, had in mind when he said: “It is mainly due to the Irish Catholics that we all owe our proud pre-eminence in the military career.” Indeed, it has been estimated that at least half of the British Army at Waterloo in 1815 were Irishmen. Certainly, according to Wellington, himself the most British of Irishmen, “the 27th of Foot (Inniskillings) saved the centre of my line at Waterloo”.Speaking in the House of Lords, as Prime Minister of England in 1829, in support of the Catholic Emancipation Bill, he praised at length and with much eloquence the Irish soldiers who had served under his command during the Peninsular War and in Flanders. He has a splendid memorial in Dublin, which has survived all attempts by republicans to deface or remove it. Another great Irish soldier of the period was Bernardo O’Higgins who liberated Chile and then served as its President from 1817 until 1823.
In 1823 Daniel O’Connell formed the Catholic Association, and within six years Catholic Emancipation was achieved. The organisation of a national police administration in the 1830’s took power away from the Orange Order. Following an attack on the Order by the great British radical John Hume in 1836 the Grand Lodge formally dissolved itself and its influence declined. In April 1840 O’Connell formed the National Repeal Association backed by the reactionary Archbishop of Tuam. Early support for this also came from the mainly Protestant ‘Young Ireland’ movement, whose ideals were those of ’98.
Disillusionment with conservative Catholicism came for the Young Irelanders when McHale of Tuam and the bishops insisted that Roman Catholic students at the newly founded Queen’s Colleges could not attend lectures on history, logic, anatomy, geology, metaphysics or moral philosophy “without exposing their faith and morals to imminent danger”, unless the lecturers were Roman Catholics. Furthermore, O’Connell’s call for a “Catholic parliament for a Catholic people” unfortunately signalled the rebirth of Catholic nationalism, that independent form of Irish Nationalism, alien to the ideals of ’98, which brought back bitter memories of Catholic sectarianism to Ulster’s Protestants. As O’Connell said, Protestants were seen as “foreigners to us since they are of a different religion”. Yet the reality was that he was the foremost constitutional parliamentarian of his age. His mass peaceful mobilisation of the Irish people into the parliamentary process, resulting in Catholic Emancipation, was a template followed by many in later years. Not only was he a Liberator to his own people , he was a leading figure in the development of democracy and human rights in Europe. His commitment to the democratic process was best explained when in The Nation newspaper on the 18th November 1843 he wrote:
“The principle of my political life …. is, that all ameliorations and improvements in political institutions can be obtained by persevering in a perfectly peaceable and legal course, and cannot be obtained by forcible means, or if they could be got by forcible means, such means create more evils than they cure, and leave the country worse than when they found it”
While time may have distanced us from the impact he had on his age, his importance can be judged from those whom he influenced. William Gladstone for instance described him as “the greatest popular leader the world has ever seen.” Balzac said “I would like to have met three men only in this century: Napoleon, Cuvier and O’Connell.” These few words testify in their fashion to the extraordinary impact left by O’Connell on European thought. William Grenville wrote that ” history will speak of him as one of the most remarkable men who ever lived.” Frederick Douglas wrote that “No transatlantic statesman bore a testimony more marked and telling against the curse of slavery than did Daniel O’Connell”.
However, an event was now to occur which was to change the social, economic and ultimately the political history of Ireland. The failure of the staple potato crop led to the Great Famine of 1845-49, probably the single most traumatic event in the island’s history, striking right to the very heart of Irish life . Up to a million of the starving and disease-ridden population would perish. The total demoralisation engendered by the tragedy not only dealt a near-fatal blow to the lingering beliefs in the ‘protective magic’ of the ancient Elder Faiths — which were still patently strong — but lent new impetus to the upsurge of nationalist sentiment. As if the loss of life caused by the Famine was not enough, Ireland was to lose a further million citizens during the massive emigration which followed. Many did not get beyond Glasgow and Liverpool. Other emigrants formed in the U.S.A. an unwanted nation within a nation, the Irish-Americans, whose influence on the further history of Ireland was profound.
Following the American Civil War (1861-65), the Irish-Americans formed a recruiting source for the violent anti-British Fenian movement. Founded in 1858 by James Stephens, who had fought in the Young Ireland rising of 1848, the Fenian Brotherhood saw themselves as the inheritors of the ideals of Tone and Davis. Believing that they could provoke an Anglo-American confrontation which would provide an opportune setting for revolt in Ireland, a party of Fenians made a raid on Canada in 1866. This was unsuccessful, as was an Irish uprising in 1867, and further invasion of Canadian territory in 1870 and 1871.
The bravery and tenacity to the ideals of ’98 shown by the Young Irelanders and Fenians influenced a former Unionist, Isaac Butt, who had spoken against Daniel O’Connell in his youth, to form the Home Government Association. A member of Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Butt’s conservatism was supplemented by a great love of his country. One of the first Ulstermen to join the Home Government Association was John Madden, brother of a prominent Monaghan Orangeman. Madden felt alienated by Episcopalian disestablishment. The Home Government Association gradually grew in acceptability and size so that it became necessary to reconstitute the movement. The Home Rule League was therefore formed in 1873.
This was a turning point and, as Chris McGimpsey has said, the evolution of Home Government Association to Home Rule League also signalled the movement away from aspects of Orange Home Rule and Protestant élite nationalism into a more O’Connellite, popular, democratic and Roman Catholic movement. After the election of 1874, therefore, Butt led a revamped Home Rule Party in the Westminster parliament.
The American Civil War
The American Civil War of 1861-1865 was to produce a galaxy of military leaders on both sides who had Ulster and Irish lineage. Ulysses Simpson Grant was Commander-in-Chief of the Union Army. He was the great-grandson of John Simpson who was born in 1738 at Dergina, near Dungannon, County Tyrone and left for Pennsylvania around 1760. Grant became President in 1868 and was said to preside over “more Ulstermen than Queen Victoria”. He was well served by General Philip Henry Sheridan, the cavalry commander who outmanoeuvred the Confederate Commander-in-Chief Robert E. Lee and forced him to surrender at Appomatox on 9 April, 1865. Later he became Commander-in-Chief of the American Army. General Lee was once asked “what race makes the best soldiers?” To which the General answered: “The Scotch who came to this country by way of Ireland… Because they have all the dash of the Irish in taking a position, and all the stubbornness of the Scotch in holding it.”
The soldier of greatest reputation in the North for a considerable part of the war was General George B. McClelland, sometimes called “the pocket Napoleon”. He was descended, on both his parent’s side, from Ulster settlers of 1718. On the Confederate side General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, a simple God-fearing man, was outstanding and famed for his courage. His nom de guerre resulted from the heroic stand of his brigade at Bull Run on 21 July, 1861. He defeated the Union forces at Ball’s Bluff and in the Virginian campaign of 1862 he routed them and followed up by invading Maryland. His great-grandfather came from Maghery on the shore of Lough Neagh. Only one man was victorious against Stonewall Jackson, and he was General James Shields, an Ulster Catholic, who was born in Altmore, County Tyrone, just thirty miles from the site of Stonewall Jackson’s ancestral home
The Civil War pitted family against family, kinsman against kinsman. W. F. Marshall has written: “On the Confederate side, North Carolina, home of the Ulster-Irish, led all the Southern States in enlisted men, and in killed and wounded. In the North, the pre-eminence goes to Pennsylvania, peopled in great measure by folk with the Ulster blood. The bloodiest single conflict of the war was fought between two regiments at Gettysburg, the 26th North Carolina Regiment and the 151st Pennsylvania Regiment.. Both regiments were practically wiped out. Well might Colonel Johnston say in 1889:‘The greatest losses in the war occurred when the iron soldiers of North Carolina and Pennsylvania, descendants of the same race and stock, met on the field of battle, and locked arms in the embrace of death.’ ”
When in Leinster House during the Queen’s visit, as Chairman of the Somme Association, I was shown the original flag of Meagher’s Irish Brigade, who fought with such distinction in the Civil War The Irish tricolor was not adopted as the official flag of Ireland until after the country became a free state on 6th December 1921. But it had been around for nearly 80 years, albeit with its colours rearranged, having first been flown by Thomas Francis Meagher, a militant nationalist, in 1848 as the flag of the Young Ireland movement.
A monument at the Antietam battlefield was dedicated in his honour. The inscription on the granite monument reads:
“The Irish Brigade commander was born in Waterford City, Ireland on August 23, 1823; a well educated orator, he joined the Young Ireland movement to liberate his nation. This led to his exile to a British Penal Colony in Tasmania Australia in 1849. He escaped to the United States in 1852 and became an American citizen. When the Civil War broke out, he raised Company K, Irish Zouaves, for the 69th New York State Militia Regiment, which fought at First Bull Run under Colonel Michael Corcoran.
Subsequently Meagher raised the Irish Brigade and commanded it from February 3, 1862 to May 14, 1863 till later he commanded a military district in Tennessee. After the War Meagher became Secretary and Acting Governor of the Montana Territory. He drowned in the Missouri River near Fort Benton on July 1, 1867. His body was never recovered. The cicumstances of Meagher’s demise are unclear. He had made many enemies, none less than the American Indian Nations, his policies towards whom had amounted to no less than what we would now call ethnic cleansing and which have coloured his reputation.
The following United States Presidents have been of direct Ulster descent: Andrew Jackson (1829-37), James Knox Polk (1845-49), James Buchanan (1857-61), Andrew Johnson (1865-69), Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77), Chester Alan Arthur (1881-85), Grover Cleveland (1885-89 and 1893-97), Benjamin Harrison (1889-93), William McKinley (1897-1901), and Woodrow Wilson (1913-21).
Many other famous Americans have some Ulster ancestry, from writers such as Stephen Foster, Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain, to astronauts Neil Armstrong and James B. Irwin. John Hughes the first Catholic Archbishop of New York was born at Auger in County Tyrone, and emigrated to America in 1817, prior to that second great exodus from Ireland which occurred a century after the immigrations from Ulster, mainly composed of Irish Catholics fleeing from a land devastated by the Great Famine, an Gorta Mór. The highly influential Hughes became known as “Dagger John”, both for his following the Catholic practice wherein a bishop precedes his signature with a cross, as well as for his aggressive personality. His successor and first American Cardinal, John McCloskey, was born in Dungiven in County Londonderry.
There are many modern Americans who still take pride in their descent from Ulster-Irish families, though they often know little of Ulster itself. Not many of them are now Presbyterians, for most became Methodists and Baptists according to conscience. This was due to old-time preachers whose traditions also lived on in America’s Black community to be personified by Martin Luther King. Yet, until recently, very little about the Ulster contribution to America was taught in our schools and universities. As Harold R. Alexander has written: “The migration of the Ulster people was a diaspora similar to that of the Jews. North America provided ample scope for the national character and soaring vision of men of Ulster origin… It is sad that almost nothing of this is known in Ulster today. English ascendancy and Irish chauvinism have combined to suppress knowledge of Ulster and Ulster-American history, to deny the very concept of the Ulster nation at home or overseas, and to deprive Ulstermen of legitimate pride in their heritage and national identity.”
James G. Leyburn’s estimation of Scotch-Irish influence on the formation of the early United States includes the following assessment: “Weber’s idea of the Protestant ethic and Tawney’s of the connection between Protestantism and the rise of capitalism do not find their most convincing example in the Scotch-Irish; nevertheless, like other Calvinists, they believed in self-reliance, improving their own condition in life, thrift and hard work, the taking of calculated risks. They believed that God would prosper His elect if they, in turn, deserved this material reward by their conscientious effort. Farmers though they generally were, neither they nor their ancestors had been peasants in the sense of blind traditionalism of outlook. Their optimistic self-reliance, with a conviction that God helps those who help themselves, was to become the congenial American folk philosophy of the next century, not far removed from materialism and a faith in progress.
The Scotch-Irish were no more the originators of these American convictions than they had been the originators of the idea of freedom and individualism. What is significant is that, holding the attitude they did, and being present in such large numbers throughout most of the United States, they afforded the middle ground that could become typical of the American as he was to become. The Scotch-Irish element could be the common denominator into which Americanism might be resolved.”
Home Rule and Rome Rule
In Ireland, however, the 1870’s and 1880’s became known as the age of Charles Stewart Parnell, who linked the cause of land reform with that of Home Rule, and moulded the Irish Parliamentary Party into a powerful force. To the Protestants of the North, Parnell’s association with the Fenian Brotherhood (Irish Republican Brotherhood) had sinister implications, and this led to a revival of the Orange Order, which became a truly popular movement, combining Episcopalians and Presbyterians, Conservatives and Liberals, landlords and tenants, employers and workers, in a fierce opposition to Home Rule. Before 1885, there had still been a significant liberal element within the Ulster Protestant community, many of whom identified with an Irish heritage which belonged to all the people of Ireland. Indeed, the survival today of a large body of Gaelic literature written in Ulster between 1600 and the end of the 19th century is largely due to the interest taken in the material by prominent Ulster Protestants, just as today the survival of Scottish Gaelic owes everything to the much maligned Margaret Thatcher.
However, the resurgence of Roman Catholicism following the Great Famine and the unfortunate abandonment of the old Belfast idea of a common Irish identity in favour of a resurgent Catholic nation convinced many Protestants that Home Rule could only promote the power and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, and so ‘Home Rule’ became synonymous with ‘Rome Rule’. Finally, the crisis brought about by the British Prime Minister Gladstone’s declaration in favour of Home Rule instantly swept all sections of Loyalists into one camp. After 1886 the Orange Order expanded to become the mass movement of Unionism and the voice of organised Protestantism.
Commenting on the fears raised by the spectre of Home Rule, Rory Fitzpatrick has written:
“There was a widespread assumption that Home Rule would mean the greatest eviction that Ireland had ever seen — the turning-out of the Scots-Irish from their lands, their factories and their homes. Ulster was filled with rumours of Protestant property being raffled at Catholic churches in anticipation. ‘Lots were drawn,’ says Frankfort Moore, ‘for certain houses, with the grounds, timber and livestock.’ In Belfast, people living in the more prosperous part of the city ‘were surprised to come suddenly upon strangers measuring their lawns and examining their fences’. One householder politely asked an intruder what he was doing: ‘The man replied with equal civility, that he had merely come to have a good look at the place, as he had been fortunate enough to win it in the raffle… by the Nationalist club.’
No doubt the impracticalities of an immediate wholesale expropriation of Protestant property — a reversal of the Plantation settlement — was realised at the higher levels of nationalist leadership, but within the Roman Catholic rank and file the expectation was there. Not since 1641 had so many spectres stalked the Ulster landscape. A British Prime Minister was preparing to sell the Ulster Protestants for a handful of parliamentary votes. They would be ruled by a Catholic administration in Dublin, with Catholic judges and a Catholic police; they would lose the industries which had made Belfast a great city (the chairman of the Belfast shipyard said he would move his firm to Scotland if Home Rule came about); and looming very close to them now was the menacing figure of the now infallible Pope whom they — and many Catholics — believed would be the real ruler of Ireland.”
In 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association had been formed, which promoted hurling and Gaelic football and forbade the playing of “foreign games”. In 1893 the Anglican Douglas Hyde co-founded the Gaelic League, which had as its aim the ‘de-Anglicization’ of Ireland. From this sprang Gaelic nationalism: “Ireland not free only, but Gaelic as well; not Gaelic only, but free as well.” Strangely enough, through the sentimentalist poets Yeats and Lady Gregory, a pseudo-Celtic Twilight Culture was created, which not only bowdlerised, but Anglicised the old Gaelic literature out of all recognition.
The political manifestation of the ‘Gaelic Revival’ was the foundation of ‘Sinn Fein’ (We Ourselves) in 1905. This movement soon attracted and was taken over by the veteran Fenians. At the same time there was a growth of Marxist philosophy, and an active socialist movement was led by James Connolly and James Larkin. Connolly, however, tried to use Gaelic nationalism to further his own ideals, thus compromising the Labour movement in both Ireland and Britain. The blending of Roman Catholic and ‘Celtic’ mysticism created in people as diverse as Patrick Pearse and James Connolly the myth of the blood sacrifice, which was to have lasting consequences.
Perceiving all these forces as threats the Northern Protestants formed an Ulster Unionist Council to resist Home Rule. Civil War now seemed inevitable. In 1912 almost half a million Ulster Protestants signed a ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ whereby they swore to use “all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule parliament in Ireland.” 1913 saw the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force under Sir Edward Carson and Sir James Craig, the Irish Citizen Army under James Connolly and the Irish Volunteers under Eoin MacNeill of the Gaelic League. Irishmen were girding themselves for the approaching conflict.
When the Ulster Volunteer Force was formed, Eoin MacNeill, President of the Irish Volunteers and author of The Pretanic Background to Britain and Ireland, tried to paint an optimistic picture of this marshalling of Northern Protestant forces: “A wonderful state of things has come to pass in Ulster… The Ulster Volunteer movement is essentially and obviously a home rule movement. [It is] the most decisive move towards Irish autonomy since O’Connell invented constitution agitation. It claims, no doubt, to hold Ireland ‘for the Empire’; but what really matters is by whom Ireland is to be held.” However, few could have been so easily beguiled, even MacNeill himself, by the seriousness of the situation now developing. And yet, ironically, the conflict that would soon fall upon them would be of European, not of Irish, making, for on 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany.
The Battle of the Somme
The First World War presented many dilemmas to the Irish. While most Protestants wanted to fight for Britain, some doubted if they should be directing their energies towards European battlefields when the situation in Ireland was still so uncertain. Many Roman Catholics also wished to aid Britain, while others felt that England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity. Yet, in the event, both parties to the Irish conflict declared their willingness to join with Britain, each hoping to be rewarded for their loyalty, even if their respective rewards couldn’t have been any more dissimilar. From all parts of Ireland men came forward in their thousands to enlist. In some towns the Ulster Volunteers marched side by side with the Irish Volunteers to send off departing troops. Carson won his argument to have the Ulster Volunteer Force kept together as a unit, and it was reorganised as the 36th (Ulster) Division. Irish Catholics, including many from Ulster, enlisted in the newly formed 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions.
Little could these eager recruits have realised that within four years 50,000 of them would have given their lives in the conflagration which was to follow.The 10th (Irish) Division was the first to be well-blooded, fighting gallantly at Sedd-el-Bahr and Suvla Bay during the ill-fated landings in the Dardanelles. Of that particular episode Brigadier-General W.B. Marshall has written: “Though I am an Englishman, I must say the Irish soldiers have fought magnificently. They are the cream of the Army. Ireland may well be proud of her sons. Ireland has done her duty nobly. Irishmen are absolutely indispensable for our final triumph.” Captain Thornhill, of the New Zealand Force, said: “Your Irish soldiers are the talk of the whole Army. Their landing at Suvla Bay was the greatest thing that you will ever read of in books. Those who witnessed the advance will never forget it.”
In France the human tragedy of Verdun would soon dispel any doubts that may have remained by then that modern warfare, particularly as it was fought out in the mud-filled trenches, was anything other than a man-made obscenity. As the intense German pressure on the French army at Verdun took an ever-increasing toll not just in young French lives but on the very fighting spirit of a once proud army, a new offensive was launched to see if the deadlock could be broken. The place chosen for this offensive was the River Somme.
On the morning of 1 July 1916 a hundred thousand Allied soldiers left their trenches and began a lonely walk across the no-man’s-land which separated them from the German positions. By the end of that day the British Army had suffered 60,000 casualties, 20,000 of them killed — the greatest loss ever suffered in a single day by the British Army or by any army in the First World War. The 36th (Ulster) Division was one of the few units to achieve its objectives that day, yet not only was their gallant success not followed up, but the price they paid was high – with casualties of over five thousand five hundred officers and men, the dead accounting for half of this number.
As Captain W.B. Spender wrote: “I am not an Ulsterman, but yesterday, the 1st July, as I followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world. My pen cannot describe adequately the hundreds of heroic acts that I witnessed… The Ulster Volunteer Force, from which the Division was made, has won a name which equals any in history. Their devotion deserves the gratitude of the British Empire.”
It was some days before the closely-knit communities in Ulster became aware of the extent of the sacrifice in young lives. As A.T.Q. Stewart wrote: “In the long streets of Belfast mothers looked out in dread for the red bicycles of the telegram boys. In house after house blinds were drawn down, until it seemed that every family in the city had been bereaved.”A few months later it was the turn of other Irishmen to be flung into the battle, this time the men of the 16th (Irish) Division. This Division included five Ulster battalions and also the 6th Battalion The Connaught Rangers, which contained over 600 Ulstermen recruited mainly from the Falls Road district of West Belfast. The 16th Division is most prominently identified with the capture of the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy.
In his history of the Great War, Frank A. Mumby described the Irish effort: “Our greatest success [on the 3rd September 1916] was the capture of Guillemont by the Irish troops. They advanced on Guillemont with an impetuosity which carried all before it: charged through the German positions with the wild music of their pipes playing them on. Before the afternoon was out the 2000 Prussians who constituted the garrison — with imperative orders to hold the ground at all cost — were killed, wounded, or captured… The same Irish troops charged into Ginchy as they had charged into Guillemont, through the barrage of shells and the storm of machine-gun fire, clambering over shell-holes, fallen trees, and the great mounds of bricks and rubble which were all that remained of the village itself; cheering like mad, and driving the enemy before them in a fierce assault against which nothing could stand.”
Altogether the Battle of the Somme dragged on for four and a half months — a series of offences in a savage war of attrition which resulted in more than 400,000 British casualties for an advance of only six miles. Yet German casualties were probably as high as 700,000 and constituted a severe blow to the German Army. The irony was that soon after the battle ended, the Germans withdrew to the newly constructed Hindenburg Line, giving up ten times more ground than was won at such a cost in 1916. Furthermore, during the German offensive of March 1918, their Army swept over the old Somme battlefield in one day.
It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that the Battle of the Somme came to exert such a strong hold on the popular imagination, albeit largely based on myths perpetuated by those who wished to apportion blame for the failure of the offensive, in particular the then Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who had political motives for attacking the generals’ conduct of the war. In Ulster, the Somme came to hold a special place in the national consciousness of ordinary people, comparable to that of Gallipoli to the Australians and New Zealanders, Vimy Ridge to the Canadians and Delville Wood to the citizens of South Africa. In fact the Somme became the new Northern Ireland.
On 7 June 1917 the Battle of Messines took place, the first completely successful single operation on the British front, and as H.E.D. Harris has pointed out: “It is also memorable to Irishmen as largely an all-Irish achievement; two of the three divisions in the attacking line were Irish, the 36th on the right and the 16th in the centre of IX Corps, a unique line-up of Irish fighting men, and the largest in modern history. They showed to the world the sight of nearly 30,000 Irishmen shoulder to shoulder, men of all four provinces, and the only rivalry that existed between them was that of gallantry. In his book As from Kemmel Hill, Andrew Behrend wrote: ‘I should like to put on record one further memory of the Battle of Messines. However little it interested me then, it fascinates me today, that during this battle and for weeks before, the 16th (Irish) and the 36th (Ulster) Divisions lived and fought side by side, got on with each other splendidly and at times even pulled each other’s chestnuts out of the fire…’.”
A year later, both Divisions were to receive yet another battering. As Brigadier A.E.C. Bredin commented, the 16th and 36th Divisions “suffered the heaviest losses of any formation during the great German offensive of March, 1918.” A genuine comradeship-in-arms had developed between many Irishmen because of their experiences during the war, but the political situation to which they returned would not suffer such friendships gladly, for Ireland was now heading for its inevitable crisis.
In recent years I was honoured to take Dr Ian Paisley, the Lord Bannside and Baroness Paisley to a Commemoration Service organised by John Ballard of the Orangemen of my native village of Conlig for their Brethren of North Down and the Ards at the Somme Museum at Whitespots. This is held annually on 24th June when the Barrage commenced signalling the start of the Somme Campaign. The date is also significant in that on Tuesday, 24th June 637 was fought the great Battle of Moira in County Down. Such important dates have been lost to us in the Academic Suppression but thankfully we are now able to speak of our own history.
The Partition of the Kingdom of Ireland
A few months before the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division went ‘over the top’ at the Battle of the Somme, the Easter Rising had taken place in Dublin. While this insurrection was a failure — and resented by most Irish citizens, many of whom had sons, fathers or brothers dying unsung in France — the subsequent execution of its leaders finally swayed Irish opinion in favour of its instigators, and, as the fascist sympathiser W.B. Yeats described it,“a terrible beauty” was born. In 1918 Sinn Fein won a majority of Irish seats at Westminster, and the first self-styled Dáil Eireann (Government of Ireland) met in Dublin in 1919. When this was declared illegal there followed a bloody War of Independence fought by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and British forces supported by the magnificent mainly Roman Catholic Royal Irish Constabulary.
Lloyd George tried a compromise settlement in 1920, which provided for separate parliaments in Northern and Southern Ireland. Six counties of the Elizabethan Province of Ulster in the north-east became Northern Ireland in 1921. These included Antrim and Down, which constituted ancient British Ulster from early times until the fourteenth century. The other twenty-six counties became the ‘Irish Free State’ in 1922 following an Anglo-Irish Treaty, but the Dominion status of the new State was not acceptable to Republicans. Civil War then erupted between pro- and anti- Treaty factions, the former led by Michael Collins, the originator of the notorious “Squad” of assassins, the latter by the Irish American Eamon de Valera. During the last six months of this war, nearly twice as many Republican prisoners were executed by the authorities of the Free State as were executed by the British government in the period from 1916 to 1921. It all ended with an Irish government victory in 1923.
In 1926 de Valera formed his Fianna Fail (Warriors of Destiny) Party. The Free State Party (Cumann na nGaedhael) lost power to Fianna Fail in 1933 and changed its name to Fine Gael (Tribe of Gaels) the following year. How many of either party were Gaels in either language, culture or ethnic origins is open to discussion. De Valera’s basic Catholic nationalism was highlighted by a radio broadcast on St Patrick’s Day, 1935 when he said“Since the coming of Saint Patrick… Ireland has been a Christian and a Catholic nation… She remains a Catholic nation.” This statement demonstrates, according to Conor Cruise O’Brien, “the peculiar nature of Irish nationalism, as it is actually felt, not as it is rhetorically expressed. The nation is felt to be the Gaelic nation, Catholic by religion. Protestants are welcome to join this nation. If they do, they may or may not retain their religious profession, but they become as it were, Catholic by nationality.”
In 1937 de Valera was thus able to produce a new Constitution which was in essence a documentation of contemporary Roman Catholic social theory. Not unnaturally it had its attractions for the Catholics of Northern Ireland, especially since Craigavon, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, who had “turned Ulster into a nation”, had announced three years previously: “all I boast is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant state”.A bitter debate had arisen in the Parliament of Northern Ireland on 24 April 1934 on the rights of the minority (the minority in Northern Ireland being Nationalist supporters, who were mostly Catholic), itemising how these had generally deteriorated since 1921. Craigavon denied the assertions at length, ending with: “Since we took up office we have tried to be absolutely fair towards all the citizens of Northern Ireland. Actually, on an Orange platform, I, myself, laid down the principle, to which I still adhere, that I was Prime Minister not of one section of the community but of all, and that as far as I possibly could I was going to see that fair play was meted out to all classes and creeds without any favour whatever on my part.”
George Leeke then retorted: “What about your Protestant Parliament?”, to which Craigavon replied: “The hon. Member must remember that in the South they boasted of a Catholic State. They still boast of Southern Ireland being a Catholic State. All I boast of is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State. It would be rather interesting for historians of the future to compare a Catholic State launched in the South with a Protestant State launched in the North and to see which gets on the better and prospers the more. It is most interesting for me at the moment to watch how they are progressing. I am doing my best always to top the bill and to be ahead of the South.”
Similar phrases he used were “That is my whole object in carrying on a Protestant Government for a Protestant people”. The correct phrase was quoted by Jonathan Bardon, and Professor Ronan Fanning, but the common misquotation of “A Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People” has been relayed by eminent historians such as Diarmaid Ferriter, Seán Cronin, Patrick Buckland and Mark Tierney, to the extent that this phrase has now become very widely accepted as the actual quotation. In 1967, the then prime minister, Terence O’Neill also attributed the phrase itself to his predecessor, but strongly argued that it was no longer representative of the present spirit of Ulster Unionism. Newspapers continued to use the term in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in relation to the former Stormont Parliament.
Yet from the outset Carson had pleaded that the Catholic minority should have nothing to fear from the Protestant majority: “Let us take care to win all that is best among those who have been opposed to us in the past. While maintaining intact our own religion let us give the same rights to the religion of our neighbours.” That this reconciliation was not achieved was due to faults on both sides. It is a tragedy of Irish history that the men who now dominated Northern Ireland were far removed in their vision from those radical ancestors who in their own day had shown that the North could be the most enlightened part of the island. On both sides of the ‘Partition’ the political and religious establishments entrenched themselves behind ultra-conservative and rigid mentalities, and within Northern Ireland the two communities became beleaguered, each by the other.
The Spanish Revolution
The intricate web that was now Irish politics — containing within it a profusion of conflicting religious, cultural, national and class loyalties — is perhaps best explored through the life-histories of individuals, rather than within the numerous academic textbooks on Irish politics, which are generally out-of-date by the time they are published. One prime example is the career of Jack White, whose story epitomises the complexity of Irish political life, a complexity which, while it may be readily understood by the Irish themselves, frequently bedevils ‘outside’ political commentators who try to analyse the Irish political psyche. These “serious scholars” need the money to continue their extravagant life styles and, like politicians, travel the world going to Conferences.
Gerard Burns has written: “The period leading up to the Easter Rising of 1916 produced many memorable characters, including the neglected Captain James Robert White, DSO, who virtually single-handedly forged the Irish Citizen Army into an effective fighting force. White himself did not take part in the uprising and this, probably more than anything else, has meant that today he is a largely forgotten figure. Nevertheless, he was for a time a central figure in a turbulent period which saw the rise of militant Irish labour, the demise of the Irish Parliamentary Party and its replacement by an aggressive Irish nationalism, and in the North, the development of intransigent Carsonite Unionism.”
A devout Presbyterian and Christian Socialist, Jack White was born in County Antrim, the son of Field Marshal Sir George White VC, who held almost every honour the British Army could bestow, especially after his defence of Ladysmith during the Boer War. The family were part of the Irish landowning class, being friendly with the Royal Family, and Jack White followed his father into the Army. He was awarded the DSO after seeing action against the Boers at Magersfontein and Doorknop. An incident at the latter engagement gives a clear indication of his character. Advancing towards the enemy lines they found only one Boer left, a terrified teenage boy. One of White’s fellow officers ordered the boy to be shot. “If you shoot him,” White is reputed to have said , “I’ll shoot you.” His comrades dispute this account, however. White eventually dropped out of the Army and worked his way around Europe and North America.
When he returned to Ireland Sir Edward Carson was rallying the Protestants of the North in their resistance to the proposed Home Rule Bill. The leading barrister of his day, Carson’s “magnificent presence and rock-like attachment to the cause provided perfect leadership.” Undeterred, White organised one of the first Protestant meetings, at Ballymoney, which opposed the Irish Unionist position, speaking on the platform alongside another prominent Protestant, the mentally unstable renegade Sir Roger Casement.
Carson was too strong in the North, however, and White was invited to Dublin. There he met the Scottish Marxist leader, James Connolly, and offered his services to the working-class cause during the time of the ‘Dublin lock-out’ (Frithdhúnadh Mór Bhaile-Átha-Cliath). White addressed a mass meeting in Liberty Hall and proposed that a drilling scheme be started as a means of bringing discipline “into the distracted ranks of Labour”. Samuel Levenson has commented: “Short-tempered, a commanding speaker, versed in military affairs, he gave lavishly of his knowledge, time and money to the Citizen Army when it was first formed. On the following evening, 13 November, the Civic League held its first meeting, and the formation of the Citizen Army was announced.”
White was to be wounded when an unemployed procession, led by himself and four other Citizen Army leaders, was charged by police. The confrontation shocked conservative Irish opinion, and, soon afterwards, when White offered to put a section of the Citizen Army at the disposal of the Irish Volunteers, the latter organisation replied that it could not enter into relations with a body that had recently been in conflict with the police.
Two incidents while White was in the North highlight the contradictory nature of Irish political attitudes. On one occasion Connolly had booked St Mary’s Hall in Belfast to protest against the agitation for partition. When White addressed the mainly Roman Catholic working-class audience he was given a vociferous reception and an attentive hearing by the capacity audience, while Connolly received a lukewarm reception. The chairman of the meeting, William McMullen, was of the opinion that White’s enthusiastic reception was due to him having forsaken the traditional politics of his family and having come over to the nationalist side. However, when White went to Londonderry to organise a brigade of Irish Volunteers there and was dismayed by the sectarian attitudes some of them held, he was dismissed as just ‘defending his own’ when he tried to reason with them.
When the First World War broke out White joined an Australian ambulance unit, but his association with Casement — who was to be hanged for treason after he tried to obtain guns for the Irish Nationalist cause from the Germans — meant that here too he was constantly regarded with suspicion. His ‘own’ people in Ulster, the unionist establishment, had long regarded him as a ‘Shinner’, so the cycle of suspicion was complete. When Connolly was sentenced to be executed for his part in Dublin’s Easter Rising, White took the one step he felt might save his friend — he rushed to South Wales and tried to bring the Welsh miners out on strike. For that he was sentenced to three months imprisonment.
With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, White, like many other Irishmen, and indeed Ulstermen, including those from the Shankill Road, went off to fight for the beleaguered Spanish Republic, though he soon expressed disagreement at the way he felt the Communists were manipulating the International Brigades. However, in Spain, White was to witness a situation which convinced him that there was an alternative not only to the stagnant political attitudes of Ireland but to authoritarian Communism. As he recalled later to Albert Meltzer, he discovered, much to his surprise, that a profound social revolution was taking place within the areas controlled by the Spanish Republic.
This popular revolution, spearheaded by anarcho-syndicalists, was attempting to establish a totally new form of society. Factories were taken over by their workers; the countryside by the peasants; Barcelona — a city of one and a quarter million people — was being fed and controlled by its own citizens; and all of this organised in a vast co-operative effort which has been described as “the greatest experiment in worker’s self-management that Western Europe has ever seen”.
White threw himself enthusiastically into this people’s revolution, training Spanish militiamen and village women in Catalonia in the use of firearms, and speaking at meetings in London on behalf of the anarchist trade union, the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo). However, the gradual destruction of the revolution by an alliance of Republican and Communist political parties weakened the popular effort in the Civil War and Franco and his Fascist allies eventually overwhelmed the Republic. White returned to Northern Ireland, attempted unsuccessfully to reconcile himself with the Unionist establishment and died a disappointed man in 1940. He is buried in the First Presbyterian Cemetery, Broughshane, County Antrim.
In April and May, 1941, as the price of its loyalty to the Allied cause, Belfast suffered four air raids by German bombers. There was a heavy loss of life — almost 1,000 people perished — and 2,500 were injured, many of them seriously. In one particular raid no other city in the United Kingdom, save London, suffered such a high death toll. The success of this mission, from the German point of view, was due to the exemplary preparatory methods of the German military intelligence service, the Abwehr, as well as excellent aerial reconnaissance. Their special agent, working through Queen’s University, Belfast, was Jopp Hoven of the German Academic Exchange, later designated as a member of the BataillonBrandenburg (Brandenburg Battalion), roughly equivalent to the British SAS . He was controlled by the Dublin-based Nazi Spy-master and propagandist, a professional archaeologist and “serious scholar”, Adolph Mahr, Director of the National Museum of Ireland, who was actually planning a Nazi invasion of Ireland. The lack of preparations by the mediocre Unionist administration was also a significant factor.
In his victory broadcast of 13 May, 1945, Churchill affirmed that “if it had not been for the loyalty and friendship of Northern Ireland we should have been forced to come to close quarters or perish for ever from the earth.” And while he deprecated the actions of the Dublin government in denying the Allies Irish ports and airfields, he was full of praise for the “temper and instinct of thousands of Southern Irishmen who hastened to the battle-front to prove their ancient valour.” He could “only pray that the shame will be forgotten and the glories will endure, and that the peoples of the British Isles, as of the Commonwealth of Nations, will walk together in mutual comprehension and forgiveness.”
Following the war, Southern Ireland left the British Commonwealth and a ‘Republic of Ireland’ was formally constituted on Easter Monday 1949. However, emigration to England continued on a large scale, so that a sizeable proportion of its inhabitants are today of Irish descent, maintaining a bias against the existence of Northern Ireland, especially among those who claimed to represent the socialist vanguard. Thus the reluctance of the “British” Labour Party to establish itself in Northern Ireland, while later allying itself with the Irish nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party.
The Republic of Ireland became known by the Gaelic name of ‘Eire’ (from the Old Gaelic ‘Eriu’). Northern Ireland continued to be colloquially called ‘Ulster’, though Irish nationalists disapproved of the six counties contained within the State being so labelled. Ironically, the Nationalists’ nine-county ‘Historic Ulster’, was in reality an Elizabethan invention, and didn’t correspond with the area traditionally accredited to Ulster in the ancient sagas, or the old tribal federation of Ulaidh (Ulidia) which consisted mainly of Antrim and Down, or even with the Gaelic Kingdom of the 14th to 16th centuries. Nevertheless this was the “Ulster” of the 36th (Ulster) Division.
On both sides of the ‘border’ narrow political outlooks and uncompromising attitudes predominated, and inevitably intruded into the sphere of religion. The Protestants who remained in Eire after 1920 were soon to see a great reduction in their numbers. No one could be employed in any Civil Service unless she or he could speak Gaelic. Eire Governmental discriminatory measures included opposition to birth control and divorce and the banning of ‘anti-Catholic’ literature. ‘Mixed-marriages’ regulations which bordered on overt racialism were enforced by the Irish Roman Catholic Church. Dr Noël Browne’s ‘Mother and Child’ scheme of 1951, proposing an element of State subsidisation of health care for pregnant mothers and their children, was opposed by the Irish Roman Catholic hierarchy. Browne was a member of the radical republican party Clann na Poblachta (Republican Family) whose leader, the ex-chief of staff of the IRA, Sean MacBride, called on him to resign.
In the Parliamentary debate following Brown’s resignation MacBride spoke for most in the Dáil when he said: “Those of us in the House, who are Catholics are, as such, bound to give obedience to the rulings of our church and our hierarchy.” Such sentiments, allied with other forms of cultural and religious domination, were an important contributory factor in reducing the substantial Protestant population in the Republic of Ireland by at least one half. Indeed, on another defeat in the Eire Parliament, this time on his divorce bill, Noël Browne professed that he “would like to introduce a second motion, that the name of the State be changed to the Irish Holy Roman and Apostolic Republic.”
In Northern Ireland a similarily inward-looking and culturally defensive process had been well entrenched. From Northern Ireland’s founding in 1921 a great sense of insecurity had enveloped the Unionist community, an insecurity highlighted by fears that a Boundary Commission would whittle away parts of the new state, and by the ‘non-recognition’ policies of Roman Catholic political and civic leaders. These policies included a boycott of the new parliament at Stormont, and other practices such as Roman Catholic teachers refusing their salaries from the Northern Ireland government and being paid direct from Dublin for almost a year. Even worse, an IRA campaign launched within the six counties heightened communal tensions and there was an outbreak of vicious sectarian violence in 1921 and 1922.
The Troubles and Common Identity
Yet whatever specific grievances, real or perceived, Northern Ireland Roman Catholics held towards the Stormont administration, such grievances still served to hide the underlying reality of the problem — that the narrow gap between the Roman Catholic and Protestant working classes in Northern Ireland was much less significant than the gap between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, where on many indicators — such as housing conditions and unemployment — the citizens of Northern Ireland were much worse off.
Worries of Protestant working-class discontent also featured in ‘Big House’ Unionist thinking, so that, as part of a political strategy, Roman Catholics in general were portrayed as a continuing threat to the Union which only Protestant unity could fend off. For, as Richard Rose has observed, there had always been, because of their greater numbers, “more poor Protestants than poor Catholics” in Northern Ireland. At the same time those who claimed to represent the socialist vanguard and the academic elite in Britain and Ireland remained trapped in nationalist ideologies, with the result that the British and Irish media, and through them the World media, were generally unsympathetic to the Unionist position.
The growing advantages of the British Welfare State and an improvement in the job mobility of the increasing Roman Catholic population within Northern Ireland led to an ambivalent atitude towards the IRA. Indeed, the IRA leadership openly acknowledged the lack of popular support for the border campaign of 1956-62 in their cease-fire statement: “Foremost among the factors motivating this course of action has been the attitude of the general public whose minds have been deliberately distracted from the supreme issue facing the Irish people — the unity and freedom of Ireland.”
But paradoxically the improved social and political climate in the early Sixties encouraged middle-class Roman Catholics to press for a more dominant role within their society, and this seemed to be supported by the Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O’Neill, from a Unionist landed family of ancient Ulster lineage, who was considered to be more pragmatic than his predecessors, and sought to build bridges with the Roman Catholic section of the community.
However, O’Neill’s approaches to the minority, tentative and poorly formulated as they were, alarmed a significant section of the Unionist community, while the newly-emergent Roman Catholic leadership, impatient with Unionist hesitation, took their grievances on to the streets through the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement, skilfully manipulated by the Republican movement. Unless Irish history was about to break with the patterns of the past, confrontation was now inevitable. Disturbances at a banned Civil Rights march through Londonderry on 5 October 1968 initiated the latest, and most tragic, period of the ‘Troubles’.
When the militant student leader Bernadette Devlin was caught up in the confrontation during that 5 October march, her description of the violence, while graphic in its detail, is more revealing through her assessment of its significance, and as such highlights the deep sense of minority estrangement which had been festering below the surface: “Arms and legs were flying everywhere, but what horrified me was the evil delight the police were showing as they beat people down, then beat them again to prevent them from getting up, then trailed them up and threw them on for somebody else to give them a thrashing. It was as though they had been waiting to do it for fifty years.”
With the beginning of this new phase of conflict in Northern Ireland many deep-seated fears were re-awakened within the community. Each section of the community’s stereotyped image of the other now assumed reality proportions, and previously-held suspicions and doubts received apparent confirmation. The catalogue of death and destruction which beset Northern Ireland over the next two decades has been extensively analysed by the world media and professional historians alike. During this time the security services made mistakes, some of them serious. But overall they behaved with a restraint unknown outside the United Kingdom. 302 police men and women were murdered: the RUC killed 52 persons (20 of whom were acknowledged combatants). The British Army (including the reserves) lost 709: they killed 315 persons (131 of whom were acknowledged combatants).
As the community plunged into a nightmare of murder, revenge murder and relentless destruction, with ethnic cleansing of Protestants from the Border areas, similar to that which had happened in the Republic, it seemed impossible that bridges could have been built. Yet among ordinary people, and through a variety of community groups, inter-community contacts were maintained in the face of all the violence, some of these attempts at community understanding containing more dialogue in one day’s effort than had been undertaken by the various political parties over several months.
Yet even to those who strove to build something positive within the mayhem, the violence at times was of such an intensity that it repeatedly threatened to destroy any realistic hopes for dialogue and compromise. The violence perpetrated by all sides to the conflict bewildered the ordinary citizen, not just because of its unremitting nature, but because of the deep hatreds displayed by the combatants. After two elderly Protestants were gunned down by the IRA in 1988 for engaging in repair work to a police station, a local newspaper columnist wrote: “Someone said that Irish nationalism consists not of love of one’s country but of hatred of someone else’s. ‘Their moving spirit,’ he said, ‘is not love of Ireland, but hatred of Britain.’
If this is so, it may go some way towards explaining the frightfulness of the IRA onslaught on the citizens of this part of the island. The depth of the hatred they feel must be so intense as to suppress the normal instinct of revulsion which would restrain other people, however motivated, from firing 150 automatic bullets into two blameless and defenceless men as they made their way home after a hard day’s work in County Fermanagh.”
If, indeed, it was the opposing interpretations of Irish history which lay behind the violence, or at least offered one of its main justifications, then much of the blame for preceding events must be laid squarely at the door of those who had used history for their own narrow ends, or those who had been strangely reticent in correcting the gross misinterpretations which had become so deeply entrenched in the popular imagination they seemed impossible to dislodge.
In the Republic, right from the foundation of the State, a Gaelic Nationalist myth was purveyed which sought to establish a solid pedigree for a Roman Catholic/Celtic/Irish identity. Other contributions to this island’s heritage were downgraded, if not completely ignored. Although it was obviously realised from the outset that such a self-image was fundamentally flawed, it seemed better to maintain silence rather than risk upsetting this newly-found identity. How else could one account for the fact that for 80 years after the foundation of the Gaelic League there did not exist a complete textbook of early Irish history and academics, so-called “serious scholars”, continued to promote the completely fabricated dynasty of the “Northern Ui Neill” and to downgrade the history of the Cruthin, the native British Pretani? In the South the time had come, as Bob Quinn suggested, when the Irish people “must develop the confidence to dismantle the unitary myth that has served its honourable purpose and replace it with the diverse richness that lies within.”
In Northern Ireland, a dislike of anything ‘Irish’, and a subservience to ‘English’ history within the schools, had left the Protestant community there not only unaware of most aspects of Irish history, but, more significantly, without any real understanding of the history of their own country. Yet Ulster’s historical and cultural heritage was not only extremely rich and varied, but contained within it the proof of the common identity of the Northerners, indeed of all the people of the British Isles, the Isles of the Pretani. Slowly, as contemporary flawed history was called into question and a new awareness emerged to challenge the Academic Suppression, the facts of their history, for once, rather than dividing them, offered the hope of uniting the Ulster People at last.
This concludes The Ulster People