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An extraordinary event in the history of Anglo-Irish relations

9 April 2014

9 April 2014

If there’s one thing a poet is good for, it’s memorable circumlocution, which is why Michael D Higgins (the D is crucial; people wouldn’t know who you were talking about if you mentioned Michael Higgins), the Irish president and ongoing poet, has been in his element during this state visit to Britain. ‘Ireland and Britain live in both the shadow and in the shelter of one another, and so it has been since the dawn of history’, he said during his speech at Windsor Castle. ‘The shadow of our past has become the shelter of our present’. That was good. The Queen was hardly to be outdone: the gag about it taking someone ‘of Irish descent’ to make her jump from a helicopter was lovely. ‘This,’ as Miriam Lord of the Irish Times put it, ‘was the best mutual admiration society ever’.

It didn’t compare to the Queen’s visit to Ireland three years ago, but the same thing struck me about this trip as hers, when even William Hague and George Osborne looked like they were having a really good time. It’s that Ireland and Britain really don’t feel like they’re foreign to each other. Michael D may have gladdened the shade of Parnell when he spoke in parliament about ‘a closeness that once seemed unachievable’ but to be honest, it’s a closeness that feels more familial than anything, and includes episodes of fratricide – I’m coming on to one of them – as well as ones like this. I may be biased by my own background, but I don’t think that the Irish in England are felt as being much different from the Scots or Welsh here; there’s probably more chance of a family connection. The Queen looks more at home among horsey people in Cork than she does surrounded by loyalists in Belfast.

But history isn’t something to be moved rapidly on from, towards, as the Queen put it, ‘a brighter, more settled future’. That would be letting us rather too easily off the hook. The centenary commemorations for the outbreak of the Great War have overshadowed the events which preceded it, and which go a long way to explaining how we got where we are now. It is the reason why the Irish question wasn’t resolved a hundred years ago by parliamentary means. It’s the centenary of the passing of the Third Home Rule bill, which was nullified from the outset by the political classes’ capitulation to militant Unionism. It was when violence and the threat of violence trumped constitutional politics. Most people with a passing interest in these things are dimly aware, in a Downton Abbey way, about the Home Rule question and the opposition to it in Ulster. But the sheer extent of the revolt against the workings of parliament on the part of the Unionists – we’re talking gunrunning from Germany and mass paramilitary forces – and the astonishing way the army, and the Tory party under Bonar Law, backed them, really hasn’t been taken on board, not properly, except by historians. It was the subversion of parliamentary democracy through arms and mutiny but there’s been a kind of collective amnesia about it on the part of Tories in particular.

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In fact the events in Sarajevo came as rather a welcome relief to ministers, an opportunity for them to kick the Irish question right into the long grass. Asquith, the prime minister, for instance, wrote to his friend, Venetia Stanley on 28 July: ‘What you say apropos of the War cutting off one’s head to get rid of a headache is very good. Winston [Churchill] on the other hand is all for this way of escape from Irish troubles, and when things looked rather better last night, he exclaimed moodily that it looked after all as if we were in for a ‘bloody peace’.’

The implications of all remain quite devastating for anyone inclined to complacency about Britain’s model of parliamentary democracy, which is why it really should be remembered. The Irish historian, Ronan Fanning, subtitled his new book, Fatal Path, about these events as: ‘British Government and Irish Revolution’. Except the revolution wasn’t Republican, but Unionist. ‘The term “revolution”,’ he writes, ‘is rarely ascribed to the Ulster Unionists’ successful resistance to the third Home Rule Bill. Yet, given their rejection of parliamentary authority as expressed between 1910 and 1914 through the government’s democratic mandate in the House of Commons, in the creation and arming of the 90,000-strong Ulster Volunteer Force, in the establishment of a provisional government in Belfast in September, 1913, and in the mutiny threatened by an elite corps of British Army officers … and endorsed by the British Conservative Party in March 1914, a revolution it undoubtedly was.’

Certainly, George Bernard Shaw, along with other observers, thought so at the time. In the 1912 preface to his Irish play, John Bull’s Other Island (the one that amused Edward VII so much, he broke his chair laughing) he wrote about the shattering of his illusion that ‘Parliament … was still what it had been in the heyday of Gladstonian Liberalism, when it was utterly inconceivable that an Act of constitutional reform which had been duly passed and assented to by the Crown could be dropped into the waste paper basket because a handful of ladies and gentlemen objected to it, and the army officers’ messes blustered mutinously against it.’ One reason why they did was simple sectarianism; most of the players, from Bonar Law to Lloyd George and Winston Churchill had an instinctive antipathy to Roman Catholicism.

Inevitably, these extraordinary events were obliterated by the war, though they were enough to undermine the credibility of the Irish parliamentary party. And later, the Troubles obscured their own origins. But when the Queen said – astonishingly – at the Windsor banquet to the Irish president that ‘my family and my government will stand alongside you…throughout the anniversaries of the war and of the events that led to the creation of the Irish Free state’, this has to be one of them.


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  • attendthatevent

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  • SonOfSands

    I admire how all of you southern English chaps who have probably never set foot in Belfast, Derry/L-Derry or Newry are such experts on Irish affairs.

    To defend the fascist orange state of Northern Ireland 1922-1972 should be a repugnant thought to any right thinking British subject. After all, while your fathers and grand-fathers were in Europe fighting fascism, “British subjects” were being discriminated against inside the UK. Hatred of Catholics was very much official government policy in Northern Ireland. The government in London continued to turn a blind eye to this until ethnic cleansing of Catholics started to occur all over Belfast and the eyes of the world (United States) turned towards our little country.

    There was never any pogrom in the south towards our Protestant citizens. How many were there in Belfast against Catholics between 1922-1970??

    • CraigStrachan

      How do you explain the refusal by members of the Irish cabinet to set foot in a Protestant church for the funeral of Douglas Hyde, except in terms of official sectarianism in the South?

      • SonOfSands

        That was decades ago. Many of the current ministers in the Northern cabinet of today refused to attend the funeral of a murdered PSNI officer because it was being held in a Catholic Church. The Fact that Douglas Hyde was a Protestant and was able to become the President of Ireland speaks volumes about the differences of attitudes between the North and the South.

        • CraigStrachan

          Well, it was in 1949 that members of the Irish cabinet, with the single and honourable exception of Dr Noel Browne, chose to put the sectarian dogma of their church ahead of their duty as public officials, and indeed simple human decency towards a departed colleague.

          It was an episode that confirmed what most Protestants in the North suspected about the essentially confessional nature of the southern statelet in the decades after independence. As indeed did the embarrassing Mariolatry in the preamble to the 1937 constitution.

          And as late as the 1990s we saw a Dublin government fall because of the corrupt actions of an attorney-general, who was a member of Opus Dei, in seeking to shield an abusive priest from prosecution.

          I do acknowledge that the modern RoI is much more secular, and a bit less corrupt, although kt seems it took the collapse of the moral authority of the Catholic church

          • boxcarr

            lets extrapolate the theoryUK:
            [parlimentary goverment] X (Prodestant establishment) / BBC = sustained institutionalised Paedophilia

            ROI
            [parlimentary goverment] (Catholic establishment) / Opus Dei = sustained institutionalised Paedophilia

            ..

            holy shit…..BBC = Opus Dei

        • paul4id

          news to me. All major Unionist leaders attended Ronan Kerr’s funeral.

    • paul4id

      Nice little one-sided Marxist analysis (and one which mendaciously ignores the Ulster contribution in WWII). Alas, the hard quantitative statistics have never backed your little sob story of eternal victimhood. For years we heard nothing but propaganda on how hard done by Catholics were in public housing, yet when the actual statistics are revealed we now find a greater % of Catholic households being granted public housing than Protestant households! As for “ethnic cleansing”, the hard statistics indicate we have seen Catholic population booming and Protestant decimation from border areas after decades of ethnic intimidation by Republicans.

      • SonOfSands

        Marxists? How many Ulster protestants earned a VC during WW2 – None. How many Irish Catholics – 10 (north and south). It’s amazing how the unionists seem to forget about the no conscription in Northern Ireland rule while claiming to be true British patriots. Your Grandfathers joined with many of their catholic brothers to defeat fascism, only to have to face it again when they came home.

  • paul4id

    There seems to be a trend of Irish migrants to England, obtaining jobs in the media, and trying to project onto the British population the hatred of northern Protestant Unionists from their chipped shoulders and bias obtained after school indoctrination on “800 years of oppression”. You often hear numerous southern academics consulted on many of our affairs and almost coming off as non-partisan, reasonable and intelligent; but give it a few minutes and they’ll be sure to get a dig in at the Prods.

    • MacRiada

      What “school indoctrination”?

      Perhaps you could give us your potted history of Ireland over the last 200 years or so.

      • CraigStrachan

        Well, the southern Irish state did effectively turn public education over to the Catholic church. Indoctrination was the least of the consequences for generations of Irish children.

        • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

          But was that an inevitability, or the result of the failure of Home Rule? One cannot see a Commonwealth, Redmond-led Ireland with a ~20% Protestant minority being as blindly devoted to the Catholic Church, nor does one imagine that an Ireland created by that bill would be so opposed to Britain that it would seek an alternative sponsor whatever the price.

          • CraigStrachan

            Counter-factual speculation is often intriguing, but the actual fact is that Unionists living in Ireland in 1910-14 had a pretty firm notion about what Home Rule would entail – “Home Rule is Rome Rule” about sums it up.

            I rather doubt that, from the perspective of Northern Protestants, they saw anything in the way the South developed in the half-century or so after 1922 that would have made them regret their resistance to Home Rule.

            Personally, I’m not convinced that a 20% or so Protestant minority in a 32-county state would have fared much better than the 10% or so minority in the 26-counties.

        • boxcarr

          your first sentence is correct. I am of proud Irish Protestant lineage, For all the faults of the kiddie fiddling RC church, putting schools in their charge and the was one of the only success they they can take credit. RC church not only part-funded but enforced strict “old-school”, upholding the same British grammar school system but also ensuring it remained absolutely free and of high standard. unlike what happened in the UK with the disastrous consequences that followed by abandonment. Dont believe me though! go research publicised % school leaver grades between the two countries. Moreover smalltown
          protestants, with only the one option of “a catholic school” had huge amounts of study time, we being the only ones allowed to opt out of religious curriculum. The consequences of me a protestant(if that is relevant to you) who suffered the the wrath of your so called “papal indoctrination”, as opposed to the safe haven alternative: a 60s prefabbed comprehensive in Portadown behind a 20 ft peace wall, only make me more thankful that I was born Irish of Protestant stock, luckily, south of the border.

    • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

      The fundamentalist nutters who have replaced the patrician elite as the political voice of Protestant Unionism don’t need anyone else to make them look bad.

      The failure of a working class Unionist party to make any inroads is a tragedy. The PUP looked like they might do it for a time but sadly not.

      • SonOfSands

        I’m afraid the hope we all had for the PUP is truly lost. The legacy of David Irvine has been betrayed by the current leadership who stoke sectarian tensions in Belfast on a daily basis and have lost the progressive vision of Mr Irvine. They are a party of drug dealers and gangsters.

  • James Morris

    Too verbose and repetitious his banquet speech.
    He should have mentioned Saint Patrick as well-that would put the real relation of Ireland and England into historical context.
    With no mention of Christianity his speech lacked a real historical sense.

  • Mike Purves

    ” A terrorist in white tie and tails is still a terrorist”. Protest poster of the Year.

  • Frank

    Poor Queen.

  • Tom Tom

    Gideon Osborne of The Ascendancy – Ballentaylor and Ballylemon in the County of Waterford dating from 1629

  • CraigStrachan

    Except the concerns of Unionists about the likely character of a Home Rule Ireland were largely borne out by the character of the Free State, then republic, in the first half-century of its existence.

    • MacRiada

      The Free State, later Republic, protected religous freedom -a quarter of its presidents were Protestant.

      By contrast Northern Ireland was ruled by a single party that banned Catholics from even being a memeber, until the 1970s.

      A partitioned Ireland was bad for the south but a tragedy for the north.

      No one could argue today, that unionists made a success of partition.

      • Chingford Man

        What happened to the Southern Protestants? 10pc of the population at partition, 1pc by the end of the century. Many of those who could get out did.

        The more interesting question is whether the Republic made a success of partition. Apart from the artificial Celtic Tiger boom, it has been economically tough all the way.

        Also, the Ulster Unionist Party never banned Catholics from joining.

        • MacRiada

          The UUP did ban Catholics from Joining.

          From UCC Multitext on Northern Ireland and Politics:

          In 1959 the chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party Standing Committee, Sir Clarence Graham, proposed that Catholics be allowed to join the party and to stand as its candidates. Graham got almost no support and his suggestion was rejected outright by Brookeborough who declared:

          ‘There is no change in the fundamental character of the
          Unionist Party or in the loyalties it observes and preserves … If it is called inflexible then it shows our principles are not elastic.’

          • MacRiada

            The ‘artificial’ Celtic Tiger?

            Even after the financial crisis the Republic ranks ahead of the UK in most Global indexes. It is one of the most competitive economies in the world. Every house in Europe has a product from Ireland in it. Europe’s largest airline is Irish and Irish companies employ over 80,000 people in the UK. Ireland is the largest net exporter of pharma and half of the 250 medical device companies based here are indegenous.

            From the Act of Union Ireland’s population fell from 8 million to just over 3 million in the 1920s. Hardly evidence of a beneficial union.

            • Chingford Man

              The same country Osborne had to bail out?

              • boxcarr

                Osborne is direct descendant of a once influential southern Irish Protestant family. Man of principal simply paying his dues to the mother country.

          • Chingford Man

            Sir Denis Henry was a Roman Catholic.

            I’m aware of the Graham comments and what you have reported second hand. But if you’re going to make these assertions then you will have to back it up chapter and verse. Can you quote the relevant rule of the Ulster Unionist Council (for there was no actual party as a legal entity) which barred membership to Roman Catholics? When was it introduced? When was it removed?

            I do know that Enoch Powell had Roman Catholic members in his South Down Association in the 1980s.

            • CraigStrachan

              As was Sir John Gorman.

        • MacRiada

          Jack White, Minority Report: The Anatomy of the Southern Irish Protestant (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975),

          “It is no harm to begin by stating the obvious, because it is only against the background of the obvious that one can begin to make fine distinctions. Protestants were accepted as equal citizens in the new state; and the law reflected the will and demeanour of the people. There
          were individual cases of outrage or discrimination, but these are remarkable mainly as exceptions to a general pattern of conduct. Protestants kept their jobs, their homes, their property, their savings.They kept their own institutions – their schools, their hospitals and
          the like and these institutions received perfect parity of treatment from the state and its servants. The Protestant churches and their property were handled with kid gloves; it is amusing, in retrospect, to look back on the dire warnings of oppression and expropriation that were
          sounded throughout the Home Rule debates. Fifty years after independence the Church of Ireland still has two cathedrals in Dublin , and the Roman Catholic Church has none. It is not easy to think of another case in which a defeated ascendancy has been treated with such
          exemplary generosity by a victorious people. An Irish democracy converted a privileged minority into an equal minority, not into an underprivileged or subservient minority. Most of its problems – real and imagined – arose from the fact that the minority itself was too tiny and too scattered to exercise any influence through the normal machinery of democratic government.”

          • CraigStrachan

            As for those Protestant presidents – why did the entire Irish cabinet but Noel Browne ostentatiously refuse to set foot in the church where Douglas Hyde’s funeral service was being held?

          • Chingford Man

            Phrases like a “defeated ascendancy” and “a victorious people” give the game away. Could the Donegal Presbyterians ever have been described part of any “ascendancy”? Dennis Kennedy’s book “The Widening Gulf” tells a different story. No one is claiming that property etc. was confiscated.

          • monty61

            Quite.

        • boxcarr

          I am a Southern Irish of staunch Anglo-Protestant stock. my family line has lived in Kerry(incidentally a Sinn Fein heartland) for 100s of years harmoniously before and after partition. if by your numbers 99% of my pals and colleagues are RC, why would I give a sh!&. sectarianism simply does not exist down here – Thats an Ulster Scot thing that evaporates into thin air as soon as you enter the M1(South) .You have absolutely have no idea of what you are talking about.

          • Chingford Man

            Try answering my question.

            • boxcarr

              “What happened to the Southern Protestants?” that one?

              just read first sentence

              the rest of my reply simply emphasises how pitiful and sad that aspect of fanatical unionism is, whereby all loyal subjects of Ulster still buy sheep-fully buy into, without question, the same old reformation-era bogeyman of an impending apocalyptic genocide sought by papists and vengeful savages. . Needless torture of the soul. paranoia and perceived persecution. borderline psychosis

      • CraigStrachan

        I agree that partition was bad all round. It would have been far better if Ireland had remained unpartitioned within the U.K.

        • SonOfSands

          Yes because the previous hundred years we were part of the Union went brilliantly for the Irish. Population decreased by half. A million souls lost to starvation. The banning of our religion, culture and language under pain of death. It really is shocking we didn’t want to stay….

          • CraigStrachan

            Religion, culture and language were not banned on pain of death in the previous hundred years – Catholic emancipation happened in 1829, while the cultural flowering of the Gaelic revival was underway by the mid-C19th, fully blooming by century’s end.

            The Irish economy had recovered from the famine and was performing relatively well by the first decade of the 20th century, while the first 40 years or so after independence were a period of relative economic decline and renewed emigration.

            • SonOfSands

              Actually 1829 is within a century of the funding of the Irish free state. So yes you could be out to death for no other reason than going to Mass! The Gaelic revival (late C19th actually, we were too busy dying of starvation in the middle of the century) was the beginnings of the national movement that gave the Irish people the confidence and courage to stand up against their imperial masters.

              The Irish economy was decimated by the Union. Yes things were good in Belfast (my home city) where the shipyards provided work for the protestant working class but in the rest of the country poverty and unemployment were endemic. “performing relatively well” to What??….Yes the republic had many issues including a trade war with Britain and yes some mistakes of our own but the north was no better under British rule.

              You’re an imperial apologist for crimes against humanity.

              • CraigStrachan

                By 1829 you could not be put to death for going to Mass. The penalty in law would have been a fine, rarely assessed in the decades before Emancipation.

                The Ossianic Society was founded in 1853 (mid-century).

                By late-century, land reform had stablised the rural economy, and ended the cycle of famines that long pre-dated the Union.

                • SonOfSands

                  You should stop taking your History from google. Its not a very good source I’m afraid…..

                • CraigStrachan

                  You should stop misusing history to inform your politics. It’s not very sound practice, although common enough amongst nationalists.

                • Alan

                  Why not just sing anti fenian songs in Ibrox? Can’t you get your fix that way instead of writing about things you know so little about. Have you ever set foot in Ireland?

                • CraigStrachan

                  Yes, but I’ve never set foot in Ibrox.

                • Alan

                  Going by what you write on here, you’d consider it Nirvana.

                • CraigStrachan

                  I doubt that.

      • paul4id

        What a load of nonsense. The Romans Catholic Ne Temere decree (stating that mixed marriages must result in both partners and their children to become Catholic) was enshrined and enforced in the constitution of the Eire Republic. This, amongst other actions by Republicans, resulted in a virtual elimination of the southern Protestant population.

        Compare and contrast to Northern Ireland where the Catholic population has boomed throughout the decades, despite the claims of “oppression” and eternal victimhood. The hard numbers have always contradicted the hysterical claims made several decades ago, yet such hysteria is always given precedent over the stats when it comes to so-called historians focusing on qualitative rather than quantitative reasoning. Now, after decades of further terror and intimidation (which have really never stopped since the 20s) we are seeing the northern Protestant population decimated in border areas such as South Armagh and the west bank of the Foyle.

        • boxcarr

          my grandfather, a staunch Prodestant (until the day he died) married my catholic grandmother in Listowel catholic church (Sinn fein heatland), in order to appease her family out of respect (in the late 1920s). The fiction you write is even more ridiculous by the fact I can tell you that my father was baptised in St Johns Church of Ireland(across the road) in that same town, as was all my fathers siblings and my own. You should really focus your discontent and question why you have been fed all this bullcrap by your unionist propaganda machine

      • carledgar

        Well, about 20% and while there was a good deal of protection offered and moderately harmonious relations twixt the Church of Ireland (Anglican) and relevant Government ministers and mandarins there were structural difficulties in maintaining that percentage (which has now dwindled to a rump (no pun intended)

        Kilroy: . . and it has to be said that the performance of drunken
        students at the Trinity Rowing Club Ball shows they’re
        no better

  • Chingford Man

    The Ulster Protestants only did in 1910-14 what the Whigs did in 1688 when they moved against King James. Knowing their Locke and their Presbyterian history, the Protestants identified their essential interests and went out to defend them. If they hadn’t, they might have gone the same way as their 26 county co-religionists into virtual extinction.

    • paul4id

      Exactly. The Williamite victories and the Glorious Revolution remained strong in the local folklore, and without whom the “parliamentary authority” would never exist in the first place!

      It’s important to also note that in 1912 the Ulster Covenant received hundreds of thousands of signatories prior to the proclamation of the Ulster Government in 1913 and arms to defend it in 1914. It was an extremely well organised act of defensive self-determination in action, and was in sharp contrast to the offensive assassination of police officers in Dublin a few later.

      I often see this event also being viewed through the prism of the present, and ignoring that guns were entirely legal then, as were forming militias for purposes of the defence of the Empire. The aim was still to remain under the Crown/Empire, and not fight the Crown but rather defend against any actions of the Dublin Home Rule Parliament. This was a wise move given the later incursions north by Michael Collins in the later years, northern incursions which continued and were contained right up until the 60s, after high we had a change in tactics as Republicans adopted Marxist subversion tactics with explosive destabilisation and chaos.

      • Alan

        The “glorious” revolution? I always laugh at that biblical sounding expression of a bloodbath.

    • monty61

      Extinction? Irish Protestants played a huge part in the history of the country, and the history of Dublin particularly. Even today the Church of Ireland is at the heart of the Irish establishment.

      • paul4id

        In overall numerical terms it was an extinction. Ulster Presbyterians were not of the same privileged class as Dublin Anglicans either.

        • SonOfSands

          The number of Protestants has also decreased a lot compared with the growth of the Catholic population in Belfast. I suppose the Belfast Protestants were victims of ethnic cleansing too??

    • boxcarr

      extinction? 3 county ulster, Munster leinster and Connaught Protestants are alive and kicking in 2015. I am still alive to prove that to you, as would be the rest of the 10s of 1000s of us Proud Irish prods all across the south. we must have all survived those free-state death camps, you speak of. lmfao.

      • Chingford Man

        Where did I mention “free-state death camps”?

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