Last-modified: 17 Jul 99
Part five of ten.
Frequently Asked Questions on soc.culture.irish with answers.
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1) Why is Ireland divided?
2) How did the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland start?
3) What books are there on Irish history?
4) Chronological list of dates from Irish History
Subject: 1) Why is Ireland divided?
Ireland (all or part of it, at various times) was a colony of
the English (originally the Anglo-Normans) from the 12th
century. From the late middle ages it was a kingdom, under the
same monarch as England, but a separate country. In law and in
practice, the Irish government was usually subordinate to the
Henry VIII rejected Rome and put the Church in England under his
personal control. This church was to became more protestant,
particularly under Elizabeth I. Ireland's population remained
mainly Roman Catholic. The conflict between Catholicism and
Protestantism played a large part in 17th century several wars
in England and Ireland: civil wars, colonial wars, and at least
one war (c. 1690) that was part of a wider European conflict.
Following some of these disruptions, the winners forcibly
transferred ownership of large amounts of land to new landlords,
and sometimes new tenants: those who had supported the winning
side or those who they felt would support them in the future.
The majority of the Irish population were on the losing side. A
new elite was built of Anglo-Irish (people of English
background, and also anglicised Irish) members of the Church of
Ireland (Anglican/Episcopalian). This "Protestant Ascendancy"
lasted well into the 19th century, with traces still in evidence
English Protestants were not the only ones to settle in
Ireland. Presbyterians (historically known as Dissenters) from
Scotland colonised north-eastern Ireland in large numbers.
Other nonconformist Christians (especially Friends, better known
as Quakers) started arriving in the 16th century, and their
numbers grew in the 17th. During this period they and the
Protestant Ascendancy were not close allies: there were
significant differences in background, social class and style of
Both the Catholic majority and the Presbyterians were the
victims of discriminatory laws favouring the Church of Ireland
(that is, the Anglican church established by the state).
Generally, though, the discrimination against Catholics (who were
regarded as treacherous and potential allies of France and Spain)
was worse than that against the nonconformists.
In 1801, Ireland was technically made one with England, Scotland
and Wales by the Act of Union which created the United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Ireland. In some ways, this was a Good Thing
for Ireland, as it led to electoral reform, land reform, and the
disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and its right to tax
the whole population. But the colonial relationship remained,
and as freedoms grew without real equality with England and
the English, so did Irish nationalism develop and flourish.
(Nationalism became a force throughout Europe in the mid
nineteenth century, leading for example to the creation of Italy
and Germany as nation states for the first time.)
But there was a complicating factor. In the late 18th and early
19th century, the Ascendancy and the Presbyterians had begun to
become allies on political and nationalist issues. As Irish
nationalism developed (mainly among Catholics), so, in response,
did unionism (the desire to preserve the United Kingdom) develop
and strengthen among both kinds of Protestant. Several times
the unionists threatened insurrection against their own
government in order to stay under that government.
In 1912, a third Irish Home Rule Bill was introduced to the
British House of Commons, where it would pass its third and
final reading in January, 1913. This was blocked by the House
of Lords, but they could only delay bills since the Parliament
Act in 1911. Unionists in Ulster reacted with alarm; an Ulster
Volunteer Force was formed in 1913. This force landed 25,000
guns from Germany at Larne in April 1914, with the declared
intention of using them if Home Rule were imposed on the
northern counties. Their slogan was "Home Rule is Rome Rule",
referring to the fears they had of a Catholic dominated Ireland.
In the event, Home Rule was put in the statute books but was
never implemented because of the Great War which started in
Two nationalist militias, the Irish Citizen's Army and
the Irish Volunteers were formed, dedicated to Home Rule.
They were far less efficiently organised than the UVF and they
quickly split in 1914. However a small part of the force, led
by Republicans staged an armed rebellion (the Easter Rising) in
April 1916, briefly taking over a small part of central Dublin.
Their attempt at gun running had failed with the capture and
scuttling of the Aud, carrying thousands of German weapons.
The general uprising the Republicans hoped they would inspire
throughout the country never happened. The rebellion was
crushed; its leaders were judged guilty of treason and shot.
Many hundreds were interned in Britain.
Before the war, a majority of people had supported Home Rule
which would grant Ireland autonomy in domestic affairs. After the
war, Sinn Féin (previously a minor party with tenuous connections
to the actual Rising) got overwhelming support for their platform,
complete independence (but not in the north-eastern counties, where
Unionists were in the clear majority).
The failed rising was an inspiration to many join the newly
created Irish Republican Army (IRA) and fight. The conflict
escalated into a brutal war of attrition between the IRA and
But the unionists still held the north, and they would in turn
rebel if Britain cast them loose. Partition was made official
by the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. This was based on the
old Home Rule Bill and formed the basis for the negotiations
that were inevitable once the two sides had reached stalemate
in the south.
The Treaty of 1921 that ended the war with the British was a
messy compromise. The Irish negotiators, who included Michael
Collins, but not Éammon De Valera, accepted it under the threat
of "war within three days" from the British Prime Minister,
Lloyd George. There was also a vague promise that a Boundary
Commission would adjust the borders, possibly gaining Fermanagh
and Tyrone for the new Free State.
Opponents of the treaty were outraged not so much by partition
as by the Oath of Allegiance (to the King) that members of the
Dáil would have to swear. The negotiators in London had managed
to water it down considerably, but any oath was unacceptable
in principle to hard-line Republicans. The Dáil, reflecting the
feeling in the country, voted (reluctantly) to accept the treaty.
The new Irish Free State had a dominion status similar to that
enjoyed by Canada.
The IRA split on the treaty issue and there was civil war.
This became more brutal than the war of independence before it,
with massacres and atrocities committed by both sides.
(The South altered its constitution in 1937 severing most of its
links with the UK. It declared itself a Republic in 1947.)
The Boundary Commission that was set up as part of the Treaty to
realign of the border between Northern Ireland and the Free State
did not meet until 1924. Both nationalists and unionists were
reluctant to participate in it (the unionist delegate had to be
nominated by the British government, and the Irish representative
understood participation meant the end of his political career).
The Commission's terms of reference were vague and included a
proviso that boundaries be drawn "in accordance with the wishes
of the inhabitants, so far as may be compatible with economic
and geographic conditions".
The Chairman of the Commission, Feetham, was not inclined to
make any big changes. In any case, (Southern and Northern)
nationalist feelings about the border were muddled and
ambivalent. The Unionist position, "not an inch", had the
advantage of being clear and simple. The Free State drew up
a minimum negotiating position that would gain Fermanagh,
most of Tyrone and parts of Down and Armagh for the South.
Even this minimum position could not be held, and so the
Commission was quietly abandoned in favour of the status quo
(the border created by the Government of Ireland Act) in 1925.
This left substantial unionist minorities in Donegal and
Monaghan and nationalist majorities in Fermanagh and Tyrone
all on the wrong side of the border. The Irish Free State was
overwhelmingly Catholic and nationalist, and unionists formed
a clear (but not as overwhelming) majority in Northern Ireland.
Irish history is one of the topics that comes up again and again
on soc.culture.irish. Some regulars have devoted much of their
own web pages to the subject.
Jerry Desmond has written a more extensive summary of Irish history
which can be found at
Gareth G Davis maintains a "Irish historical and religious
statistics" page at
Subject: 2) How did the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland start?
The northern unionists effectively created a single-party state.
Proportional representation was eliminated for local council
elections in 1922 and for the Northern Ireland Parliament in
Stormont in 1929. One vote per person did not hold in local
elections until 1969. Gerrymandering was used to secure unionist
seats in nationalist areas throughout the thirties. Nationalists
and catholics were viewed as potential traitors and alienated by
the government policies, which favoured protestants and unionists.
In turn the nationalists never fully accepted the legitimacy
of the new constitutional arrangements. Some republicans in
the North continued a violent campaign against the London and
By the 1960s, northern republicans had mostly given up violence
and turned either to politics or to retirement. But a new civil
rights movement arose in the North, to protest and correct the
discrimination against Catholics. The Prime Minister of
Northern Ireland, Captain Terence O'Neill (a moderate Unionist)
pushed through reforms in electoral law and public housing. He
met with increasing opposition from hard-line Unionists including
William Craig and Brian Faulkner, important members of his
cabinet. After a general election (in which he retained a
narrow majority) he was forced out of office in April 1969,
following a bombing which was blamed on the IRA but later turned
out to be the work of loyalists.
Civil rights turned into civil disorder. The Belfast government
could not cope when fighting broke out in the streets of Belfast.
At times, the riots verged on pogroms, such as when loyalists
invaded the nationalist Falls Road. Thousands of families
were forced to leave their homes. The London government sent
British troops into Northern Ireland to keep the factions apart
in August 1969.
1970 was a turning point in Northern Ireland. The British Army,
having been welcomed initially by Catholics turned that welcome
into suspicion and hatred by conducting mass house searches in
nationalist areas. The IRA split in two, the Officials and
the Provisionals (who were better organised and more willing
to use violence). Ian Paisley was elected to Westminster on a
fundamentalist ticket, opposing the "soft" approach by official
Unionists like O'Neill. The Socialist Democratic and Labour Party
(SDLP) was formed out of the civil rights movement.
In 1971, Brian Faulkner became Prime Minister after his
predecessor, Chichester-Clark, resigned. Faulkner made the
colossal blunder of staging Operation Internment in an attempt to
quell the IRA. The Army sealed off whole areas during the night
raided homes, taking hundreds men for detention without trial.
Many of the internees were subjected to brutal treatment.
The injustice was compounded by incompetence: many if not most
of the internees were innocent, and many senior IRA men escaped
the net. The IRA drew valuable sympathy and support from
The last Sunday in January 1972 was Bloody Sunday. British
paratroopers shot dead thirteen unarmed men, six of them under
eighteen. A fourteenth died later of injuries sustained on the
same day. Thirteen others, including a widow, were wounded.
All of them had been participating in an illegal but largely
peaceful march against internment. The a public inquiry
that followed, conducted by by the British Chief Justice,
Lord Widgery, was a whitewash, clearing the soldiers of blame
and lending credence to their claims that the men they shot
Bloody Sunday is a potent propaganda weapon used by the IRA and
Sinn Féin. It was not the first atrocity, nor did it claim the
most lives (more than fifty civilians were killed by IRA bombs
in 1972 alone). On that day and in the cover up that followed,
the state used the same methods as terrorist organisations like
Stormont, as the Northern Irish government and parliament were
known, was suspended (later to be abolished) and direct rule from
London was introduced by the British Prime Minister, Ted Heath.
Attempts during the seventies to devolve government back to
Northern Ireland with power sharing failed because of Unionist
and Nationalist opposition. However, direct rule from London
meant that the Northern Ireland Secretary could push through
the types of reforms that cost men like O'Neill and Faulkner
The level of violence has been much than it was in the early
1970s and Northern Ireland is actually a safer place
than the news sometimes made it seem. The civil rights that people
marched for in the streets in the 60s are protected by bodies
such as the Housing Executive and Fair Employment Commission.
But Northern Ireland still has not achieved "normal" political
and social stability. The RUC still has a credibility problem
in nationalist eyes.
In 1997 a peace process got started, based in part on compromises
on marching routes by the Orange Order and a renewed IRA
ceasefire. For the firt time in many years there is some hope
that political reforms may make Northern Ireland a better
place to live in for all its inhabitants. Most importantly,
there is hope that the terrorists may find they no longer have
support for shootings, bombings and other activities.
Subject: 3) What books are there on Irish history?
These are some general works.
Title: Modern Ireland 1600-1972
Author: R.F. Foster
Title: Ireland Since the Famine
Author: F.S.L. Lyons
Title: Ireland 1912-1985: Politics and Society
Author: J.J. Lee
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Title: Oxford History of Ireland
Author: R.F. Foster (Ed.)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 0-19-822970-4 (hardback)
Title: The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923
Author: J.C. Beckett
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 0-571-18036-1 (0-571-18035-3)
Title: A History of Ulster
Author: Jonathan Bardon
Publisher: Blackstaff Press
ISBN: 0-85460-476-4 ( 0-85640-466-7 hardback )
Title: Early Medieval Ireland: 400 - 1200
Author: Dáibhí O'Cróinín
ISBN: 0-582-015650 ( 0-582-015669 cloth )
One book that people mention a lot in connection with early Ireland is
Title: How the Irish Saved Civilization
Author: Thomas Cahill
Publisher: Doubleday Books
ISBN: 0-385-41849-3 (hardback or paperback?)
[ The publishing information given is for the paperback editions unless
otherwise specified. ]
One online resource worth mentioning is the CELT Irish Electronic
Text archive at UCC, which has a variety of texts available for
reading on the web or download.
Subject: 4) Chronological list of dates from Irish History
c.3000BC Megalithic tombs first constructed.
c.700BC Celts arrive from parts of Gaul and Britain.
Ireland divided into provinces. (This according
to a contributor is reconstructed folk history
and not based on the archaeology.)
c.AD350 Christianity reaches Ireland.
400-800 Kingdom of Dalriada extends from Northeastern
Ireland to Scotland. Christianity brought to
Scotland by St. Columcille and others.
432 Trad. date for the arrival of St. Patrick in
700-800 Irish monasticism reaches its zenith.
795 Full-scale Viking invasion.
1014 Brian Ború defeats Vikings at Clontarf but is
1169 Dermot MacMurrough, exiled king of Leinster,
invites help from 'Strongbow'.
1172 Pope decrees that Henry II of England is feudal
lord of Ireland.
1366 Statutes of Kilkenny belatedly forbid
intermarriage of English and Irish. Gaelic
culture unsuccessfully suppressed.
1534-40 Unsuccessful Kildare rebellion
1541 Henry VIII proclaimed king (rather than feudal
lord) of Ireland
1558-1603 Reign of Elizabeth I. System of counties adopted.
1595-1603 Nine years war, a failed uprising led by Hugh
1607 Flight of the Earls; leading Ulster families go
1610 Policy of plantation by colonisation begins
1641 Charles I's policies cause insurrection in
Ulster and Civil War in England.
1649 Cromwell invades Ireland.
1653 Under the Act of Settlement Cromwell's
opponents stripped of land.
1689-90 Deposed James II flees to Ireland; defeated at
the Battle of the Boyne.
1704 Penal Code enacted; Catholics barred from voting,
education and the military.
1775 American War of Independence foments Irish unrest.
1782 Grattan's Parliament persuades British to declare
Irish independence, but in name only.
1795 Foundation of the Orange Order.
1798 Wolfe Tone's uprising crushed.
1801 Ireland becomes part of United Kingdom under
the Act of Union.
1829 Catholic Emancipation Act passed after
Daniel O'Connell elected as MP.
1845-49 The Great Famine.
1879-82 The Land War; Parnell encourages boycott of
1914 Implementation of Home Rule postponed because of
outbreak of World War I.
1916 Easter Rising. After the leaders are executed
public opinion backs independence.
1920-21 War between Britain and Ireland; Irish Free State
and Northern Ireland created.
1922 Civil war breaks out.
1932 De Valera elected.
1939-45 "The Emergency"; Free State remains neutral
1958 "Programme for economic expansion" published;
establishes a five year plan of public investment
with a target of 2% economic growth per annum.
1969 Rioting between Catholics and Protestants.
British troops called in.
1971 Provisional IRA begins campaign to oust
British troops from Ireland.
Faulkner becomes N.I. Prime Minister;
introduces internment without trial
1972 'Bloody Sunday' in Derry.
N.I. Government and parliament suspended;
direct rule from London.
1973 UK and Republic of Ireland join
European Economic Community.
1974 Power sharing Executive collapses in face
of Unionist general strike called to protest
Sunningdale agreement on "Council of Ireland".
1980-81 H-Block hunger strikes in NI. Republican
prisoners starve themselves to death for political
status. Inept handling by government results
in increased support for republicans.
1983 The first abortion referendum. An amendment
to the Constitution (article 40) says that
the State "acknowledges the right to life of
1984 Southern nationalist parties and SDLP publish
New Ireland Forum report.
1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement signed at Hillsborough.
Intergovernmental Conference established.
1986 The first divorce referendum. An attempt
to amend the Constitution to allow the
dissolution of marriages fails to get
1988 The Single European Act is approved by
referendum (effected by a chance to
article 29 of the Constitution).
1992 The Treaty on European Union (also known
as the Maastricht Treaty) passes the
referendum hurdle (voters approved another
change to article 29 of the Constitution).
The "X" abortion case and referendum.
1994 Peace Declaration and IRA ceasefire.
1995 Second divorce referendum. Provisions
allowing for civil divorce are added to
article 41 of the Constitution.
1996 End of IRA ceasefire; elections for Peace Forum;
Sinn Féin is excluded from peace talks because
of continuing IRA violence; SF decides not to
attend the Forum
1997 Renewal of IRA ceasefire. Sinn Féin joins
establish peace talks.
End of Irish FAQ part 5