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Irish FAQ: History [5/10]
Section - 1) Why is Ireland divided?

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	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
	English government.

	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
	August, 1914.

	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
	the British.

	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  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

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Top Document: Irish FAQ: History [5/10]
Previous Document: News Headers
Next Document: 2) How did the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland start?

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