a continuation of my introductory series on Northern Ireland
Okay, so now that we’ve established that the British made a definitive presence on the island, let’s pause to discus the religious implications of that presence.
So, once upon a time, all of Europe was a part of the One True Faith, i.e., Roman Catholicism. Then this monk with some manic depressive tendencies posted some ideas on a cathedral door and everything began to unravel. (For anyone not familiar with the Protestant Reformation, may I refer you here or here or here.)
(In deference to Dr. Brewer – my Reformation History professor- let me note that trouble was brewing long before Luther got out his hammer. The main sticking point was the idea of the Bible in the vernacular of the people. John Wycliffe was a specific proponent of this and was put to death for his beliefs. Jan Hus was also a revolutionary who was executed for questioning papal authority. And moving on.)
This is where the relationship between Mother England and the Irish people get interesting. Catholicism had deeply embedded itself on the island. becoming part of the lifeblood of the culture and contextualized with Celtic Christianity centuries before this event to the point where it was a deep part of the Irish identity. However, to be a proper British person at this point was to be Protestant and so thus Protestantism was the dominant faith incarnation of the Ulster Plantation.
It is important to remember here that these two divisions of the faith were viewed as enemies of each other and bloodshed between the two was not uncommon. Europe was awash in blood for many centuries over this debate. For anyone who doesn’t believe me, the Hugenots would affirm my anaylsis.
The issue of identity is really important to remember. To be Irish was to be Catholic and to be British was to be Protestant. End of story. Now, this is a vaguely crude generalization, but most of the scholarship from the 17th-19th centuries seem to affirm this reality. So in a world where the church was the dominant institution and where one attended service on Sunday morning was a deep part of their personal identity, you can imagine that the encroachment of another faith system was incredibly harming.
Perhaps it can be related to the feelings some people have towards the “Muslim takeover” of America. For them, to be American is to be Christian and to suggest otherwise is deeply damaging. The situation on that island is honestly not that much different for many people.
Now, with that in mind, let’s re-enter the timeline in the early parts of the 20th century.