There’s clearly a lot which needs to be said about the partition of 1922 and the war which preceded it. And honestly, much of it has been said so many times before. There’s several excellent films about it (I recommend Michael Collins or The Wind That Shakes the Barley) and thousands of pages written. So, here’s the long and the short of it.
By the dawn of World War 1, Irish politics were becoming increasingly crowded and difficult to manage. Sinn Fein (meaning ‘ourselves alone’ in Gaelic) had arrived on the scene, arguing for complete and total independence from Britain. They rejected the offer which was on the table from the British government (called The Home Rule Bill). The Irish Republican Brotherhood was making it’s presence known through physical violence (they were one of the predecessors of the modern IRA). The Irish Volunteers, The Irish Citizen’s Army and the Cumann na mBan were among others making noise at this point. (Side note, the Cumann na mBan was a woman’s paramilitary operating underneath the volunteers. While I don’t love that they shot people, I love that they were baller enough to defend their country.)
On the Loyalist side of the divide, the Ulster Volunteer Force fought for the continued presence of the British government on the island.
Pause for vocabulary: at this point in the literature, the terms “Republican” and “Catholic” begin to be used interchangeably and the terms “Loyalist”, “Unionist”and “Protestant” receive the same treatment. Keep in mind that these are not wholly accurate terms, but are bandied about as though they are. We’ll cover more vocab later.
Things were ramping up to go in 1914, and then Germans gate crashed the party. From 1914-1918, Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe were caught up in World War 1 and everything paused.Well, almost everything.
On Easter Sunday 1916, the IRB led a failed rebellion. Its leaders were executed and one would think this would be the end of things. Instead, the national conversation changed completely. Sinn Fein and the IRA both gained united power within the community. Tensions continued to mount until 1919 when two members of the Irish police force (controlled by the British) were shot dead by two members of the IRA. The War of Independence was launched.
In 1920 the British sought to end the conflict by offering Home Rule parliaments to both Dublin and Belfast. Belfast accepted and Dublin refused. For loyalists, this allowed them to remain part of the UK and the Empire while also having control over their own affairs. In their mind, a win-win situation.
Thus, in 1920, Northern Ireland was born. Literally out of the blood of war and begrudging compromise, a new nation was forged comprised of loyalists comfortable with the arrangement and republicans who were not.
This is where we’ll pause our story for today. Tune in next time to hear about the implications of partition and more new and exciting vocabulary. I know you’re excited.