identity, legacy and anguish

As we open our scene again on Northern Ireland, it’s important to note I will not be covering the history of the Republic in these blogs. While there is much to discuss, I am not qualified to do so. For anyone who is interested, there are libraries worth of books out there which will speak directly to the post-partition existence of the Republic of Ireland.

In my conversations with people about Northern Ireland, I found many people assume that the trouble started, and was entirely contained, in the middle to latter part of the 20th century. There is a perception that the beginning parts of the country’s history were peaceful. Perhaps people assume most citizens were happy about partition and found comfortable identity with the new political reality. However, many historical documents argue this is not the case.

The country of Northern Ireland was essentially born out of blood, conflict, malice, and fear.  Therefore, in 1998, when the “official peace process” began, it was not a process of reconciliation. Instead it was the process of creating an entirely new culture, in which two disparate cultures were to be able to coexist on the same piece of land. That reality had never existed on the island, and perhaps it was folly to assume the transition would be easy.

But back to the 1920s.

Amidst growing violence on behalf of both loyalist and republican paramilitaries, the elections for the new Parliament of Northern Ireland were held in May 1921. The results indicated a more than healthy majority for the unionists; 41 out of 52 of the available seats. This led a prominent Unionist leader, Sir James Craig, to say, “All I boast of is that we have a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State.”

One can only imagine how such statements must have made the republican community feel. Violence escalated, as they tried every attempt to regain power within their country. However – and this is where the real problem lies – they simply refused to acknowledge that Northern Ireland was a country. Therefore they held no allegiance to her as citizens. Their allegiance was entirely to the concept and dream of a united Ireland. While the idea of political allegiance may have shifted throughout the Republican fight into the Troubles, the issue of identity remained and remains at these core of the situation.

So for the next 30 or so odd years such was the pattern within Northern Ireland. A largely loyalist controlled Parliament, consistently ignoring the needs, desires, and writes of the republican community with members of the Republican community responding violently to being ignored. Much like the history of most complex societies this was a period of simmering tension. There would be brief periods where the tension boiled over and everyone was reminded that they did not live in a unified society, but day to day life was often unaffected. To identify the official “starting point” of the troubles is almost impossible–scholars give multiple starting points and no one seems to be able to agree on what actually began the open warfare of 1960 to 1990s. I would like to argue that the troubles began long before the 1960s. They began at partition, or before that with the hunger or before that with Oliver Cromwell or before that the Reformation or before that every time a British governments or monarchy sought to claim sovereignty over an island which sought to rule itself.

In the next few posts, were going to begin to talk about the. Known as “The Troubles.” It’s the time. In Northern Irish history which is perhaps the most famous. However, being famous does not mean that it is well understood. As we journey forth with the story of my wee beloved country, I would ask you to keep this post in mind. It’s about identity. It’s about allegiance. There were men and women who were willing to die so that their definition of Ireland would prevail–even more severe there were and perhaps even still are men and women who are willing to kill so that their version of Ireland would prevail. This is not a simple issue of Protestants not understanding Catholics, or vice versa. This is significantly deeper, darker, and more insidious than that.

Tune in next time for a vocabulary lesson. I’d imagine some of you are incredibly annoyed that I keep using “republican” and “nationalist” interchangeably, so I’ll be clearly up how that’s actually accurate.


Author: kristen

msw, mdiv (baylor university): phd (queens university belfast) : researcher, social worker, human resource director: focus on intersection of gender and religion: wife, daughter, friend, banyan tree

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