History of the Irish Republic

The Irish race, by nature fiercely territorial and independent, for centuries have defended their ways of life against foreign invaders. In the first century came the Romans who conquered England and some of Ireland. They left in the sixth century to defend Rome against invaders. Then in the eighth century came the Vikings to Ireland to rob and steal. In the eleventh century the Kings of Ireland marshaled enough warriors to drive the Vikings into the sea at Clontarf. Those Danes who remained in Ireland did so peacefully as traders. In time, those Danes who stayed lost their Viking identities and language and gradually melted into the Irish culture.

After Brian Boru, with help from O'Kelly forces, defeated the Vikings, there followed two hundred years of relative peace in Eire, occasionally broken by interior strife between clans, mostly over territory. But in the eleventh century a new and more skilled enemy, the Normans defeated the Anglo-Saxons at Essex, England, then eventually sought

to impose their laws and ways of life upon the Irish peoples. The Normans built strings of castles to protect themselves. The string of Norman castles around Dublin became known in history as the "pale". Beyond the pale lived the wild people of Ireland.

In the sixteenth century came British King Henry the VIII with a new idea; to depopulate Ireland by driving out the Normans and the surviving Irish Kings with their strong clan structures and take over Ireland.

Most of the strong and influential Irish leaders, in the "flight of the wild geese", fled to mainland Europe to raise armies to better fight the British. Meanwhile, Ireland it'self was short of strong and respected leaders.

Then British King Henry VIII decided to murder or drive Irish owners off of their lands, suppress the Catholic religion and destroy the old Celtic customs. The King's armies seized Irish lands from the rightful owners in the name of the crown, then give the stolen lands to English, Scots, and even Normans considered loyal to the crown. Many uprisings by outraged Irish resulted in constant guarilla warfare against the English King.

Between 1509 and 1547 in a period known as the "Protestant Ascendancy", King Henry sent Protestants to colonize Ireland. Queen Elizabeth I, increased the efforts to install plantations across the island, claiming the farmland for England and forcing the Irish to pay rent on their own land.

The plantation idea met with some success in areas like Dublin, but plantations in Ulster were constantly at war with the native Irish. Britain sent large numbers of soldiers to brutally suppress rebellions by the native Irish.

During the English Revolution of 1688, Dutch King William of Orange and his wife Mary assumed the British throne, but brother James II, a Catholic, attempted to regain his throne. That brought bloody strife again to Ireland, with the majority of the Irish unwittingly caught in the middle. A great battle was fought on the banks of the River Boyne, near Dublin, on July 1, 1690. While all of that was going on, the Irish killed most of all of the British settlers they could get their hands on in Ulster.

Another great battle raged in Derry where 30,000 Protestants loyal to King William walled themselves up in the city while James II's forces laid siege to the city for three months. When William's army arrived in July 1690, James had to retreat and Ireland lost its only champion in England who could have set them free.

In time England grew weaker through wars with America and France. Irish Protestants took advantage of that weakness to press for independence from Britain. They also pressed for rights for all people, and repeal of the harsh penal laws. Henry Grattan and Tone believed that the penal laws were too harsh, and attempted to force Britain to allow the Irish parliament more political independence.

Other rebels wanted more. Wolfe Tone founded the Society of United Irishmen and with the assistance of the French, tried to launch a full-scale rebellion against British rule in 1798. For a while Grattan succeeded, but in 1801 the British by the Act of Union seized full control of the Irish government.

Responding to pressure for land and rents reform, secret agrarian societies, both Catholic and Protestant, sprang up in the countryside. Members of these groups attacked property and individuals. Some like the Whiteboys and Ribbonmen attacked British landlords.

The Peep O'Day Boys, a Protestant group, formed to intimidate Catholics whom were perceived as a threat to ownership of their land. Catholics retaliated with a group called, "The Defenders", and both groups waged small-scale wars in the countryside. The Peep O'Day Boys formed the first Orange Order, named after their hero William of Orange. Soon the Orange Order began to attract Protestants of all classes and serves today as the highest authority within the Loyalist communities.

The 19th century saw the repeal of some of the harsher penal laws as many Protestants found them impossible to enforce. Many Catholics, thanks to covert assistance from Protestant allies, had managed to retain their middle-class status during the height of the Penal Laws.

In 1803, in the wake of Robert Emmet's unsuccessful attempt to resurrect the United Irishmen and lead a new rebellion in 1798, O'Connell stepped forward and condemned the use of violence. He pushed for rights for his people and ultimately called for Catholic emancipation. He gathered the support of thousands of Catholics in Ireland for his Catholic Association, demanding among other things, the repeal of the Union, an end to the enforced tithes to the Church of Ireland, and greater respect for all Irish people regardless of their religious beliefs.

At about this time, changes in property qualifications enabled some Catholics to vote. Entrenched Protestant landlords were defeated in elections by those supported by the Catholic Association, and with pressure growing, Britain passed the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which among other issues, permitted Catholics to hold political office. O'Connell was duly elected as the first Catholic MP after the Penal Laws were repealed.

Now with Emancipation for Catholics in hand, Protestants of all classes began to shift away from dreams of independence such as Grattan and Tone had espoused and began to cling to the Union with Britain as the best way to retain their prestige and power. These men became bitter enemies to O'Connell and his growing entourage of Irish Catholics who pushed for repeal of the Union.

With his snowballing success, in 1843 O'Connell began to call large meetings with hundreds of thousands attending all across the country and calling for Repeal of the Union. Britain, worried about O'Connell's influence over such numbers of people, threatened the use of force against the meetings, and eventually, in October 1843, before a huge meeting at Clontarf, O'Connell declined to call Britain's bluff and cancelled the meeting. From then on, O'Connell lost his power base.

Meanwhile, Young Irelanders had no distaste for violence. They began to quarrel with O'Connell over tactics, and Duffy, William Smith O'Brien and Thomas Meagher abandoned the Catholic Association in 1847. They formed the Irish Confederation but in 1848 they split in part because John Mitchel advocated taking on the landlords as well as Britain, a cause which O'Brien, himself a landlord, would not support. That year the remnants of the Young Ireland movement attempted to capitalize on the rebellions occurring across Europe by staging their own, but before they could act, most of them were imprisoned or "transported" to a penal colony for treason against Britain.

Starting in 1845, the potato blight destroyed the food crops for several years. 1847 was the worst for even though the blight was weaker, fewer tubers remained for seed. Starvation increased and many were found dead with grass stains on their mouths or seaweed in their stomachs as they had struggled to live.What made their deaths the more tragic was that there was no true famine. There was plenty of grain, beef, butter and milk, but most of that was shipped to England.

The great Hunger had a profound effect on Irish politics; it created an entire generation of Irish living abroad in 1858 who hated the English, then rebels who were able to survive, revived new vigor to the Young Ireland movement, and a new determination to change the political situation for Ireland.

In America, James Stephens and John O'Mahony, with Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, formed the Fenian Brotherhood, the first Irish organization to clearly state its objectives as the creation of a democratic Irish Republic. The Irish branch of the Fenians became known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Combined they recruited men like John Mitchel and plotted a large rebellion against England, drawing on the United States for money,, horses, guns, ammunition and other supplies.

In 1867, under command of American Col. Thomas Kelly, Fenians started another Irish rebellion, but poor planning doomed the venture. Though the leaders were imprisoned or forced to hide out, the IRB movement continued to operate in secrecy for many years.

Another movement to Home Rule for Ireland, was called for by Issac Butt in 1870. By 1877 the Home Rule MP's elected Charles Stewart Parnell as their representative. His strategy was to challenge the British government head-on, and by 1880s the Home Rule MP's held the balance of power in Parliament. The first Home Rule bill was introduced in 1886, but it and the next Home Rule bill failed when Parnell was discredited by a plot to accuse him of complicity in murder and and by his own tragic love affair. Ulster Unionists began to put pressure on their own Parliament.

The Irish Volunteers, a militia created by the Irish Republican Brotherhood and soon numbering 180,000, had thrown its support behind John Redmond, the new leader of the Home Rule Party. The potential for violence encouraged the British to introduce a third Home Rule bill in 1912, and it had passed but suspended when England entered World War I. Promises were made that if Ireland helped England defeat Germany, Ireland whoul have Home Rule.

The IRB leadership had other ideas. Counting on the support of the Volunteers as well as the Socialist James Connolly's army, IRB leaders planned an Easter rebellion in Dublin in 1916, to spark a country-wide, revolt. Several men, including Patrick Pearse of the Gaelic League and the labor agitator and socialist , planned with help of German weapons to rebel at several key points across the island. Sir Roger Casement was to secure Germany's assistance, including ammunition, weapons and manpower.

Eoin MacNeill, the leader of the Volunteers, feared a rebellion would lead to the slaughter of the Irish, and when word reached them of the impending riot, they tried to stop it at the last minute. Too late, the leaders took over the General Post Office in Dublin on Easter Monday. From the G.P.O. Pearse read the newly-written Proclamation of the Irish Republic.From there 1500 rebels held the British for six days until most of their leaders were captured, imprisoned and later murdered.

The British thought that by executing the leaders of the rebellion they would quell any further notions of Irish independence. But the harsh action had the opposite result. In the months that followed, the Irish Volunteers continued to train, and the leaders used Sinn Fein as a platform to get members elected to Parliament, which they then refused to enter. In 1919, with WWI over, Home Rule due to the British government's catering to the Ulster unionists, frustration led the Irish Sinn Feiners to form their own parliament, known as Dail Eireann. And from there it was easy to recruit Irish Volunteers into a War of Independence.

For the next two years the Irish Republican Army, fought the British armies, including the brutal Black & Tans in Ireland. England's resources had been taxed by the war with Germany, and that, with the unorthodox guerrilla warfare employed by the Irish, turned the effort in Ireland's favor. It cost many Irish lives, but the people were tired of fighting. When Britain again offered to meet in treaty talks in December 1921, the leaders were ready to negotiate. Michael Collins, the IRA leader, agreed to British terms for peace, which among other things created a twenty-six county Irish Free State with dominion status.

Men like Eamon DeValera, escaped execution, who became president of the Dail, had opposed the Treaty because six counties were left out. Most of the ancient province of Ulster was retained by the British to appease the Unionist Protestants living there. It eas a British plan to indefinitely occupy part of Ireland under British control

Because of British treachery, DeValera resigned his position, and Irish Civil War began. This war pitted former allies against one another and the terms of the Treaty were contested by force, and the war resulted in many Irish being killed by other Irishmen. It ended in 1923 when the Treaty side, now the Free State Army (after Michael Collins was assassinated early in the conflict) finally wore down its IRA opposition The IRA was outlawed by the Free State. Even though an illegal organization, the IRA and the Sinn Fein, the political party which reputiated the Treaty, continued to fight the Irish government through the 1950s with many of its members regularly imprisoned.

In 1926, Eamon DeValera, repudiated the more radical elements of Sinn Fein and still found a way to avoid taking an oath of allegiance to Britain. As the leader of new party, Fianna Fail, he was elected Prime Minister in 1932 and in 1937 promoted another Treaty, which declared Ireland a Republic. The new Constitution provided to make Gaelic the official language of the Republic and renewed a territorial claim to the entire 32 counties of Ireland.

During WWII some Irishman believed England's enemies should be Ireland's allies, and therefore Ireland should side with Germany. Many more were unsympathetic to the Nazi cause. Ultimately the Irish Government retained a neutral stance during the war, but in reality allowed both Britain and the US to call upon Irish ports and airstrips when necessary.

The serious crisis for Ireland today has shifted north to the partitioned province of Ulster. People who never experienced the bad times are prone to take stances of the head which they do not fully understand. When loyalists claim to own Northern Ireland and claim to be a nation separate from Ireland, the reality of their stance is that they are standing on ground soaked with the blood of a million irishman who died to keep their lands free from domination by England.