Why is Northern Ireland a part of the United Kingdom....

Pat Feeley asks. Why is Northern Ireland a part of the United Kingdom and not part of the Republic of Ireland? OMG! How long is a piece of string Pat? The answer to this particular conundrum has been going on for centuries and there are as many explanations as there are rivers in the delta. But here goes at a very simplified LHL explanation.

To have a chance of understanding the Republic of Ireland we have to journey long back in history. The British Isles (as they are still commonly known) are recognised today as five distinct geographical regions, four belonging to the United Kingdom and one, the Republic of Ireland, a separate state from Britain since the Free State proclamation in 1921, which led to an Irish civil war and the death of the legendary Republican Michael Collins. Over the centuries these five nations have fought and allied and intertwined their histories and kings. Beginning way back in 1169, a local conflict between Irish kings, Dermot Mac Murrough king of Leinster and Rory O’Connor King of Connacht, led to Dermot asking Henry II of England for help and this ensured that Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke aka Strongbow, arrived on the emerald isle. The ‘anglosisation’, or probably more accurately, the division of the inhabitants of the island of Ireland had begun its long and torturous journey.

What followed were a series of historical events and interludes that incorporated major events such as: the colonisation of Ireland, ‘plantations’ of Protestant peoples, English and Scots, were exported across the Irish Sea during the reigns of Elisabeth I and James VI. A dynastic struggle between the Stuarts and William III that ended at the battle of the Boyne in 1689. A mid nineteenth century potato famine, which due to British governmental incompetence, left a bitter psychological stain on any future Anglo-Irish relations and an overabundance of violent atrocities from Portadown bridge in 1641 to the execution of the Manchester martyrs in 1867 did little to enhance cordial relations between the Irish and the British. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland occurred on January 1st 1801 with a certain amount of ‘bribery, intimidation and pressure’, however, the 600 and odd years prior to the union had already produced two adversative cultures and the 19th century political climate contained sufficient political and social divisions to bear witness to a steady spate of nationalist groups and movements ranging from the early radical agrarian Whiteboy to the later Land League dominated by the ill-fated Charles Stuart Parnell.

But to your specific question Pat, the predominant protestants of Northern Ireland never joined with a united Ireland political ideology because they were never socialised as Gaelic Irish, and they saw themselves as always something else, predominantly protestant and usually loyal to a government in London that supported them. In the long-term one can perceive the division of two cultures in Ireland, held apart by geographical distinctions of settlement, social landlordism and religion. The Pale, the area of Ireland using English after 1446 (Louth, Meath Dublin and Kildare) was the ultimate symbol of a tendency on behalf of the protestant English/Scots to not wish to integrate. Although some Gaels became Anglicised and some Normans became Hibernicised, significantly the two groups, British and Irish, remained separate. The die was already cast for a non-united Ireland.

In the short-term, the audacious steps of William Gladstone, championing Home Rule for Ireland from 1867 onwards, though encouraging a possible form of unity for the 5 countries of the British Isles, also fortified, unintentionally, a Conservative and protestant unionist backlash. This was reflected in marching Orange Men, Prime Minister Salisbury’s ‘go to Manitoba (Canada)’ speech and ultimately the blooming and emergence of an Ulster Volunteers force, which prior to WW I were prepared to arm themselves to remain part of Britain, and as they say in all good stories, ‘the rest is history’, up until the 1998 Good Friday Peace agreement which brought a modicum of hope for the future.

In the end, the history of Ireland is irrevocably complex and caustic and always intertwined with Britain. The great famine and later Irish emigration patterns sent Irish ‘wild geese’ mercenaries across Europe. Ironically again….thousands of Irish catholics made their way into the industrial heartland of Lancashire and would have to endure yet more forms of social challenge and hence the special relationship to this day with catholics in the red rose county – I should know, I was brought up one myself.

Peter John Fyles


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