Tuesday, 13 September 2016

1690 and 1798

So this week we are revisiting the Annual 12th July celebrations, which take place not only across Ulster, but also in other countries including Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England, Canada, USA and New Zealand.  You get pipe bands, flute bands, accordion bands and of course lots of drums to stimulate the senses.

There were lots of girls in the bands this year.  I like the old bagpipes (now and again :) but most fell silent as they passed where I was standing, to my annoyance.   They start them young, as you can see here.
OK so a wee bit of Ulster and Irish history to go along with the snaps of the Orange Parades.  Now I'm not a historian but you can't be born and live in this part of the world without being a little bit interested in how you came to be here and what it's all about.  So, as we all know, the 12th of July Parades commemorate the victory of  Dutch Prince William (Protestant) over King James II (Catholic) of England - in the famous Battle of the Boyne of 1690 (the river Boyne lies just north of Dublin, by the way).  William of Orange had already overthrown James in England and the Boyne ensured that James would never regain the British crown.   Fairly straightforward so far, right? - one side wins, the other loses.  So it goes, as Mr Vonnegut would say. 

But the plot thickens.  The Penal Laws did a great job of uniting Irish Catholics and Protestant Dissenters (mostly Presbyterians), since they placed restrictions on worship, acquiring land, voting, holding office and basically getting on in life.  Fast forward a 100 years or so from the Boyne and we see the formation of the Society of United Irishmen, in 1791.  It sought reform of the Irish Parliament, Catholic Emancipation and repeal of the Penal Laws.  Now remember folks, it was around this time that the French Revolution took place, and the mood in Ireland was ripe for radicalism.  The Society of United Irishmen, whose leaders were mostly Protestant, lobbied for the cessation of British interference in Irish affairs and called for a union of religious faiths in Ireland to 'abolish the differences that had long divided Irishmen'.  Interesting, huh?  One can only imagine what Ireland might have looked like had the resolutions of the Society of United Irishmen come to fruition.

And they can go on to a right age, as you can see here.  I wonder how many 12th parades this lady has walked. I'm a big fan of the old accordions, too - but you don't see them as often nowadays.  It's mostly pipe and drum bands.
But it was not to be.  Just two years after the Society of United Irishmen was formed France declared war on England and the Society was outlawed - the English no doubt worried that that they might have two wars on their hands.  But outlawing something was never a thing to stop an Irishman, no siree - the Society went underground and became even more determined to force a revolt against English rule, doing the usual thing and looking to their enemy's enemy (i.e., France) for assistance.  In 1796 a French fleet carrying 15,000 troops set sail for Ireland but bad weather off the south coast near Cork prevented it landing.  Surprising, that - the fact that weather may have played a major hand in the fate of this wee island :)

Anyway, the British government responded by arresting most of the Society's leadership.  By the time of the 1798 Rebellion, although tens of thousands of Irish did rise up, without organised leadership they were quickly crushed.  The arrival of 1000 French troops in County Mayo in August was of little effect.  One of last leaders of the Society still at large, Wolfe Tone, was captured when a fleet of 3000 French troops was intercepted and defeated by the Royal Navy near Lough Swilly, County Donegal (not a million miles from The Liberties - and roughly where I look out upon every morning with The Hound).  Reports of massacres between rebels and loyalists didn't help and The Establishment was quick to realise that the best way to defeat the hearts and minds of the Society of United Irishmen was by division.  And so rumours were spread about the intentions of Catholics to murder Protestants and vice-versa and the old wounds were re-opened.

Wolfe Tone, the leader of the Society of United Irishmen (who came from a French Protestant family), was denied a soldier's death by firing squad, but cheated the hangman by cutting his own throat.  And so another hero was created.

One outcome of the 1798 Rebellion was the 1800 Act of Union that merged the Irish Parliament with that of Westminster, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  It wasn't quite over yet, though.  In 1799 a young Irish Republican Protestant called Robert Emmet sat sail for France in the hope to revive French support for a rebellion, but a certain M. Napoleon Bonaparte was too busy thinking about the Big Prize (i.e., England) and Emmet returned to Ireland empty-handed.  After a bit of a disastrous attempt to seize Dublin Castle, Emmet was arrested, tried for treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered.  He became, not surprisingly, another heroic figure in Irish history - not least because of the speech he made before sentencing.  Ah sure we're great wordsmiths over in this wee island, are we not?

So you see the confusion, albeit it entirely in my own mind.  I mean, I grew up in Ulster in the 1970s, where differences between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants were taken for granted.   We came from different backgrounds (so we were told) and wanted different things (so we were told).  And yet we now know that not so long ago - in the grand scheme of things - Irishmen and women of all religions were united in their desire to see the end of British interference in all things Irish.

How we ended up where we are today is for another day and another place.  I don't pretend to have a handle on it all, or even a wee part of it.  And anyway, the old history thing ain't over yet, since we're still living it out here day-to-day in The Liberties.  But I'm not going to write about current politics - it's enough hearing about it every day on the news, believe you me.  Now...where's me camera?  I'm off for a walk to get me head shired and think about something else for a while.

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