IRELAND, A MILLENARIAN NATION

NORTHERN IRELAND


During the 17th and 18th centuries some nationalist parties emerged, which united Catholics with Protestants to make a common cause: the freedom of Ireland. This brought some significant battles that were always settled in favour of the English. In the 19th century, important labour and resistance movements were organized, especially in Ulster, the most industrialized area of the island and one of the most prosperous of the United Kingdom, which contrasted with the serious problems that the South was suffering. The native Irish suffered from all kinds of arbitrariness. They were prohibited to speak their Irish language, which was descendant of the ancient Celtic Gaelic. They couldn’t recall their traditions nor celebrate Catholic rites because they were interpreted as a challenge to the English power. In all the island different jurisdictions and rights were imposed depending on whether it was about Catholic Irish or English Protestants. This situation was a legacy of Cromwell times, which set aside the population to a status of subjugation without the right to reply.

In the middle of the century, the situation described above and a severe famine decimated the population. Some of them could and dared to emigrate to the USA, where most of them had a hard future but with greater opportunities. The rest had no other chance than being under the domination of the big British owners, or they simply devoted themselves to survive, which they did not always achieve. The consequences of that period are still evident today in the demography of the country as in 1840 they were more than eight million people, whereas now the sum of Ireland and Ulster does not reach six and a half million.

The situation became more complex day by day so that new Irish patriotic movements, which had some hint of progressivism and left wing, came across the opposition of the Catholic Irish church, which was afraid of losing its power of influence over the population, and the propagation of ideas opposing the Catholic postulates. Indeed, it was a rivalry between the Irish: those who were fighting in order that the population continued with the designs of the Catholic Church, against those who wanted to go far beyond the religious facet and overtake it.

In 1916 and due to the Easter Rising on the Catholic’s behalf (which finished with a bloodbath) the Irish Republican Army, better known internationally as IRA, was set up. Its objective was getting rid of the British control and creating an Irish independent state in the island by means of the armed struggle. Its political party, Sinn Féin, won an election in 1918. But before and after that year the IRA harassment against the British was so strong and tough that in 1921 London agreed on a treaty that the island would be divided in two areas: in the northeast the current Ulster (already most of them were Protestants), which became Northern Ireland; and in the south the rest of the island with a majority of Catholics, which was given a status of semi-independence with its own parliament but dependant on an oath of loyalty to the British Crown. That provoked a process which would end with the proclamation of a free Irish state inside the British Commonwealth.

However, things did not remain that way and a lot of northern and southern Irish wished a united Ireland free from the British, whereas the treaty supporters considered that after several centuries they could not let the opportunity of building up an independent state get away. Although it was divided and dependant on an oath, which was more nominal than effective, in time they may succeed in reunifying their country and releasing from any British imposition. The disagreement turned into a conflict which violently strengthened between both factions. The IRA did not accept the treaty and a fratricidal war started, which finished in 1923 with the victory of the treaty supporters. In 1937 it was passed a constitution that regulated the new state of Ireland and the island division between Ireland and the United Kingdom, which was delimited in the territory of the former Ulster (now Northern Ireland). In 1948, leaving the Second World War behind, in the south it was proclaimed the Republic of Ireland with a new constitution that totally dissociated it from the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

In those years the Republic of Ireland was a contrast to Northern Ireland. They were two opposite poles and two different realities in the island. The new state shut itself away; its strokes were ultra-conservative and contrary to any social reform. It was firmly backed up and at the same time dependant on the power of the Catholic Church with its dense parish framework in all the country.

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