Identity · Ireland · violence

IDENTITY CONFLICTS IN IRELAND: AN ANALYSIS BASED ON MANUS MIDLARSKY’S IDENTITY AND INTERNATIONAL CONFLICT

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When a nation is divided by religious differences that are associated with specific political beliefs some national institutions are fortified and strengthened but others cannot help but be destabilized in some manner.  In the instance of Ireland prior to the achievement of Irish Republicans gaining independence Catholics and Protestants often met each other with violence in every realm possible.  Political, social and economic power in Ireland had been drawn along a line separated by religious belief with Protestants claiming supremacy even before Cromwell’s invasion in 1649 and the subsequent implementation of his brutal penal laws and settlement against Catholic inhabitants of the island beginning in 1652.  The animosity between Catholics and Protestants, bolstered by the laws enacted by Protestant rulers, only served to create great divisions within Irish political, economic and social society.  “The political and military aspects of the Anglo-Irish wars of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries had quite rapidly polarized about religion” and at the outbreak of the Cromwellian Wars “four politico-religious groups were involved in the struggles.” [1]  As such, for a very long period the Protestant religion bolstered the institutions in Ireland only as a way to disenfranchise and alienate the native Catholic population.[2]  The results of this alienation only served to increase Irish Nationalism and cement the drive to end the divisive rule of the Protestant English by the Catholic population within the nation, usually with a great deal of rebellion and bloodshed.  This paper will discuss the Anglo-Irish conflict in the context of Manus Midlarsky’s views on Identity and International Conflicts.

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First there must be an understanding of the elements of collective identity at play in Ireland.  According to Midlarsky there are six elements of collective identity.[3]  The first is that the genetic or biological identity is not at stake.  Second, and perhaps most important in Irish culture is that collective identity refers to many stories that are passed from generation to generation – what I prefer to refer to as generational memory.  This generational memory pervades society and weaves its way into many family stories that promote generational grievances.  Third is language – in the case of Ireland, Gaelic is proudly spoken and many signs that share English translations will often be spray-painted black.  Fourth, is a territorial attachment to a common homeland.  Fifth, is the ethnic community, which exists through symbolic interactions.  Finally, also a vital component of Irish culture is religion.

Although the animosity between Catholics and Protestants existed long before the Irish Rebellion of 1641 (and still exist today), the acts of violence against Protestant settlers in Ireland set a chain of events into motion that resulted in the eventual invasion and settlement by Oliver Cromwell.  When the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland occurred in 1603, many Irish Catholic landowners were dispossessed, primarily in the regions of Munster and Ulster.[4]  This action disrupted the ethnic component of attachment to a common homeland.  The rebellion that resulted from this exile was a popular uprising by Catholic tenants focused on driving the ruling Protestant class, those who had taken over a great deal of the lands, from the shores of the island.  The goal of this rebellion was to prevent continued oppression – a common theme in ethnic conflicts.  This nationalist revolution was, as Crane Brinton suggests, a “popular revolution carried out in the name of freedom for a majority against a privileged minority” and “…resulted in the revolutionists become the legal government”[5] of Ireland.  In 1622 approximately “thirteen thousand settlers were living in Ulster and by 1640 one hundred thousand English and Scottish settlers were living on confiscated lands.” [6]The Catholic population in Ireland had grown increasingly agitated at the policies directed toward them by the Protestants in power that stripped them of their land and liberty.  These acts led to an illustration of the concept of the “Parable of the Tribes.”  Irish tenets had not choice but to either withdraw, allow themselves to be destroyed, surrender to the British, be absorbed into British culture or fight for the survival fo their Irish identity.[7]  In August of the same year, the English Civil War had begun and fears of the violence spreading to Ireland reached a peak.  As a result “the Roman Catholic population of Ulster rose against the settlers and the military”[8] in order to ensure that the Irish Catholics had control over their own political and social destiny.

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In Ireland the religious distinctions played more important role then divisions based solely on class and the ruling Protestant class had performed poorly in ensuring that the needs of the Irish Catholics were met.[9]  These distinctions are evident in various Protestant publications throughout the decades.  In An Inquiry into Certain Vulgar Opinions Concerning the Catholic Inhabitants of Ireland the author claims “Irish Catholics were hardly thought worthy of politicians.”[10] Protestant rule attempted at a very basic level to destroy the Catholic religion in Ireland with many laws directed toward forcing the Catholic population to attend Protestant religious meetings or face a fine or imprisonment for absence and prohibiting members of the Catholic Church were not allowed to hold positions in public office.[11]  Because of this disenfranchisement, the revolutionary violence directed at Protestants throughout the country of Ireland was “extremely brutal.”[12]  According to John Marshall a number ranging from approximately 2,000-12,000 Protestant settlers were “massacred” between the outbreak of rebellion in 1641 and the return of Owen Roe O’Neill, an Irish military leader, in 1642.[13]  The British were outraged at the events during the Rebellion and in 1649 Oliver Cromwell invaded the island intent on avenging the “Catholic atrocities of 1641 and to put down Irish loyalty to the deposed and beheaded Charles I”[14] in order to protect Protestant primacy in the British Isles.

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            Cromwell invaded Ireland by entering Dublin on August 15, 1649 and traveled north to the village of Drogheda with “more than twenty thousand infantry and cavalry…killing thirty-five hundred villages and executing anyone who tried to surrender…every Catholic priest in the town was murdered.” Cromwell’s tour of terror spread throughout Ireland swiftly in a ferocious manner and the inhabitants of Ireland often surrendered in abject fear.  Catholics across the small nation were murdered, with Catholic priests being the primary targets; others were arrested and sent to work as slaves in British colonies.[15] British Protestant hatred of Catholic Ireland was becoming more and clearer as Cromwell swept across the country taking homes, lands and lives.  The invasion of Ireland was only the beginning of Cromwell’s cruel legacy of hatred against Irish Catholics.  In the years following Cromwell’s invasion Protestant settlers arrived in Ireland in droves in what is known as the Cromwellian Settlement.  “Before Cromwell, Catholics owned 60 percent of the country’s land; by the time Cromwell redistributed the land to his soldiers, allies and other reliable Protestants they owned just 20 percent.”[16]  Violence continued after the initial rebellion had been quelled.  Irish armies fought against the crown until The Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691 allowing for very limited religious freedom and tough legislation that merely sought to keep the Catholic population under strict control.  The years that followed the treaty would be a continuum of various attempts to suppress the Catholic religion in Ireland through legislation such as the Penal Laws.

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The Penal Laws were designed primarily to prevent the Irish from gaining greater wealth.  Irish Catholics were prevented from purchasing new lands for their families and unable to pass along what property they did own to one heir.  Instead the Irish landholders were forced to parcel the land off to each of their sons in an equal manner, which resulted in the harmful partitioning of family lands into such small portions that no family could be sustained on them. “Deprived of their estates, which were never restored, different branches of the families became tenants under the Adventurers of the lands they had once owned as lords.”  In addition Protestant men who married Irish Catholics would be “deprived of all rights” if their wife did not “conform to English religion within one year of the marriage.”  Sir John Davies believed that “It was manifest from these laws that…the Crown of England intended to make a permanent separation and enmity between the English settled in Ireland and the native Irish.”[17] The various forms of legislation passed by British Parliament continuously sought to oppress the Irish natives.  Protestants in the nation incessantly singled out Catholics for censure and disenfranchisement drawn along the lines of the opposing religions.  Catholic Irish natives had no true means of fighting to establish their own liberty in their nation until the outbreak of rebellion once again in 1916.  Religion had truly served to bolster Protestant institutions until the Irish could no longer live under what they viewed as the extremely domineering rule of their English conquerors.

The events that took place in Ireland over the last several hundred years beautifully illustrate many of the concepts outlined by Manus Midlarsky’s explanation of ethnic conflict and war.  Primordialism or generational memory has provided a significant contribution to the continued violence, strife and ethnic insecurities in Ireland as the stories previously discussed in this paper have been passed through the culture through time.  While we have been witnessing a significant change in the violence in Ireland since the 1980’s there is still a great deal of embedded cultural hatred that exists between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland.  Midlarsky notes “these resentments can yield additional fodder to protract the conflict and not yield to the temptation of political settlement.”[18]  The problem then lies in finding ways to combat these resentments in the ethnic communities responsible for protracted violence in order to end war.

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Midlarsky does not discuss in depth any truly peaceful methods for the resolution of ethnic conflict, a significant problem in the field of conflict resolution.  The diversity of cultures and ethnicities involved in conflict is so broad that finding a prescription that will work to cure the animosities across the board will be in vain.  Each conflict resolutionist working in the field must work to find specific treatments for each specific occasion of ethnic conflict that will be relevant to the local community.    Many of the projects and work completed by negotiators and mediators in Ireland would likely not work in locations such as Afghanistan or Columbia.   These individualized projects can be heavily based on truth commission findings and reconciliation processes within each community in order to ensure success on the local levels.  Peace education and peace building learning must play key roles as well in order to spread the work of those involved in seeking ethnic peace.    There is not any one simple answer to ending ethnic conflict and Midlarsky is quite adamant about the complexity of these types of conflicts.  As such it is vital to use his information and tailor specific programs to combat ethnic conflicts.

 

WORKS CITED

Bartlett, Jonathan, Ed., Northern Ireland, The Reference Shelf Editions, The H.W. Wilson Company, New York, 1983,

 

Brinton, Crane, The Anatomy of Revolution, Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 1962.

 

Golway, Terry, For the Cause of Liberty:A Thousand Years of Ireland’s Heroes, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2002,

 

Hobsbawm, E.J., The Making of the English Working Class, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1968,

 

Marshall, John, John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture, Cambridge University Press, 2006,

 

Midlarsky, Manus, Handbook of War Studies II, Edited by Manus I. Midlarsky, “Identity and International Conflict.”  The University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2008,

 

Milner, J., Rev., An Inquiry into Certain Vulgar Opinions Concerning Catholic Inhabitants and Antiquities of Ireland – in a Series of Letters Addressed to Protestant Gentlemen, Keating, Brown and Company, London, 1808

 

O’donovan, Catherine, The Cromwellian Settlement, Clare County Library, http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/cromwell_settlement.htm,

 

Prendergast, John P., The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, P.M. Haverty, New York 1868,

Protestant Principles: Exemplified in the Parliamentary Orations of Royal Dukes, Right Rev.Prelates, Noble Peers and Illustrious Commoners, London, John Murray, Albemarle Street,

[1] Bartlett, Jonathan, Ed., Northern Ireland, The Reference Shelf Editions, The H.W. Wilson Company, New York, 1983, Pg. 9 & 26. The four groups were “the disposed Roman Catholic majority, the Scots-Irish settlers in the east, the New Scots and English settlers and a weak English army.”

[2] Brinton, Crane, The Anatomy of Revolution, Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 1962.  Brinton writes that “a society in perfect equilibrium might be defined theoretically as a society in which every member had all that they could desire and was in a state of perfect contentment,” pg. 16.  In Ireland this was not the case after the Cromwellian Invasion and Settlement.  Catholic inhabitants of the island lost rights and privileges they had fought hard to regain after the Irish Rebellion of 1641.  As they lost these rights and privileges, the existing animosity between Catholics and Protestants grew exponentially and still exists to these days.  During a trip to Ireland in 2004, I had the opportunity to stay at a Bed & Breakfast in which ruins remained on the adjacent land, the small building had been destroyed during the invasion of Cromwell.  The owners of the establishment still speak very harshly of Oliver Cromwell and the legacy he left behind in Ireland.  In Cromwell’s “Dublin” Orders he spoke of his wishes to “massacre, banish and destroy the Catholic inhabitants of the island…blood and ruin shall befall them.”

O’donovan, Catherine, The Cromwellian Settlement, Clare County Library, http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/cromwell_settlement.htm, Accessed 9 July 2008.

[3] Midlarsky, Manus, Handbook of War Studies II, Edited by Manus I. Midlarsky, “Identity and International Conflict.”  The University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2008, Pgs 25-55.

[4] It is important to note that Ulster is the region of Northern Ireland that has been facing many modern problems due to the schism between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants.

[5] Brinton, Crane, Anatomy of Revolution, pg 22.

Hobsbawm, E.J., The Making of the English Working Class, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1968, pgs 85-86.  Despite his focus on Industrial England Hobsbawm writes of the “rhetoric of liberty” which at this early period in Irish history was being ardently expressed by the drive to defend their land and rights.  The Irish were intent on being independent and highly patriotic in their cause and sought to preserve what they viewed as  their Irish birthright from Protestant oppression.  They wanted freedom from the British crown, they wished to participate in their own liberty and the freedom to travel, trade and sell one’s own labor.  They had no desire to be kept under the thumb of Protestant rule.  The Irish were exploited non-stop by their British conquerors and in response Catholics held many grievances that matched what Hobsbawm describes as “working class grievances.”  The Irish had lost status and independence, suffered a disruption of traditional family economies with the loss of their lands and faced a strict partiality of the law. Pgs. 221-222.

[6] Golway, Terry, For the Cause of Liberty:A Thousand Years of Ireland’s Heroes, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2002, pg. 24.

[7] Midlarsky, Manus, Pg. 29.

[8] Bartlett,  Jonathan, Northern Ireland, pg 28. Bartlett notes that by August of 1642 the war in Ireland was “becoming ever more a straight religious war between Catholics and Protestants.”

[9] Brinton, Crane, pg. 53.  According to Crane when the ruling class is “unfit”, they will be unable to “walk the line between force and persuasion.”

Golway, Terry, For the Cause of Liberty, pg. 25.  In 1641, prior to the rebellion, “Parliament passed legislation calling for the suppression of Catholicism in Ireland, declaring that all Catholics were to be considered ‘recusants’…because they did not believe in the English monarch’s religious authority.

[10] Milner, J., Rev., An Inquiry into Certain Vulgar Opinions Concering Catholic Inhabitants and Antiquities of Ireland – in a Series of Letters Addressed to Protestant Gentlemen, Keating, Brown and Company, London, 1808, pg. 4.

Protestant Principles: Exemplified in the Parliamentary Orations of Royal Dukes, Right Rev.Prelates, Noble Peers and Illustrious Commoners, London, John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1828, pg. V,  In this series of political documents various “propositions” are made concerning the state of Protestantism in Ireland – the first of which states “That the Protestants of Great Britain and Ireland possess and acquired and inalienable right to political and religious ascendancy in the state” and  that “the acquisition of political and religious power in the kingdom is the manifest object of the Roman Catholics…such power must therefore prove imminently detrimental to the welfare, peace and happiness of the Protestant empire.”

[11] Prendergast, John P., The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, P.M. Haverty, New York 1868, Pg. 60, “Churwardens enumerated in lists the Irish of every parish that did not attend the English service and these were tendered to grand juries at sessions of the pace and assizes to be presented for fines.”

[12] Ibid, pg. 29.

[13] Marshall, John, John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture, Cambridge University Press, 2006, Page 58.

[14] Golway, Terry, pg. 27. Golway stresses the point of Cromwell’s view of the Irish.  That they were “barbarous wretches.”

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid, pg. 28.

Brinton, Crane, pg. 35-36.  Irish Catholics faced a great deal of economic isolation which created “a feeling that opportunities were unduly limited by political arrangements” – a condition which, according to the author, is one of the symptoms of revolution.  The Rebellion occurred because the Irish sought justice.  “Revolutions cannot do without the word ‘justice’ and the sentiments it arouses.”

[17] Prendergast, John, The Cromwellian Settlement, pgs 26-28, 47-50.

Hobsbawm, E.J., The Making of the English Working Class, pg 66.  Hobsbawm stresses that “the greatest offence against property was to have none.”  By dispossessing the Irish landholders of their riches of the land the British managed to isolate those who would have held significant political power in Ireland.

[18] Midlarsky, Manus, Pg. 49.

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