Sex, religion, money, politics: the four taboo subjects of social dinners in France – all the ingredients are gathered to make the history of Ireland a bestseller with twists and turns!
Ireland, formerly « Hibernia », has always been coveted despite its name. By the Vikings first, whose trace can be found in the name of the first Irish city « Waterford ».
Then at the beginning of the eleventh century, exit the Vikings, and entrance of the English .. they didn’t get out until 900 later and still not totally.
It was paradoxically the Catholic Church that was at the origin of the conquest of Ireland by the English. Rome had considerable temporal power at the time, and the Papal bull « Laudabiliter » of Adrian IV, the only English pope in history, gave king Henry II of England the right to control Ireland in 1155, in order to bring the church of Ireland, into the right path. Or how to give your adversaries a stick to beat you with, when we think of the oppression that this same Catholic Church will then suffer. History is hardly lacking in spice !
Thus a fallen Irish king, Dermot Mac Murrough, who wanted to recover his kingdom, used the famous papal bull. For this he appealed to the Englishman Richard de Clare, Duke of Pembroke, well known to the Irish by the nickname of Strongbow. The latter agreed to help Dermot, on the condition that he could marry his daughter Aoife (pronounced « Iva », the Gaelic equivalent of Eve). The deal between the two men was made, I doubt that Aoife had her say, even if the Celtic law (Brehon Law) prohibited forced marriage. Be that as it may, this Anglo-Irish union sealed the beginning of 800 years of occupation. For the record, Isabel de Clare, the daughter of Strongbow and Aoife, married William Marshal, and the surprisingly happy couple had 10 children whose descendants can be found in most European noble families… including a certain Elizabeth II !
In short, with the marriage of Strongbow and Aoife, England officially had control of Ireland, but it was a mere formality.
Fast forward to the sixteenth century and the famous Henry VIII: reminder, he was the one who created the Anglican Church in 1534 to be able to remarry with Anne Boleyn .. this will not prevent him from having her executed and remarrying 4 times afterwards.. and I’m not talking about his many mistresses… As a result, to establish his temporal and spiritual power, Henry VIII signed the « Act of Supremacy » which made him the head of the Church of Ireland in 1537. He then had the nerve to have the Act of Supremacy adopted by the Dublin parliament and was acclaimed throughout the city. Big libido and great Ego this Henry VIII.. On the other hand, he is also the one who adopted the harp as a symbol of Ireland, a nice gesture of gratitude to the former bards, and one of the unifying elements of today’s Ireland, from Guinness to euros coins through Ryanair.
You may imagine that not all Irish people were thrilled at the idea of having to change their religion just to please Henry VIII,.. cujus regio, ejus religio* has never been in the DNA of the Irish.
Soooo.. Irish resistance! It will last 400 years, and will be more or less harshly countered from the British crown, which will monetize the freedom of Catholics according to its political calculations but also of its money needs by making them pay for relative freedom in order to finance various external wars.
At first, it was Queen Elizabeth I. who continued the soumission work by submitting Ireland to the cost of battles with a cruelty utterly beyond compréhension soletimes. That said, it is necessary to put the Irish conquest in the context of this time that said, the era of the great discoveries and first colonies. Ireland had the same status for many Englishmen as the territories of the New World.
At the death of Elizabeth I., Ireland was certainly pacified, but at the cost of monstrous losses. Catholic worship remained allowed, provided it was discreet. There is nothing like a common enemy to cement a nation together, and as a reaction the Catholic Church’s power on the green Erin has been strengthening.
The XVII century then saw the installation of the first Protestant settlers in Ulster, more and more numerous, which would explain 400 years later the separation of the two Irelands, Northern Ireland being largely inhabited today by the descendants of these settlers. How could the settlers settle in Ireland, which was a small country, and therefore already largely inhabited? Well, land was confiscated from the natives and given to the settlers, easy-peasy..
In 1641 began a rebellion against the occupant, which the English would take a decade to defeat. It is Cromwell who will overcome it, with a vigorous cleaning. As a result, the Treaty of Limerick regulated life in Ireland, relations with Great Britain, and legal and financial bullying against Catholics. The Brits then tried to bring other settlers to the other Irish counties, but 40 years after the first wave, there were fewer volunteers, many were already attracted to the new world (where there was much more room and above all a guaranteed religious freedom).
The end of the XVII century is marked in 1690 by the Battle of the Boyne which sees the battle of the two English kings on Irish soil, the Catholic Jacques II and the Protestant William of Orange-Nassau. With the defeat followed by the definitive exile of Jacques in France, Irish hopes of ending British rule faded… and this turn of events also permanently inserted the colour orange into the Irish landscape (which can be found both in the flag of the republic and in the banners of the Northern Irish Protestant parades).
Therefore, the 18th marks an almost absolute ascendancy of the English and Protestants over the Irish and Catholics. After taking their lands from them to give them to the « landlords », the English tried to take their religion from them by passing laws with unconscionable clauses, and by exiling Catholic dignitaries to Europe..but without seeking to completely convert the population. Well yes, how do you then want to enslave and relegate a folk to the dirty work on the pretext that they are Catholic if you have made good Protestants out of them?!
The 18th also marks, an this is a little known fact, a cross-immigration. To simplify: the rich and/or educated French Protestants came to Ireland, while the poor Irish Catholics came.. to France! They are not always welcome there and some are sent back to Ireland, others settle, sometimes successfully.This is how the Hennessy (cognac) and Barton (Léoville of the same name, excellent wine!) founded a prosperous dynasty. The alcohol, already an integral part of Irish history btw..
It is partly this ongoing relationship with France that led to the Act of Union surprisingly. Indeed, the emerging diaspora is both the relay of the act of independence of the first 13 American colonies in 1776, (birth date of the USA), but also of the French Revolution in 1789. Moreover for the record, there was even a French landing in Ireland in 1796 to help the Irish rebels and thumb their noses at the English.. which foolishly fails because of the weather!! (a recurrent issue in european History it seems..)
At that point, the English realized that, before being beheaded, literally and figuratively, they had better officially integrate Ireland into the crown, to make all citizens free and equal in law… especially Irish Catholics, who would suddenly no longer need to rebel!
And it is the Act of Union of 1800, birth certificate of the United Kingdom by the full integration of the neighboring colony into the kingdom with an adding of A Irish representatives in Westminster and B the red saltire on the British flag.
To be continued…
- cujus regio, ejus religio: « whose realm, their religion »
- My challenge here is to compress the great 800 pages book of Pierre Joannon « Histoire de l’Irlande et des Irlandais » in 2 articles of 3 pages, hence the FFW