Irish Story

Urban and rural scenes of Ireland

 Altamont House


Resisting the invaders

Colm continues the story ...

But we were not to be left in peace for long. The Vikings were followed by a succession of invaders, culminating in the wholesale importation of the English, at knock-down prices. Lest there be any misunderstanding, we were not invaded by the British. The Scots had their own grievances against the English, and spent much of their time repelling the 'Sassenach' from their borders, their most repellent act being the invention of the kilt-wearing bagpiper. The Welsh were too busy digging holes to bother anyone else, even when they could be found.

So Ireland became another small part of the British Empire, and the English set out to subjugate the natives by commandeering all their land, making the teaching of Gaelic illegal and overthrowing the Catholic Church. These were the 'Penal Laws', designed to break the spirit of the Irish people. If they had waited a few hundred years we would have done all of the above on our own much more comprehensively.

The Irish potato Famine of 1846 saw the death and emigration of millions of Irish people. The English were not directly responsible for the potato blight that wiped out the people's staple diet through successive years but, as with any modern day famine, they stood around and watched while village after village was emptied of its people. In parallel with modern famines too, there was plenty of food in the country, but it was sent to English landlords to pay rent on lands seized from their rightful (original) owners. There were good English people, who helped their tenants as much as possible but, in the main, the Irish were left to fend for themselves.


Hey Majesty

When we lived in putrid hovels, did you sleep well,
Beneath the canopy of State, wigs writhing with the fleas
Of a million royal rats - your loyal subjects all?

When we buried our dead, did you dance divinely,
Reflected in the gilded mirrors of a crumbling façade,
Built upon foundations of our flesh and blood?

When we left our blighted isle, did you dine in splendour,
Waving scented handkerchiefs to speed the coffin ships
That broke their backs on your empire's seas?

When you seized our land, did you spend the money well,
Your subjects clothed in finest silk, their bellies replete
With the fruits of our endeavours?

Or were we the thorn in your side, the pea beneath your bed -
The impossible, ignorant filth and fighting Irish?

Did we disturb your sleep?
Did we now?

Colm McElwee 1999

Another hundred years, much political manoeuvring, and a number of unsuccessful rebellions were to follow before the Easter Rising of 1916. This sees the birth of the Irish Republican Army, led by a bunch of dreamers and idealists who took over Dublin City in an attempt to overthrow the English yoke. Despite the education of the main protagonists and the fact that they were, in the main, sober at the time, this rebellion was also a failure. The rebels were vastly outgunned and out-manoeuvred by the English, who levelled vast tracts of the city in an example of imperial overkill and lousy marksmanship.

But the English made a very grave error. The rebellion had been looked upon by the general populace as a load of mad Irish bastards playing with guns, and the overall support from the people (except for those who liked a good scrap at any time) was very slight, to say the least.

The leaders of the Uprising were arrested and jailed on the outskirts of the city. After perfunctory trials, the English began to execute them, supposedly as a lesson to anyone else who might think of trying the same thing, and to prove that, given a stationary target, they could shoot as well as any man. What it succeeded in doing instead was to turn the leaders of the Uprising into martyrs for Old Ireland, and exponentially increased support for the IRA.

What followed is known as the War of Independence, a period of our history which, if it had happened in America, would have kept Hollywood in movie fodder for years. Eventually, and despite the lack of Equity Cards, the English were softened up sufficiently to sign a treaty with the rebels in 1921. And this is where our present day troubles begin.

To understand the significance of this Treaty of 1921 we must, for a moment, turn from history to geography. The shortest route between Britain and Ireland is that between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Historically then, much of this part of Ireland was populated by Scottish Protestants and Presbyterians, too mean to buy return tickets. As is the way with the world, they collected in packs or pockets (usually other people's), causing their Irish Catholic neighbours to move away, affronted as they were, by being compelled to observe the Protestant work ethic on their way to the pub. Eventually, the 6 counties at the top of Ireland became largely Protestant - cleaner, more productive, but not quite as much fun.



page 3 - Making the Republic

page 1 - Colm's story begins



  Colm at Altamont




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