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BBC - History - The Road to Northern Ireland, 1167 to 1921

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The Road to Nort hern Ireland, 1167 t o 1921


By BBC History

How did the complex political and social landscape of Northern Ireland evolve? A brief overview of key historical events.

Richard II flees to Conway after leaving Ireland First conquests Prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, the island was ruled through a system of small kingdoms. There was very little unity, with only Brian Boru, King of Munster, achieving anything like total dominion. This dissolved when he was killed defeating his rivals at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. The first Anglo-Norman intervention in Ireland came in 1167. Henry II of England, wary of the power his generals were amassing there, landed with a large army in 1171, and by 1175 had succeeded in gaining nominal control of most of the island. 'The centre of English power was a colony in Dublin and control was slowly exerted over Irish territory.' Henry's motives for this first English conquest of Ireland are probably twofold: to distract from the recent murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury; and because the English pope, Hadrian IV, had conferred on him the title 'lord of Ireland' with the intention that Henry should take control of the island and reform its church. The centre of English power was a colony in Dublin and up to the middle of the 13th century, control was slowly exerted over Irish territory. But the colonists were never quite able to totally subdue the island, and much intermingling of the English and Irish populations took place. By the middle of the 14th century much of the island had reverted to Irish control through conquest. In 1315, Edward Bruce, brother of the Scottish king Robert the Bruce, was invited to lead the expedition to finish off the Normans. He failed and was killed in battle in 1318. Nonetheless, the English colony in Dublin was in dire straits. Richard II of England was the next monarch to set foot in Ireland, but his attempt to gain control proved a fatal distraction. He was deposed and murdered on his return from Ireland in 1399. An English king

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BBC - History - The Road to Northern Ireland, 1167 to 1921

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Portrait of Henry VIII During the English War of the Roses, Irish leaders such as the Kildares took the opportunity to extend their independence. They formed strong ties with the Yorkist cause and continued to function autonomously, even supporting Yorkist pretenders like Lambert Simnel after the final victory of the Lancastrian Henry VII. Henry VII was basically too weak in England to dominate in Ireland. His son, Henry VIII, was in an altogether stronger position. His break with Rome placed him at loggerheads with the pope and much of Catholic Europe, which meant that Ireland now took on strategic importance as a potential launch pad for a French or Spanish invasion of England. An Irish revolt by the Kildare heir, Thomas, Lord Offaly, in 1534 was swiftly put down. Offaly and other senior members of the family were later executed, destroying the power of the Kildare family and handing control of Ireland to English officials and administrators. 'Offaly's attempt to rally the Irish in a 'Catholic crusade' introduced religion into Irish politics for the first time.' Significantly, Offaly had attempted to rally the Irish in the cause of a 'Catholic crusade' against the Protestant English king, introducing religion into Irish politics for the first time. Henry went on to impose his Reformation by force - with indifferent results - creating further religious division. In 1541, Henry VIII was declared king of Ireland by the Irish parliament. New policies for controlling the thinly-colonised island were attempted, including 'plantation', which was first introduced under Edward VI. English settlers were given lands confiscated from rebellious Irish families, and the native Irish were supposed to be driven out. However, manpower shortages often made this impractical. The process began in Laois and Offaly, but would eventually absorb Munster, Ulster and elsewhere. Plantations and penal laws In the early 17th century, a bid for independence by Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone and the last of the great Irish chieftains, was ultimately defeated by the armies of Elizabeth I in the Nine Years War. 'The post-war settlement was harsh and designed to prevent a future uprising by the Catholic majority.' O'Neill's surrender at Mellifont in 1603 was followed by his flight to Rome with many other Irish nobles - the so-called 'Flight of the Earls' - in 1607.

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BBC - History - The Road to Northern Ireland, 1167 to 1921

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The now leaderless Irish were unable to oppose the plantation of Ulster, where many of the new settlers were Scottish Presbyterians. Dispossessed Catholics rose in rebellion in 1641, taking advantage of the turmoil of the English Civil War. It was ruthlessly confronted in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell, who sought to crush any remaining Stuart opposition and implement the Adventurer's Act - legislation that allowed those who helped defeat the Irish a share in confiscated lands. Massacres and atrocities were committed by both sides, Catholic and Protestant. Cromwell finally subdued Catholic Ireland in 1653. The accession of James II to the English throne in 1685 created alarm among Protestants in England and Ireland. The birth of an Catholic heir led them, in 1688, to invite William of Orange, husband of James's Protestant daughter Mary, to seize the throne. After a bloodless coup in England, James was decisively defeated by William in Ireland, at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The post-war settlement was harsh and designed by Ireland's Protestant 'Ascendancy class' to prevent a future uprising by the Catholic majority. 'Penal laws' were passed, limiting Catholic property ownership, education and right to bear arms, and driving out the clergy. As a result of this legislation, Catholic land ownership plummeted to negligible levels during the late 17th and early 18th century. But the Ascendancy class itself chafed at its lack of power, since ultimate control rested with England. A reform movement of 'patriots' began to lobby for representation (for the Protestant middle class only) in parliament, thereby sowing the early seeds of Irish nationalism. During the 18th century, political turmoil and revolution in the American colonies and France fired Ireland's desire for independence. In response, many of the penal laws were relaxed, and legislative independence was achieved under the leadership of patriot Henry Grattan. Towards Home Rule

Portrayal of the Potato Famine, 1849 Catholic and cross-community groups, like the Society of United Irishmen and the Catholic Committee, joined the clamour for reform, but with the outbreak of war with France their hopes were dashed and in 1798, the United Irishmen came out in open rebellion. The rebellion failed, despite late French assistance, and led directly to the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland in 1801. Irish MPs, drawn from the Protestant Ascendancy, took seats in Westminster and the Irish parliament voted to abolish itself.

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BBC - History - The Road to Northern Ireland, 1167 to 1921

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In the early 19th century, the Catholic Association was formed under the leadership of Daniel O'Connell, who turned it into a national movement to campaign for Catholic emancipation, which was achieved in 1829. O'Connell's subsequent campaign to repeal the union failed, but the debate it inspired did see Ulster (Northern Ireland) first characterised as a 'special case', separate from the rest of Ireland. 'Ulster (Northern Ireland) was characterised as a 'special case', separate from the rest of Ireland.' Reform ground to a halt during the cataclysm of the Great Famine of the late 1840s - a disaster brought about by potato blight and compounded by the British government's laissez faire economic policies. The combined factors of death, disease and emigration caused the Irish population to plummet by two million by 1851, to approximately six million people. An abortive rebellion in 1848 reintroduced the use of violence as a means of achieving Irish autonomy. The Fenians (Irish Republican Brotherhood) attempted an uprising in 1867, but it was a complete failure and violent confrontation faded from the political agenda. The Fenian rising did, however, draw the attention of British statesman William Ewart Gladstone to Irish matters. Gladstone first carried the 'Land Act' - an attempt to resolve some of the injustices of Irish land ownership - in an attempt to pacify Ireland. It failed, only increasing the Irish desire to run their own affairs from Dublin. The creation in 1870 of what would become the Home Rule League, saw the emergence of a parliamentary lobby group for Irish self-government. Its leader, Charles Stewart Parnell, put Home Rule firmly on the parliamentary agenda, but ultimately failed to achieve his goal. Gladstone similarly had little luck with his Home Rule Bills. His 1886 bill was lost in the Commons because of a Liberal Party revolt and the 1893 bill was defeated in the Lords. The rise of Republicanism

Sir Edward Carson's signature on Ulster's Solemn League and Covenant, 28 September 1912 Opposition to Home Rule was strongest in Ulster, where Protestants had benefited greatly from the industrial revolution and associated their economic success with being part of the British empire. After the failure of the second Home Rule Bill, a series of Conservative administrations attempted to defuse the Irish issue by increasing the attractiveness of unionism through a series of political 'sweeteners', such as the Wyndham Land Act of 1903. Nonetheless, Irish MPs continued to press for self

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determination. The dawn of the 20th century saw a cultural renaissance in Ireland and efforts were made to reverse the erosion of Gaelic culture. Organisations such as the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Gaelic League aimed to preserve the native Irish language and passtimes. At the same time, Republicanism saw a resurgence with the founding of Sinn Fein ('ourselves alone') in 1905 and the revival of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). But the broad appeal of these groups was stifled amid optimism that Home Rule was about to become a reality. A Third Home Rule Bill had been introduced by Prime Minister HH Asquith's Liberal administration in 1912, when the Home Rule Party held the balance of power. In another positive development, the legislative veto of the House of Lords had been removed by the Parliament Act of 1911. But Unionists remained implacably opposed to Home Rule. Dublin Unionist MP Edward Carson threatened armed resistance if Ulster was governed from Dublin. Between 1912 and 1914, hundreds of thousands of Unionists signed the Solemn League and Covenant to this effect. Private armies were also created, with the Protestants forming Ulster Volunteer Force and the nationalists forming the Irish Volunteers. Both had memberships exceeding 100,000 men and armed themselves with weapons smuggled in from Germany. The unionists, aware they could no longer resist Home Rule, began lobbying for the exclusion of six of Ulster's nine counties from the arrangements. The spectre of civil war hung over Ireland. The Easter Rising World War One broke out in Europe in 1914 and the issue of Home Rule was shelved for the duration of the conflict, although the bill itself was passed in September of that year. Both Catholics and Protestants served in the British Army, with resentment caused by the perception that the Ulster Protestant contribution was valued more. 'The Irish Republican Army fired the first shots of the Irish War of Independence.' Meanwhile, the Military Council of the IRB was planning an uprising, working on the principle that, with Britain distracted by the war in Europe, there would be no better opportunity to strike for an independent Ireland. The poorly armed Easter Rising of 1916 nonetheless caught the British government off guard and led to heavy fighting in the centre of Dublin. The rebellion was efficiently crushed and the ringleaders rounded up. Their subsequent execution achieved what the rising had failed to achieve - a dramatic shift in public opinion in favour of the republicans. Sinn Fein, wrongly blamed for planning the rising, saw its popularity rise as more people supported the rebellion. One of the surviving leaders of the Easter Rising, Eamon de Valera, was elected president of Sinn Fein in October 1917, unifying all groups working towards an independent Ireland under a single leadership. In the first post-war election, 73 Sinn Fein candidates were elected, but they refused to attend Westminster. Instead, an Irish assembly, the Dail Eireann, was formed by 27 Sinn Fein MPs and, after a

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slow start, was soon regarded by many in Ireland as a legitimate administrative body. Sinn Fein had backed Germany in World War One and thus could expect little in terms of support for national self-determination from the peace conference of victorious allies, so violent confrontation with the British rose quickly up the agenda. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) fired the first shots of the Irish War of Independence on the same day as the Dail met for the first time, and owed much of the success of its guerrilla campaign to the strategy of Michael Collins, who served simultaneously as minister of finance in the Dail and director of intelligence for the IRA. The British government responded by imposing curfews and deploying two new forces - the so-called 'Black and Tans' and the Auxiliaries. Atrocities were commited on both sides of the conflict as it became increasingly bitter and divisive. Partition Confronted by escalating international condemnation of its war in Ireland, the British government under David Lloyd George sought to push through Home Rule, which had been shelved until the 'Ulster Question' could be solved. 'The treaty created the 'Irish Free State', which had 'dominion status' within the British Commonwealth.' The solution came in the form of the partition of Ireland into two parts under the Government of Ireland Act, which became law in May 1921. The six predominantly Protestant counties of Ulster would become the 'north', and the remaining 26 predominantly Catholic counties would become the 'south'. In this way Northern Ireland was created. Its parliament was opened by George V in June 1921, and immediate overtures to end the fighting in the rest of the island began. Negotiations took place over the following months between Irish nationalist leaders and the British government. They resulted in a treaty creating the 'Irish Free State', which had 'dominion status' within the British Commonwealth, but fell short of full independence. The treaty split Irish nationalists. Despite great pains being taken in the Dail to resolve the dispute peaceably, a split in the IRA between pro-treaty and anti-treaty members led rapidly to armed conflict and then all-out civil war. Collins led the pro-treaty government forces, while de Valera leant his support to the anti-treaty 'Irregulars'. The bloody and bitter internecine civil war that followed would ultimately claim the lives of Collins and many other talented Irish leaders, but nonetheless result in a victory for the Irish Free State government. De Valera would subsequently rejoin the political process and help steer southern Ireland to full independence in 1949. In Northern Ireland, the IRA had begun a campaign of violence even before partition became a reality in 1921. In response, the Ulster Volunteer Force was revived and thus the new nation experienced sectarian bloodshed from its very inception.

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Published on BBC History: 2007-02-01 This article can be found on the Internet at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/recent/troubles/overview_ni_article_01.shtml British Broadcasting Corporation For more information on copyright please refer to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/about/copyright.shtml http://www.bbc.co.uk/terms/ BBC History http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/

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