The Full Circle of Irish History

I have to admit, my favorite thing to do on Twitter is to be a smart-ass, but my second favorite thing to do by a mile is to connect with people and obtain knowledge relatively easily. I have learned a lot about hockey in particular on Twitter, but I also keep up with politics and international trends in general.

For those who know me, I have a great interest in Irish history and culture. It started as a semi-hobby garnered from hanging out in San Francisco’s Irish community (well, bars), then into a trip to Ireland where I maximized my experience by voraciously researching the country. It has culminated in my marriage to a woman from County Clare and a duty to teach the history of both my native country, the United States and Ireland, as my children are dual nationals.

Which brings me to Twitter. Two of my favorite follows are David McWilliams(@davidmcw) and Matthew Barlow(@Matthew_Barlow), both fascinating academics and informative. Big time #FFs. Mr. McWilliams is an Irish economist, writer, and media personality in Ireland and very informative about the current state of affairs in Ireland and how it pertains to worldwide economic affairs. Mr. Barlow is a Canadian historian with a very good take on oral history and the histories of Ireland and Montreal. He’s also a Habs fan, but don’t judge him too harshly. Both have credentials that dwarf mine.

Both came out with posts on Ireland this week, and although on slightly different areas of Irish history, they piqued my interest. McWilliams brought up the referendum currently coming up in England calling for the United Kingdom to pull out of the European Union( ). Barlow wrote how depressing it can be to teach Irish history because of how complicated it is distinguishing heroes and villains.( In abridged history, this is easily accomplished. As you dig deeper though, the truth emerges. We share the same opinion on this matter.

McWilliams brought up the welling up of English nationalism with a return to a more insular foreign policy. It has also coincided, and most likely has been increased by a failed referendum on Scottish independence from the U.K. His opinion was that the current mood in the England could make Northern Ireland less hesitant to join the Republic of Ireland. I whole-heatedly agree.

The interesting difference between English nationalism and most other European countries is the creeping xenophobia of English opinion. Scottish independence would rely on remaining in the EU. When Slovakia demanded independence, the Czechs paid no heed, and both joined the EU with barely a bother. Even countries proposing independence from their current nation-state, Catalonia comes quickly to mind, rely on remaining in the EU. England wants to go it alone.

Without much research, I would ascertain the mood of those running the London financial markets are concerned. I would also think most English involved in any type of business involving Europe to be similarly concerned. But the mood of the Scottish, Welsh, and Irish has to be wary as well.

When negotiating Irish history, it is easy to forget that the Irish voted in U.K. elections and sent MPs to Parliament before independence. It is easy to forget that most Irish felt a certain loyalty to the Monarchy, mostly Protestant Irish, but many Catholics as well. The original participants in the Easter Rebellion were booed by Dubliners waving Union Jacks as they were hauled away to prison, escorted by British troops because they needed protection. The popular goal of the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond at the time of the rebellion was the reopening of the Irish parliament which had been dissolved in 1801, not the total break that happened after World War I.

The horrors of the Irish rebellion that set fear alight in Northern Ireland prompted the U.K. to carve a rump state from historic Ulster to create a majority Protestant Irish state attached to motherland. While you can argue this decision from many angles, one such reason was to protect the Protestants from further atrocities, and to keep them under the Monarchy, where most wanted to be in the first place. When you analyze how the government under DeValera let the Catholic Church trample the rights and dignity of the Irish people, and let the economy languish in a Third World state of disrepair, you can’t blame them, really? Then the reality of the Troubles? As mentioned, it is truly hard to find heroes and enemies in these conflicts, but I can’t imagine a typical Protestant rushing to put his or her allegiance to the Republic.

But fast forward to 2015. Ireland has taken a great leap forward, partly due to better domestic affairs, but much of this while a founding member of the EU. The economy is much better managed due to the opening of the economy within the EU. The infrastructure alone has visibly improved. And in the North, the border is unguarded, and commerce goes both ways, thanks to the Easter Agreements. But much of this is possible because the U.K. and Ireland are both members of the EU. If the English get their way, and are able to leave the EU (which I doubt), what would this do to the current mood in the Northern Ireland parliament of Stormont? Would the Protestant majority see being governed from Dublin as a better alternative?

The idea of the Irish Republic did not start out as a Catholic idea. It was to create a government for all the citizens on the island. This took a different turn than the founders visualized. Are we coming full circle? Will the growing competence of the state of affairs in the south coupled with the growing disfunction across the Irish Sea bring us a United Ireland. Somewhere, Michael Collins is holding a stout with his fingers crossed.

Brian L. Grieb