Reconciliation in Ireland Part 1

by padraigcolman

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday August 12 2012.

Ireland’s Revenge on the Tudors



I have been watching on DVD the Showtime TV series The Tudors. It strikes me as ironic that the series was filmed in Ireland and has provided gainful employment to innumerable Irish actors (including my Facebook friend Nick Dunning, wonderfully shifty as Thomas Boleyn).  Ironic because many of the troubles Ireland has suffered over the centuries resulted from the policies and actions of Henry VIII (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers – Sean O’Keefe from County Cork- who first came to fame as the man who shot Michael Collins in Neil Jordan’s film).

Patriotic Irishmen, my father included, like to talk about 800 years of British oppression (see the responses to my essay on Groundviews: True, Strongbow (2nd Earl of Pembroke Richard de Clare, Lord of Leinster, Justiciar of Ireland) invaded Ireland in 1170 but it was not until the Tudors that the real oppression began. Strongbow is described as Cambro-Norman, a term used for Norman knights who settled in southern Wales after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

War on terrorism?
The Normans were not generally too much of a bother to the native Irish and they actually helped bring a measure of efficiency to agriculture, commerce and the law. To a great extent, the Normans ‘went native’. Some adopted the Irish language and customs and intermarried. The Irish themselves also became “Normanised”. Many Irish people today bear Norman-derived surnames such as Fitzgerald, Burke, Roche and Power. There are many Irish D’Arcy’s, De Laceys and De Burghs. There are several distinct types of Irish face. One of them- thin lips, sharp nose –  is distinctively Norman.

Many of Ireland’s problems came from Wales. The Welshman Henry VII founded the Tudor dynasty in 1485 after killing the reigning King Richard III. In 1536, Henry VIII deposed the Fitzgerald dynasty of Kildare as Lords Deputies of Ireland. The Fitzgeralds had been, in effect, rulers of Ireland since the 15th century but had become a security threat to the Johnny-Come-Lately Tudor dynasty by inviting Burgundian troops into Dublin and crowning the Yorkist pretender, Lambert Simnel as ‘King of England’ in 1497. In 1536, Silken Thomas Fitzgerald rebelled against Henry VIII. The rebellion was put down and Henry tried to bring all Ireland under his control to prevent it being used as a base for a Catholic invasion of England.

Spenser’s final solution
Edmund Spenser, considered by many the first English poet of note after Chaucer, could also be regarded as the Radovan Karadzic of his day. Spenser wrote most of his masterpiece, The Faery Queene, on his 3,000 acre estate at Kilcolman Castle in County Cork. County Cork is in the province of Munster. He also wrote propaganda advocating genocide. The Munster Plantation of the 1580s was the first mass plantation in Ireland. It was a punishment for the Desmond rebellions.  The Desmond dynasty was annihilated and their estates were confiscated.

Spenser was a beneficiary of this confiscation. Spenser communicated with his neighbour and fellow poet Sir Walter Raleigh, who had commandeered 40,000 prime Irish acres for himself at Youghal. First Earl of Cork Richard Boyle may have been an ancestor of the writer Richard Boyle who has long been resident in Sri Lanka. Both were born in Canterbury. The Earl of Cork claimed most of the County and Munster as his own.

English ‘Undertakers’ were wealthy colonists. They undertook to import tenants from England, Scotland and Wales to work on their new lands. The plan was to confiscate the land and redistribute to create concentrations of British settlers around new towns and garrisons. The new landowners were explicitly banned from taking Irish tenants. The planters were also barred from selling their lands to any Irishman.

The remaining Irish landowners were to be granted one quarter of the land in Ulster and the ordinary Irish population was relocated near garrisons and Protestant churches. Up to 80,000 English and Scots Protestants had been settled in the previously Catholic north of Ireland by 1641. The Reformation did not ‘take’ in Ireland. This was because brutal methods were used to pacify the country and exploit its resources which heightened resentment of English rule.
Settlers with a British and Protestant identity would form the ruling class of future British administrations in Ireland. Penal laws discriminated against Catholics who were barred from public office and from serving in the army. Voting for Parliament was rigged so the Protestants would always have the majority.
There is a familiar imperial pattern here of colonisation, land theft, divide and rule, religious and racial discrimination leading brutality to conflict. During the years of the Provisional IRA terrorist campaign the British from a superior height would say : ”Why is it these people can’t just get on with one another?” To Irish people it is not an Irish problem. Ireland suffered from an English (or possibly Welsh) problem.
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