Ireland suffered for centuries under colonial rule

The poster child for colonial blunders has to be Ireland, a tiny island divided by religion and politics.

For centuries, the population suffered from first Norman and then British domination. Rebellions were suppressed by the hangman. Even at the height of the 1840s potato famine, vast quantities of food were exported from the island to England while a million died of hunger and a million more immigrated.

Of course, the Roman Catholic Irish could get a bowl of soup by converting to the Anglican Church of Ireland.

The country still is suffering because, starting in 1610 the British opened the northern counties to colonization, mainly by loyal Scots. Some 40 years later, the not-so-gentle hand of  Oliver Cromwell devastated the country and reduced most of the castles in the west country.

The division between the Roman Catholic south and the Protestant north continues to this day, culminating with the 30-year Troubles from the 1968 to 1998 that killed thousands in the north.  Treatment of Roman Catholics in the north as second-class citizens was a main cause.

The south managed to win concessions from the British in 1922 and became a sovereign state in 1949. There have been plenty of romantic accounts of the Irish Republican Army fighting the British soldiers and the infamous Black and Tan.

The reality is blood and more blood, bombings, murders and betrayals. Much of this was financed by Irish-Americans who donated money and weapons.

On St. Patrick’s Day, today, the Republic of Ireland is usually the country considered because Ulster in the north still is part of the United Kingdom.

Here are some subjective characterizations about Ireland:

Favorite music: Country western or jazz.

Favorite food: Certainly not corned beef and cabbage.

Favorite religion: More than 80 percent of the Irish say they are Roman Catholic, but among some there is deep suspicion of priests and nuns due to some historic and modern scandals.

Favorite holiday: Some would say Halloween instead of St. Patrick’s Day.

Famous fake son: Secretary of State John Kerry, who is not Irish at all.

Principal historical export: Soldiers and politicians.

Unfavorite legend: The leprechaun is better known outside of Ireland than within.

Favorite language: English is the language of the country, but a minority, mainly in the west, are monolingual speakers of Irish or Gaelic. Still, Irish is the official language of the country, and the national anthem, “The Soldiers’ Song,” “Amhrán na BhFiann,” is sung by all in Irish.

About 40 percent of the population is more or less bilingual due to classes in school.

Major historical dispute: Were the Irish exported by the British to North America and the Caribbean as slaves?

A summary of “White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America,” a 2008 book, says that some 100,000 Irish were shipped to the New World.  Cromwell is credited with sending 2,000 Irish children to  Jamaica to be slaves.

Critics of this view say that the claim of white slaves is a way to diminish the reports of suffering by black slaves. Instead, this view is that the Irish were indentured servants who eventually could win their freedom.

Transportation was a favorite ploy of the British to get rid of troublemakers and convicts or clear land for settlement.

There is no doubt that the Americas profited by Irish emigration. Many arrived in the United States in time to fight in the Civil War. The Irish history in Americas also is one of discrimination, in part because of the religious issue.

The movie “Gangs of New York” features the friction between the resident Protestants and the Irish with the background of the the New York City draft riots during the Civil War.

Today, the Republic of Ireland has a strong economy bolstered by productive employees, foreign immigration and foreign firms, in part because of the low corporate tax.

Some of the Irish might be toasting St. Patrick, the nation’s patron, today, but others might say “Why just one day a year?”irishflag031715

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