Tag Archives: Egalitarianism

Ireland’s Protestant Patriots

Irish people who have followed Protestant churches have contributed massively to the cause of Irish self-determination, a historical fact which is all too often dismissed by many nationalists and republicans. Anglicans, Quakers, Presbyterians and others have played a real, meaningful part, in numerous, sometimes conflicting ways, on the journey to nationhood and sovereignty, North and South. It is vitally important for us to crush the misconception that Protestant equates unionist, for this sectarian, divisive attitude has been purposefully cultivated by the British government in the past to serve their selfish interests. Today, we look back on just some of the countless ways Irish Protestants have helped nationalism, both culturally and politically.

Henry Grattan, a Dublin-born adherent to the Church of Ireland, stood in the Irish House of Commons at the end of the eighteenth century and was leader of the Irish Patriot Party from 1775 to the Act of Union in 1801. The party pushed for legislative independence and the lifting of the archaic and discriminatory Penal Laws which hindered the lives of Ireland’s majority Catholic population. Grattan proved to be instrumental in the legal processes of 1782 which saw the rescindment of the infamous Poyning’s Law (Statute of Drogheda): “An Act that no parliament be holden in this land until the Acts be certified into England.” The inter-period of 1782 to the Act of Union became known as ‘Grattan’s Parliament.’ Though Grattan was neither a republican nor a supporter of complete independence, his input was nonetheless significant.

It was around this time that the Society of United Irishmen, a political organisation, was set up by a group of liberals in the Protestant Ascendancy – the restrictive ruling class over Ireland at the time. The organisation initially sought parliamentary reform, but later steered its focus on a more ‘radical’ aim – a democratic, egalitarian Irish republic separate from Britain and its governance. The concessions made by King Louis XVI to the revolutionaries in France, coupled with the remarkable success of the American Revolution, the United Irishmen were inspired to pursue a similar endeavour in Ireland. The organisation strove to see religious and denominational tolerance, reinforced by their staunch support for Catholic emancipation. Although it was set up entirely by Protestants in Belfast, the Society quickly spread across different communities across Ireland and a strong secondary branch was birthed in Dublin. An alliance with the so-called ‘Defenders,’ an agrarian Catholic resistance movement, increased Catholic support. Of the most prominent members of the United Irishmen, Theobald Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell were Anglican, while Henry Joy McCracken, Samuel Neilson, William Sinclair, William Drennan, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and James Napper Tandy were Presbyterian.

In 1796, the Society were aided by a fleet of 15,000 French soldiers under the command of General Louis Lazare Hoche; however, a sea storm prevented the effective landing of the troops and they were forced to return to Brittany. Two years later, on 24 May, the rebellion was launched in the region in and around Dublin, but due to last-minute intel delivered to the British by informants, the insurrection was not off to a flying start. The rebellion spread to Co. Antrim under McCracken, and the county was almost entirely rebel-held for a brief duration of time. The United Irishmen were most successful in Co. Wexford, but after the defeat at Vinegar Hill on 21 June, the situation dramatically deteriorated for the republicans. On 22 August, another French fleet arrived – this time consisting of 1,000 soldiers under the command of General Jean-Joseph Amable Humbert – large swathes of Connacht were briefly taken over by the rebels, but were defeated. Two months later, 3,000 French soldiers, alongside Wolfe Tone, attempted to land near Lough Swilly, Co. Donegal but were met by a much larger British Royal Navy squadron and fought for three hours in an event known as the Battle of Tory Island. The French/Irish were defeated and Wolfe Tone was captured. He requested death by firing squad but was denied, so committed suicide by slitting his throat. The United Irishmen gradually disbanded after this and the Act of Union was enacted as a result in 1801, which saw Ireland unified with Britain.

In the eighteenth century, following the Act of Union and dissolution of the Irish parliament, the Protestant Ascendancy experienced an identity crisis and many of whom left Ireland for London. Public opinion shifted after a massacre occurred at Scullabogue, Co. Wexford during the 1798 Rebellion. The atrocity was carried out by Defenders against 100-200 (mostly Protestant) unarmed men, women and children who were perceived as loyal to the crown. The event has rightly gone down in history as a shameful, disheartening one, but the way in which the British government used the massacre to reconvert republican Protestants was a major point in Ireland’s story. Those Protestant Irishmen and Irishwomen of Ulster who rebelled lost the desire to secede, primarily due to sentiments of bitterness and resentment towards Catholics. Many Catholics, on the other hand, harboured parallel feelings towards Protestants. The failed 1803 Rebellion in Dublin was led by a Protestant nationalist named Robert Emmet, who was executed after his capture by British forces.

In the nineteenth century, Anglican Isaac Butt from Co. Donegal founded the Irish Parliamentary Party and campaigned for the reintroduction of an Irish parliament. The party was launched as a moderate one, and towards the end of his political career, Butt was opposed to fellow Protestant and party member Charles Stewart Parnell’s advocacy of obstructionism in the House of Commons. Parnell, his indirect successor, also acted as President of the Irish Land League, which called for an end to landlordism and discrimination of tenants. Parnell’s fortitude and defiance, on top of his alleged impressive oratory skills, provided him with the necessary characteristics to stand up for Ireland’s rights.

Culturally, the contributions of Irish Protestants in the literary revival was profound, the participation of W.B. Yeats from Co. Sligo and Lady Gregory from Co. Galway has undoubtedly changed Irish culture forever. Whereas Protestant nationalist Douglas Hyde from Co. Roscommon, who was fluent in Irish and was affectionately known as ‘An Craobhín Aoibhinn,’ stood at the forefront of the Gaelic revival and was the first leader of the Gaelic League. Hyde was also, notably, the first President of Ireland from 1938-1945. Hyde acts as a perfect example of how Irish is not just a language for Catholics, as is absurdly stated by many unionists today. Protecting and embracing the language is not misusing it as a political weapon, opponents are simply making excuses, and rather ludicrous excuses at that. The feminist activism of Protestant-born suffragette Maud Gonne-MacBride and the integral, indispensable involvement of Countess Constance Georgine Markievicz in the 1916 Easter Rising are also certainly noteworthy.

The ‘divide and conquer’ tactics of the British Empire, no different to what was observed on the Indian subcontinent between Hindus and Muslims, cast a diverging rift between the Christian denominations on this island. It is particularly interesting that most Protestants in the North, if not all, can trace some familial connection or another to rebels and activists who fought for Irish nationhood in the 1798 Rebellion. The rift still exists today, but there is hope that reconciliation and mutual understanding will heal the wounds felt on both sides. We, as Irishmen and Irishwomen, regardless of our faith, have plenty to thank the aforementioned Protestant patriots for. Sectarianism is the detriment to Irish unity and should never be utilised by any sane individual, now is the time to eradicate hate – we are all Irish. Make no mistake, Protestants can very well be nationalists, and influential ones at that.

Rethinking Our Values as a State

Our country, the Republic of Ireland, has traditionally been a country heavily dominated and controlled by the Holy See and its religious values of Roman Catholicism. However, things are now changing profoundly. The rise of secularism in Ireland is an interesting phenomenon to observe, particularly the high velocity at which change is coming. My generation, sometimes referred to as ‘millennials’, are comparatively much more progressive than the preceding so-called ‘baby-boomers.’ Irish society is beginning to take a step back and question the authority of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties and the alternating grip they have had on our country since its establishment. Left-wing politics is becoming more popular among younger people, we see this with the rising membership of Sinn Féin and the dramatic support of Bernie Sanders among youth platforms in the U.S. (Washingtontimes.com, 2016.) The Roman Catholic Church no longer wields immense influence in state affairs and just over a third of Irish Catholics attend Mass on a regular basis (Irishtimes.com, 2012.) Of course, the state can employ cultural and religious values in its education system, but the real question is whether they should – especially while such marked societal changes are taking place.

The ever-changing political landscape has, throughout history, presented innumerable social problems for governments to attempt to alleviate and for the general public to attempt to understand and avoid. Arguably, the largest issue facing Ireland in the twenty-first century, like virtually all other member states of the European Union, is that of the European migrant crisis and the xenophobia surrounding it. This said crisis is multifaceted, the deep-rooted origins of it are indeed complex with certain aspects only loosely interconnected. The vast majority of migrants arriving to our continent are genuine people escaping the horrors of poverty and conflict, who also happen to be mostly Muslim, from nations such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea. However, the rise of terrorism committed by a narrow minority of Islamic jihadists, albeit a spider’s web of different organisations, has instilled fear and irrationality in a sizable percentage of the Irish population. This fear of not only jihadists, but Muslim people in general, is being perpetuated ever still by far-right politicians, some of whom I will discuss in more detail later on, and their associated media. These individuals firmly point the finger of blame at the likes of the Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Daesh for what they view as unprovoked acts of ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ against western civilisation. While others accuse the Bush administration and the other coalition forces, for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, especially citing the disruption of the Middle East following the violent and perhaps poorly planned ousting of Saddam Hussein’s government. It is thought by some that Hussein, while a brutal authoritarian and undeniable violator of his citizen’s basic human rights, upheld law and order in Iraq and the greater region. Regardless of its origins, the problem is most certainly an increasingly divisive one and one thing must be made clear, the entire Muslim faith cannot be held accountable for the atrocities of an extremist few. It is important, we, as Irish people, separate religion from morality, as they are not synonymous words. It is irrelevant whether or not we are religious, it is, however, important that we have a set of moral values. Daesh, also commonly referred to as the Islamic State, has wreaked havoc across the Arab world and cities closer to home in recent times, such as Paris, Brussels and Nice. Countless innocent lives have been needlessly lost and there is much reason to be infuriated by that fact, though there is evidence to support claims that most victims of jihadist attacks are actually Muslim (Fas.org, 2011.) Therefore, there exists no justification whatsoever for xenophobic attitudes towards Muslim refugees seeking sanctuary in our open-minded country. In my humble view, we must welcome these persecuted people with open arms and treat the war on terrorism as a separate issue to tackle.

Islam is an Abrahamic religion with a traceable common origin with Christianity, lest we forget the fact the religious heritage celebrated by the indigenous population of this island for sixteen centuries started in the Middle East. Thus, Islam should not be regarded as an alien religious movement, it ought to be respected and tolerated if not embraced. Islam is not a terrorist faith, it does not explicitly preach in its holy doctrine, the Qu’ran, the perpetrating of paramilitary combat against non-believers. Seemingly, some people forget that Muslims are fellow human beings with, on the overwhelming most part, respective consciences and compassion in their hearts. In this regard, they are not unlike people of different faiths or people without faith at all. Most Muslims wish to carry on with their everyday lives in peace, without any unnecessary hindrance or petty obstruction from misinformed bigots who oftentimes act as deplorably as the Islamic terrorists they supposedly oppose. Our society is becoming more and more liberal as time progresses, though there is a frightening chance many Irishmen and Irishwomen could swallow the toxic lies spouted by former far-right fringe groups now comfortably in the mainstream. Our closest neighbour, the United Kingdom, boasts xenophobic political leaders such as Nigel Farage of UKIP, and the current Prime Minister Theresa May, who has ambitions of dramatically decreasing Britain’s intake of refugees per annum. It comes as no surprise then that xenophobic and racist attacks are on the rise in the U.K. following their vote to withdraw from the E.U. With the widespread usage of social media and accessibility of diverse news networks, Irish people are no longer sheltered from the prevalence of Islamophobic smearing across the western world. The appalling, racist rhetoric of the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is unfortunately appealing to far too many ‘ordinary’ people. The equally troubling Marine Le Pen of the National Front in France is also receiving a worrying degree of support from her countrypeople, with her party now the third-largest three months ahead of the general election. Trump proposed the blocking of all non-American Muslims from entering the U.S. (Jeremy Diamond, CNN, 2015), while Le Pen has made a startling comparison between Muslims and Nazi occupiers (BBC.com, 2015.) Trump has since slightly backtracked from his promise and now Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are being refused at entry. Nobody from the aforementioned seven states has ever committed a fatal attack in the United States (Huffingtonpost.com, 2017) – it seems oil is much more important to Trump than supposed ‘safety measures.’ Our society must shake off this bitterness and not allow it to poison our nation’s morals. We must not discriminate against an entire religion, as such discrimination, like all forms of discrimination, is without merit or logic.

Our Republic has come a tremendous way from the darker days of the past when the population were, en masse, acting as puppets of the papacy, an organisation now so out of touch with the modern world it is truly ludicrous. The former reality of Roman Catholic dominance in state affairs and everyday life is now distant in most people’s memory. Together, we, as a nation, have expanded equality to sexual minorities and have granted those of the LGBT community who wish to marry and adopt the right to do so. The decriminalisation of homosexual activity came just twenty-two years prior to the momentous referendum result that ruled a strong majority in favour of equal marriage. Since then, Irish people have reopened debate on the hot topic of abortion rights and other social issues, such as the legalisation and regulation of prostitution. The liberalisation of our country, to me, can only be a positive advance to society and we have only just begun this journey. As it stands now, a prehuman zygote has more rights than that of a living, breathing refugee with feelings and emotions. Ireland must take in a considerable amount of additional refugees, the current proposals of granting asylum to 4,000 refugees is not satisfactory from my viewpoint. The Irish government should commence special employment programmes, setting up lines of work for able-bodied refugees and in turn, bolstering the economy while indirectly aiding their positions in our society. While most Irish people, 68% according to one poll (Newstalk.com, 2016), are happy to reside in the vicinity of refugees, just under half believe that 4,000 new arrivals will steadily increase crime in our small nation. This attitude is, regrettably, not a rare one, and we have the media’s scaremongering after terrorist attacks to thank for that. But make no mistake, the refugees coming from nations in the Middle East and North Africa were born and raised under differing degrees of sharia law. A law regarded as conservative, restrictive and intensely severe to Irish people who often take for granted the wide range of liberties we are allowed to enjoy. Though refugees are escaping such oppressive regimes, with them they bring values that do not always correspond with our society. Multiculturalism can, undoubtedly, be a nation’s greatest treasure, but for our country to be successful, all peoples under our flag must respect one and another for their differences. For our differences can make us stronger and the envy of other nations, such as the U.K., who will face major problems if they continue down this path of detrimental discord. It is crucial that the refugees understand the way in which our liberal political system works, and I wholeheartedly believe that, if they truly wish to remain, they will do so.

It is often appropriate to look back into the past to see where we are at present, or where we are headed in the future. Ireland, as an island, has experienced unbelievable conflict in the past century, a lot of which was on ethnosectarian grounds. Many church-related scandals have taken place also, such as the Magdalene laundries, the clerical abuses and the marginalisation of LGBT people. Moderate anticlericalism and secularism should be the official policy of government and no religious institution have a special status. The Irish government must remain distant from issues of religion, allowing all of its citizens to practise their own faiths. The public, state-funded educational establishments must not have one religion or denomination on its curriculum, no child must feel that they should be participating in it against their own will. There is a difference between moral values and religious values, one can know the difference between right and wrong, yet not adhere to any religious movement. The government’s utmost duty should be to promote and encourage morality in everyday life and obedience in the justice system, however, not in the form of Catholic, or indeed Islamic, propaganda. The true meaning of a democratic, egalitarian nation is one that allows the freedom of expression to all of its citizens. Many Irish people have been trained by the former governments of the twentieth century to follow Roman Catholic doctrine word for word, though this cannot be acceptable in this day and age. It is commonplace for priests to have a central place on state-funded school’s board of managements, while many teachers, particularly in rural areas, ingrain principles of Catholicism into their students. The state should advocate morality, while simultaneously encouraging equality in the field of religious beliefs or lack thereof. It is also pivotal for the state to discourage and shun those who carry out xenophobic acts, thus delivering continuity in the ultimate goal of an egalitarian society.

In conclusion, the society in which we live is changing, this cannot be argued nor can it be denied, however we ought to preserve the positive aspects at the foundation of our state. We should offer sanctuary to those fleeing from their homelands smothered in turmoil, and I am of the conviction that 4,000 refugees is not enough. Our nation is rearranging its structural perimeters and reevaluating the way governance is conducted. We are progressing, moving forward, and we must continue to move in this direction. Ireland has the potential to be a pillar of equality and an asylum for the persecuted, irrespective of their religion. It is to be expected in our liberal first world society that all people, newcomers or not, respect one and another. It acts as a necessary requirement for us to be a nation with values of tolerance and absence of prejudice. That is the kind of Ireland we should be, that is the kind of Ireland we have to be.

Egalitarian Renaissance

There is certainly no denying it – our nation, the Republic of Ireland, has changed dramatically. Fortunately, that is something we can all agree upon, as we have all witnessed it, even in a short space of time. Though, it is of my view that this change has mostly been of a negative nature.

The ideals set forth by the provisional government in the 1916 proclamation have neither been honoured nor fulfilled. I am not a dreamer, I do not believe that a purely utopian society is achievable; however, I am pragmatic, and I believe that a dystopian society is most definitely avoidable. I acknowledge the fact great strides have been made on the front of LGBT rights, with the legalisation of equal marriage last year. Our nation may have pulled apart from the authoritarian regime of the Holy See for the most part, but we are now bowing to self-serving corporation big dogs. This needs to change, a new ‘Rising’ is essential in order for Ireland to prosper as it should.

For the vast majority of my life, I have called the remote, and indeed scenic mountains of Arigna my home. As is typical of any community in western Ireland, Arigna has been heavily impacted by the mass movement of its inhabitants to elsewhere. Thousands of people have parted ways from their place of origin through the years, both in the form of immigration to nations such as the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, and migration to larger Irish towns and cities. Every single household in this region has been affected by this in some way or another, my family is no different. My father left Ireland for the U.K. in the late-1970’s at the young age of nineteen years in search of employment opportunities. Whereas my mother’s family has a long history of immigration to the U.K., where she was born, and to far-flung cities in the U.S. such as NYC, Peoria, IL, and Kansas City, MO.

Growing up in such a place is a constant reminder, a place where forestry plantations and wind turbines now dominate the landscape once scattered with countless thatched cottages, smallholdings, and livelihoods. Growing up here reminds you of what once was – the remaining remnants of former cottages, which are striking in their hidden abundance, have been justifiably compared to as mere “piles of stone.” It is rather poignant to think about the lives that were once lived in this dying valley. The extremely crowded conditions in which people lived would undoubtedly be considered a health hazard today. However, in spite of the beautiful surroundings, the Irish countryside was not a pleasant place to live. It is of vital importance for every Irishman and Irishwoman to not forget and to always remember all the hardships our ancestors had to endure and all the adversities they had to face – even after the end of British rule.

It is against this background that I know all about Ireland’s so-called ‘brain drain’ and the consequences of years of negligent governance. “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland,” reads a memorable sentence of the 1916 Proclamation. Personally, the Corrib gas controversy springs to mind – regardless of the intensely passionate pleas of Irish citizens, Dutch and Norwegian MNCs were granted the right to seize our nation’s resources. The ignominious imprisonment of the innocent Rossport Five must be written in bold in all of Ireland’s history books. From my perspective, it was an infringement of human rights and democracy; the Irish government disrespectfully undermined the likes of Pádraig Pearse and Seán Mac Diarmada.

There is an underlying burning irony behind the government-sponsored 1916 centenary celebrations. Our nation’s people need to launch a ‘New Rising’ by reimagining Ireland and the way in which it is governed. Progressive left-wing politics is needed, I say enough of the never-ending tennis game between the barely-dissimilar Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. It is as if the Irish people are too frightened, or more likely too oblivious and naïve, to realise that we are under no moral obligation to vote for either of the previously mentioned political parties. We are no longer in the 20th century, it is a new millennium and it is time to reshape Ireland from her perimeters right to the very core.

A ‘New Ireland’ – ‘An Éire Nua’ – and a ‘New Rising’ are absolutely crucial for this Republic if we want to move towards a fairer, more equal society. We shouldn’t have to settle for this because we don’t have to. Change is much like a stream, you can halt it temporarily, but eventually the current will overpower you and take you along with it. I say let’s make this inevitable change the right kind of change. An egalitarian renaissance.