The Problems Faced by Irish Nationalism Throughout History

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What problems did Irish nationalists face in 1905? To what extent had these been overcome by 1949? For several hundred years, there has been increasing tension between southern and northern Ireland, giving rise to Irish Nationalism. The roots of conflict are to be found in the past when Henry II first landed in Ireland in 1169. At this time, Ireland was recognised for their nationalistic pride and the arrival of an English king generated resentment amongst the people, as England gained some control over Irish land.

However, when Henry VIII made England Protestant in 1538, he further alienated the majority of Irelands Catholic population. It was not until Queen Elizabeth I introduce a policy known as plantation, where she gave loyal Protestants supporters land that had been confiscated from Catholic Irish rebels that English control took its hold. The plantation caused enormous uprising from the Catholics and they rebelled for several years causing the death of thousands of people; it was the strong beginning of Irish Nationalism. As Irish discontent mounted, the Act of Union came into effect in 1801.

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At that time, five sixths of the population were Catholics under the rule of Protestant England. “William Pitt the Younger saw clearly that something had to be done to prevent Ireland from being a constant source of danger. ” (Page 233) He aimed to reunite the Irish parliament with Great Britain – the Irish parliament was bribed to agree to the union and sent 32 members to the House of Lords and 100 to House of Commons. The union aroused further bitterness in Ireland where commercial, political, religious, and agricultural problems caused further uprisings and rebellions from those who resented British interference.

Throughout the 1800’s Irish nationalism continued to grow as tension built up between Protestants and Catholics; north and south. Three nationalist forces emerged during the 19th century. Fenians were first; they hoped to achieve an independent Irish republic by violence. The second group, the Home Rule Movement, wanted to achieve self-government for Ireland by using constitutional means. The third nationalistic force was known as the Gaelic Revival that aimed to renew and enrich the Gaelic language, customs, and culture of Ireland. These forces of Irish nationalism were strongly opposed by a significant proportion of the Irish people.

Almost all of them were Protestants, especially in the province of Ulster. It was the overwhelming majority in Ireland that caused Ulster Protestants to reject Home Rule with violent emotion. Opposition to Home Rule found its political expression in activities of two groups; Unionists were Ulster Protestants who belonged to the Orange Order. The unionists aim was to oppose Home Rule, keep intact the Act of Union, and elect members of parliament who shared these ideas. Home Rule was defeated in 1886 and 1893. The third Home Rule bill of 1912 renewed the old fears and revived opposition from Ireland’s north.

At the start of the 20th century, neither the cultural nationalism of the Gaelic Revival nor the revolutionary nationalism of the IRB seemed to threaten the predominance of the Home Rule Movement in Irish politics. In 1905, a moderate alternative to Home Rule emerged. An Irish journalist, Arthur Griffith, started a new political party call Sinn Fein. He suggested a simple way by which Ireland could gain its independence. Those Irish members elected to British parliament would boycott the assembly and instead meet in Dublin as the Irish parliament.

Sinn Fein remained small, struggling, and not very popular for several years. By 1910, the ideas of the IRB, Dr Hyde, and Arthur Griffith along with an Irish socialist movement had combined to produce an Irish nationalism that went far beyond the demand for Home Rule. The Protestants in Ireland felt threatened. Protestant resistance to Home Rule, led by Sir Edward Carson, grew to dangerous proportions. Since 1911, members of the Orange Order had been receiving military training. In January 1913, the military organisation was made formal and 100,000 men were formed into the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Due to their actions, by November 1913, the Catholics and Irish nationalists formed the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF). Both forces armed themselves and in July 1914, 900 guns and 26,000 rounds of ammunition, landed at a port in Dublin. Throughout 1914, civil war in Ireland could have broken out anytime, but was averted when WWI broke out. The Home Rule Bill was suspended until after the war. Suspension of the bill stimulated the growth of the Citizen’s Army, an illegal force of Dublin, citizens organised by leader Jim Larkin and James Connolly; of the Irish Volunteer, national defence body; and of the extremists Sinn Fein.

On Easter Monday 1916, an uprising occurred in Dublin, known as the Easter Rising. It was the rebellion of Irish nationalists, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, against the rule of Great Britain in Ireland. The chief objective was the attainment of political freedom and the establishment of the Irish republic. It was led by Padraic Pearse, but demonstrations were so common in Dublin that it was only gradually that ordinary citizens and Britain authorities realised it was a rebellion. However, the rebels had little chance of success once the government forces moved in and it was soon over.

Towards the end of the uprising, many executions occurred, killing those involved in leading the Easter Rising, because of these executions, people started turning to Sinn Fein, giving them the support they needed for the next 20 years. Shortly after the Easter Rebellion, there were still ongoing problems between the Nationalists and the Protestants up until 1949. In 1918 WWI ended and in December elections were held in Britain; of the 105 seats available for Irish MP’s, Sinn Fein won 73.

The Sinn Fein members, true to their principles, refused to go to London and in January 1919, they constituted themselves the first independent Irish parliament. Because of their declaration of independence, the British government hesitated between negotiation and suppression. By 1920, there was a full-scale war between the Irish republicans and the British. The Irish volunteers had become the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and provided military strength for Sinn Fein meanwhile the British brought in recruits known as the ‘Black and Tans. The fighting was particularly vicious as the Black and Tans employed guerrilla activities with reprisal attacks on Irish lives and property: “The resultant bitterness strengthened Irish Nationalism and this new strength proved too tough for the British viceroy, Lord French to deal with. ” (Ireland in conflict 1910 – 1949) As nationalism strengthened, the British government tried to end the war through introducing a Government of Ireland Act. This act aimed to partition Ulster from the rest of Ireland and would then give both provinces separate Home Rule rights.

This partition was not meant to be permanent but the Unionists were ready to accept and negotiate the terms, whereas the Republican’s at first, refused even to discuss them. Their attitude changed by December 1921, when Republican leaders, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, signed the Anglo-Irish treaty with the British government. The signing of the treaty meant that the Dail that was set up in 1919 would no longer operate. Southern Ireland was to become a free state as Britain withdrew from Southern Ireland. The Irish Free State was to become a self-governing dominion based on the Canadian model.

However, the treaty only served to spark a fresh violence in South Ireland: a civil war. Between June 1922 and May 1923, pro and anti-treaty factions in South Ireland fought a savage civil war. By 1923, there were over 5000 military casualties and Free State firing squads had shot 77 Irregular prisoners in reprisal for ‘acts of war. ’: “The civil war’s legacy of distrust, suspicion, and reprisal would continue to divide Ireland society and politics for decades. ” (Ireland divided: Civil war 1922 – 1923, pg. 72) Once civil war was over, the IRA refused to accept the treaty, so tension remained; however, there was little change.

In 1926, De Valera formed a party called Fianna Fail and entered the Dail and in February 1932 elections, the new party gained 72 seats. In June 1935, Prime Minister De Valera severed his political ties with the IRA, as it became general knowledge that a new constitution was being drafted. The 5-year term of office of the Dail expired in June 1937 and in the following election, the Republican Party won a majority of the seats in the Dail. As they set up a new government, the new constitution came into being, abolished the Irish Free State, and established Eire as a ‘sovereign independent democratic state,’ bringing in independence in Ireland.

Through a treaty adopted in April 1938, the tariff war between Ireland and Great Britain was concluded. Soon Ireland’s economy saw a period of rapid inflation and as a result, the Fianna Fail party was defeated in February 1948 and De Valera was replaced with a new Prime Minister, John Costello. In April 1949, by the terms of the Republic of Ireland Bill approved by the Dail in November 1948, Eire became the Republic of Ireland, formally free of allegiance to the British crown and the Commonwealth of the Nations.

In conclusion, the problems faced by the nationalists in 1905 were the result of conflict that had simmered several hundred years and thus conflict between north and south continued. From Henry II landing in Ireland until the end of WWII – 1949, there were numerous political, social, and economic problems that riddled Ireland, causing the death of thousands of people. Irish Nationalism and British resistance threw Ireland into civil war and the bite of the IRA: Today Ireland remains divided, north and south, but politically a compromise has been reached, that is only occasionally shattered by the still dignified IRA nationalists.

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The Problems Faced by Irish Nationalism Throughout History. (2016, Nov 22). Retrieved from

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