IRELAND and ENGLAND
Part 2 – The Tudors and Stuarts
We left Ireland in Part 1 with an insecure English government in Dublin, with most of the island left to its own devices. It was actually worse than that, for the major Norman families were constantly at loggerheads over who should be Lieutenant-General, that is, the King's viceroy. Henry VII tried to exercise some control by ordering the passing of Poynings' Law in 1494. This purported to subordinate the Irish parliament to the English parliament. In practice, however, this made it possible to prevaricate and procrastinate, since the English parliament only met when the sovereign summoned it, and the sovereign managed parliamentary business. Henry VIII's assumption of the title “King of Ireland” changed nothing, and English domestic politics had little effect on Ireland. What was to turn out to be a major development was the increased immigration from England into the eastern counties of Ireland in Queen Elizabeth's time. By 1620 it was said that half the population of Ireland were of English origin. Such a concentration of English speakers meant that there was no incentive to learn the Irish language. Queen Elizabeth ordered the translation of the Bible into Welsh in 1588, probably saving that language. She considered doing the same for Cornish, but the population of Cornwall was so small it was considered uneconomic. She never considered publishing an Irish edition, because her most loyal subjects in Ireland spoke English anyway, and the Church of Rome had set itself against translation into modern languages. Dublin, of course, was never Irish speaking.
Ulster in those days was wild country. It was dominated by fighting gentry who formed the leadership of the “gallowglasses” (gall óglais = “servant of war”), mercenary raiders who kept Ireland and Scotland impoverished. The system worked as follows. The Dublin government bribed the gallowglasses to go and raid Scotland, just to get rid of them. The Scottish ambassador would deliver a stiffly worded letter to Queen Elizabeth, who would reply: “Her Majesty sincerely regrets...blah blah blah... strongest possible measures will be taken... tee hee hee”. King James VI would then bribe the gallowglasses to go and raid Ireland. The Queen would send a stiff letter to Edinburgh, and would receive the reply: “His majesty sincerely regrets...blah blah blah... strongest measures etc etc...Ha Ha Ha!” Elizabeth tried sorting it out towards the end of her reign, but her chosen military leader, the Earl of Essex, having made a lot of sound and fury in Ireland, led a rebellion against her and had his head cut off.
Things changed when James VI became James I of Ireland and England in 1603. He was no longer amused when the gallowglasses sent out their raiding parties. Furthermore, he was no longer amused by the Border Reivers, or cattle rustlers, who operated on the Scottish/English border. So he set an example to Joe Stalin and moved all the people he did not like into Ulster. Basically these were cattle thieves plus those strict Presbyterians who were starting to see royalty as redundant. This certainly sorted out the gallowglass problem, but it changed the world in unforeseeable ways. For a start, Gaelic Ireland was separated permanently from Gaelic Scotland, weakening both. Ulster Presbyterianism became a powerful force, to create a three-way religious divide in Ireland. Cattle ranching was introduced (perhaps reintroduced, since the earliest extant piece of Irish literature is Tain bo Cúailnge “The Cattle Raid of Cooley”). The Scots-Irish came to dominate United States politics in the Nineteenth Century. The question has been put: what would the wild west have been like if the Scots-Irish had been hog raisers instead of cattle ranchers?
Charles I, in a rare fit of political sense, kept the lid on this explosive situation by promoting his former parliamentary opponent Thomas Wentworth to Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1632 under the title of “Earl of Strafford”. Wentworth kept the peace, levied taxation, and came down hard on whichever faction tried to sieze, or recover, or raid, territory. Unfortunately this did not go down well in the English Parliament, some of whose members were related to settlers. Besides, he was considered to be a traitor for changing sides and becoming His Majesty's most loyal servant. So as soon as Parliament got the chance they impeached him; and Charles, casting aside all loyalty and decency, signed his death warrant. That was the reason why Charles lost the trust of people who ought to have been his natural supporters. The immediate consequence in Ireland of Strafford's recall and execution was that there was a Catholic uprising and a wholesale massacre of Protestants. Historians dispute the scale of the massacre, but it cannot be doubted that a considerable number of refugees descended on London with horror stories. Parliament would not authorise Charles to levy taxes in England to send an army into Ireland, because they were afraid that if he did, he would use that army against themselves. So three home-grown armies, identified by religious affiliation, were left to fight it out in Ireland, and England itself descended into civil war.
That is why the first thing the English Parliament did as soon as they had defeated the King was to send their best general, Oliver Cromwell, to sort things out. Of course, legally, the English Parliament had no authority in Ireland. Anyway, Cromwell imposed peace with such ruthlessness that even today his name evokes a shudder among the Irish. When I visited Enniscorthy Museum, there was a display for children that contained a life-size cardboard cutout of Cromwell. It was captioned: “Here is Cromwell. He is grinning because he is going to murder Catholics”. When he returned to England he was a hero, and John Milton wrote a poem “To Cromwell, our best of men”. This excited my curiosity. Why was the person responsible for the massacres of Drogheda and Wexford so highly regarded? I have found answers, but I am not wholly convinced. Under the mediaeval laws of warfare, that had been formulated by the papacy in order to reduce bloodshed, it was permissable to massace a garrison only if they had first agreed surrender terms and then renegued. Allegedly this was the position in Drogheda, though there had been a lot of toing and froing between the agreement to surrender and the massacre. The fact is that the garrison were royalists (not native Irish). As for Wexford, Cromwell was negotiating surrender terms under a truce, when his soldiery, probably drunk, found a hole in the city wall and charged through to rape and pillage. They threw all the Catholic priests into the harbour. Cromwell was to blame in accordance with the principle that officers are responsible for the actions of their men.
In 1688 leading English parliamentarians invited William of Orange to cross the sea and take charge of the government. He did so, and this was the last time that England has been successfully invaded. (Not 1066, as most people are taught). The fact that the good people of Devon and Dorset threw flowers at the Dutch army does not alter the fact. The event was written up by English historians on William's side as “The Glorious Revolution”. By “revolution” was meant “turning full circle”, in other words, restoring parliamentary supremacy. Of course, the Scots and the Irish were not asked their opinion. The Scottish Presbyterians were glad to be rid of James II, as were their cousins in Ulster. But the rest of the Irish had a different view of the matter. Thus it was that James, who was deemed to have abdicated, invaded Ireland with a French army intending to get his three kingdoms back, starting in Ireland. He was, as we all know, defeated at the Battle of the Boyne, which is noisily celebrated by Scots-Irish to this day.
Thus it came about that the Irish were in a very bad position. The only way they could relieve themselves of English oppression was to side with England's continental enemies; but since the English authorities were well aware of that, they kept the screws tight. This was the state of play until the defeat of Napoleon. In fact, one could argue that it continued for another century after that, since the Kaiser shipped arms into Ireland during the First World War.
English politics divided into the Whigs and the Tories, originally depending on their level of support for the exiled Stuarts. Whigs were Whigamores, that is, Scottish Covenanters; and Tories were Irish bandits. These names were intended to be abusive. So we leave this chapter of the story with The Irish being subject to the Penal Laws, and the English being anxious to prevent invasion through the Irish back door by one or other of the Catholic powers.