A Good One

From the University of Ulster’s Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) project, about attempts to find a compromise solution to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland (emphasis added):

Two attempts to set up devolved institutions were initiated by two Northern Ireland secretaries of state, Roy Mason and Humphrey Atkins [in 1977-78 and 1980]. Neither got to first base. They were opposed, for different reasons, by the SDLP and the UUP, but both simply petered out. As a measure of the cultural gap between the two sides, two bars were set up in Stormont during the Atkins talks of 1980, one serving only non-alcoholic beverages. Students of national stereotyping may guess which bar was designed for which political parties.

I find it odd to read a baseball metaphor in a description of Irish politics.

Politics, Irish

One final round of photos, a supplement to the previous post.

Some Historic Cartoons

Political Commemoration in the Republic of Ireland

Republican Jesus in Dingle.

At Kilmalkedar Church: the grave of Thomas Russell, Irish Volunteers.

Translation of the above.

Already featured: a memorial to Thomas Ashe (1885-1917), member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the Irish Volunteers, and namesake of the Dingle GAA grounds. 

Heroes of 1916 on a building in Belfast.

A manhole cover featuring Eamonn Bulfin, participant in the Easter Rising and ambassador of the Irish Republic to Argentina.

Garden of Remembrance, O’Connell Street, Dublin.

Memorial to President Erskine Childers, son of the author and revolutionary Robert Erskine Childers, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Memorial to Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and first president of Ireland, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

The famous General Post Office in Dublin.

Amazingly, the building is still in use as a post office! (Although there is a display on the Easter Rising in the building.)

The Irish Republic flag does not fly over the GPO, but only that of the postal service (An Post).

Derry/Londonderry

“Hands Across the Divide” statue.

Peace mural, Bogside.

In the Bogside, Derry

The iconic image of Bloody Sunday, rendered as a mural. Fr. Edward Daly, future bishop of Derry, waves a blood-stained white handkerchief as a truce flag, in attempting to escort a mortally wounded protestor to safety.

“The Petrol Bomber,” depicting a participant in the Battle of the Bogside.

Civil rights activist Bernadette Devlin, with people wielding trash can lids (either as shields, or to bang on the ground to warn people of the arrival of police or army patrols).

“Free Derry Corner,” depicting the Republican Easter Lily (green, white, and orange) in memory of the Easter Rising, with “Free Tony Taylor” sign in the background.

Nelson Mandela and Bobby Sands, with “INLA” graffiti.

Civil Rights mural.

I don’t know who any of these people are.

Civil Rights material in the Museum of Free Derry.

Was “William” crossed out because the street was named after King William III? I wouldn’t rule it out!

Fountain Estate, Londonderry

The residents of the Fountain Estate, a small loyalist enclave near the Bogside, have their own propaganda.

Note the red, white, and blue kerbstones and lamp post, marking loyalist turf.

A new direction in murals – many of them aren’t painted, but made on a computer and printed out.

Falls Road, Belfast: a Catholic, Nationalist, and Republican Area

Probably the most famous mural of them all, Bobby Sands on the side of Sinn Fein headquarters.

Kieran Nugent, first “Blanket man.”

Séan MacDiarmada, executed for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916.

Republican heroes past and present.

The Easter Rising, Constance Markievicz writing prison letters, Blanket Protestors, and the Hunger Strikers, including Frank Stagg, who died in England in 1976

There’s commentary on this one at Extramural Activity.

Commentary on this one can be found at thetroubles.omeka.net.

A reaction to the royal wedding? He didn’t listen!

Garden of Remembrance to the D Company, IRA Belfast Brigade.

Expressions of Common Cause on the Falls Road

From the Eileen Hickey Republican History Museum, Belfast

Republican pins.

Republican prisoners could occupy themselves by making models of Celtic crosses, round towers, and harps, some actually functional. The Free Derry Museum boasts one by Martin McGuinness himself.

Republican Plot, Milltown Cemetery, Falls Road, Belfast

Shankill, Belfast: A Protestant, Unionist, and Loyalist Area

If the republicans hearken back to the Easter Rising and War of Independence, loyalists remember their service in the First and Second World Wars. Poppies, not lilies, are the flowers in question.

The only “1916” celebrated on the Shankill Road is the Battle of the Somme.

Memorial to three important members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, its name a deliberate reference to the Ulster Volunteers of 1912, and the UVF’s associated “Red Hand Commando” unit.

I don’t know who exactly these people are and I don’t think I want to.

When marching in July, Protestants require music, usually provided by fife and drum corps.

A massive bonfire under construction, to be set on July 12.

Between the Two Communities

The Peace Wall.

Gate on the Peace Wall, still shut at night.

Unionist Propaganda from the Ulster Museum and Belfast City Hall Museum

The revolutionaries of 1916 were not the only ones to declare a provisional government: Ulster Volunteers threatened to do the same thing in 1913.

It’s interesting when unionists reach back into Irish history to find inspirational examples for themselves today. They claim that Ulster has always been culturally different from the rest of the island.  Apparently they admire St. Patrick too – he’s not just an Irish and Catholic figure.

This poster dates from before the reduction of “Ulster” from nine counties to six.

Poster against the proposed Council of Ireland, part of the failed Sunningdale Agreement (1974).

Wikipedia: “Ulster Says No was the name and slogan of a unionist mass protest campaign against the provisions of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement which gave the government of the Republic of Ireland an advisory role in the governance of Northern Ireland.”

Amusing personifications of the four countries of the United Kingdom, all standing against Home Rule.

Wikipedia: “The Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUPP), informally known as Ulster Vanguard, was a unionist political party which existed in Northern Ireland between 1972 and 1978. Led by William Craig, the party emerged from a split in the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and was closely affiliated with several loyalist paramilitary groups.” William Craig was apparently no relation to James Craig.

Belfast Today

Titanic Belfast museum, which has so far escaped bombing.

Northern Ireland and the Troubles

This entry turned out to be a lot longer than I anticipated, but you can’t talk about the Troubles without delving into Irish history. (Actually, it’s probably not detailed enough…)

Prior to this trip, I had visited England, Scotland, Wales, and the Republic of Ireland, but I had not visited Northern Ireland. That six-county statelet was certainly on my bucket list: for most of my lifetime Northern Ireland was synonymous with The Troubles, a seemingly intractable ethno-nationalist conflict over the constitutional status of the place, and I wanted to see a) any reminders of that time, and b) how it is doing these days.

I admit that my interest in The Troubles may have been somewhat ghoulish, but violence is always attention grabbing, and political violence even more so. Furthermore, that such a thing should have taken place in a major First World country, a member of the EU, G7, and UN Security Council, made it stand out. Finally, I confess that I just may have taken a side here: my homeland shares a monarch with the United Kingdom, and I support this monarchy as a form of government, for Burkean reasons. I am prone to disagree with anyone opposing it, especially those who do so violently.

But I also admit that, historically, British rule in Ireland was terribly oppressive and produced a great deal of misery. John Derbyshire sums it up nicely:

The primal misfortune, the one that generated all the others, was to be a small, poor island next to a larger, richer one, in whose sight Ireland was economically worthless and culturally alien yet strategically vital.

English colonialism might have worked – Ireland could have ended up like Wales, with a distinct culture and persistent low-key grudge against England, but otherwise fully integrated into the United Kingdom, enjoying all the benefits of membership and even certain privileges. The trouble is that the English never devoted enough effort to make such a project succeed – something else always came along and diverted their attention. More importantly, religion came into it, exacerbating the distinction between rulers and ruled on this most existential of issues. You could say that religious prejudice against the Irish goes back to Bede and the thorny question about the date of Easter, but the real problem, of course, occurred when King Henry VIII (1509-47) broke with Rome. He was able to force this decision on the English; he was not able to force it on the Irish beyond the immediate environs of Dublin. Quite apart from the apocalyptic struggles that ensued between these two fundamentally different interpretations of Christianity, Ireland then represented a back door into England for any continental Catholic power wishing to invade – the “strategically vital” quality that Derbyshire noted. So I’m sure that the English felt practically compelled to oppress the Irish. If they couldn’t impose the Reformation by fiat, they could always settle people there, as Machiavelli had recommended. In Tudor times the three main English “plantations” were in King’s and Queen’s Counties, in Munster, and in Ulster. Of these, only the last was successful, especially after the so-called Flight of the Earls in 1607. The new king of England, James I, who was already king of Scotland, promoted the settlement of Ulster as a joint British project. Settlers at all levels of society, whether landowners, overseers, merchants, craftsmen, or even tenants, were to be either English or Scots, and definitely not Catholic. This setup, it was hoped, would make the plantation safe from the depredations of the Irish, and provide a concentration of loyal settlers who would not be in danger of going native.

The Irish, as you might imagine, objected to this state of affairs, and eventually launched a serious revolt against it. In 1641 Ireland’s Catholic landowners attempted to take over the government of the island, which also opened the door for the Gaelic Irish to avenge themselves on the settlers. Some 4000 of these, it is reckoned, died at the hands of the Irish, with many more dying for secondary reasons like disease; the settlers, and English troops sent to protect them, committed their own atrocities in return. But this “Confederate War,” as it happens, turned into the Irish theater of the English Civil War, with the Irish Catholics (uneasily) allied with King Charles I (1625-49), and the Protestant settlers allied with Parliament. As everyone knows, Parliament won, and Charles was executed – and Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, then visited the Irish in order to put the fear of a Protestant God in them. Whatever the precise nature of his actual brutalities, the legal settlement was of lasting consequence: all Irish Catholic landowners were stripped of their property, and only those who had not supported the Confederation of Kilkenny were entitled to compensatory grants of land in the western province of Connaught. Thus were most Irish Catholics reduced to a permanent status of tenantry. Cromwell also forbade Catholics from serving in the Parliament of Ireland and from living in towns, and ordered that Catholic priests be killed on sight. The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 brought a minor relaxation of these rules, but the Glorious Revolution of 1688 had more unfortunate consequences for the Irish. Charles II died in 1685 and was succeeded by his brother James II, who was Catholic and who did not have the good sense to keep this to himself. Frightened by his arbitrary rule on behalf of his religion, the English Parliament invited his Protestant daughter Mary, and her husband William, Prince of the Netherlands, to become their monarchs instead. They landed in England in 1688, and when James fled London, Parliament declared that he had actually abdicated, and William and Mary were crowned co-monarchs of England and Scotland on April 11, 1689. James did not go away, of course, and after trying to raise support on the continent, went to Ireland to do the same thing there. This produced the (unsuccessful) Siege of Derry, a key event in Irish Protestant mythology, and the Battle of the Boyne, a decisive victory for William, Protestantism, and British settlement in Ireland. From that point on, the only people allowed to vote, hold office, serve in the military, attend university, become lawyers or judges, inherit land, or adopt children were members of the established Church of Ireland, and usually wealthy ones at that.*

Note that this dispensation did not include Presbyterians. In one of the stranger ironies of history, whatever rights that members of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland enjoyed in their own country did not follow them to Ireland. This alienated many Ulster settlers from the regime. Even the so-called Protestant Ascendancy that ran the country would, at times, express an incipient Irish nationalism, when overruled by Parliament at Westminster. Henry Grattan (1746-1820), an influential member of the Irish House of Commons, is the name associated with this movement, which itself was only the latest instance of the natural inclination for settlers to go native in Ireland, as the Vikings or Old English had before them. But however much the British shortchanged Ireland, it was never enough to unite Catholics, Presbyterians, and Protestants into a sort of national front. Such efforts usually foundered on the rock of sectarianism, a fate that befell the United Irishmen, a group founded by Theobald Wolfe Tone in the 1790s and dedicated to winning Irish independence.

The United Irishmen also represent the birth of so-called “physical-force republicanism.” Inspired by the French Revolution, they were dedicated to doing in Ireland what the Jacobins had accomplished in France. They did not set out to vindicate Catholic rights as such; they wanted an independent and secular Irish republic, to which end they launched a rebellion in 1798. Alas, this idea did not find much purchase among many Irish Catholics. The Catholic Church had an interest in not being oppressed; it had an even greater interest in squelching secularism and political violence.** As a result of the threat represented by the United Irishmen, the British bribed, wheedled, and cajoled the Protestant Ascendency into accepting parliamentary union with Britain, which occurred in 1801 – the idea being that the franchise could then be safely extended to Catholics, since they could be outvoted at Westminster if need be. But the British then reneged on this promise! So the Irish lost their parliament, and got nothing in return.

The British take pride in the stability of their political life. Change occurs, but it occurs incrementally and without (much) bloodshed. Revolutions, barricades in the streets, heads paraded around on pikes, public execution by guillotine, yet another constitution… they might do such things on the continent, but not on the scepter’d isle. It’s true that in the seventeenth century Parliament waged war against, and then executed, the king, but that’s the one example to the contrary. In more recent times, for instance, the narrative of how the franchise got extended, starting with the Reform Act of 1832 and culminating in the Representation of the People Act in 1928, makes for an edifying if somewhat dry story.

There was an Irish echo of such things. Numerous Irish nationalists in the nineteenth century struggled for a better deal for Ireland, but within the bounds of the law or at least without resorting to violence. Chief among these was Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847), the Great Liberator, who contrived to get himself elected as a Member of Parliament in 1828 and thereby embarrassed the British into passing the Emancipation Act, allowing Catholics to vote and hold office across the UK if they met certain property qualifications. Non-payment of tithes to the Church of Ireland, and rent strikes (one of which gave us the word “boycott” in its present meaning), were not necessarily legal, but they were attempts at widespread passive disobedience to get laws changed, and were eventually successful – the Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871, and a series of laws passed between 1870 and 1909 offered protection for tenant farmers from eviction, and allowed many of them to purchase their own land with government help. The biggest movement of all was for Home Rule, the main objective of the Irish Parliamentary Party, founded in 1874 by Isaac Butt. Home Rule sought to reestablish an Irish parliament, with a more universal franchise; only when the Irish controlled their own affairs, they reckoned, would their situation improve. After the first two attempts failed, a third Home Rule Bill finally passed into law in 1914, although it was not enforced on account of the First World War. It is true that the threat of violence might always have been hovering over these movements, and may have spurred the British into taking action before things spiraled out of control, but the point is that the British did take action; the UK of the nineteenth century did not witness a repeated cycle of bloody revolution and bloody reaction, as did France.

But some people did not get the memo. Physical-force republicanism, of the sort promoted by the United Irishmen, remained an ideal for a certain type of Irishman. A group calling itself Young Ireland attempted to carry out a revolution in 1848, which was even less successful than all the other revolutions of that fateful year in Europe, but which gave rise to Fenianism, the idea that Ireland had a natural right to independence, which could only be won through violent struggle against Britain. The secret Irish Republican Brotherhood kept the flame alive in Ireland, and tried to carry out another revolution in 1867, which failed miserably. The Fenian Brotherhood, a group of Irish expatriates in the United States, attempted to invade Canada and hold it hostage for Irish independence. This also went nowhere but was instrumental in spurring the foundation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. The Phoenix Park murders (of the Chief Secretary for Ireland and his undersecretary) in 1882 were the work of an IRB splinter group.

So here were two major strains of Irish political nationalism, one open and “constitutional,” the other secret and dedicated to violence. Ideally they were working together for Irish rights – the implicit threat being that if you don’t grant us what we want today, we can’t guarantee what will happen tomorrow. The trouble is that by the late nineteenth century, the Protestants of Ulster were as firmly dedicated to the Union as the Irish were to Home Rule. How this came about I’ve never quite understood. Presbyterians had been excluded from power in the same way that Catholics had been, and Protestants of all stripes had been living long enough in Ireland to start thinking of it as home. Furthermore, the British treatment of the Irish had been a blatant injustice to any fair-minded observer, including any number of Protestants (Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Isaac Butt, Charles Stuart Parnell, Roger Casement, W.B. Yeats, Erskine Childers, and many others, were all Irish nationalists and all Protestant). Still, the vast majority of Protestants, both Church of Ireland and Presbyterian, were deathly afraid of and vehemently opposed to Home Rule, which they called “Rome Rule.” Why should this have been the case – especially when the Irish republican ideal was supposed to be secular? After all, the republican tricolor, which debuted in 1848, expressed equality and the hope of peace between Catholics and Protestants. What went wrong?

I suppose that, like white South Africans during Apartheid, there was a sense that any appeals to unity were just a ruse – that they’ll have their revenge on us the minute they get control of the place. It also seems to me that, over the course of the nineteenth century, religious difference was exacerbated by economic difference. That is, the City of Belfast, the beating heart of Ulster, did very well out of the industrial revolution, becoming a great manufacturing city like Glasgow or Manchester, extremely proud of its linen and shipbuilding and all the other industry that arose there. Although Max Weber only proposed his thesis about the connection between Protestantism and capitalism in 1905, the link between these things would have been manifestly apparent to the average Ulster Protestant, who felt in his guts that the union with Britain was the only guarantee of their continued existence. By contrast, the rest of Ireland appeared terribly backward, and not just because of British oppression – it was largely agrarian, leaving it vulnerable to such things as the potato famine, and with the Catholic church largely responsible for this sorry state of affairs, valuing education only insofar as it produced priests, and promoting large families (and even poverty and suffering) as an absolute good. Thus did nearly 500,000 Ulster Protestants sign a Solemn League and Covenant in 1912, some allegedly in their own blood, pledging to use “all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland,” and refusing to recognize its authority “should such a Parliament be forced upon us.” That was not merely rhetoric: that same year saw the foundation of the Ulster Volunteers, a paramilitary force that quickly grew to some 100,000 members, which began illegally importing weapons in order to resist Home Rule, either in the entire island or, failing that, in Ulster itself. In response, Irish nationalists, at the instigation of the IRB, formed the rival Irish Volunteers, “to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland.” By mid-1914, it boasted some 200,000 members. Clearly, the stage was set for civil war.

In some ways, it was fortunate that Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914. The Home Rule Bill would pass into law in September but was suspended for the duration of the hostilities. The Ulster Volunteers, in order to demonstrate their loyalty to Britain, joined the army en masse. Many of the Irish Volunteers followed suit – John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, called on the Irish to support the British war effort, in the hopes that such loyalty would be rewarded, and many Irish Volunteers did so, becoming the National Volunteers and ostensibly fighting for the rights of small nations in Europe, including their own. A rump of more dedicated nationalists remained in Ireland, retained the name “Irish Volunteers,” called for Irish neutrality, and waited for a chance to act on the nationalist principle that “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.”

As everyone knows, the war that was to be over by Christmas bogged down in a bloody stalemate, and certain nationalists were not willing to wait for the war’s end in order to assume the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature entitled them. This impatience, coupled with the German desire to sow discord behind enemy lines, produced the seminal event in modern Irish history: the Easter Rising of 1916, carried out by the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the Irish Citizen Army, a small paramilitary group founded in 1913 in order to protect striking workers. (There was some overlap in membership between these groups, of course.) They managed to seize several blocks of the Dublin city center and declare the existence of an Irish Republic before British troops arrived and crushed it after week, executing sixteen of the leaders for treason and interning some 1000 other participants in the Frongoch Prison Camp in Wales.

The standard interpretation of these events is that most of the Irish public did not support the rebels at the time, but sympathy only grew for them after the executions, and the threat of conscription in 1918 pushed the Irish away from the IPP towards Sinn Fein, a more hardcore nationalist party, founded in 1905 and soon taken over by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Most remarkably, in the general election of December 1918 (the so-called Khaki Election), Sinn Fein took 73 out of 105 of Ireland’s seats. Sinn Fein was “abstentionist” – that is, members would stand for election, but if they won, they would refuse to take their seats at Westminster, boycotting it in favor their own parliament, which they called the Dail Eireann. The Dail redeclared the Irish Republic of 1916, and once it did, the Irish Volunteers pledged their loyalty to it, renaming themselves the Irish Republican Army and recruiting many new members. Thus began the Irish War of Independence, which was not quite as dramatic as its name suggests: it was largely a guerrilla campaign and resulted in the abandonment of a few police barracks in rural areas, although both sides managed to kill some 2000 people by 1922. The British, at first, were not prepared to recognize the Dail and this “Irish Republic” it claimed to represent, but they did abandon the Home Rule Bill of 1914 in favor of the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, the so-called Fourth Home Rule Bill. The main feature of this bill was the division of Ireland into two polities: a six-county “Northern Ireland” and a twenty-six county “Southern Ireland,” with separate parliaments for each but with both remaining constituent parts of the United Kingdom, and with the hope that eventually they would be united. Elections for both of these parliaments took place in May 1921 – Sinn Fein ran candidates for this election and won 128 seats, practically sweeping Southern Ireland and even winning 6 seats in Northern Ireland, demonstrating its overwhelming support, or at least its ability to bully any political opponents into withdrawing. The Sinn Feiners then convened as the Second Dail. (Only four people who were not members of Sinn Fein were elected in Southern Ireland – these were Independent Unionists representing Trinity College Dublin, who farcically met once as the Parliament for Southern Ireland on June 28, 1921).

So clearly the British were no longer in control of most of Ireland. The IRA might not have won independence in a decisive, Yorktown-style battle (in fact, it may have been on the verge of collapse), but the hearts and minds of most Irish had gone over to the Dail, which managed to annex the court system and revenue collection, two essential functions of state. But as the Dail did not want to carry on a war that had reached a stalemate and that they may have been in danger of losing, and as the British had no interest in defending a regime that had lost its legitimacy, both sides agreed to a truce in July 1921. The British recognized the Dail, but not the Irish Republic; a delegation from the Dail then negotiated the Anglo-Irish treaty, which granted Dominion status to Ireland, henceforth to be known as the Irish Free State. The Northern Ireland created by the Fourth Home Rule Bill was allowed to opt out of the treaty, and promptly did so; a boundary commission was to revisit the question of where, exactly, the boundary between the IFS and NI should be drawn. Dominion status within the British Empire, enjoyed by Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and South Africa at the time, was more than Home Rule, but less than the completely independent republic that the IRA had been fighting for, and the Treaty was deeply controversial, narrowly passing the Dail by a vote of 64 to 57. That the king was to retain sovereignty over Ireland, and members of the Dail were to swear allegiance to him, was too much for a lot of people, and it split Sinn Fein and the IRA right down the middle. Thus did the war continue in Ireland, only now it was not between British security forces and the IRA, but between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty IRA. With British help, the pro-Treaty forces prevailed by 1923, and the Irish Free State became a functioning reality. Michael Collins, the main negotiator for the Dail, famously said that the treaty represented the “not freedom, but the freedom to achieve freedom,” and claimed that he was signing his own death warrant – sure enough, he was killed in August 1922 in an ambush by anti-Treaty forces.

Whatever the precise outcome, this sequence of events, from 1916 to 1922, represented a vindication of physical-force republicanism. It’s true that the Easter Rising was a short-term failure, and that the IRA did not succeed in winning an all-island Irish Republic in 1922, but it inflicted enough damage on the British that they (mostly) washed their hands of the place, as they later did in Palestine. The anti-treaty Eamon de Valera, who had escaped execution in 1916 owing to his American citizenship, somehow escaped execution again by the Free State in 1923. He came to the realization that turning the clock back to 1916 wasn’t really viable, so he took up Collins’s pledge to “achieve freedom.” He resigned from Sinn Fein to found a new party, Fianna Fail, which contested the Free State election of 1928 and which actually took power in 1931. The British Statute of Westminster (1932) was a godsend to De Valera – it gave legal equality to the Dominions, so he took the opportunity to rewrite the Free State constitution to omit all references to the king, and to replace his representative the Governor General with a popularly elected president. After the Irish approved this constitution by referendum, it went into effect in 1937, after which the Irish Free State was officially known as “Eire” and was, as far as de Valera was concerned, a republic. Apparently the king still held some residual powers over the state, though, so in 1948 the political party Fine Gael, which had taken power earlier that year, passed the Republic of Ireland Act, which went into effect on the symbolic date of Easter Monday, 1949. Coupled with the UK’s Ireland Act of 1949, the Republic of Ireland Act unambiguously achieved complete legal independence for place, and took it out of the British Commonwealth to boot (it also bestowed upon the state its current name).

With the king gone, nationalists’ attention could then shift towards Northern Ireland. How big Northern Ireland was to be had been a matter of debate: would it comprise all nine counties of Ulster, or only the four counties where Unionists had majorities – or some number in between? It’s true that across the entire province of Ulster, Unionists held a slim majority, but it was too slim for their comfort, so they sloughed off Counties Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan, and retreated to the FAT LAD*** counties, which gave them a sizable majority in population while still holding as much territory as possible. The trouble is that Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh had nationalist majorities, and there were other nationalist communities scattered throughout the other four. The Irish Free State thought that the boundary commission would allow them to annex these areas and, hopefully, make NI economically unviable, but it never convened, and the North was left with a significant minority problem. They dealt with it though a combination of popular- and state-sanctioned violence, gerrymandering, triumphalist propaganda, and social exclusion, which they got away with because they were in control of their own devolved parliament.§ I’m sure that, if asked, they would have justified their regime with something like: “This is the Protestant and Unionist part of Ireland. If you want to be Irish and Catholic, then you’re welcome to move to one of the twenty-six counties you’ve managed to shear away from the United Kingdom, and which encompass five-sixths of this island.” And I regret to say that the Irish Free State did not really help itself. Despite any official talk of Irish unity and religious equality, it essentially turned over health care and education to the Roman Catholic Church, and in general seemed beholden to a traditionalist, isolationist, and agrarian vision of Ireland. In a radio speech in 1943, De Valera summed it up thus:

The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age.

Or, as John Derbyshire puts it (much less charitably), independent Ireland was

for the first few decades of its existence a stagnant rustic theocracy with little appeal to anyone whose aspirations rose to anything higher than sitting around a peat fire discussing the Council of Trent in Gaelic.

I understand that, despite everything, there was a continuous net migration from the Irish Free State/Eire/Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland, because there was a greater possibility of finding work. (Apartheid was an odious system, but even under it South Africa attracted black immigrants from neighboring countries, for much the same reason).

When I said nationalists’ attention was focused on Northern Ireland, I should qualify this. Article 2 of De Valera’s 1937 Constitution reads “The national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland, its islands and the territorial seas,” and Article 3 speaks of “re-integration of the national territory” and “the right of the parliament and government established by this constitution to exercise jurisdiction over the whole territory.” Definitive postage stamps from the Irish Free State illustrate the entire island of Ireland, without acknowledging that it did not have control over six northeastern counties. But the Dublin regime never tried to annex the North militarily. It never cheekily ran candidates in the North for the Dail, or accepted appeals for justice from beleaguered nationalists there. In general, its claim to represent a united Ireland was rhetorical.†

Instead, the IRA, such as it was, carried on the ideal of a united Ireland, achieved through physical force. The Anti-Treatyites lost their war with the Free State in 1923. However, their organization was not destroyed, but retreated to the shadows to become a sort of secret society, as the IRB had been. They refused to accept defeat, on the principle that the Second Dail’s ratification of the Anglo-Irish treaty was illegitimate. Members of the Dail had taken an oath to uphold the Irish Republic, and so a vote for any other sort of regime was ipso facto null and void. According to one strain of Irish republican legitimism, Anti-Treaty Sinn Fein and the Anti-Treaty IRA represent the real Irish Republic of 1916 on a sort of spiritual level, a kind of internal government-in-exile. The IRA is proud to boast that Sinn Fein turned over the “rights” to the Irish Republic to the IRA’s Army Council in 1938 – thus does the IRA itself embody the true and legitimate government of Ireland. Once De Valera’s constitution passed, however, their actions were focused exclusively against the British “occupation” of the North, thus its so-called S-Plan (1938-40), Northern Campaign (1942-44), and Border Campaign (1956-62) – programs of violence and sabotage aimed at the British state. You might think that Eire and/or the Republic of Ireland might have covertly supported these operations, but De Valera had no sentimental attachment to his former comrades-in-arms. They were an embarrassment, and threatened to disrupt relations with the UK, Ireland’s biggest trading partner. He and his successors had no problem arresting them and throwing them in jail for any freelance violence they may have committed, or even just as a precaution. This policy crippled the IRA, and the Border Campaign was called off in 1962, having failed to achieve any of its ends. The IRA was then taken over by a group of activists who tried to give the organization a new, Marxist orientation.

As a consequence, the IRA lost whatever legitimacy it had with Northern Ireland’s nationalist community, when it didn’t do much to defend the community during Northern Ireland’s Civil Rights era. Inspired by the Civil Rights movement in the United States, in the late 1960s Northern Ireland’s nationalists began serious, nonviolent protests against the systemic prejudice of the Stormont regime. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, founded in January 1967, sponsored a march from Coalisland to Dungannon in August 1968, parallel to the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. And it met the same response: whether from the more excitable sort of Protestant, or from the police themselves, this march, and subsequent marches, were blocked and attacked. Events just escalated after that: 1969 saw the Battle of the Bogside in Derry, numerous Catholic families burned out of their homes in Belfast, and rioting, street fighting, and much other mayhem. Ian Paisley, an outspoken Protestant minister and fierce opponent of the Civil Rights movement, claimed that he “would rather be British than just,” and I think that sums it up: many of Ulster’s Protestants were deeply insecure about the status of their country, seeing the Civil Rights movement as a front for republican annexation, which practically compelled them to oppose it, as forcefully as necessary. But the IRA wasn’t very visible in these dark times; some nationalists claimed that its initials stood for “I Ran Away.” Beholden to its novel Marxist ideology, it was more interested in class struggle than in sectarian street fighting or community defense, leaving nationalists to the mercy of the police, who were not as neutral as they ought to have been.

In this context, nationalists apparently greeted the arrival of troops from mainland Britain, after an intense period of rioting in August 1969, with a sense of relief. The Brits were certainly preferable to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and for the time being were somewhat able to keep the two sides from attacking each other. But meanwhile, changes were brewing in the IRA. Frustrated by the unwillingness of its leadership to do anything about the crisis, members based in Northern Ireland eventually split with the Dublin-based command, naming themselves the Provisional Irish Republican Army and pledging to properly defend nationalist communities, as they had done since the 1920s. But they were still Republican – that is, their long-term goal was a united Ireland, achieved through violent struggle against the British. The British troops, therefore, were cast as an alien, occupying force, a legitimate target for violence. This new Provisional IRA started attacking the British troops, and the Brits responded accordingly, thereby “proving” how oppressive they were. Certainly in Derry on January 30, 1972, the Parachute Regiment played the role assigned to it by republican ideology: at a peaceful protest against internment without trial, which had been introduced the previous August, the Paras shot and killed some fourteen nationalist civilians. Whether the Paras were being shot at themselves, as they later claimed, was no matter: “Bloody Sunday,” as it quickly became known, was a propaganda disaster for the British, and a boon to the Provisional IRA, now the dominant faction in the physical-force republican movement. Membership soared; more importantly, it won the group a great deal of legitimacy among nationalists as being the only force really on their side. And thus it continued: for the next thirty years or so, the Provos waged a guerrilla campaign against the British and their Northern Irish lackeys, mostly through bombings and shootings, and mostly in Northern Ireland itself, although they occasionally took their campaign to mainland Britain or even to the European continent. They were active in defending nationalists, but true to their ideology, they did not (often) attack unionist civilians, or (usually) engage in sectarian killings. This was not the rebellion of 1641 – the idea was that Ulster Protestants were now rightfully Irish, and were suffering from a sort of false consciousness, and the minute the Brits were expelled, they would see the light and join their fellow Irish in bright future in a republic finally coterminous with the island. British Army personnel, members of the RUC, judges, politicians, and other important government officials were all fair game. Bombing buildings to cause extensive property damage was OK too, but they would usually give warnings to avoid unnecessary loss of civilian life (not that this always happened, of course). The idea was that if they caused enough harm over a long enough period, the British would eventually throw in the towel and abandon their claims to the place.  

Of course, they also ran protection rackets against nationalist businesses, tortured and killed anyone suspected of collaborating with the British, and in general cared for their “people” only insofar as they could support the armed struggle. My hunch is that there were a lot of nationalists who were ambivalent to the IRA, and many nationalist areas that it did not actually control. Certainly the Social Democratic Labour Party, and not Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, received the most nationalist votes throughout the Troubles. Still, my understanding is that the IRA enjoyed a much greater support within the nationalist community than the Protestant paramilitaries ever did within the unionist community. There were two main ones: the Ulster Volunteer Force, founded in 1966, and the Ulster Defence Association, founded in 1971, and they too engaged in shootings and bombings, although apparently they were a lot more sectarian than the IRA was. That is, the IRA was motivated by a political vision and attacked specific targets, while the UVF and UDA were happy just to kill Catholic civilians in “revenge” – the McGurk’s Pub bombing in 1970 and the Shankill Butchers, a gang of psychopathic serial killers active between 1975 and 1982, are good examples of this tendency. The idea, I think, is that if they attacked ordinary members of the nationalist community, the survivors would put pressure on the IRA to stop their own attacks against the state. But on the whole, I am led to believe, most unionists favored law and order and thus supported the police and the army, the legitimate instruments of state (which were, generally, on their side anyway). Extrajudicial and sectarian violence, many felt, was redundant and embarrassing. Anyone convicted of membership in a paramilitary group was banned from membership in the Orange Order, for instance. (Perhaps it was simply a class thing, the paramilitaries being a product of working class neighborhoods, with the wider support that the IRA enjoyed in the nationalist community simply reflective of the fact that there were more working class nationalists?)

Unfortunately, state authorities did not always obey the law themselves. Nationalists suspected, with much justification, that the RUC and the British Army colluded with paramilitary groups, turning a blind eye to joint membership, or supplying them with intelligence and equipment in order to do what they were forbidden to do themselves. Then there was the army’s shoot-to-kill policy, aimed at IRA men on active service. Although the British formally believed that the IRA was a criminal organization, best dealt with by arrest, trial, conviction, and prison, in practice it often took the IRA at its word and treated its members like enemy combatants. British army units, especially the Special Air Service, would ambush and kill IRA members, such as at Loughgall in 1987 or at Gibraltar in 1988. This violation of principle was somewhat controversial.

The issue of whether the IRA were soldiers or criminals surfaced most famously in the late 1970s and early 1980s over the issue of Special Category Status (SCS). SCS had been introduced for paramilitary prisoners as a concession to the IRA during a ceasefire in 1972. As an “army” fighting a “war,” the IRA asserted that its “POWs” were entitled to certain privileges under the Geneva Convention, including not having to wear prison uniforms or do prison work, being housed with their fellow “soldiers” and being able to maintain their command structure, and being allowed extra visits and care packages. The British withdrew SCS in March 1976, re-designating IRA men as criminals and providing a Major Issue for the republican movement. Thus did HM Prison Maze witness the blanket protest (when prisoners refused to wear prison uniforms and simply wrapped themselves in blankets instead), the dirty protest (when prisoners refused to leave their cells and smeared excrement on their walls), and in 1980, a hunger strike aimed at the restoration of all lost privileges. The strike was called off when the British were apparently prepared to negotiate, but when it became clear that they weren’t, on March 1, 1981, IRA man Bobby Sands refused food, and was joined at staggered intervals by a number of his other comrades. Hunger striking has a long tradition in Ireland, apparently going back to the early Middle Ages as a means of bringing attention to an injustice and shaming one’s lord into doing something about it, and Irish republicans had used it before during the War of Independence. So Sands’ action was certainly attention-getting, not only among the Irish but among leftists throughout the world. I suppose that the election of the right-wing Margaret Thatcher in 1979 helped; anyone opposed to her couldn’t be that bad. Furthermore, these IRA men weren’t actually shooting anyone or blowing things up, they were inflicting harm only on themselves, literally holding themselves hostage for the return of SCS. The ensuing battle of wills grabbed the world’s attention: would the British government allow the hunger strikers to die, or would they give them what they wanted, which was mostly symbolic anyway? The stakes were raised significantly when Bobby Sands ran as a candidate in a by-election for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The mainstream SDLP, in a show of support, did not run a candidate, so the nationalist vote was concentrated, and succeeded in getting Sands elected as a Member of Parliament on April 9. Still the Conservative government did not give in, and Sands died on May 5, 1981, sixty-six days after he stopped eating. Margaret Thatcher said that he “was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims” – a sentiment not shared by the 100,000 people who attended his funeral, and by the great numbers of protestors who demonstrated across Ireland and throughout the world. Over the course of the summer nine other hunger strikers followed Sands to the grave; the British changed the rules to forbid prisoners from standing for election, but quietly reintroduced a de facto form of SCS.

The Hunger Strike of 1981 was a boon to the republican movement, earning it worldwide sympathy and showing the British that Sinn Fein was much more popular than they had claimed. It also encouraged the IRA to adopt the “Armalite and the ballot box” strategy – that is, Sinn Fein would begin contesting elections and engaging in “politics” as conventionally understood, while the IRA continued its armed campaign. Sinn Fein’s electoral support was never quite as good as it had hoped, but the IRA’s campaign certainly kept on going, which included a long list of atrocities like the Hyde Park and Regent’s Park Bombings (1982), the Harrods Bombing (1983), the Brighton Hotel Bombing (1984), the Newry Mortar attack (1985), the Remembrance Day bombing at Enniskillen (1987), the assassination of MP Ian Gow (1990), a mortar attack against 10 Downing Street (1991), the Teebane Bombing (1992), and so on. I remember studying in London in 1992 and hearing IRA bombs going off in the distance. And of course, the Protestant paramilitaries, and the state security forces, did some killing of their own, including not only Gibraltar and Loughgall, but also the Milltown Cemetery attack, the assassination of lawyer Pat Finucane, the Cappagh and Drumbeg killings (both in 1991), the Sean Graham bookmakers’ shooting (1992), the Castlerock killings (1993), and numerous others.

But then in 1994 the IRA declared a ceasefire. Behind the scenes, its leadership was in negotiation with the British government. They broke it in 1996 with the Docklands and Manchester bombings, but the election of the Labour Party in 1997 under Prime Minister Tony Blair, who did not need any unionist votes to keep his government in power, meant that what had become known as the Peace Process could move ahead more swiftly. Sure enough, the Good Friday Agreement was ratified on April 10, 1998, and it is usually seen as the formal end of the Troubles.

I remember feeling a visceral hatred for Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein and avuncular spokesman for murderers. Whenever I saw a video of him acting as a pallbearer for some IRA “volunteer” killed “on active service,” I wished that the British could somehow contrive to pack the coffin with explosives and detonate it at the right time, thereby removing his head and those of five other Sinn Fein assholes, and maybe a few others in the vicinity for good measure. That would be a coup! But in fact the British were protecting him, and foiled a number of plots on his life by Protestant paramilitaries. By the late 1980s, they had estimated that he was the one most likely to get the IRA to call off its campaign and bring it to the negotiating table. And indeed, he himself had come to believe that the armed struggle was pointless – the British would never defeat the IRA, but the IRA would never be able to force the British out either. So he came around to Michael Collins’s position: that it was time to make a deal, perhaps the “freedom to achieve freedom,” but not the immediate realization of a united 32-county Republic of Ireland.

There are many aspects to the Good Friday Agreement, which involved all Northern Irish political parties, the Republic of Ireland, and the British government. The Agreement created a devolved assembly for Northern Ireland with a power-sharing executive (that is, nationalists and unionists were both guaranteed places on it). All signatories agreed that the only way to achieve a united Ireland would be peacefully, and only with the consent of the majority of the inhabitants there (the nationalists may be on the verge of achieving this, simply through demographic shift). In return, the Republic of Ireland agreed to modify Articles 2 and 3 of their constitution, foregoing an overt irredentist claim to the North. The border was to be completely open, and several cross-border institutions were set up. Famously, everyone born in the north was now able to apply for an Irish passport. The British agreed to withdraw all troops and dismantle their extensive intelligence operation, and the RUC was reformed, becoming the Police Service of Northern Ireland and featuring strict cross-community membership. Perhaps the bitterest pill to swallow was the IRA’s insistence that paramilitary prisoners be released, and some truly evil men (on both sides) were subsequently freed; in return, they all agreed to decommission their weapons.

Or did they? The IRA was certainly happy to see its prisoners freed. It was much less cooperative on decommissioning. In late 1999, when I was living in London again, Gerry Adams was claiming that the IRA never actually agreed to hand over its arms. “What undefeated army has ever given up its weapons?” I recall him saying. As a result, the nascent Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in February. Again, I was disgusted by Adams’s hypocrisy, but now I realize that he was playing a delicate balancing act. For he may have been president of Sinn Fein, and he may have dominated the IRA’s Army Council (he has always denied membership in this, but no one believes him), but he was not in a position to simply order the IRA to do his bidding. As with Michael Collins the 1920s, many Irish republicans felt betrayed by his new, peaceful direction. Physical force republicanism, with its history going back to Wolfe Tone, its success in winning Irish freedom in 1922, and its compelling vision of a secular united Ireland, was a deeply ingrained ideology, and the more that Adams pushed for the Good Friday Agreement, the more that his people simply abandoned the Provisional IRA and joined the Real IRA, a splinter group dedicated to carrying on the armed struggle. I read once that Adams even tolerated a reciprocal membership policy between these two groups for a while. To voluntarily disarm was a step too far for many people, and it was said that the IRA would never hand over “a single bullet or an ounce of Semtex.” Compromises were proposed: perhaps someone could verify that the weapons were put “beyond use”? Perhaps we could ignore decommissioning, as long as they’re not actually shooting anyone?

So the Peace Process could only move forward fitfully. Who knows what went on behind the scenes. The Northern Ireland Assembly was revived in May 2000, and after more than a year of missed deadlines, ultimatums, resignations, and other brinksmanship, a breakthrough occurred in August 2001, when the IRA agreed on a method of destroying its arsenal, to be confirmed by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. They began to do so in October 2001, at which time, you may recall, terrorism was suddenly and very seriously out of fashion. It took four years, but the IICD verified in 2005 that the process was complete. I guess it took Adams that long to bring the IRA around to his vision. The Real IRA has continued to carry out occasional attacks, although apart from the horrific Omagh bombing in 1998, they have been nowhere near as numerous or as deadly as those carried out by the Provisionals – the RIRA seems to have fewer members and enjoy much less community support. Perhaps the parts of the Good Friday Agreement that guaranteed equal rights to nationalists have succeeded in lessening the appeal of any armed struggle, along with the inevitable blowback.

So what is the place like now, twenty years on the ratification of the Good Friday Agreement?

From what I could gather talking to people, it seems that it’s in bad taste to remember. Everyone has to pretend that Sinn Fein is a legitimate political party, and its connection to the IRA not something that anyone is supposed to dwell on. The Bogside in Derry and Falls Road in Belfast still have their share of murals, in honor of various street battles, the Hunger Strikers, or how bad the British were. Such murals also express solidarity with other causes supposedly parallel to their own, most notably the Palestinians, but also the Kurds, black South Africans under Apartheid, the Castro regime in Cuba, Tamil Eelam, and various workers’ strikes throughout history. The Republican plot in Milltown Cemetery is as you would expect it, with lots of flags, Easter lilies, and green, white, and orange wreaths. Along the Falls Road there is also a memorial garden to the volunteers of the D Company of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade who died on active service. Derry hosts the Free Derry Museum, largely devoted to Bloody Sunday, while in Belfast you can find the Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum, staffed by volunteers and exhibiting items from the Troubles and how everyone suffered, etc. One tolerates these things as we (used to) tolerate Confederate memorials – as the price we have to pay for peace. Actually, tours of Belfast murals are a thriving attraction these days – and a lot of murals are now nonsectarian or apolitical. The guide for our own Falls/Shankill tour said that he’d love for the Peace Wall to come down, but that it’s too good for business! He also said that “people are coming to appreciate each others’ traditions,” including the massive bonfires that Protestants build for July 12 (nationalists still don’t like it when Prods immolate nationalist flags though); some unionist, once in jail and then freed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, is now an Irish language teacher. Funnily enough, he also claimed that according to one survey, only 21% of Northern Irelanders actually want independence from Britain, the idea being that it is still more prosperous and has more generous benefits than the Republic of Ireland. Lord, give us a united Ireland, but not yet! (But I would like to see how this question was worded, if the survey actually happened at all).

One question I wanted to find an answer to was: how troublesome were the Troubles, really? The violence got lots of attention, but most people in Northern Ireland, Catholic or Protestant, lived their lives without much incident. Some 3500 people were killed during the thirty years of the Troubles – a tragic waste of human life, to be sure, but far fewer than the number of people killed in completely apolitical car crashes. I met a woman from Belfast once who pretty much mocked my inquiry about the place, claiming that my apparent idea of Belfast was the equivalent someone from Europe thinking that the US was nothing but race riots and school shootings. Another woman I met, a friend’s wife from Co. Antrim, said that the IRA was only really active in West Belfast and in South Armagh, and did not affect her family at all. And P.J. O’Rourke touched on this in “The Piece of Ireland that Passeth All Understanding,” an essay I like so much that I quote it at length:

You probably think Belfast looks like those photographs of Belfast you always see. Not at all. It’s a charming port, one of the world’s great deep-water harbors, cupped in rolling downs on the hight of Belfast Lough. Cave Hill rises to the north like Sugar Loaf Mountain above Ipanema beach, causing some to go so far as to call Belfast “an Hibernian Rio”…. The city is built in the best and earliest period of Victorian architecture with a delicate brickwork on every humble warehouse and factory. Even the mill-hand tenement houses have Palladio’s proportions in a miniature way and slate roofs you couldn’t buy for money now.

The Belfast pictured in Time magazine, the rubble-and-barbed wire, litter-and-graffiti Belfast, is, in fact, a patch of highly photogenic impoverishment no more than a mile long and half a mile wide. It’s as though Architectural Digest came to “do” a house and only took pictures of the teenager’s bedroom. The rubble is from slum clearance, not bombs (though which is worse may be argued by critics of the modern welfare state). And the barbed wire is on top of the “Peace Wall,” a kind of sociological toddler gate erected by the British to keep the ragamuffin Protestant homicidal maniacs on Shankill Road away from the tatterdemalion Catholic murderers in Falls Road two blocks over. The graffiti and litter are real.

People who live in this heck’s half acre have been worked over by social scientists until there’s hardly one of them who’s not a footnote on someone’s master’s thesis. And they’re so thoroughly journalized that urchins in the street ask, “Will you be needing a sound bite?” or criticize your choice of shutter speeds.

So yeah, I’m sure that my perspective is skewed somewhat, even after my visit (the only residential areas I walked though were the Bogside in Derry, and Falls Road and Shankill in Belfast – probably the three most politicized areas in Northern Ireland, so hardly a representative sample).

But one lady I spoke with at the Ulster Museum, in her sixties and from Coleraine, insisted that it was not just the Belfast working class who experienced the Troubles. They may have borne the brunt of it, but it affected most everyone in society on some level. She had been a teacher, and she knew two RUC officers, former students of hers, who were both killed. Another time the IRA exploded a car bomb in Coleraine (apparently by accident – they were ferrying it somewhere else) and it killed a number of people. In a nationalist pub in Belfast, we were listening to Irish music and got into a conversation with a guy at our table. He was from Newry, in Armagh. I mentioned that I had read about Newry in Eamon Collins’s book Killing Rage. He said that there is a better book called The Hooded Men (about sensory deprivation of prisoners by the British in the early 1970s, which the EU has ruled constitutes torture, and whose case has recently been reopened) – he knew some of the people concerned and, as another man came up to the table, announced “Here is their solicitor now!” The solicitor angrily shushed him, telling him that “you never know who you’re talking to!” Another friend of mine, who had joined the Territorial Army while a student at Oxford, always had the IRA somewhere on his mind. “Irish republicanism wasn’t just a fashion statement, they really were trying to kill me,” he told me once. Another time:

I went out for a few drinks with a friend of mine who is gay, and who tends to dress in a certain obviously gay style. Anyway, we popped out to a local near his house in South London that looked suitably bland from the outside. Inside turned out to be a different story. It was filled with orange, white and green flags and bunting, lots of banners with weird Gaelic phrases (and not the ones that mean “hey, everyone let’s drink Guinness and have a good time” or “top of the morning to you”), and packed with surly, old, pissed off and pissed up men. I thought there was no harm in staying for a pint (also there is nothing weenier than to walk into a bar, get scared and walk out again), but I couldn’t figure out why everyone was looking at us so angrily. At first I thought it must be the gay thing, but then I realized they were singling me out. Towards the end of the pint I suddenly realized I was wearing a polo shirt with a big British flag embossed on the sleeve, and the British army infantry crest on the left pocket. We left quickly. So there you go, I walked into an IRA bar wearing recognizably British Army clothing and lived to tell the tale. Thank goodness for the “peace process.”

So clearly, even if the death toll of the Troubles wasn’t all that impressive in the grand scheme of things, it was and even remains an issue of concern for a lot of people. Political violence is intentional, and not random like car crashes, and you could never tell when it might be directed at you, or those you care about.

In 2012, something called Titanic Belfast opened on the site of the former Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast Lough. It takes the form of a specially-built tourist destination, representing a shiny new post-Troubles Belfast. It is devoted to the most famous passenger ship of the twentieth century, which was built in Belfast and sank after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912. Of all the ships that have ever gone down, why this one should have attracted so much sustained attention has always puzzled me. I suppose all the extremes add up: it was the largest, fastest, and most luxurious ship ever built, with a number of famous and wealthy passengers, and sank on its maiden voyage (despite the hubristic claims that it was “unsinkable”). But that it merits an entire museum seems a bit much. One of our tour members called it “Disney,” and part of me agrees. The Eileen Hickey Republican History Museum was certainly “authentic” – small, poor, funded by donations, and staffed by volunteers – how could such a thing compete with the razzle-dazzle of Disney? And indeed, if you’re into politics, the Hickey Museum is a lot more meaningful than a commemoration of a luxury liner that sank more than one hundred years ago.

And yet, as it turns out, the Titanic Experience was not nearly as Disney as we feared. It started off with quite a bit on the social and economic context of nineteenth century Belfast. The process of building the ship was explained in detail, but accessibly and in interactive exhibits. There was a “ride” that took you through the ship under construction, a reconstruction of a shipboard dining room to explore, and large video illustrating the sinking. Following this was a history of commemoration, the place of Titanic in popular culture, including all those movies and videos of the rediscovery by Robert Ballard in 1985. But even if it were more “Disney” – even if it were a completely contentless “experience” – I would say that it is still preferable to the Belfast of the Troubles. A parallel may be drawn to Times Square in New York, or an article decrying, in soccer, “the drive to sterilise the matchday experience and make it safe and family friendly” (as opposed to the glory days of hooliganism). I do not understand any nostalgia for the violence, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy of Troubles, “authentic” and “meaningful” as they may have been. Happy is the land where things like this don’t happen.

Notes

* In the Republic of Ireland, it seems, the word “Protestant” often refers only to members of the Church of Ireland, and not to any other Dissenting or Reformed branches of Christianity. See, for instance, a line in the song “Galway Races,” which refers to “The Catholic, the Protestant, the Jew, the Presbyterian.” Are Presbyterians not Protestants? To my mind they certainly are. (In fact, most Anglicans I know are chary of referring to themselves as “Protestants.”) In Northern Ireland, however, the word “Protestant” does seem to encompass the Church of Ireland and the various Presbyterian sects, and there does not seem to be much sectarianism or often distinction between them. No one seemed to know, for instance, what sort of Protestants made up the paramilitary groups, or the Orange Order. They were all just “Protestants.”

** I’ve often wondered how Irish nationalists, overwhelmingly Catholic as an essential part of their identity, could reconcile the “physical force tradition” with the requirements of their faith, one of which is “thou shalt not kill,” and another of which is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Indeed, the Catholic Church repeatedly condemned political violence, something that did not seem to bother IRA men all that much. Where there is overlap between the Catholic religion and Irish nationalism is not in killing, but in suffering. I’ve mentioned before about how the “Easter Rising” connotes “blood sacrifice” and “redemption,” and is accordingly celebrated on Easter, no matter when that holiday falls, and not on April 24, when it actually started. One of the more remarkable monuments I saw in Ireland was in Dingle, and consisted of a life-sized roadside crucifix, with St. Mary and St. John on either side… but this was in honor of the sixteen Irish revolutionaries executed by the British in 1916! At the foot of the cross was a list of their names, and the Declaration of the Provisional Republic, in English and Irish. As Jesus died for your sins, so also did Pearse, Plunkett, Connolly, et al., die for Ireland.

*** Fermanagh, Antrim, Tyrone, Londonderry, Armagh, Down.

§ It’s interesting, isn’t it, how dead-set they were against Home Rule, but had no problem with it at all once they were in charge.

† Most citizens of the Republic of Ireland, as far as I can gather, look back on 1916 and the subsequent War of Independence in the same way that Americans look back on 1776 and their own War of Independence. You see references to 1916 here and there, the graves of any soldiers who died fighting for Ireland are specially marked, and a Garden of Remembrance on O’Connell Street in Dublin remembers all those who died fighting for Irish freedom. But they believe the canon is closed, so to speak. Whatever sympathy they may naturally have had with the nationalists in Northern Ireland, they did not see the IRA’s campaign there as a continuation of 1919-22. The Republic of Ireland, apparently, refused the PIRA access to republican plots in the country (although there are rumors that they may have secretly funded the PIRA at the commencement of the Troubles). Contrarian Kevin Myers, though, claimed that Republic’s celebration of the War of Independence fed directly into the IRA’s armed struggle:

WHILE audiences in Dublin have been cheering the theatrical celebration of Tom Barry’s ‘Guerilla Days in Ireland’ (mis-spelt, of course), in Belfast a bomb from so-called republican dissidents nearly killed three police officers. The failure to realise the connection between a celebration of ‘good’ violence in the past and ‘bad’ violence today has long been a chronic condition in Irish life. Whereas the myth of republican violence takes merely artistic form in some souls, in others it serves as a moral authoriser, like a virus that affects its hosts in different ways. Actual violence is always a consequence of this myth.

A Miscellany

Photographs of things Irish not included in other blog posts.

Our first stop after arrival: Bunratty, Co. Clare, home of Bunratty Castle, heavily restored in the twentieth century and now the centerpiece of a folk park, which includes transplanted farmhouses and village shops from the nineteenth century.

This bench in Bunratty is in the shape of a Celtic torc necklace, which I thought was a nice touch. We saw some real ones in the National Museum of Ireland.

Ewan Morris in Our Own Devices (2004) describes how the Irish Free State, as a statement of independence, painted all the pillar boxes green (they remain red in Northern Ireland, although I noticed one on the Falls Road whose color the locals had taken the liberty of changing – presumably there are others in other nationalist areas in NI). However, the royal monograms (of King Edward VII, in this case) tend to remain. Even now there are people who think that green paint isn’t enough, and who would like to get rid of these reminders of the bad old days; in return, local governments in some areas have listed them as protected structures, meaning that they can only be replaced by special permission.

(As an aside: could there be anything more British than the Letter Box Study Group?)

Three styles of architecture at Dublin Castle. In the center, the original Norman tower, the only one of the four original towers still standing. To the left, the Georgian-era State Apartments, once the headquarters of the Lord Lieutenant and his British regime, now used for formal functions by the Republic. And to the right, the Chapel Royal, in nineteenth-century “wedding cake Gothic,” currently deconsecrated.

I snapped this photo in Dublin Castle of the arms of Ireland, blazoned Azure a Celtic harp Or stringed Argent. These are the arms that appear in the third quarter of the British royal arms (although that harp is not designated a Celtic harp as such, and is often depicted as a topless female). Like Dublin Castle itself, here is something that the Free State retained from the British regime.

And here is an interesting rendition of the Irish arms that I saw, I believe at Taylors Three Rock, a dinner theater that we enjoyed in Dublin. This one uses the Brian Boru harp of the Free State, but it also includes the crest of the arms (A tower triple towered or, from the portal a hart springing argent, attired and unguled also or), created for the ascension of King James I in 1603 and not used by the Republic of Ireland. It also includes two Irish wolfhounds (?) for supporters, a novelty.

The Papal Cross in Phoenix Park, built for the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979.

Speaking of things Catholic: you’ll know it’s a Catholic church by a number of things, including the stations of the cross around the nave, and the Marian shrine outside.

And you’ll know it’s a Presbyterian church by the prominent place of the pulpit, which is front and center (unfortunately, my photo of the interior of the First Derry Presbyterian Church didn’t really turn out).

I did get a good shot of the Presbyterian emblem of the burning bush, with its motto “burning but prospering.”

More floor tiles: these are from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. I don’t know whether these are medieval or Victorian in origin but I do find them very appealing.

This is the Long Room at the Old Library of Trinity College, Dublin, housing its oldest books. You get to see this after you see the Book of Kells, on display in the basement. Both are impressive but I wonder how much they are famous for being famous? The Book of Kells is an important medieval manuscript but by no means the only one; all the same, it is apparently the number one tourist attraction in Dublin! If so, kudos to Trinity College for its successful marketing efforts. (If only Reinhardt could possess something like this…)

More signification: this is a photo of Gracehill House, built c. 1775 near Armoy, Co. Antrim. It’s not particularly distinguished, as far as country houses go (note the irritating asymmetry!), but the driveway leading up to it is interesting. This is now a road, and the beech trees that the owners planted still stand over two hundred years later.

Thus do we have something called the Dark Hedges, which is pretty evocative anyway, but which has been made really famous by the television show Game of Thrones. (I doubt that we would have stopped here otherwise.)

A view of Carrick-a-Rede, a small island off the coast of Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland. Salmon fishermen once lived there, and a fisherman’s cottage still stands, although no one lives in it anymore. Nowadays the island is maintained by the National Trust, is home to different wild bird and wildflower species, and sometimes enshrouded by fog, as it was when we visited. You get to it by crossing a rope bridge, which is not for everyone!

The Europa Hotel, Belfast, which is claimed to be “the most bombed hotel in Europe,” having suffered 36 such incidents during the Troubles. Happily, it appears to be doing just fine these days.

Finally, a view of Stormont, which I had my taxi driver take me to see on my way to the airport. This building was opened in 1932 and housed the parliament for Northern Ireland until 1972, when the British reasserted direct rule from Westminster. It now houses the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, although this too is currently suspended for some reason or other.

I did get in to see the Oireachtas Éireann in Dublin, although the exterior of Leinster House, where it meets, was covered by scaffolding for renovations. No photographs of the interior were allowed, but the Dáil chamber looked just like it does on television! The Seanad, by contrast, was temporarily meeting in a room of National Gallery of Ireland, where some ceramic sculptures were still hanging on the walls.

The Gaelic Athletic Association

Arial view of Croke Park, from a postcard.

Entrance to Croke Park, with its name rendered in Irish and the GAA logo on the wall.

I was pleased to be able to visit Croke Park with two of my students while we were in Dublin. Named after the prominent Irish nationalist Thomas Croke, Archbishop of Cashel (1875-1902), it is the headquarters and national stadium of the Gaelic Athletic Association, which governs the Irish sports of hurling and Gaelic football. Croke Park, they claim, is the third largest stadium in Europe but the largest stadium for amateur sports in the world and, like the GAA itself, has a prominent place in Irish national history: on Sunday, November 21, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, the Royal Irish Constabulary thought it would be a great idea to go to Croke Park and shoot the place up during a Dublin-Tipperary match, in revenge for the IRA’s assassination of fifteen British intelligence officers earlier that day. At Croke Park, fourteen people were killed and over sixty wounded in what became known as the original Bloody Sunday. It was a moral victory for the IRA – whereas their operation was targeted at specific individuals, the RIC’s was indiscriminate and against civilians out enjoying themselves. One player, Michael Hogan of Tipperary, died in the event, and in 1924 a stand at Croke Park was named in his memory.

The GAA itself was founded in 1884 in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, by seven people including Michael Cusack, whose statue stands outside the main entrance to Croke Park. It was part of an international movement to codify rules for sports and to organize teams to play them, such as the National Association of Base Ball Players (1857), the Football Association (1863), the Rugby Football Union (1871), or the modern Olympic Games (1896). The Gaelic Athletic Association was set up as a specifically Irish organization. Hurling, which involves running around on a field and hitting a ball (“sliotar”) with a stick (“hurley”), has a long pedigree in Ireland – the mythological hero Cú Chulainn plays it in the medieval Ulster Cycle, and one of the Statues of Kilkenny in 1361 forbade it to English settlers.

From a postcard: “Hurling in action! Eoin Larkin from Kilkenny takes on Tipperary men Michael Cahill (left) and Paddy Stapleton (right) during the 2011 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final at Croke Park.”

The hurling game that the GAA formalized ended up with fifteen men a side, a 90 by 145 meter field, and two ways of scoring (in the net for three points, over the net for one), along with various permissible ways of handling and passing the ball and of contact between opponents. Gaelic football does not have as long a history as hurling, but it was devised in tandem with modern hurling, and so deliberately uses the same size of pitch, number of players, and methods of scoring. More to the point, Gaelic football was to be different from rugby and soccer, the two other major codes of football, which were English in origin and thus morally tainted.

From a postcard: “Jumping! A general view of the action from the 1966 All-Ireland Senior Football Final between Galway and Meath at Croke Park, Dublin.”

Having now seen a Gaelic football match in Dingle, I will say that it seems to be a well-designed game. One cannot argue with the immense worldwide popularity of soccer, which is cheap to play and easy to understand, but I am reminded again in this World Cup season about Adam Gopnick’s observation that:

The game has achieved a kind of tactical stasis. Things start off briskly and then fritter away into desultory shin-kicking, like a Wall Street Journal editorial. In soccer, the defense has too big an edge to keep the contest interesting, like basketball before the coming of the twenty-four second clock or the Western Front before the invention of the tank…

Since a defensive system keeps players from getting a decent chance to score, the idea is to get an indecent one: to draw a foul so that the referee awards a penalty, which is essentially a free goal. This creates an enormous disproportion between the foul and the reward… The customary method is to walk into the “area” with the ball, get breathed on hard, and then immediately collapse, like a man shot by a sniper, arms and legs splayed out, while you twist in agony and beg for morphine, and your teammates smite their heads at the tragic waste of a young life. The referee buys this more often than you think.

More fundamentally, as Steve Sailer notes:

There’s a cost to abjuring the use of the opposable thumb: competence. While the average National Basketball Association team sinks three dozen field goals per 48-minute game, the all-star squads in the knockout rounds of the 2002 World Cup averaged less than one goal per 90-minute game. The reason soccer so often seems like an exercise in futility is that it’s played with the wrong part of the anatomy.

Rugby (founded, according to legend, by William Webb Ellis, who “in a fine disregard for the rules of football, picked up the ball and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the game of rugby football”) does not have this problem, but it is immensely more complicated – I played the sport in high school and have been watching it for years, and even now I have to have the commentators explaining its minutia to me. Moreover, the trouble with the sport right now is that it is too easy to commit penalties. Often you simply can’t prevent going over the top of the ruck, or collapsing the scrum – and, like soccer, there is a disproportion between the foul and the consequence, since a penalty equals a kick for the other team and thus a pretty good chance for them to score three points. England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 using this strategy.

Gaelic football thus seems like the sport that Goldilocks chose. Players can pick up the ball with their hands, and run with it, although every four steps they have to kick it back up to themselves, or bounce it off the ground. They can pass the ball by hand, but only by holding it in one hand and hitting it with the other (a feature shared with Australian Rules Football if I’m not mistaken). They can kick it along the ground and at the goal as in soccer if they wish. Rugby-style tackling is not allowed, but shoulder-to-shoulder body checking certainly is, and as a consequence there is a minimum of play-acting. Forward passing by hand is allowed, and thus there are no knock-ons like in rugby, and there are no offsides, meaning that the game is open in way that soccer or rugby aren’t (my brother-in-law insists that the key to improving soccer is to get rid of the offside rule). Our guide at Croke Park, a hurling man himself, did claim that Gaelic football is currently dominated by the defense, but that is not the impression I got in Dingle, whose junior team lost to Ballyduff by a total score of 22-21.

From a postcard: “Arthur Griffith, Eamonn de Valera, Lord Mayor Laurence O’Neill and Michael Collins at Croke Park for the 1919 All-Ireland Senior Hurling final between Cork (6-04) and Dublin (2-04), 21 September 1919.”

It’s a shame this sport is not more popular, but something tells me that the Irish wouldn’t want it that way. The GAA was, and remains, very much a nationalist organization. In addition to promoting indigenous sports, it set itself the task of promoting the Irish language, Irish dance, and Irish music. In the late nineteenth century the organization was infiltrated by members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who recruited through it. During the War of Independence, apparently some GAA teams were simply front organizations for IRA units, and in response at some point the British banned the playing of Gaelic sports, something that the Irish happily ignored in a coordinated effort. (As late as the 1980s, numerous county GAA boards supported the IRA and INLA hunger strikers in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland.)

Thomas Ashe (1885-1917), member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the Irish Volunteers, and namesake of the Dingle GAA grounds. Ashe died in police custody in 1917.

But the GAA did some banning of its own: from 1897, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were forbidden from joining the organization (Rule 21), and from 1901, GAA members were forbidden from taking part in or even watching non-Gaelic games (Rule 27). The most famous victim of this policy was Douglas Hyde, who in his capacity as Ireland’s first president, attended an Ireland-Poland soccer match in Dublin in 1937, and who was subsequently removed as patron of the GAA! I saw a book about this episode in a shop at Inch Strand. This does seem a bit self-righteous and psychologically insecure.

Since then both Rule 21 and Rule 27 have been abolished, and even Rule 42, which prohibits GAA grounds from being used to play “garrison games,” has been relaxed. When Lansdowne Road, the Irish national stadium for rugby and soccer, was being redeveloped over the period 2007-2010, the GAA graciously allowed the Ireland rugby team to play its home games in Croke Park, including against England. A sculpture in honor of this event greeted us as we arrived at Shannon Airport.

“Saturday 24th February 2007 Ireland v England, Croke Park, Dublin. ‘The Day that Changed Ireland.’ Rugby lineout featuring Paul O’Connell, Donnacha O’Callaghan and John Hayes. Sculpture by Paddy Campbell, February 2015.”

Our guide at Croke Park said that some people protested this game outside the stadium, but that there was dead silence for the playing of “God Save the Queen” before the match, indicating a certain maturity on the part of the Irish. I suppose it helped that Ireland handily won the match, 43-13, although I would be curious to know what the reaction would have been if Croke Park had been filled with fans of the GAA, and not the IRFU.

Paddy Bawn Brosnan‘s Bar and Lounge, Dingle. Brosnan was Co. Kerry senior Gaelic football captain, 1937-52.

Statue of famed Gaelic football player and manager Páidí Ó Sé (Paddy O’Shea), outside his eponymous pub in Ventry, Co. Kerry.

Painting of a hurling player, Falls Road, Belfast.

Apart from the politics, it does seem that the GAA is something that binds the country together. The organization remains amateur, with all the romance that this entails, and it is organized by county, the fundamental subunit of the Irish state. The sports, I discover, are very popular – people walk around in replica jerseys, and county colors fly from pubs and from private homes.

County banners, GAA Museum, Croke Park, Dublin.

The museum is pretty good too. I did not recognize anyone in the GAA hall of fame, but the exhibits on the history of the organization are well done, and a visitor can even get the opportunity to see how hard he can hit a sliotar with a hurley (I kept missing it, to my students’ mirth).

Outside Croke Park: GAA club logos by county.

The Abortion Referendum

Our first day in Ireland was May 24, which was the same day that the Republic held a referendum on whether or not to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution, which dates from 1983 and which prohibits the practice of abortion except in very extreme circumstances. As you may be aware, the Irish voted overwhelmingly to repeal the eighth amendment, 66.4% to 33.6%. What I did not know is that the eighth amendment was also enacted after a referendum back in 1983, which the Irish people voted for by a similar margin: 66.9% to 33.1%. So the result was seen as symbolic of a sea change in attitudes over the course of 35 years, part of the secularization of society and of the declining power of the Church, something observed across the western world over the course of the twentieth century and which has only belatedly come to Ireland.

I think it’s great that Ireland decides these things by referendum. It’s much better than leaving it up to five of nine Supreme Court justices and whatever creative and tendentious interpretation of the law that they come up with on a given day.

As you can probably imagine, we saw a lot of advertising on the topic throughout the country. Unsurprisingly, the “No” side had most of the signs in rural County Kerry, while the “Yes” side had most of the signs in urban Dublin. But it was unreflective of the actual results: the only constituency that “No” actually won was County Donegal, and there only by a slim margin.

I took this photo from the coach as we were heading into Dublin. I wanted to get signs from both sides in the same frame. As chance would have it, this is about as strident as it got (“killing babies” vs. “my-body-my-choice”).

Otherwise, I was surprised at how subdued most of the propaganda was, as reflected by the above two signs. The “No” sign in the bottom photograph was sponsored by something calling itself “Love Both,” i.e. both mother and child, the two “O”s forming an “8” for the amendment in question. This, I suppose, was in response to the “Yes” side’s emphasis on “compassion.” (I regret to say that I did not get a photo of a sign communicating this message.)

But there was certainly some mockery of the other side: note the “Love Boat” sticker over the number of days at which the fetus’s heart starts beating. This is in reference to the “boat” that Irishwomen must take to Britain or the continent in order to procure abortions there, and which the “Yes” side cast as an undue hardship. (They can’t go to Northern Ireland – as I discovered, abortion is banned there as well. Apparently this is a rare thing that both communities can agree on.)

The Catholic Church, of course, was flat-out for the “No” side. I picked up some pamphlets in the churches I visited.

I thought this one laid it on a little thick…

But what I found most interesting is the appeal to Irish nationalism (not necessarily Catholicism, although of course there is going to be some overlap).

As far as I can tell the first three people at the top of this sign are the Irish revolutionary leaders Sean Mac Diarmada, Patrick Pearse, and Eamonn Ceannt. (I cannot discern who the fourth one is.)

Note how this drink coaster makes a connection between the rebellion of 1916 (see the declaration of the Irish Republic in the background) and the “rebellion” against the movement to liberalize abortion laws in 2018.

And, as is traditional with Irish nationalism, Britain is figured as the prime source of evil. I saw another sign citing the British abortion rate, and exclaiming “Don’t Bring This To Ireland!”

But neither religion nor nationalism worked this time. (“Cúram le Chéile, Vótáil Tá” = “Care Together, Vote Yes.”)

Irish Coats of Arms

Lots of heraldry in Ireland too. The cities of Dublin, Derry, and Belfast all make extensive use of their coats of arms. 

1. The arms of the City of Dublin feature three towers, often in flames. Numerous theories exist about about them: that they are watch towers outside the city walls, that they represent Dublin Castle repeated three times, and they are actually three gates into the ancient Viking city.

The arms themselves were granted in 1607 by Daniel Molyneux, Ulster Herald of Arms, acting on royal authority, but were based on something older. Above is the thirteenth-century seal of Dublin Corporation, scanned from a pamphlet I picked up at Dublin City Hall (the floor mosaic above is also at City Hall). The seal shows that the three towers of the coat of arms were originally just one tower with three turrets, and that each turret had a crossbowman defending the city.

Apparently, the crossbowmen are symbolic; they don’t refer to an actual siege that Dublin endured. And in a similar way, the fire of the three towers in the coat of arms is also symbolic, referring to the zeal of Dubliners to defend their city. This fits nicely with the motto, which means “the obedience of the citizens is the happiness of the city.”

The majority of streetlight posts feature Dublin’s coat of arms, sometimes painted over, other times with all the details in different colors. It’s always a pleasure to see such civic pride on display!

The flames are not necessary, though – in fact, the three towers can be extracted and displayed as a minimalist logo.

Photos of these and of many, many other versions of Dublin’s coat of arms may be seen in a delightful book I discovered in Hodges Figgis: Michael English, The Three Castles of Dublin: An eclectic history of Dublin through the evolution of the city’s Coat of Arms (Four Courts Press, 2016). 

2. According to Wikipedia, the arms of Derry may be blazoned:

Sable, a human skeleton Or seated upon a mossy stone proper and in dexter chief a castle triple towered argent on a chief also argent a cross gules thereon a harp or and in the first quarter a sword erect gules

These were confirmed by Daniel Molyneux in 1613, around the time that the city was renamed “Londonderry.” This would explain the chief of these arms, which are in fact the arms of the City of London: the cross of St. George, with the sword of St. Paul in the upper left. (St. Paul, of course, is the patron of London’s cathedral.)

Here’s a rendition of these arms on the Tower Bridge that I snapped in the week following our trip to Ireland.

You’d think, therefore, if “Londonderry” is so offensive to nationalists, that they would efface the chief of the arms of the city, just as they blot out the “London” part of “Londonderry” on road signage. But this does not seem to be an issue.

Instead, what matters is the harp at the fess point of the chief. It’s recorded in Molyneux’s 1613 blazon, but it fell out of use over the years, as it has on this streetlight pole.

 This one also doesn’t have it…

…but this one does, along with most of the other versions I saw. (The council officially restored it in 2003.) Apparently defacing the arms of London with an Irish harp counts enough!

But that’s not the really interesting part of these arms. What on Earth do the tower and skeleton mean? As with the arms of Dublin, numerous theories exist:

• The castle refers to the early fourteenth-century castle of Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster, and the skeleton is that of his cousin, whom Richard had starved to death in the dungeon in 1332.

• Others hold that the skeleton refers to Cahir O’Dohertythe last Gaelic Lord of Inishowen who, after serving the English, launched an ill-fated rebellion against them and was subsequently executed in 1608.

• In the twentieth century, Roman Catholics used to joke sardonically that the skeleton was a Catholic waiting for help from the local council.

But in 1979, after thoroughly studying the question, the city council determined that the skeleton refers to no identifiable person.

Be that as it may, it is great that Derry still uses these arms, which are wonderfully enigmatic, as good heraldry often is.

3. The arms of Belfast are described as:

Party per fesse argent and azure, in chief a pile vair and on a canton gules a bell argent, in base a ship with sails set argent on waves of the sea proper.

The motto is taken from Psalm 116 and may be translated as “For so much, what shall we repay?”

The arms themselves date from 1613 when Belfast became a town, but were only officially granted in 1890 when Belfast became a city. I do not know what the “pile vair” in the chief refers to, but the bell is canting on Belfast, and the ship is an obvious reference to the city’s status as a port, and to its shipbuilding industry.

As bad as things can get between the two “communities” in Belfast, it does not appear that the coat of arms is an issue, as it is in Derry.

Addendum

The Central Fact of Irish ecclesiastical history can produce some heraldic confusion: both the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland claim legitimate descent from the pre-Reformation church. They both sponsor identical diocesan structures, with identical names and coats of arms (although the Church of Ireland has amalgamated its dioceses to a greater extent than the Roman Catholic Church has).

In Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

In St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.

Here are two coats of arms of Archbishops of Dublin, one Protestant, the other Catholic. As you can see, they both bear Azure, an episcopal staff in pale or, ensigned with a cross pattée argent, surmounted of a pall of the last, edged and fringed of the second charged with five crosses pattée fitchée sable. A bishop impales his personal arms with the arms of his diocese, so in the first photo we have the arms of Joseph Ferguson Peacocke, Archbishop of Dublin 1897-1915 in the Church of Ireland, and in the second John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin 1940-1971 in the Roman Catholic Church.

Fortunately, the churches use different peripherals – the Church of Ireland adheres to the older custom of placing a bishop’s mitre over the shield, while the Roman Catholic Church tends to show an archbishop’s hat, which is green, with ten tassels depending from each side.

Irish Flaggery

Lots of flags to see in Ireland! This post includes some thirty images, most of which are photographs from our recent trip.

In the Republic of Ireland, the Irish tricolor is very popular and widely flown. It helps, of course, that it is a simple and striking design, and meaningful to boot: as is commonly stated, the green represents Catholicism, the Orange represents Protestantism, and white the hope for peace between them. Its form is also a deliberate reference to the flag of republican France. It dates from the abortive revolution of 1848, and its status was assured forever when it flew from the General Post Office during the Easter Rising in 1916. This meant that it was contested between pro- and anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War 1922-23, a story detailed by Ewan Morris in his book Our Own Devices: National Symbols and Political Conflict in Twentieth-Century Ireland (2004). So not only does it represent the 26-county Republic of Ireland, the successor to the Irish Free State, but also all the dissident republican groups that descend from the losing side in the Irish Civil War and who reject that state.

The photo above shows the flag flying from Bunratty Castle, Co. Clare.

Another way to express Irish unity: four flags for the four traditional provinces of Ireland. In the photo above, from left to right, these are Ulster, Munster, Leinster, and Connacht. I took this photo in the Bogside neighborhood in Derry.

Wikipedia.

You can get all four flags in one, if you want, although there is no set order to the quarters (no one has taken up my brilliant proposal, sadly).

Here is another example of the four-provinces motif. I took this at the GAA Museum at Croke Park in Dublin. Note also the Round Tower, the Irish wolfhound, and the Celtic cross, other symbols of Ireland.

This is the James Connolly room in Dublin Castle. It’s very interesting – in the midst of the throne room, the state drawing room, the state dining room, and all the other remnants of the ancien régime, we have a monument to James Connolly, one of the leaders of the rebellion of 1916. Connolly was injured in the fighting and brought to the castle, which was serving as a hospital; the British executed him by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol on May 12, 1916. He had been so badly wounded that his doctor gave him only a day or two to live, but they executed him anyway, bringing him to the prison courtyard on a stretcher and tying him to a chair before shooting him. This was especially outrageous to the Irish public, and was a major reason why Sinn Fein took 75% of Irish seats in the election of 1918.

Wikipedia.

To the left of the Irish tricolor in the Connolly room, we have a reproduction of the “Irish Republic” flag. While not as well known (or well designed) as the tricolor, this flag was also hallowed by the Easter Rising, and I saw a souvenir vendor selling reproductions of it on O’Connell Street. According to an article in the Irish Times, the original was made of wool, and painted by a man named Theobald Wolfe Tone Fitzgerald at the home of the revolutionary leader Constance Markievicz. It flew over the General Post Office in 1916, but survived because its pole was shot through and it lay undisturbed on the roof. Taken by the British as a souvenir, it was kept at the Imperial War Museum and returned to Ireland as a gesture of goodwill in 1966. It is now on display at the National Museum in Dublin.

Wikipedia.

To the right of the tricolor on the Connolly room, the Starry Plough flag. This was employed by the paramilitary Irish Citizen Army, which Connolly had founded with Jim Larkin and Jack White in 1913. The ICA’s main aim was to protect workers’ demonstrations from the police, but it joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers to carry out the Easter Rising. The idea is that “a free Ireland would control its own destiny from the plough to the stars.” The original is also in the possession of the National Museum (enter “the plough and the stars” in the search field).

I saw numerous examples of it flying around the Bogside in Derry, and I bought one in a republican shop there.

Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia, in 1934 the Irish Transport and General Workers Union introduced a simplified version of the Starry Plough with a blue field, and it was adopted as the emblem of the Irish labor movement, including the Irish Labour Party, although they eventually dropped it. I understand that the Irish National Liberation Army liked to use it during the Troubles.

Here is a copy (with six-pointed stars) on display at the Museum of Free Derry.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political wing of INLA, has a flag of sorts. I saw this one flying on the Bogside. Note the use of the Starry Plough.

A flag on display at the Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum: the sunburst flag. The sunburst, as an emblem, is inspired by the Fianna (warrior bands) of Irish mythology, and was first employed by the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the mid-nineteenth century. This modern version, I understand, is largely associated with Republican youth.

I saw a few examples of this flag flying and I took this photo in a shop in Derry. Turns out it’s the flag of Cumann na mBan, and features an abbreviation of their name, with a gun.

Wikipedia

Cumann na mBan (“The Women’s Council”) was founded in April 1914, and during the Easter Rising acted as an auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers. Constance Markievicz acted as its president for ten years after the Rising, and it still exists, although it is a proscribed organization in the UK.

If the Unionists hearken back to the time when they fought for Britain during the First and Second World Wars (and a great deal of their propaganda does), then Irish republicans will remember the time when some of them fought against Franco in Spain, as members of the Abraham Lincoln International Brigade. The flag above (flying on the Bogside in Derry) is the flag of the Brigade, with writing added: “XV Brigada Internacional” on the top band, and “No Pasaran” on the bottom.

This freestanding gable end, bearing the words “YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY,” is one of the icons of the Troubles, and of the Bogside in Derry. I did not know that it is repainted every now and then with a different theme: a friend of mine said he saw it done up for Joe Hill, and a souvenir in the Free Derry Museum showed it decorated for the referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015. As you can see, when we were there it showed a large Palestinian flag, and I saw plenty of other Palestinian flags flying throughout the Bogside. Irish nationalists, of course, tend to identify with the Palestinians, on the principle that both are supposedly engaged in the same struggle.

Irish republicans also identify with the Catalans, Basques, Kurds, and (from what I can gather) the Tamils of Sri Lanka. (I do not know about Cyprus, Quebec, Xinjiang, or Tibet.) Catalonia in particular is especially meaningful to them, given that it was the heartland of the republican side in the Spanish Civil War. I did not see any Catalan flags flying but I did see it for sale in the store in Derry. The picture is from a mural in Belfast.

And on the other side…

The most common emblem of Ulster loyalism is the Royal Union Flag, which is of course the official flag of the United Kingdom. One problem with it is that you have to make sure that it’s not flying upside down, like it is here, in the unionist Fountain area in Londonderry. Another problem is that it is offensive to about half the population of Northern Ireland, and so does not fly officially very much anymore. This means that private citizens of unionist persuasion wave it all the more.

Wikipedia.

Flying beneath the Union Flag is the Ulster Banner, a cross of St. George with the red hand of Ulster on a crowned, six pointed star at the center. This was the official flag of Northern Ireland from 1953 to 1972, when it went into abeyance with the suspension of Northern Ireland’s parliament at Stormont. It has not been reintroduced by the current, power-sharing parliament, and attempts to find a neutral flag for the province have so far been unsuccessful. However, ESPN does identify (e.g.) the golfer Rory McIlroy and the Northern Ireland football team with the Ulster Banner, for lack of an alternative. Needless to say, the unionist community waves it almost as much as the Union Flag.

A riposte to the four provinces display of the nationalists: the flags of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom! In the photo, left to right we have Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, and Wales (mostly obscured, but you can see a bit of the green poking out behind England’s cross of St. George). The Union Flag flies in the middle, and in the foreground is a made-up flag featuring the logo of the NI Football team (out of the frame), an outline map of NI with the Ulster Banner on top of it, and the legend “Our Wee Country” in comic sans.

Wikipedia.

I took the photo above outside the Northern Ireland Supporters Club on the Shankill Road. I guess that the football team draws most of its support from the unionist community? You’d think that they wouldn’t fly the flags of their potential competitors, but apparently politics reigns supreme here.

Also in the Fountain area in Londonderry: the flag of the Loyal Orange Institution, a fraternal organization for Protestants founded in 1795, and so called on account of William of Orange, the hero of the Battle of the Boyne.

Wikipedia.

They have a distinctive flag (orange in color, with a cross of St. George in the canton and a Williamite purple star on the fly), but they’re most known for getting dressed up in dark suits, bowler hats, white gloves, and orange sashes, and marching around on July 12, often through nationalist neighborhoods, to great consternation. A man in a unionist souvenir shop claimed, however, that the Orange Order is not as popular as it once was. The police have cracked down on some of their more provocative parade routes.

One place where the Union Flag is forbidden is over Belfast City Hall – or rather, city councillors, in 2012, voted to bring city hall practice into line with UK government practice, meaning that the flag would only be flown there on eighteen designated days of the year. This being Northern Ireland, however, certain unionists took this move as a provocation, and it was greeted with widespread discontent, even rioting. (From 1906 to 2012, the Union Flag had flown every day of the year over Belfast City Hall.) Since then there have been daily protests at lunchtime (pictured). The irony is that June 2, when the photo was taken, was one of the designated days – it was Coronation Day, and the 65th anniversary of the original one in 1953. The Union Flag was indeed flying over the front entrance of City Hall, although the wind wasn’t blowing it and the sun wasn’t shining directly on it, meaning that none of my pictures turned out. But I saw it, I swear!

Another view of the protest reveals that, if the nationalists side with the Palestinians, the unionists side with the Israelis. (In a happy coincidence, both unionists and Zionists employ a six-pointed star as an identifying device.)

Wikipedia.

But is City Hall the best place to fly the Union Flag anyway? It’s Belfast City Hall – why not fly the flag of Belfast? It’s simply a banner of the arms of the city, but it’s not an overly complicated design. However, I did not see it flying anywhere.

Wikipedia.

Dublin certainly flies its own flag. It’s a pretty good design to boot, comprising the flag of the province of Leinster (a gold harp on green), with arms of Dublin on the canton.

I saw the Dublin city flag flying in a number of places, including this vertical variant outside Dublin Castle.

Wikipedia.

One final Irish flag: the St. Patrick’s saltire, a red X-shaped cross on a white background.  It is essentially the arms of the Fitzgerald earls of Kildare and (later) dukes of Leinster, repurposed in 1783 for the Order of St. Patrick.

Here are some of the jewels of the Order of St. Patrick, on display in the Ulster Museum. Note the red saltire on all three of them. The motto, “Quis Separabit?” means “Who will separate us?” – biblically, “from the love of God,” but politically, “from the British sovereign.” (The answer to that question, of course, was “Sinn Fein and the IRA.”)

From openclipart.org

With the Act of Union in 1801, St. Patrick’s Saltire could fit into the Union Flag as it then existed, although they had to modify it slightly for reasons I’ve never quite understood.

In an American context a red saltire on white acts as the flag of Alabama; here it is flying over Fort Gaines in the summer of 2016. However, I did not see St. Patrick’s Saltire flying anywhere in Ireland.

Vexillology Ireland.

But some people still use it. A group called Vexillology Ireland posted this photo to Facebook for St. Patrick’s Day. I have no idea where it was taken or in exactly what year, but it clearly shows people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with a red saltire flag. Or maybe they’re all retainers of the Duke of Leinster, who knows.

                

One sees references to St. Patrick’s Saltire here and there – note the flag on the ship in the arms of Belfast (top left, from Wikipedia), the flag on the castle in the arms of Trinity College, Dublin (top right, from Wikipedia), the badge of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (middle, from Wikipedia), and the coat of arms of the Queen’s University of Belfast (bottom).

I thought that it was most appropriate for this traffic sign in Dublin to take the form of St. Patrick’s Saltire, although I don’t think this was necessarily intended!

Finally, a defunct flag, the banner of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, on display in St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. The RUC was the police service for Northern Ireland from the state’s founding in 1922 until it was abolished and reconstituted as the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2001. RUC officers were prime targets for terrorists during the Troubles, and some 300 RUC officers were killed during that conflict. For its courage under such conditions, the organization was collectively awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian honor for bravery, in 1999. (Thus is the medal displayed on the canton of this flag, like the flag of Malta, which was similarly awarded the George Cross in 1942 in the wake of Nazi bombardment.)

Alas, as brave as RUC officers may have been, the organization had a number of skeletons in its closet, including collusion with Protestant paramilitaries and prejudice against nationalists, both in recruitment and in exercising power. Thus was it replaced by the PSNI, which has strict rules about cross-community membership.

Newgrange and the Giant’s Causeway

While in Ireland we got to see two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Newgrange (in the Republic, and a “cultural” site), and the Giant’s Causeway (in the North, and a “natural” site). I would have loved to have seen the third, Skellig Michael in Co. Kerry, but access is strictly limited and entails a boat ride across an often choppy sea, and a perilous climb up steep and slippery steps – not ideal for a tour group of 35!

1. Newgrange is the largest monumental structure at Brú na Bóinne (“Palace of the Boyne”), a complex of tombs, stone circles, and other manmade features just north of the River Boyne in County Meath, north of Dublin. Drogheda (the site of a frightful Cromwellian massacre in 1649, and also the site of the famous Battle of the Boyne in 1690) is about ten kilometers to the east of Brú na Bóinne, but we were there to see something much older: a neolithic passage tomb dating from c. 3200 BC, and thus predating Stonehenge and the Giza pyramids. 

From the outside, it’s really just a large earthen mound, with a retaining wall on the front made up of white quartz cobblestones. This wall is the work of one Michael O’Kelly, the main twentieth-century archaeologist for the site and is based on his “best guess” of what it might have looked like in the neolithic. Needless to say, this feature is somewhat controversial.

Things get really interesting, however, when you enter the doorway shown above. You squeeze down a dry stone passageway for about twenty meters, and arrive in a corbeled interior chamber with three side “chapels,” each with its own stone “altar” (designated a basin). The guide claimed that this passageway is original and was never reconstructed – in fact, the entrance was covered and hidden until AD 1699, when a local landowner found it and brought it to the attention of antiquarians.

No photography was allowed inside, so I scan some illustrations.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóine (2010), 2.

This is a view from the interior chamber looking back towards the entrance. The spiral motif is common at the site, but what it actually means is anyone’s guess.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóine (2010), 17.

This is a view of the right-hand side chapel, with basin stone. Apparently cremated human remains were discovered on these stones, but the cremations did not take place in the chamber itself. This has given rise to the theory that bodies were cremated outside, and the remains brought into the chamber for a special ceremony, most likely at the Winter Solstice, then taken out and interred elsewhere (plenty of smaller burial tombs have been found at Brú na Bóine).

From a postcard.

Why the Winter Solstice? Because that’s when sunlight penetrates to the interior. Here is another view of the entrance – note the “roofbox” over the door.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóine (2010), 20.

And here is how it works: note the upward slope of the passageway, which blocks out light from the doorway, and allows only the shaft of light from the roofbox to reach the central basin stone. The slight zigzag of the passageway also ensures that the light is focussed by the time it gets to the interior. Our guide turned out the lights in the interior chamber and then lit one that simulated the solstice effect, but she said that it was a poor substitute for the real thing. But to experience this, you have to apply for it. The sunlight gets in for a few minutes a day over a period of about five days, roughly Dec. 19-23. They let ten people in per day, and you can bring a friend, meaning that 100 people can experience the Winter Solstice at Newgrange every year. The trouble is that some 32000 people apply! So the odds really aren’t in your favor, although they have started live streaming it over the Internet.

Brú na Bóine is by no means the only such neolithic site in Europe. All along the west coast, from Spain to Scandinavia, one finds the remains of these monumental structures, usually circular and astronomically aligned, indicating surplus wealth generated by agriculture, political organization to order them constructed, and far-flung communication networks to spread knowledge of building techniques, and trade networks to import construction materials (Brú na Bóine contains material from as far south as the Wicklow Mountains, and as far north as Slieve Croob in County Down). Alas, they are definitely prehistoric, in that nothing resembling a script has ever been discovered at any of them, so much of our knowledge of this period must remain speculative. 

2. The Giant’s Causeway is a volcanic formation of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Similar sorts of formations may be seen elsewhere on the Earth (the one I’m most familiar with is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming), but they are rare and distinctive enough to be intensely captivating.

The standard theory is that the columns were created some sixty million years ago, when a large and thick lava flow cooled very slowly and, due to the chemistry of the basalt, formed regular polygonal columns. These were hidden deep underground, as the top layer of the basalt, exposed to the air, cooled much more rapidly and thus did not develop the distinctive pattern. Successive Ice Ages, however, stripped away those top layers, revealing the basalt columns and creating what, to a human, is a bizarre, ethereal sight.

But our tour guide, Jamie Kerr of EF Tours, mockingly denigrated this theory. She preferred the original, mythological explanation, and the reason why it bears the name “Giant’s Causeway.” A similar basalt formation may be found in Scotland on the Isle of Staffa, which gave rise to the idea that:

Finn McCool was a giant who, for the most part, lived a quiet life with his family here on the Northern Irish coast. But there were rivals, other giants, and perhaps to pre-empt a challenge from his Scottish neighbour, Benandonner, Finn laid down the gauntlet and then built the Giant’s Causeway so they could meet and do battle.

However, on his way over to Scotland, Finn spied Benandonner in the distance and realised that his rival was much bigger, taller and stronger than he had appeared from across the water. Finn decided he didn’t want to fight Benandonner any more and ran back home as fast as he could – so fast that he lost his boot on the shore.

Finn found his wife Oonagh and explained the terrible mistake he had made. Oonagh, being the brains of the pair, devised the plan of dressing up Finn as a baby and putting him into their son Oisin’s cot, covering him with blankets and wrapping a shawl around his head.

Just then there was a loud banging at the door – Benandonner! ‘Where’s Finn?’ he demanded, ‘I want to fight him!’

‘Calm down!’ said Oonagh, ‘Finn’s out herding the cows… but while you’re here why don’t you let me introduce you to our son Oisin?’

When Benandonner saw the giant baby in the cot he got scared. He thought, if that’s the size of the baby, how big is the father?

Benandonner immediately ran out of the house and home across the Causeway, tearing it behind him to make sure Finn couldn’t follow him.*

The current visitors’ center, which opened in 2012, is architecturally very well done (more at dezeen – check it out). It lies unobtrusively low to the ground, but its walls reflect the Causeway’s geological formation.

After our visit I kept seeing references to the Giant’s Causeway all over the place, and it seems to me it’s a symbol of Northern Ireland. This is a memento on display in the Belfast City Hall Museum. A bonus is that the six-sided columns (and in this case, six columns) can refer to the six counties of Northern Ireland.

I never made this connection, but the Giant’s Causeway is the setting for the cover of Led Zeppelin’s fifth studio album Houses of the Holy (1973). I loved this record in high school! Where’s that confounded bridge?

* From Anna Groves, A Souvenir Guide to the Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim (National Trust, 2016). The funny thing is that in recent times there really was a science vs. mythology dispute at the Causeway: some of the exhibits in the new visitors’ center, when it opened in 2012, gave a Young Earth creationist view of the site, soliciting praise from Answers in Genesis, and condemnation by Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins, et al. (Following a review, the creationist interpretation was downplayed.)

Cathedrals

A cathedral, of course, is nothing more than a church building where a bishop has his seat – his cathedra, hence the name. But usually, much attention and expense is lavished on cathedrals, making them aesthetically pleasing and architecturally and historically significant. I do enjoy visiting a cathedral when I get a chance. Here are some of the ones I got to see in Ireland.

1. The “Rock of Cashel,” Cashel, Co. Tipperary

This is essentially a ruin atop a hill, but it has a very rich history, and it is one of the more popular tourist attractions in Ireland (the Queen visited in 2011). The hill itself is associated with one of St. Patrick’s conversions, and was the seat of the kings of Munster until 1101, when King Muirchertach Ua Briain bequeathed it to a resurgent and reorganized Church (meaning that the Church would now take his side in his disputes with others). Cashel was established as an archbishopric at the Synod of Ráth Breasail in 1118, and shortly thereafter a chapel for Cormac McCarthy, king of Munster, was constructed on the rock, a small but handsome building of German influence, complete with a characteristically Irish round tower (pictured) some distance away. The cathedral itself was built over the course of the thirteenth century, connecting the chapel with the tower. Given the cathedral’s strategic location, the west end of the nave was enclosed and fortified as a residential castle, a feature I have never before seen. Alas, it was not enough to save the people who had taken shelter there during the Confederate Wars, when in 1647 Parliamentarian troops sacked it and massacred the royalists within. In the eighteenth century, the Rock ceased to act as the cathedral for the archdiocese (the seat was moved to the Church of St. John the Baptist and St. Patrick in Cashel, which we did not get a chance to see), and the archbishop, who was somehow connected with the Guinness family of beer fame, removed the roof for reasons known best to himself, rendering the building liturgically unusable. People are still interred in the graveyard, however.

Here is a better view of the Rock of Cashel, and on a nicer day, scanned from a postcard I bought.

2. Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Seat of the Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough. The church dates from 1028 when Sitriuc Silkbeard, the “Hiberno-Norse” king of Dublin, and Flannacán Ua Cellaig, king of Brega, returned from a pilgrimage to Rome. The Synod of Kells in 1152 elevated Dublin to the status of an archbishopric, joining Cashel, Armagh, and Tuam. Laurence O’Toole, the second archbishop of Dublin (1162-82), was canonized in 1225 and became the patron saint of the city; a relic of his heart was stolen from Christ Church in 2012. Most of the church fabric dates from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but it was extensively renovated in the nineteenth, so there is a great deal of Victorian gothic as well (e.g., the floor tiles). The church is also known for hosting the grave of Richard de Clare, the second earl of Pembroke (commonly called “Strongbow”) who, allied with Dermot MacMurrough, was the first Englishman to invade Ireland in 1170, and for being the venue for the coronation of Lambert Simnel, an anti-Tudor pretender to the English throne in 1487. Also, the crypt housed an interesting exhibit on Magna Carta Hiberniae, that is, an issue of Magna Carta (1215), but for Ireland, with the appropriate substitutions (“Irish Church” for “English Church,” “Dublin” for “London,” etc.)

I scanned this view of the interior in from the visitor’s guide I bought.

The seal of the cathedral chapter illustrates that its formal dedication is to the Holy Trinity, thus the depiction of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

3. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

Just down the street from Christ Church, another cathedral, this one dedicated to St. Patrick. Why does Dublin have two cathedrals, both elaborate and within a short walking distance of each other? A good question! In the thirteenth century, this collegiate church was somehow elevated to cathedral status, and it may have been that someone was hoping to replace the monastic Christ Church with the secular St. Patrick’s. Many years of bickering produced an accord between the two in 1300, with Christ Church retaining supremacy, but St. Patrick’s having certain privileges including full cathedral status, and both cathedrals committing to work together if need be – like when the choirs of both churches combined to perform Handel’s Messiah at its debut in Dublin in 1742.

Since the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871, St. Patrick’s has been designated the “national cathedral,” while Christ Church remains the cathedral for the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough.

One distinguishing feature of St. Patrick’s is that it acted as the chapel of the Order of St. Patrick, which is technically still in existence, although no new members have been admitted since the 1930s. (The Republic of Ireland may have continued to grant coats of arms through a Chief Herald, but it has no interest in maintaining an order of chivalry.) On display: the banners of arms the knights as they were at the time of disestablishment in 1871.

The most famous dean of St. Patrick’s is of course the great Jonathan Swift, who held the office 1713-45 and who is memorialized and buried in the church.

The rose, royal arms, and portcullis of the cathedral seal mark it as particularly Tudor. I’m not exactly sure what the other symbols are supposed to mean, although I assume that’s St. Patrick in the base.

4. St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin

Still in Dublin, on the north side of the River Liffey, we find yet another cathedral, or rather a “pro-Cathedral,” dedicated to St. Mary. It is now that I must mention a central fact of Irish history: King Henry VIII (1509-47) tried to impose the Reformation on Ireland as he did on England, but he had much more control over the latter than the former. As a consequence, most English people accepted the Reformation, however grudgingly; only eccentrics like Thomas More held out, and paid for it with their lives. In Ireland, by contrast, there are parallel church organizations: Henry’s Church of Ireland, until 1871 the established church and to this day a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the Roman Catholic Church, obedient to the Pope. The Church of Ireland took over all the extant church buildings and diocesan structure, but the Roman Catholic Church, despite all the government’s penal laws and other knavish tricks, retained the loyalty of most Irish people and did not go away. The Catholic church presumed to continue its own diocesan structure, a copy of the Church of Ireland’s, and to claim legitimate descent from the pre-Reformation church. Of necessity the Catholics were compelled to build their own church buildings, thus St. Mary’s, which dates from 1825 and is classical in form, predating the gothic revival by a few years. That it’s a “pro-Cathedral” (i.e., an acting cathedral) is a cheeky way by the Catholics of saying that they would like Christ Church back. (And why not, really? Let the Church of Ireland have St. Patrick’s, and let the Catholics get Christ Church. If nothing else it would make things simpler.)

5. St. Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry

St. Columb’s is within the walls of the old city, perched atop a hill. It is Londonderry’s oldest extant building, dating from 1633. As you can probably guess this makes it Church of Ireland. I could not take any pictures inside but here is a scan of a postcard I bought:

Many regimental colours and flags are displayed within. The caretaker kindly showed me a 48-star American flag, kept in a display drawer, left by the US troops who were stationed at Londonderry during the Second World War.

The seal of the dean and chapter is emblematic, showing a dove of peace bringing an olive branch to a castle, under the watchful eye of God.

6. St. Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry

As you look out from the walls of the old city toward the Bogside, you can’t miss St. Eugene’s, which stands out above the residential streets. The Roman Catholic cathedral was begun in 1849, opened for business in 1873, and finished in 1903. As you can see, this was a time when the gothic revival was in full swing. Many Irish-American Catholics gave money to help build it.

I enjoyed visiting this handsome, peaceful church.

7. St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

The distinguishing feature of the Church of Ireland cathedral is the tall, needlelike spire where you’d expect something a bit more substantive. This “Spire of Hope” looks like the Spire of Dublin and, as this one dates from 2007, may have been inspired by Dublin’s. The lady at the desk said that St. Anne’s is built on what was once a swamp, and that the church is subsiding; the weight of a traditional spire would have compounded this problem.

Within the church, a number of things, including the “science pillar,” a Titanic memorial pall, the grave of Edward Carson (founder of Northern Ireland), a labyrinth that leads nowhere if you follow “the path of sin,” and numerous interesting side chapels.

The Cathedral identifies itself with a display of four coats of arms, three of the amalgamated dioceses for which it is the cathedral (Connor, Down, and Dromore) and one of the city of Belfast.

8. St. Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast

Alas, I didn’t actually get into the Roman Catholic cathedral for Belfast, as I arrived too early. But I did find a postcard of the interior which I have scanned:

This church was opened for worship in 1866, and as you can see is another gothic structure, but it wasn’t named a cathedral until 1986. It is in the Divis Street area near the Falls Road, i.e. what was once Ground Zero for the Troubles, and I can’t help but think the decision to move the bishop’s seat here was political somehow.