If you didn’t know, I am in Dublin studying Irish History and Politics, so I thought that it may be interesting to write about some of the controversial topics we have learned about so far.
Today, we live in a world where borders and territories seem to be an ever-present political topic of debate from the Korean DMZ to a wall between Mexico and the US and even the division of the Holy Lands. However, at least in the states, there is a border we never hear about: the line between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. For hundreds of years (essentially since the initial presence of the British in Ireland) tensions between the Presbyterians in the North and the Catholics of the rest of the island have been aflame. Even to this day, on every 12th of June, Ulster Protestants “celebrate” William of Orange’s victory over James II at the Battle of the Boyne (how Great Britain went from a Catholic nation to a Protestant one) by burning the Irish tri-color flag and Catholic symbols. My classmates and I were literally told by everyone we saw that week to avoid Belfast and Northern Ireland like the plague, as it could be dangerous.
This bloody history is far too complicated to explain in a single blog post and is merely a precursor to another story I want to share, that of the 1916 Easter Rising, the last of the major Irish rebellions that have occurred in reaction to British settlement and governance of the Island.
On April 24, 1916, when Patrick Pearse read aloud The Proclamation (Irish equivalence to the American Declaration of Independence) in front of the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, the tide of the centuries-long battle for independence turned in favor of the Irish. Though backs would be stabbed, political parties fractured, and many lives lost in the process, the Easter Rising paved the road for eventual Irish independence from Great Britain in the late 1930s. The rebels’ coup lasted merely a week, but their legacy lives on to this day as 14 of the rebellion’s leaders were viciously executed on the grounds of Kilmainham Gaol, a prison located on the outskirts of the city. Though certainly seen by many of the time as radical and only a minority, their deaths made them martyrs in the movement for Irish independence.
One of the few leaders who was not executed was Countess Constance Markievicz, the wife of a wealthy Polish Count who actually physically fought at Stephen’s Green Park. Though she was imprisoned and sentenced to death alongside the other 14, she was denied execution based on her sex. Needless to say, Markievicz was infuriated; however, she lived to be one of the most influential women of all time: she was the first woman to be elected to the British House of Commons, the first woman to hold a cabinet position, and was a veteran in both the Irish War of Independence and Civil War.
Getting back to my original point, Ireland to this day is still torn between the likes of Protestant Unionists who never want to leave Britain and Catholic Nationalists who see the 6 Northern counties as land that is rightfully the Republic of Ireland’s. Even though the people of Dublin honor and celebrate those who lost their lives in the 1916 Easter Rising and the wars that followed, many in Belfast would see them as traitors to the crown. I was slightly aware when I arrived in Ireland that tensions between the North and the South would exist, but I had no idea that this island of a little over 6 million people would be so torn. Though they may all be Irish, each country waves their own flag and sees the other on the opposing side of history. Who knows, they both could be right or they both could be wrong? It’s all a matter of perspective.