And so at last we come to the 20th Century,and where the whole issue of Sectarianism really rears its ugly head.
During the whole period of the 20th Century, the story In Ireland follows so many changes and so many issues, that It would be impossible for me to give this period the justice it deserves in such a small article. Whole books have been written about this period,and even they don’t manage to adequately convey all sides to the story.
As such I will be concentrating on snap shots, to try and give some sort of picture, which might go some small way to giving a little education and understanding of it all.
In 1905 a Dubliner named Arthur Griffith set up a new political party, called Sinn Féin. It was a Republican party and was vehemently against Home Rule, which it regarded as falling too short of what was needed. It supported a completely independent republic consisting of the whole island of Ireland.
The Liberals introduced the Third Home Rule Bill, in 1912. They were more reluctant than they had been in the past, but the Conservatives had more Unionist support than ever before. When the Bill was discussed, the Conservatives fiercely campaigned to have the Unionist north east of Ireland treated separately from the rest of the island. They argued that the Protestants of Ulster constituted a separate Irish nation. They hoped this argument would stop Home Rule being introduced, since it would, they believed, result in a volatile Ireland containing two national identities. The two prime Unionist speakers were Sir Edward Carson (leader of the Unionists) and Sir James Craig.
In Belfast, tensions were so high over the Bill that spontaneous rioting kept breaking out between the Catholic and Protestant residents of the City. On 28 September 1912, Craig introduced the ‘Ulster Covenant’, which people could sign to pledge their determination to defeat the Third Home Rule Bill. It was a huge success and 450,000 Irish people signed it, some in their own blood. The week came to a climax on 28 September 1912, which was known as Ulster Day. The whole event was remarkably peaceful, considering the tension, and received huge publicity in Britain.
As the Bill was discussed, one proposition put forward was that the 4 counties with a Unionist majority (Antrim, Down, Londonderry and Armagh) could be left out of the Home Rule scheme. This was proposed as a compromise, since both sides were threatening to use force if the other got their way. At first the Unionists were horrified, since it made Home Rule much more likely, but they quickly resigned themselves to the idea. Many of them decided they would need a back up military force as ‘insurance’ to make certain that at least Ulster was left out of Home Rule. So in January 1913, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was set up. Thousands of Unionists joined, and they met in Orange Halls around Ulster. The only thing missing was weapons. On 24/25 April 1914, 25,000 rifles and 3,000,000 bullets were illegally landed by the UVF at Larne, Bangor and Donaghadee, all near Belfast. Since the police in these areas did not try to stop the landings, the Nationalists felt that the police were in league with the UVF.
By the end of 1913 (the Bill was still being debated) the Nationalists realised that the Liberal government was likely to agree with the Conservatives and leave part of Ulster out of Home Rule. They were horrified, as they felt an Irish nation could only be forged with the whole island included in Home Rule. So some of them set up their own military force, the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF) in November 1913. It recruited even more men than the UVF. . The IVF landed 1,500 rifles and 45,000 bullets at Howth, near Dublin, on 26 July 1914. In this case, the police did intervene and shot 3 people dead. It looked as if the police were treating the UVF and IVF very differently.
This was a Nationalist accusation which would repeat itself many times over In Northern Ireland in the years to follow,and we shall soon see why.
War however intervened and In August 1914 the UK went to war with Germany as the First World War began. In order to concentrate on the war effort, the government decided to postpone the Third Home Rule Bill until after the war, and this left the Nationalists and Unionists wondering what action would be best on their part. Both decided that if they fought alongside the British in the war, they would have a bargaining tool for use after the war.
However On 1st July 1916, in France, the 10,000-strong 36th Ulster Division took part in a major offensive known as the Battle of the Somme. This offensive turned out to be one of the worst military routs of the war, and there were 5,000 casualties among the 36th Ulster division alone. London viewed this sacrifice, on the part of the men of Ulster, as an indication that Ulster could not now be forced into Home Rule.
When the war had begun in 1914, the government had told troops that they would be ‘home by Christmas’ (in other words that the war would be over by the end of 1914). By 1916 the war was still at a stalemate, and Nationalists began to realise that the war could go on for years. So the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the splinter IVF planned a huge rebellion to drive the British out of Ireland, taking advantage of the fact that the British had few troops to spare. It was led by a Dubliner, Patrick Pearse, along with Thomas MacDonagh and Joseph Plunkett. The rising was planned for Easter 1916, and was to be supplied with German weapons by Roger Casement. Despite the fact that the weapons were captured by the British, the rebellion went ahead on Easter Monday (24 April) 1916.
1,500 rebels took over the Dublin Post Office and other key buildings in the city. They then raised the Irish Flag and read a proclamation of independence and formation of the Republic of Ireland. A fierce battle ensued between the rebels and the British. On 29 April, after 5 days of mortars, shells and gunfire, the rebels surrendered after 450 volunteers had been killed. Huge areas of Dublin city centre were in ruins and many locals sided with the British and shouted abuse as the rebels were lead away. Their opinions changed, however, when it was announced that the leaders should be executed for treason and collaboration with the enemy (Germany). Almost 100 men were shot after nominal trials. The British wrongly blamed Sinn Féin for the rising (it had actually been the Irish Republican Brotherhood) and this contributed greatly to the Home Rule Party’s defeats and Sinn Féin’s success in the next election.
After the end of the war, In 1919 With the Third Home Rule Bill under discuission now for 7 years, with no implementation, the IVF decided that they had waited long enough and that they would have to take action to increase the pace. They also hoped that by becoming a formidable military force, they could persuade the government to introduce complete Independence rather than the proposed Home Rule solution. In 1919 they renamed themselves the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which really signalled the start of a new phase in their history.
On 21 January 1919, the IRA shot dead 2 Irish policemen in county Tipperary, and this marked the beginning of what is now known as the War of Independence. The Catholic church condemned the IRA, and the locals, who knew exactly who the IRA men involved were, were also appalled. However the British clamped down hard in response and soon a guerrilla war was underway in counties Cork and Tipperary. With the post-war British army in a shambles, they were only willing to send over groups of ex-First World War solders to fight. The combination of black police uniforms and tan army outfits gave rise to the term ‘Black and Tans’ for these men. The ‘Black and Tans’ were undisciplined and often shot innocent civilians in reprisal for attacks on them. These attacks helped to create and then strengthen local support for the IRA.
Meanwhile, despite the conflict, the government decided to press ahead with Home Rule and passed the Government of Ireland Act in 1920. This gave Ireland 2 Parliaments (each with a Prime Minister), one for the Unionists and one for the Nationalists, but kept both Parliaments answerable to the overall UK parliament in London. Six counties (Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Antrim, Down and Armagh) were to be under the Unionist Parliament, and the citizens there agreed to the creation of ‘Northern Ireland’ by way of a referendum. The first elections for the Northern Ireland parliament were held in May 1921 and the Unionists got 40 of the 52 seats. It first met in Belfast in June 1921. The new Northern Ireland Prime-Minister was the Ulster Unionist leader, Sir James Craig
The elections were held for the Nationalist Parliament in Dublin in May 1921 also, and Sinn Féin (under Eammon de Valera) took 124 seats with the remaining 4 being taken by Unionist candidates. However Sinn Féin refused to recognise the Parliament and instead continued to meet in Dail Eireann. The 4 Unionists were the only ones who attended the new Parliament. The IRA, under Collins, continued to fight on for more independence, and made regular attacks on Protestants in Northern Ireland too. Finally stalemate was reached and a truce was signed between the IRA and the British on 11 July 1921. After 4 months of negotiations a treaty was hammered out which Michael Collins signed on behalf of the IRA. However he did not fully consult his colleagues, many of whom were horrified that he had accepted partition.
The ‘Anglo-Irish Treaty’, which was agreed between Collins and the British government, replaced the Dublin Home-Rule Parliament which had been created by the Government of Ireland Act. The new Act created an Ireland which was much more independent than it would have been under pure Home Rule, and certainly much more independent than the bit of Ireland ruled by the Northern Ireland government. The new country was to be called the ‘Irish Free State’ and would have its own army, although it would remain within the British Commonwealth. This is a similar status to that which Canada has today. Britain would also have a representative in Ireland and would keep some naval bases in Irish waters. The treaty also set up a Boundary Commission which was to fine-tune the border to take account of Unionist/Nationalist communities close to it. The Sinn Fein leader, Eamonn de Valera, became the first Prime Minister of the Irish Free State.
The UK was renamed ‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ to reflect the change.
De Valera, however, was furious that Collins had signed the treaty. To him it still fell much too short of what he had been fighting for, which was an independent Ireland covering all 32 counties. However, another party leader, Arthur Griffith, disagreed with de Valera’s idealist stance and strongly supported the treaty. Most members of the IRA who supported the treaty were transformed into the first official Irish Army. The split between the pro-and anti-treaty was so narrow, that Sinn Fein decided to have a vote on it in the Dail. When the Dail voted 64-57 in favour of the treaty, de Valera and a considerable number of Sinn Fein members walked out in protest. Griffith subsequently replaced de Valera as Prime Minister.
However it was not going to be that simple – those who had been outvoted in the Dail were not prepared to simply accept the rule of a Dail which had supported what they regarded as a ‘treacherous’ treaty. In April 1922, the anti-treaty IRA seized control of the Dublin Four-Courts and other key buildings. The situation grew very tense as the new Irish government tried to mediate with the IRA. However, the government quickly lost its patience and in June Michael Collins ordered the Irish Army to shell the Four-Courts. He succeeded in driving the IRA out of Dublin but had also triggered the Irish Civil War
The war went on for almost a year, and was particularly intensive in Connaught and Munster. It was basically a guerilla war, involving sniper attacks, ambushes and raids. Slowly but surely the Army drove the IRA into the mountains and, as the fighting continued to disrupt local life, the IRA lost the support of the locals on which it relied. Therefore the IRA finally called a halt to its campaign in April 1923. Among the casualties of the Civil War was Michael Collins, who was shot dead in an ambush in his native county Cork. Arthur Griffith, the Prime Minister of the Free State, died of natural causes during the war.
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland the situation had scarcely been better. During 1920 and 1921, the IRA made frequent incursions over the border into Northern Ireland. They often attacked the local Protestants and on one occasion managed to occupy 40 square miles of county Fermanagh for a week. Within Northern Ireland many Protestants scapegoated Catholics for the IRA violence and the expulsion of Protestants from their homes in the Free State. This resulted in a dramatic rise in sectarian violence and rioting, particularly in Belfast, although IRA violence was reduced once the Civil War began in 1922. Between July 1920 and July 1922, 257 Catholics and 157 Protestants were murdered in sectarian attacks in Northern Ireland. About 11,000 Catholics were forced to leave their jobs in Belfast’s factories due to attacks from Protestant colleagues. The Northern Ireland government responded by setting up a second police force, called the “Special B Constabulary” (popularly known as the B-Specials), to try to maintain order. However this force was not regarded as impartial and this simply intensified the violence. The Special Powers Act (1922) and the Offences Against the State Act (1924) gave the police unprecedented powers to intern people without a trial.
The main problem for the Northern Ireland government was the large (30%) Nationalist minority in the state. 25 local councils were Nationalist controlled when the state was formed and, in fact, Tyrone and Fermanagh councils were dissolved when they declared that they would be answerable to the Dublin Parliament and not the Northern Ireland Parliament. The government decided to stabilise the province by increasing Unionist control of councils. So they abolished Proportional Representation and replaced it with a ‘First past the post’ electoral system. They also strategically redrew constituency boundaries to ensure that Nationalists were at a disadvantage (‘gerrymandering’). Also, richer people were given more votes, depending on how much land they owned. All these measures ensured that the number of Unionist MPs dramatically increased in the first few years of Northern Ireland’s history, and the level of political upheaval was dramatically reduced.
What had begun in the beginning of the Century as a fight for autonomy and home rule for Ireland, had ended up as an Ireland divided. The British and their Unionist supporters holding the portion of the North which hosted all of Irelands Heavy Industry, the Republic with a poorer farming economy. Was this really accident or design?
The Tories had encouraged the Protestant North to take up Arms in the face of Home Rule. Those in the South had responded. Attacks on the basis of Religion had started to occur. But it was no religious war, It was a political war which used religion and communities as its tools.
Worse yet was still to follow, but that is for another day!
Many of the Songs which Celtic Supporters sing are from this period of history and are not Sectarian. They are supportive of this struggle and this war of Independence but not religiously motivated in their origin.
The Rangers songs tend be from the earlier period of conflict between Royalty in the 1600s, and do have religious connotations along with historical perspectives relating to that time.