Irish Songs of Rebellion, Resistance and Reconciliation

Ron Kavana

Although Norman forces invaded Ireland in the 12th century in the name of Henry II of England, the Norman leaders assimilated to the extent of becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves. Consequently, the Irish retained control of most of Ireland until the arrival of Henry VIII on the English throne. Despite the Norman presence, the Irish managed a relatively peaceful co-existence with their English neighbours throughout the intervening centuries.

However, Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I quickly set about stripping Irish Catholics of all power. The Elizabethan and subsequent Cromwellian plantations dispossessed the Irish of their land, replacing them with English and Scottish settlers. By the end of the late 17th century Williamite war, the Irish were truly a conquered people and British policy was to treat Ireland as a colony which should never be allowed to compete with Britain’s commercial interests. By 1703, Irish Catholics, who made up approximately 90% of the population, owned little more than 10% of the land. With blatant disregard for the terms of the Treaty of Limerick, which ended the Williamite war, a succession of Penal or “Popery” laws were introduced between 1695 and 1729. These were aimed at ending the religious, political and economic freedoms of all Catholics. Although similarly draconian laws were used in other parts of Europe to crush minority religious sects, nowhere else were they used to suppress the culture and beliefs of a majority.

“There is no instance” wrote Dr. Samuel Johnson “of such severity as that which Protestants of Ireland exercised against the Catholics”. Even the eminent Protestant historian Lecky noted that the Penal laws were “the instrument of a conquering race to crush to the dust the people among whom they were planted in defiance of a treaty which distinctly guaranteed that the Irish Catholics from any further oppression on account of their religion. It may be justly regarded as one of the blackest pages in the history of persecution”.

Following a series of severe famines between 1740 and 1770 (a period of extreme sectarianism and serious agrarian tension), the Lord Lieutenant described Ireland’s peasantry as “amongst the most wretched people on earth”. The American War of Independence and French Revolution both showed what could be achieved by united peasant resistance and revolt.

In 1791, in response to Britain’s divide and rule tactics, the United Irishmen were formed in Belfast as a multi-denominational pressure group for parliamentary reform. They were led by a young Protestant lawyer named Wolfe Tone, who soon recognised that the revolution in France had “changed in an instant the politics of Ireland”. He concluded that England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity, and that a revolution with French aid could possibly re-establish Irish independence.

After a failed French landing in December 1796 and reports of a fresh force being assembled by Napoleon, almost all the United leaders were arrested following a betrayal early in 1798. The fragmented revolt which occurred over subsequent months was not do much a nation-wide rebellion as a small series of local, generally unconnected, and ultimately unsuccessful risings.

Finally, the French landed two months too late with a small army in Co. Mayo. After some initial success, due mainly to surprise, they were defeated. So, as a result of betrayal, poor organisation and co-ordination of rebel forces, ill-timed and inadequate French aid and immensely superior ground strength, the rebellion failed. Nevertheless, it was a vital turning point in Irish history, as the concept of an independent, non-sectarian republic now became the dominant aspiration of future Irish nationalism. Although their rebellion was quickly suppressed, United men continued to resist until Emmet’s doomed rising in 1803, following which, the leader was sentenced to death. His final words to the court, considered one of the greatest courtroom orations ever, put his name at the head of a list of martyred rebels which still inspires nationalist fervor and support.

Over the decades following 1798, as Irish revolutionaries continued to press for independence and self-determination, the example of the Irish leaders provided the ideology and driving force for the Nationalist cause through the eras of Young Ireland, the Fenians, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence (resulting in withdrawal of Crown forces from the 26 counties which would become known as the Irish Republic), right up to and including the Northern Irish Civil War or “Troubles” of the final decades of the 20th century and “Peace Process” attempts to resolve the sectarian conflict which has continued since the plantations to the present day. ~ Ron Kavana

PRE-ORDER NOW:

Although Norman forces invaded Ireland in the 12th century in the name of Henry II of England, the Norman leaders assimilated to the extent of becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves. Consequently, the Irish retained control of most of Ireland until the arrival of Henry VIII on the English throne. Despite the Norman presence, the Irish managed a relatively peaceful co-existence with their English neighbours throughout the intervening centuries.

However, Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I quickly set about stripping Irish Catholics of all power. The Elizabethan and subsequent Cromwellian plantations dispossessed the Irish of their land, replacing them with English and Scottish settlers. By the end of the late 17th century Williamite war, the Irish were truly a conquered people and British policy was to treat Ireland as a colony which should never be allowed to compete with Britain’s commercial interests. By 1703, Irish Catholics, who made up approximately 90% of the population, owned little more than 10% of the land. With blatant disregard for the terms of the Treaty of Limerick, which ended the Williamite war, a succession of Penal or “Popery” laws were introduced between 1695 and 1729. These were aimed at ending the religious, political and economic freedoms of all Catholics. Although similarly draconian laws were used in other parts of Europe to crush minority religious sects, nowhere else were they used to suppress the culture and beliefs of a majority.

“There is no instance” wrote Dr. Samuel Johnson “of such severity as that which Protestants of Ireland exercised against the Catholics”. Even the eminent Protestant historian Lecky noted that the Penal laws were “the instrument of a conquering race to crush to the dust the people among whom they were planted in defiance of a treaty which distinctly guaranteed that the Irish Catholics from any further oppression on account of their religion. It may be justly regarded as one of the blackest pages in the history of persecution”.

Following a series of severe famines between 1740 and 1770 (a period of extreme sectarianism and serious agrarian tension), the Lord Lieutenant described Ireland’s peasantry as “amongst the most wretched people on earth”. The American War of Independence and French Revolution both showed what could be achieved by united peasant resistance and revolt.

In 1791, in response to Britain’s divide and rule tactics, the United Irishmen were formed in Belfast as a multi-denominational pressure group for parliamentary reform. They were led by a young Protestant lawyer named Wolfe Tone, who soon recognised that the revolution in France had “changed in an instant the politics of Ireland”. He concluded that England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity, and that a revolution with French aid could possibly re-establish Irish independence.

After a failed French landing in December 1796 and reports of a fresh force being assembled by Napoleon, almost all the United leaders were arrested following a betrayal early in 1798. The fragmented revolt which occurred over subsequent months was not do much a nation-wide rebellion as a small series of local, generally unconnected, and ultimately unsuccessful risings.

Finally, the French landed two months too late with a small army in Co. Mayo. After some initial success, due mainly to surprise, they were defeated. So, as a result of betrayal, poor organisation and co-ordination of rebel forces, ill-timed and inadequate French aid and immensely superior ground strength, the rebellion failed. Nevertheless, it was a vital turning point in Irish history, as the concept of an independent, non-sectarian republic now became the dominant aspiration of future Irish nationalism. Although their rebellion was quickly suppressed, United men continued to resist until Emmet’s doomed rising in 1803, following which, the leader was sentenced to death. His final words to the court, considered one of the greatest courtroom orations ever, put his name at the head of a list of martyred rebels which still inspires nationalist fervor and support.

Over the decades following 1798, as Irish revolutionaries continued to press for independence and self-determination, the example of the Irish leaders provided the ideology and driving force for the Nationalist cause through the eras of Young Ireland, the Fenians, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence (resulting in withdrawal of Crown forces from the 26 counties which would become known as the Irish Republic), right up to and including the Northern Irish Civil War or “Troubles” of the final decades of the 20th century and “Peace Process” attempts to resolve the sectarian conflict which has continued since the plantations to the present day. ~ Ron Kavana

BUY IN OUR SHOP

Available in:

CD and Digital Download

FEATURED STREAMING PARTNERS:

REVIEWS

you might also like: