On an ethnic-pride note, today marks the 87th anniversary of the establishment of the Irish Free State, known today as the Republic of Ireland & composed of 4/5 of the Emerald Isle, excluding the British-held territory of Northern Ireland. The British had ruled Ireland, in one way or another, since the 12th Century through harsh opposition. In 1603, the British Empire gained complete control of the island & under the sadistic leadership of Oliver Cromwell, who slaughtered nearly half of the island’s native population, England smashed all signs of Irish political leadership by the end of the 17th Century. Irishmen were banned from attending or serving in the Irish Parliament, dissenters were shipped off to the West Indies as slaves, and Catholicism was outright banned in an effort to suppress the population under the weight of the British monarchy. After an unsuccessful attempt at freedom in the Rebellion of 1798, Ireland was absorbed by the United Kingdom & directly controlled by the British Parliament.
The Great Famine began in the 1840’s and the British proved themselves to be incompetent and selfish landlords. The Famine would cause the deaths of one million Irish people & the immigration of two million, so decimating the Irish population that it has yet to return to pre-Famine numbers. The Great Famine changed Irish history & created a nationalist movement that rose up to bitch slap the Queen out of her London throne. The agricultural cause of the Famine was, of course, the potato blight that killed tubers all over Europe. The blight hit Ireland especially hard because the poor depended on the crop & since the Brits had implemented a feudal agricultural system, many Irishmen were poor. Literally working for “potato wages”. Additionally, the Irish Catholics that made up 80% of Ireland’s population were kept in poverty by the crappy landlord-tenant laws that allowed slumlord-tyrants to evict at will and exploit their tenants as they saw fit. When the blight decimated potato crops & the profit-minded British & Protestant investors raised the costs of other foodstuffs, landlords jumped on board with rent increases that forced Irishmen to choose between food or shelter. As if that weren’t enough, during The Great Famine, Ireland continued to export food to England! They exported more cattle & livestock during the Famine than they had before! Between 1845 and 1850, the UK government instigated the mass starvation across Ireland and, in my opinion, committed genocide against the Irish people, having killed anywhere from 20-25% of the population. In 1848, the Young Irelander Rebellion took another crack at independence but was unsuccessful against the well-fed Brits.
Nationalist pride among the often crapped-upon Irish Catholics spread like wildfire in the late 19th & early 20th Centuries, an obvious reaction to shitty British governing tactics, & the call for “Home Rule” by the Irish population grew loud. Opposition to Home Rule came from Protestants in the North, who considered themselves both Irish and English. The Home Rule Act of 1914 gave the Irish nominal autonomy until the outbreak of World War I, when it was suspended. Not wiling to go down without a fight, this period ushered in armed rebellions against the British. The Easter Rising of 1916 was six days of intense fighting led by the Irish Republican Brotherhood out of Dublin & it kicked off the battle for Irish Independence. It was followed by the Irish War of Independence in 1919, fought by the notorious Irish Republican Army (IRA). The end result was the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which split Ireland into The Irish Free State and the British colony of Northern Ireland on December 6th, 1921. Even though independence sparked the Irish Civil War between those in the Free State that accepted partial control of the island and the IRA that refused to allow the British to retain Northern Ireland, the date should be recognized as a victory over British colonialism. This is something us Americans can historically empathize with & us Irish-Americans can be proud of.
Go celebrate with a Guinness & a good old fashioned street brawl.