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Northern Ireland Providence Of Ulster History Essay

/Northern Ireland, Providence of Ulster. A land fraught with cultural conflict, tortured by geological upheaval, and blessed with moderate weather. This is the land that begat my paternal forefathers, the Ramseys.

Those that lived in the region of Ulster at the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th century were of highly diversified back grounds. Dramatic external governmental controls (primarily war) combined with forced migrations due to famines and plagues ensured that the culture of the land was shared, learned, symbolic, integrated, and ever changing. Many that lived in the region were of Pict, Scot, Angle, Saxon, Norman, and Irish blood. (Angelfire) This multitude of backgrounds lead to a great deal of cultural adaptation as well as inspiring a large degree of cultural relativism. The Ramseys in particular came from a group of individuals that had settled in a low land region of Ulster where wild garlic grew in prolific proportions. The native name for the wild garlic was hramsa and those living there were initially called Hramsa People, later becoming Ramsey or Ramsay. (Wikipedia)

The individuals of this region were notoriously defiant of any form of centralized government, outside of their local Ulster feudal systems, refusing to willingly give authority to those foreign governments that attempted to claimed legitimacy. As the British Monarchy attempted to strengthen their hold in Northern Ireland through a plan known as the Plantation of Ulster, many families opted to immigrate to North America. High taxation on whiskey, one of the primary items of barter for the Ramseys, and extreme levels of religious persecution began to drive the Irish out in droves. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Ulster is a land of diverse topography, covering 9,452 sq. miles. (Wikipedia) Over the millennia the whole of Ireland was pushed up by volcanic and tectonic forces only to be later repeatedly covered by massive glaciers. (Wikipedia) The end result is that Ireland has a multitude of high rolling hills, dramatic sea cliff vistas, and numerous arable river valleys. There are two bodies of fresh water that significantly helped shape the spatial orientations and subsistence strategies of those living in Ulster as well as the whole of Ireland. (Wikipedia) The first is the Shannon River. It is the longest waterway in Ireland and was used extensively for transportation of goods and peoples. The second is Lough Neagh. Neagh is the largest lake in all of the British Isles. Fishing was a major source of both food supplies and economics. The technology used in these areas of subsistence and transportation helped define and shape many of the object and spatial orientations of the population. A variety of different types of nets were used in fishing. The cast net is generally a smaller net often woven from hemp and weighted around the edges with small stones. Cast nets were most often used from shore or from small boats in the shallows. Fyke nets were also smaller in design but shaped like a sock and used in rivers where the current would both hold the net open and prevent the catch from escaping. Fyke nets were most often used to capture eels which were plentiful in the rivers and streams of Ulster. On the larger lakes and at sea, nets known as seines were used. A seine is a long net that hangs vertically in the water with weights at the bottom and floats at the top. (Wikipedia)

The lower river valleys supplied many square acres of fertile land for crops such as wheat, barley, oats, flax, potatoes, and turnips. (Books Google) The methods and technology used to till the soil would have varied from family to family with the wealthier families using ox or horse drawn wooden plows that may have been sheathed in iron. The poorer peasants would have been left to till by means of a man drawn plow also called an ard. Simple hand tools made of either wood or iron such as spades, shovels, rakes, sickles, scythes, and hoes were also common. (Mockingbird Irish Resources)

The higher hills and cliff regions were ideal for grazing livestock such as sheep, goats, and cattle. This lent itself well to pastoralism. This was an important portion of the culture, as the herds would provide many essential commodities such as wool, leather, meat, and milk for butter and cheese. (Wikipedia) The shepherds of the era may have used herding dogs, but such dogs would not have been as efficient as are herding dogs today. Highly developed herding breeds did not come into development until the beginning of the 19th century. (Meeker Sheep Dog)

The climate of Ireland is mild in comparison to most of the regions that share similar latitude due to the moderating moist winds that generally emanate from the South Western Atlantic. Vegetation on the island is typically lush in part due to the milder winter temperatures and frequent rainfalls, earning it the nickname The Emerald Isle. (Wikipedia) The gentler climate, coupled with the variety of subsistence strategies employed in Ulster, provided an ecological formula which gave the land a high carrying capacity.

The division of labor generally followed arraignments of capabilities. Woman with young children, the old, and the young would stay near the homesteads and perform such duties as spinning wool, processing milk into dairy products, tending fields, tanning hides, and repairing nets. Healthy men and childless women would share responsibilities of fishing and herding. Men and women often shared prestige and in fact women would often join in armed conflicts. (Historyplace)

One of the most unique geological formations in the world exists in Antrim County of Ulster on the north east coast, it is known as The Giant’s Causeway. The formation of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The Giant’s Causeway has been declared a World Heritage Site by U.N.E.S.C.O. (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), and is the most popular tourist site in Northern Ireland today. (Wikipedia) This majestic natural structure is the source of many of Ireland’s myths and legends and played a significant role in the spatial orientations of those that lived near it.

Due to the strong seafaring ways of those that lived in North Eastern Ireland, there were many skilled individuals in boat manufacturing and repair. This specialization of skill would lend itself well to industrialization in the 19th century as the region became a center for ship production. In fact, the RMS Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, the largest city in Northern Ireland. (Wikipedia) Politically, Ulster in the 17th and early 18th centuries was arranged in a number of feudal systems and fiefdoms. Smaller remote regions were often maintained in close nit clan systems, with extended families being loyal to their family clans and names. Conflict among these groups for land rights was common, but when they were presented with a common foe such as the British they were quick to unite and pose a strong resistance against occupation. Not until King James the First of England developed the Ulster Plantation design and committed significant finances and resources to the capture and occupation of Northern Ireland in 1720, did the region fall permanently to foreign rule. (Encyclopedia Britannica) Part of the long history of independence for those living in Ulster can be contributed to the early enculturation for their youth to be warriors. Boys and girls alike, wealthy and poor were all encouraged and trained to be vicious combatants. (Historyplace) Before British rule, the region was highly tolerant of varied religious practices and local areas were generally policed by those living within the area. Most individuals were held in check morally and legally by internalized controls such as ostracization and the essential need for generalized reciprocity. The various religions also provided strict moral and ethical guidelines, violation of which carried heavy superstitious repercussions. (Feri)

Economically at the family and clan level, a great deal of general reciprocity occurred. Even amongst localized clans, generalized reciprocity played an important role where one clan might have more availability to tillable land and the other more area to herd livestock. (Wikipedia) Between less familiar groups and on larger scales, negative reciprocity would come into play with forms of currency often taking the form of whiskey, livestock, or other processed goods such as leather or wool. (Angelfire) Gold was also used in exchange for goods and services and the highlands of Ulster were known to have veins of gold in them, thus the legends about the leprechauns and their pots of gold. (Wikipedia)

The region of Ulster went through many religious revolutions. The original inhabitants of Ireland the Nemedians, Fomorians, Firbolgs, and Tuatha De Danann are all known to have practiced polytheistic worship with aspects of animism. The shaman of these early tribes is what we refer to as druids today. Many of their religious rituals revolved around the solstices and equinox. These were the peoples that first began construction of the dolmens (single chamber megalithic tombs) and the monolithic stone henge circles, some of which can still be found today and the most famous of which is Stone Henge. These structures are all aligned with solar events to signify the exact times of the two equinoxes and solstices, implying that they were significant religious events for them. (Rootsweb)

With the arrival of Saint Patrick and other Christian missionaries in the early to mid-5th century AD, Christianity began to take a strong foot hold in Ireland. (Catholic) The Roman Catholic religion was the first form of Christianity and is today still the largest of Christian churches, with over a billion members worldwide. (Wikipedia) During the 6th and 7th centuries, repeated raids by Vikings along Irelands east coast had established enough residual Scandinavian inhabitants to have their religious beliefs find influence upon the rest of the islands population. The Vikings brought with them a polytheistic worship with twelve primary gods. Odin was the lord over these gods with his eldest son Thor playing a significant role as well. Elves and dwarves were also part of their mythos and have worked their way into modern lore. The Vikings practiced their rituals out of doors and would often incorporate very old trees into the ceremonies. This religion caused a revival and modification of the pre-Christian pagan beliefs and practices. (Feri)

In the years following Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses written in 1517, Christianity began many reforms. Among these reforms was the development of the Protestant, Presbyterian, and Anglican sects of Christianity. The split of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, which began in 1529, further compounded the religious strife and complexities of the land. These religious variations found their way into Ireland by choice or by force and by the early 18th century countless lives and thousands of gallons of blood had been lost in the name of each sect’s professed dominance. (Historyplace)

It was these religious conflicts allied with England’s growing policies of taxation upon those that dwelled in Ulster that led to the first large wave of immigration into North America. Subsequent immigrations were inspired by vast potato famines in 1740, 1780, and the largest in 1845. (Historyplace) Today Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and still remains religiously divided with 40.2% declaring themselves as Roman Catholic, 20.7% as Presbyterian, 3.5% as Methodist, 6.1% as other Christian, and .3% divided among Islam, Judaism, Neo-paganism, and Hinduism. This leaves 29.2% with either no declaration or declaration of no belief. (Wikipedia) Despite this diversity, Ireland as a whole has the highest church attendance in all of Western Europe. (Wikipedia) The province of Ulster is today divided into nine counties. Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone lay within the borders of Northern Ireland which is considered a portion of the United Kingdom. Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan belong to the Republic of Ireland. The population of Northern Ireland in the 2008 census was recorded at 1,775,000 individuals. (Wikipedia) Also recorded in 2008 were 21,700 immigrants and 27,500 emmigrants. Strong economic growth in the 90’s drew many foreigners to the region causing a continuance in cultural adaptation. (Nisra)

Marriage in Northern Ireland legally is defined as the joining of a man and a woman in matrimony. However, in December of 2005, civil partnership between same sex couples became legal with all rights applying saver for inheritance rights. While arranged marriages were common in the past, especially with wealthy families and royalty (in order to align political and economic factors), love matched couples are the norm in North Ireland today. Polygamy is considered illegal in North Ireland and polygamistic marriages made before immigration are not recognized. (Wikipedia) Family ties are generally strong in Ireland, especially in Catholic families and these same families may promote dependence training.

Politically Northern Ireland has had a turbulent past. Numerous attempts over the past several hundred years have been made to unite all of Ireland under indigenous rule. The most recent of these uprisings began in the late 60’s and continued until 1998. The IRA (Irish Republic Army) fought guerilla warfare in an attempt to oust the British. The conflicts were officially brought to an end with the signing of the Belfast “Good Friday” Agreement. The conflicts are now referred to as The Troubles. Factions of the IRA still exist and violence still occurs on a rare occasion. (Wikipedia)

Northern Ireland does not enjoy its own sovereignty; it follows the laws established by the United Kingdom. The UK’s political system is known as a Constitutional Monarchy and is considered a Unitarian State. Queen Elizabeth the Second is head of state and has final approval over laws and doctrines. The legal stipulations are designed by the Parliament which has two houses. The House of Commons are 646 democratically elected officials who may not serve any more than five years at a time. The House of Lords consists of 750 appointed individuals. Generally the Prime Minister, who is head of Parliament and also a member, makes the appointment. The appointments are subject to Crown approval and the Queen has the right to make direct appointments when she sees fit. Northern Ireland has its own Parliament, but it does not have sovereignty and while it does issue legal precedents and local laws, it must heed to the Parliament and Crown of the UK. (Parliament) The economy of Northern Ireland is a capitalistic system and the currency of the land is known as the British Sterling Pound, or more commonly called the Pound. Northern Ireland has retained the right to coin their own money and many of the banks there do, but it is only accepted within the boundaries of Northern Ireland and in some small regions of Scotland. In 2008, North Ireland reported a Gross Value Added (a term comparable to the United State’s Gross National Product) of 37.3 billion pounds. A contributing factor to their high GVA was the fact that unemployment was at a fifteen year low of 4.5%. (Wikipedia)

Current subsistence strategies in Northern Ireland are lead by information and electronic technologies, with jobs in these areas accounting for 78% of the GVA and 70% of all employment. The fields which are primarily in effect with this sector of subsistence strategies are research and development, engineering, and chemical processing. (Wikipedia)

A large portion of industrial production still centers around ship construction, textiles, and hemp rope production. While a globalized market place has brought stiff competition against the Irish in these fields, they remain productive of superior products assuring them of a mainstay in the market. (Wikipedia)

There are just fewer than 26,000 farms in the north of Ireland which occupy approximately only 1% of the total land available. 50,000 people find employment in this field which accounts for 4% of overall employment. The GVA of the combined industries of agriculture and modern pastorlism was 304 million pounds for 2008, one half of which could be attributed to dairy production even though only one in seven farms are dairy farms. (Nisra)

The subsistence strategy known as fishing has developed into multi million pound a year industry, with GVA in 2005 reaching 26.6 million pounds. These numbers are only based on vessels larger than ten meters, as vessels less than ten meters are not required by law to report their catches. In 2005 the fishing fleet consisted of 135 vessels over ten meters and 196 vessels under ten meters. (Dardni)

Five other points of interest about Northern Ireland are Irish Linen, the music scene, the notorious Irish Football Association, and the amazing array of ancient stone structures that abound across the countryside.

Irish Linen is of the finest quality flax linen in the world. There is the Irish Linen Guild established in 1928 to maintain that the quality of the linen is held to the highest standards. Irish Linen has been a major source of economic importance to the north Irish and a source of extreme pride since pre-historic times. Archeological evidence of flax retting, an essential process of flax fiber preparation, has been found in Irish bogs dating back as far as 1000 BC. (Fergusons Irish Linen) Linen is the official name of materials made of flax fibers, although in general terms today many other types of materials are called linens but only flaxen based materials are true linens. Linen holds many superior qualities which has made it a highly sought after product throughout the ages. It is highly durable, light of weight, dries swiftly, cool and comfortable to wear, and becomes softer the more it is washed. (Wikipedia) The valuable nature of linen has lead to a number of cultural influences. It has been an economic staple for thousands of years, as portions of Ireland were some of the only places in Europe that flax grew well as it needs particular soil conditions to prosper. Those that possessed skill in processing linen were held in high regard adding to their social and economic prestige and ensuring a number of secure reciprocal relationships. Most garments worn by priest and clergy were made of linen, demonstrating how subsistence, economics, and religion can be tied together by culture. The growth of flax, processing of the fibers, and production of linen is a perfect example of value added exchange and also shows how a local portion of culture can become part of a global economy.

Music is cultural universal and those in Northern Ireland have developed a unique ability to produce a surprising number of musicians in proportion to the population. Musical enculturation begins at an early age in Northern Ireland, perhaps being a major contributing factor to the success of Irish musicians. Music also shares a strong link with religion in many churches and as Ireland has a very high level of church attendance, this too may be a contributing factor. Here again is demonstrated the nature of how culture is integrated. Some of the top bands to come out of Ireland in modern times are Thin Lizzy, U2, The Cranberries, Van Morrison, Enya, and The Corrs. (Wikipedia)

The Irish Football Association is the governing body over the teams that are involved in playing football, known in America as soccer. The Northern Irish border on fanatical as to their local team devotions. Many of those that make up the huge fan base for the regional football teams come from lower socio-economic families, demonstrating how culture can develop stratified social groups based on common cultural interest. (ESPN)

Archaeological sites of interest and great importance are prolific across Northern Ireland. Religion was a key factor in the development and construction of many of these structures. Dolmens are Neolithic stone and earthen structures that were used in pagan burials rituals. The fields surrounding henges were also often used as cemeteries. (Wikipedia) Due to the massive stones used in their construction many of the dolmens and henges are still in existence today. Every year thousands of tourists are drawn to the area to see the monolithic temples, which I find to be a fascinating intertwinement of cultural relations. The religious cultural rituals and structures of prehistoric times are today significantly influencing the economic culture of Ireland. Not to be out done, the Christians left many archeological treasures as well. There are numerous remains of Abbeys, both whole and partial about Northern Ireland. The political systems of the past had a hand in generating a fair number of stone remains as well. The monarchs of the past had the privilege to build stone castles and many of these too still stand. (Wikipedia)

Ulster enjoys a rich heritage as well as a culture filled with affluently grand events. I consider myself lucky to be able to proclaim my Irish ancestry and hope one day to visit the land of my forefathers.


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