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The British Imperialistic Presence In Northern Ireland History Essay

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The conflict in Northern Ireland in various literature and researches has been presented to us at its most basic as a struggle between those who wish to see Northern Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom and those who wish to see the reunification of the island of Ireland; the Protestants and Catholic respectively. However, reducing the whole cause of this conflict to this angle alone is blindfolding and remaining at its symptom level. It is important to note that the conflict was as a result of agglomeration of a number of factors such as the historical evolution of the Irish community, religion, politics, and economics . Prominent among these factors was the British imperialistic presence in Northern Ireland dating back the early antiquity and their system of divide and rule. The interplay of these factors created a fluid situation which was filled up by a violence that claimed thousands of lives, properties destroyed and, saw Irish community more fragmented .

Therefore, this reflection paper will focus on how the British imperialistic presence from early antiquity among other factors planted the weeds that chocked the seed of peaceful co-existence and unity planted by Christianity in the protestant and Catholic communities of Ireland.

The historical evolution of the British factor traces its roots from the first Norman invasion of the island of Ireland around 1169. This invasion was the starting point of direct foreign rule in Ireland, first by the English and later by the British engagement in Ireland. By this rule the whole Irish social system was not overhauled but halted and frozen thus making the history of Ireland a continuum of attempts to fight against oppression from foreign rule and social exploitation. They had to battle against the power of the sword with which the island was conquered and exploited by the Norman invaders.

The inability of the Irish to resist and defeat the invasion resulted in to the sabotage and loss of their traditional clan system based on communal ownership of property and this was replaced by an exploitative system that saw much of the Irish land and wealth exchanging individual hands contrary to what existed before.

Consequently, the Irish, who were majorly Catholics lost hold of their land and became landless in their own country with much of their land ending in the hands of the so called "planters", who were majorly protestants from England and Scotland. With this, religious antagonism was already created. It was out of these planters that the British later created protestant oligarchy in Ireland as these planters increasingly became deeply rooted and absorbed the indigenous Irish way of life.

In this kind of struggle for land ownership, conflict through rebellion was inevitable not only between the losers and winners of this struggle (the Irish and the Planter respectively) but also among the winners themselves(the planters) who were as well struggling among themselves to gain ownership of Irish land. This was one of the early conflicting situations Britain took advantage of through their system of divide and rule. As Hadden Peter puts it, “to rule in the face of these revolts the British chose to divide. Religion was the chosen instrument of division. Religious intolerance, the fostering of mutual suspicion, hatred and violence between Catholic and Protestant - this became the shield of the ruling administration against the overthrow by the people”(Hadden P, 1980) .

With a number of social, economic and religious differences already existing in the Irish society, an easier and a perfect environment was provided for the British to exercise their divide and rule policy which kept the Irish people fighting each other and made it possible for the British to advance their imperialistic interests in the whole of the Island. In other words, it was easier for the British to defeat and rule the Irish while divided other than while unified.

At the onset of the 19th century, Britain had already established her imperialistic power in the whole of Ireland embodying her as part of the United Kingdom. This remained pain in the neck of the Irish people who wanted to run away from the British imperialism and form a unified republic of Ireland. The British implemented their colonial policy of divide and rule in Ireland by keeping high economic, social, political and religious disparity between the pro-British north and the rest of Ireland that remained anti-British. Economically,the north became more powerful as industry and manufacturing attained massive growth, offered better jobs and better living conditions, while in the south the reverse was true. The British managed to create protestant oligarchy in the south who owned much of the land and resources and this exposed the Catholic population in the south to deplorable conditions of poverty, unemployment and idleness . This later became a key factor in the conflict as the sidelined Irish population began agitating for their welfare in seeking for social justice. The British successful prepared a battle ground through their divide and rule policy.

The British imperialistic influence in Ireland further created more chaos as it antagonized the north and south of the country by passing the government of Ireland Act in 1920. By this Act, Ireland was split in into two different politically viable entities, each conferred with the powers of pseudo self-government. This Act was received with mixed reactions in that the Catholics mainly in the southern part of Ireland, who saw it as a perpetuation of British imperialism refuted it but the Ulster Protestants in the north, who saw it as a perfect move to keep their ties with England (protestantism) consented to the Act. The process of cultural and social diffusion and unity through trade, intermarriage, harmonious living, migration and settlement anywhere in Ireland was disrupted partly because the British then emphasized the differences and prejudices that fostered hatred and division rather than the similarities between the people of Ireland that would promote unity and harmonious living. This was a deliberate act by the British to perpetuate their control over northern Ireland with the reasoning that the separation would give each country self autonomy to manage their own affairs and that they would continue dominating Northern Ireland people, who were more comfortable with their rule thus erasing the notion of the struggle for a unified Republic of Ireland that would either automatically oust them from the Island or suffocate their influence in the Island. This exploitative move by the British only succeeded in throwing the country in to division and bloody conflict contrary to what they expected.

The British further perpetuated their imperialism in Ireland in late 1960s during a violent scuffle the involved the protestants and the Catholics in Belfast and Londonderry. In an attempt to quell this scuffle and bring about peace, the British government after a decade sought to the use of her mighty military power by sending soldiers to Northern Ireland. What remained puzzling was whether the involvement of the British soldiers in this scuffle was to play a neutral role or just to protect their imperialistic interests that were being threatened by the course of this conflict. However, the continued engagement of the British soldiers later answered this puzzle as the soldiers decided on a number of occasions to take parts in a number of conflicts siding more with the unionists who were promoting their interests while on the other hand used disproportionate military force to crackdown demonstrations, and uprising of the nationalists, whom they considered to be anti-British.

With this kind of development, one would easily notice that the British had anterior motive to keep this conflict alive in order to extend a direct rule over Ireland in the name of restoring peace. They just wanted to create avenues for remaining colonial masters in Northern Ireland, thus the conflict.

In conclusion, despite the fact that there were numerous other factor which brought the Irish into conflict, the British with their colonial policies prepared the weed bed and planted the weed against which the Irish were divided, weakened and failed to uproot it but simply nurtured it to their disadvantage. In other words, behind this conflict was British imperialism and for this imperialistic instinct to survive, the British had to divide the people of Ireland, who would continue fighting each other and remain weak so that it becomes easy to rule them. Unfortunately, religion was selected by the British as the best means to divide and later to rule the people of Ireland, thus creating the situation we read, watch, and hear of today in Ireland. Therefore, not mentioning it would be keeping a blind eye on what was evident, that the British colonial presence in Ireland from early antiquity to an extend was a catalyst in this conflict.


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