Truth, Justice and Reconciliation (Part 1) by Jessica McGrann

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There is no handy roadmap for reconciliation. There is no short cut or simple prescription for healing the wounds and divisions of a society in the aftermath of sustained violence. Creating trust and understanding between former enemies is a supremely difficult challenge. It is, however, an essential one to address in the process of building a lasting peace. Examining the painful past, acknowledging it and understanding it, and above all transcending it together, is the best way to guarantee that it does not, and cannot, happen again.

More fine words, this time from the archbishop Desmond Tutu from his handbook for post- conflict reconciliation.

His book is based on extensive research of global historic conflict and of course from first-hand experience from his own country South Africa.

The bottom line being, there is no one size fits all solution and as with all human societies each solution has to be carefully tailored to fit the needs of the communities involved.  The handbook does however offer a wealth of experience and wisdom from which we can draw from and hopefully use to tailor our own solutions.

So where do we start?

Why not, “Examining the painful past, acknowledging it and understanding it”

I would say to understand the past events leading to the troubles in the north of Ireland we need to go back to the 1600s with the plantation of Ulster where Britain began the organised colonisation of an estimated half a million acres covering counties Tyrconnell, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan, Coleraine and Armagh bringing over hundreds of thousands of mainly Scottish and English, all protestants and forcing the gaelic clans lords to flee into exile after a century of leading the fiercest resistance to English control in Ireland.

Most of counties Antrim and Down were privately colonised and the rest taken by force.  The plantation of Coleraine was overseen by the City of London Livery Companies who renamed its main trading town of Derry to Londonderry before later redrawing the boundaries and creating the new county of Londonderry.

Colonising Ulster with loyal settlers was seen as the only way to prevent further rebellion.

With the civil wars in England and ascension of James 2, Catholics were appointed into positions of control over the protestant planters which continued until the Williamite wars when after the battle of the Boyne most Irish land was confiscated by the Crown and sold to loyalists who were mainly English soldiers and traders which led to the Protestant Ascendancy who became the ruling class over the native Irish nationalist and Ulster-Scots unionists.

They implemented the penal laws which were designed to restrict the religious, political and economic activities of Catholics and Presbyterian Dissenters.

Excluded them from public office

Banned them from intermarriage with Protestants

Presbyterian marriages would not be legally recognised by the state

Catholics barred from holding firearms or serving in the armed forces

Excluded from voting

Excluded from the legal professions and the judiciary

Banned from foreign education

Barred from entering Trinity College Dublin

Ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land

Prohibition on Catholics owning a house valued at over £5

In the house of commons, Edmund Burke described these as “a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

By the 1780s Britain was preoccupied with its rebelling American colonies and withdrew its soldiers from Ireland to fight in the American Revolutionary War leaving the Irish Volunteers militia defending Ireland from the threat of French and Spanish invasion who along with protestant liberals formed the Irish Patriot Party who wanted to relax the penal laws giving more rights to the catholic Irish nationalist and Presbyterian ulster scots, while encouraging an Irish identity.

At the same time in Ulster, the Protestant Peep o’ Day Boys were carrying out night-time raids on Catholic homes under the pretence of confiscating arms which Catholics were prohibited from possessing under the terms of the Penal Laws to which the authorities failed to act. In response, the Defenders were formed initially defensive in nature but by 1790 they had merged into a widespread secret oath-bound fraternal organisation consisting of lodges, associated to a head-lodge led by a Grand Master and committee with each member swearing an oath to King George the Third and who began raiding protestant homes for arms in a tit for tat sectarian conflict.

With growing sectarian tension, a more radical movement was forming, inspired by enthusiasm for the largely bloodless French Revolution and letters by William Drennan printed in the Belfast Newsletter calling for Irish Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters to unite together to seek independence from Britain. Wolfe Tones Society of United Irishmen sought a fully independent and representative parliament for Ireland free from the interference of the British establishment claiming “We have no national government; we are ruled by Englishmen, and thus servants of Englishmen, whose object is the interest of another country, whose instrument is corruption; whose strength is the weakness of Ireland.”

Following the French declaration of war on Britain in February 1793, the movement was outlawed and went underground from 1794 as they became more determined to force a revolt against British rule. The leadership was divided into those who wished to wait for French aid before rising and the more radical elements that wished to press ahead regardless. However, the suppression of a bloody pre-emptive rebellion, which broke out in Leitrim in 1793, led to the former faction prevailing and links were forged with the revolutionary French government with instructions to wait, sent to all of the United Irish membership.

Worried by its presence, the Dublin administration conceded some reforms, allowing Catholics the vote, to become barristers and to enrol at Trinity College Dublin in 1793. The Hearth Tax, paid by all households, was abolished in 1795, and St Patrick’s seminary at Maynooth was founded. Catholics were also expected to join the militia and to inform on any United Irish activities.

In 1794, William Drennan became the first leader to be arrested and tried for sedition as the authorities began to react to the growth of the United Irishmen, followed by the Reverend William Jackson. In 1795 the loyalty of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was confirmed with the founding of Maynooth College. At that stage, the Church and the French republic were enemies because of the dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution.

A planned confrontation between the Defenders and the Peep o’ Day Boys at the Battle of the Diamond resulted in 30 Defenders killed inflicting no casualties, which led to the formation of the Orange Order and the onset of “the Armagh outrages” where they drove around 7,000 Catholics out of County Armagh. Later when accused of bigotry by the Irish Patriot Party, they blamed it on the Peep o’ Day Boys who then became the Orange Boys.

In 1796 a French fleet carrying 15,000 troops set sail for Ireland but due to weather conditions spent days in sight of the Cork coast at Bantry Bay but were unable to land and instead returned to France.

The British government responded to the threat it represented by arresting the bulk of the United Irish leadership, imposing martial law and attempting to break the movement by the widespread use of terror during heavy handed searches for weapons. A rising in Cahir, County Tipperary broke out in response, but was quickly crushed by the High Sheriff, Col. Thomas Judkin-Fitzgerald. The Establishment used tactics including house burnings, torture of captives, pitchcapping and murder, particularly in Ulster as it was the one area of Ireland where large numbers of Catholics and Protestants (mainly Presbyterians) had affected common cause. In May 1797 the military in Belfast also violently suppressed the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star.

The British establishment recognised sectarianism as a divisive tool to employ against the Protestant United Irishmen in Ulster and the divide and conquer method of colonial dominion was officially encouraged by the Government. Brigadier-General C.E. Knox wrote to General Lake who was responsible for Ulster: “I have arranged… to increase the animosity between the Orangemen and the United Irishmen, or liberty men as they call themselves. Upon that animosity depends the safety of the centre counties of the North.”

Similarly, The Earl of Clare, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, wrote to the Privy Council in June 1798, “In the North nothing will keep the rebels quiet but the conviction that where treason has broken out the rebellion is merely popish”, expressing the hope that the Presbyterian republicans might not rise if they thought that rebellion was supported only by Catholics.

Loyalists across Ireland had organised in support of the Government; many supplied recruits and vital local intelligence through the foundation of the Orange Order in 1795. The Government’s founding of Maynooth College in the same year, and the French conquest of Rome earlier in 1798 both helped secure the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church to rebellion; with a few individual exceptions, the Church was firmly on the side of the Crown throughout the entire period of turmoil.

In March 1798 intelligence from informants amongst the United Irish caused the Government to sweep up most of their leadership in raids in Dublin. Martial law was imposed over most of the country and its unrelenting brutality put the United Irish organisation under severe pressure to act before it was too late.

General Napper Tandy, a leader of the uprising, authored a proclamation entitled ‘Liberty or Death’:

“Can you think of entering into a treaty with a British Minister? A Minister too, who has left you at the mercy of an English soldiery, who has laid your cities waste, and massacred inhumanely your best Citizens … Horrid crimes have been perpetrated in your country, your friends have fallen a sacrifice to their devotion to your cause, and their shadows are around you and call for vengeance … wage a war of extermination against your oppressors, the war of Liberty against tyranny, and Liberty shall Triumph”

Tens of thousands rose in the surrounding counties but lack of leadership resulted in the rebellion being crushed with vicious brutality. The campaign met with little success except in Wexford where a number of massacres of loyalist civilians who were largely Protestant raised the spectre of sectarianism which was seized upon by enemies of the United Irishmen to weaken their non-sectarian appeal. The eventual arrival of 1,000 French troops in Killala, County Mayo in August was too little and too late to turn the tide for the United Irishmen. In October, Wolfe Tone himself was captured when a supporting French fleet of 3,000 troops was intercepted and defeated by the Royal Navy near Lough Swilly.

The aftermath of almost every British victory in the rising was marked by the massacre of captured and wounded rebels with some on a large scale such as at Carlow, New Ross, Ballinamuck and Killala. The British were responsible for particularly gruesome massacres at Gibbet Rath, New Ross and Enniscorthy, burning rebels alive in the latter two. For those rebels who were taken alive in the aftermath of battle, being regarded as traitors to the Crown, they were not treated as prisoners of war but were executed, usually by hanging.

In addition, non-combatant civilians were murdered by the military, who also carried out many instances of rape, particularly in County Wexford. Many individual instances of murder were also unofficially carried out by local Yeomanry units before, during and after the rebellion as their local knowledge led them to attack suspected rebels. “Pardoned” rebels were a particular target.

County Wexford was the only area which saw widespread atrocities by the rebels during the rebellion. Massacres of loyalist prisoners took place at the Vinegar Hill camp and on Wexford Bridge. After the defeat of a rebel attack at New Ross, the Scullabogue Barn Massacre occurred where between 80 and 200 mostly Protestant men, women, and children were imprisoned in a barn which was then set alight. In Wexford town, on 20 June some 70 loyalist prisoners were marched to the bridge and piked to death.

Thus the birth of the current sectarian divisions still evident in Northern Ireland today.

18 Responses to Truth, Justice and Reconciliation (Part 1) by Jessica McGrann

  1. ben madigan December 12, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    Nice article Jessica. I’m looking forward to reading the next parts.

    In the meantime here are some contemporary views of English administrators in Ireland on the behaviour of the Orange Order in the years immediately after its foundation

    • jessica December 13, 2015 at 10:57 am #

      Thank you Ben

      The Orange Order were indeed central to the sectarian conflict which has plagued Ireland for centuries and continues to this day where they still play a central role in its perpetuation.

      Some of the key points I was hoping to get across where the misconceptions in Irish history of which very little was peaceful or bloodless.

      British rule in Ireland post 1690 oppressed both the native irish and ulster scots irish taking land and giving it to English soldiers who became the ruling class anglo-irish.

      If you imagine the safeguards within the GFA were not there and unionist parties once again had a majority rule, they would be slipping in to the role of anglo-irish ruling class. You can be sure the nationalist / catholics would be worse off, but likewise the working class ulster scots community are hardly benefitting either. Harry posted recently an article referencing comments made by Dawn Purvis claiming there was elitism within unionism.
      Are the unionist parties trying to fill the role of middle class anglo-irish and if so, where does this leave the working class loyalist communities?

      A large percentage of ulster scots planters spoke Gaelic and I am sure this has helped mould what is todays ulster irish which has its own distinct vocabularyfrom irish spoken in say Cork. Many loyalists are rightly reclaiming their ownership of our shared language though there are others who for some unfathomable reason wish to see everyone talk to the dialect of broken english spoken by some areas of scotland that developed more from poverty and lack of education.

      Home rule was sought by Catholics, ulster scots protestants and the anglo irish liberals who tried to unite all of the groups under one banner to strive for english rule to be removed from ireland. It was only later after brutal military oppression this turned to seeking full independence from britain.

      The Catholic church was always more loyal to the crown and even today still nails its colours where it gets the better deal.

      The catholic defenders fraternity was based on the freemasons, sworn to secrecy and swearing an oath of loyalty to the crown, the orange order on its conception followed suit. The Orange Order was officially used by the British establishment instructed to kill and do what was necessary to increase the animosity between the Orangemen and the United Irishmen. Today, we see the state forces are still using agents to do their dirty work and the Orange Order is still hell bent on encouraging animosity though no longer at the behest of the British state.

      I think it is essential that better understanding exists of our history, warts and all for reconciliation to begin.

  2. Iolar December 12, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

    Much food for thought in your article. Volf argues:

    “One person’s justice is another person’s barbarity and society is threatened with the chaos of violence.”

    Will a violent past lead to a peaceful future? The omen’s are not good. A road map for reconciliation based on the partial administration of justice and contempt for Human Rights serves no useful purpose. As long as representatives of the British government hide behind national security, a term with a high level of use and a low level of meaning, this part of the island will remain a dysfunctional entity. Who is the Secretary of State trying to deceive, apart from herself, when she says that disclosing information about the past, could be of use to individuals perpetuating violence in the present. There has been a conspiracy of silence about the deaths of children, men and women at the hands of the security forces. Some files on such matters will remain closed until 2050. Cui bono?

    Attempts at slick political choreography will not fool many people. Most people recognise nepotism and control in the political system. Secretaries of State come and go and the legacy of the troubles remain. A fresh start based on a garrison mentality, with riot police and a Parades Commission to adjudicate on contentious marches is a false start. Let us have a fair start in 2016,

  3. Pointis December 12, 2015 at 6:51 pm #

    A very nice interesting article Jessica. I look forward to the follow up piece!

  4. paddykool December 13, 2015 at 9:47 am #

    That was an excellent refresher course, Jessica. I wonder though, do our people actually read their history and are they taught any of it ,or maybe just some of it , at school. Some of us are interested enough to read through extensive articles about our local stories and deduce how we got from that to this, or from A to B. i’m even thinking in terms of the recent history of this past fifty years. it still seems that many have no idea what actually happened here, even though much of it has been filmed.

    • Wolfe tone December 13, 2015 at 7:27 pm #

      Paddykool, from my experience our young people are taught in the schools from the civil rights period up to the GFA. Absolutely inadequate if we want our youth to understand how we got here etc. I have even heard teachers astonishingly state that republicans were Catholics. When it was pointed out to them that many of the founders of republicanism were very much not catholic it was agreed but not discussed. A subtle sectarianism is being taught in our schools and that’s in spite of Sinn Fein having the education portfolio from its inception. Personally I don’t want a sectarian headcount to decide on a United ireland, firstly because it’s anti republican and secondly the Catholics would let you down anyway! Far better to teach our kids the true history of Catholic,Protestant and dissenter.

      • jessica December 13, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

        “Personally I don’t want a sectarian headcount to decide on a United ireland, firstly because it’s anti republican and secondly the Catholics would let you down anyway! ”

        I agree completely, I was born and raised a catholic, but I have never felt any affiliation with Catholicism whatsoever. The catholic church seems to do what is in its best interest rather than the people it represents which makes it no better than many organisations.

        • jessica December 13, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

          I should have added, in my own yes as it was meant as an opinion rather than a statement of fact.

        • Wolfe tone December 14, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

          Jessica just like you I was born and raised as a Catholic and but have no affiliation to it. In my youth I unknowingly through ignorance, thought in a sectarian way due to where I lived,hung out with etc. As I got a bit wiser I realised the Catholic Church was contributing subliminally to the sectarianism in our country. It wasn’t all the fault of the Protestant community that’s for sure.
          I have seen photos of Protestants from the shankill rd marching at bodenstown in the 30’s alongside other republicans and I scratch my head pondering where it went wrong. How did republicans not build on that? Those same Protestants were confronted for carrying a banner at the march because it was claimed no banners were allowed. Alas they were beat and some believe the underlying motive was sectarianism.
          Fast forward to the present day I have heard R.E teachers although joking, it carries a sting, suggesting those of the Protestant faith come from the ‘dark side’. Absolutely inappropriate and makes my blood boil.
          The bottom line is thus, there are certain influential sections of both communities who absolutely want sectarianism to continue because they are doing very well out of it.

    • TheHist December 13, 2015 at 7:36 pm #

      PK, the problem with the history curriculum in schools is the broad range of topics that have to be taught outside of Irish History – Nazi Germany, Russia, US History, Cold War to name but a view. As a History teacher with a love for Irish History, I try where possible to relate everything to Ireland (Normans, Tudors right through to Civil Rights), although that’s not consistent across schools. Irish History, until GCSE and more specifically A-Level, is generally browsed over – it doesn’t really give young people the adequate depth – if taught well, it definitely sparks an interest in some young people at an early stage. But, this lack of depth prevents many understanding the past and the more immediate past – History should be a compulsory subject at GCSE, in my opinion – it offers so much to our divided society. Over the years of teaching, I have seen young people with very radical political and historical views, change when they start to properly understand the past – they hear and see views that have never been exposed to them. Segments of history across the North are so often claimed as “our history” by each community, which is wrong. History is something that should be shared by communities regardless if it fits into ones historical narrative or not.

      The difficulty with History is the misconceptions and lack of knowledge of History – many young people have distorted views of history through their parents, communities etc that is very often wrong – misinterpreted History then creates hatred and used as a dangerous weapon. The problem with Irish History is what is the truth? Whose truth is the right truth? Can people accept other views contrary to their own? History is so often based on religious affiliation, which again I feel is wrong. As a History teacher I try to give as impartial a view I can and allow, based on facts, young people to form their opinions. I am a big believer, “if we don’t know who we are, then we are whoever somebody says we are.”

      • jessica December 13, 2015 at 10:40 pm #

        “Segments of history across the North are so often claimed as “our history” by each community, which is wrong. History is something that should be shared by communities regardless if it fits into ones historical narrative or not.”

        I agree but don’t believe it is possible to fully teach Irish history in school.
        The narratives of the same events can be told to give a completely different perspective depending on ones point of view and as you say, there is already so much to cram in. It is also however, essential that our own people do sufficiently understand their own history to know who they are and what they want to be.
        A museum of Irish history where each event has evidence based narratives coving all relevant points of view would I think be the only way to achieve this.
        Schools from all of Europe would travel to it so see complex history told in such fashion and there is no more relevant a location in Europe than here.

    • jessica December 13, 2015 at 9:00 pm #

      “I wonder though, do our people actually read their history and are they taught any of it ,or maybe just some of it , at school.”

      Hardest part is not the reading of it Harry, but making any bloody sense of it all. 🙂

      • paddykool December 14, 2015 at 11:48 am #

        I was thankfully taught some history by a teacher who wasn’t afraid to veer away from the curriculum and fill in some of the “gaps”.He encouraged debate too.Most school history books tell only the sketchiest of stories, in any case, because the story was so convoluted.My grammar school days finished in June 1970 so you can imagine the times we were being taught in what with the “Troubles” just ramping up over those past couple of school years before it really went to blazes.Lots more has happened since then ….

        Can you imagine what a future historian writing in a hundred years , about 2015 would make of for example,Peter Robinson’s recent “Hokey Cokey”? Can you imagine what any student of the Irish history of the 21st century would make of it? There’d be no way of making any sense of it at all.

  5. TheHist December 13, 2015 at 1:55 pm #

    Jessica, “I would say to understand the past events leading to the troubles in the north of Ireland we need to go back to the 1600s.” Perhaps, you could go further back further. I recall Catriona Ruane on, I think it was Spotlight, few years ago, going back to the Norman Invasion of 1167 as being the catalyst for understanding why we are where we are today.

    Henry VIII could also be attributed to a “cause” of our current problems. Apart from sending a large army of 2,300 to Ireland, Henry tried to assert control over Ireland with four measures:

    Firstly Henry sent a large army of 2,300 to Ireland.

    Secondly, he tried to break the power of the powerful Fitzgeralds. He confiscated their land and killed all male members of the family – except one, an infant half-brother to Lord Offaly.

    Thirdly, in 1536, he introduced the Reformation into Ireland, hoping to make Ireland a Protestant county loyal to the Crown. Obviously he failed in this instance and his predecessor, namely his daughter, Elizabeth I was more successful in this instance. A disloyal Ireland was what would be deemed today, a threat to National security, a backdoor for Catholic France and Spain to attack England.

    Finally, in 1541, Henry declared himself King of Ireland. He declared that all lands in Ireland were to be surrendered to the Crown and would only be returned if the owners pledged their loyalty. The Irish and Anglo-Irish were horrified.

    Henry VIII‘ s Irish policy marked a turning point in the history of relations between England and Ireland:

    1. It added religion to the problems already faced by English kings in Ireland. To be regarded as truly loyal, Irish Catholics would have to change their religion.

    2. It introduced a new fierceness and lack of tolerance in the conduct of relations with Ireland. Executions were now commonplace.

    3. Its expense forced English rulers to look for cheaper alternatives to controlling Ireland, thus paving the way for the policy of plantation or settling Protestants in Ireland.

    4. It began a train of events which transformed Ireland. In 1500 royal authority was feeble and mainly confined to the Pale. By 1700 royal authority was extended to all parts of the country.

    I feel the Act of Union, that punishment initiated by the British, that Act which took away Ireland’s legislative independence and subsumed the country into Westminster created the immediate division of today. I feel an Ireland governed by the Irish, post Catholic Emancipation, offered Ireland any hope of reconciliation.

    • jessica December 13, 2015 at 8:51 pm #

      Thank you for filling in that period TheHist, there are so many points of view which is why Irish history is so complex.

  6. jessica December 13, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

    Could I point out a correction drawn to my attention,
    where it reads “Prohibition on Catholics owning a house valued at over £5”, should of course read horse.
    Sorry about the typo.

  7. ben madigan December 13, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

    Thank you for your long and thoughtful reply Jessica.

    Apart from the orange order’s sectarian and violent past (and in some instances present ) today it is still so far entwined with unionist politics as to create an enormous conflict of interest.

    When Unionist voters vote for a candidate who is a member of the orange order, as so many are, nobody knows whether the voters are convinced of the benefits of Union or of Orange order sectarianism.

    And nobody knows if Orange Order MLAs and MPs pursue orange order aims in their political work (see the Haass talks for an example of what i mean).

    Personally speaking I think some way must be found to remove the orange order from NI politics.

    Another point in your article which interested me was the part about the penal laws.
    The prohibition of conducting Court business in any language but English is still in force to day in NI

    • jessica December 14, 2015 at 12:27 am #

      “Personally speaking I think some way must be found to remove the orange order from NI politics.”

      The Orange Order is a sectarian organisation at its core, just as the Defenders were.
      Sectarianism is still being used to manipulate animosity when needed for political expediency or to divide and conquer.
      All forms of and drivers for sectarianism must be eradicated in its entirety from whatever quarter, not only the Orange Order.

      There are many similarities I feel between that period and today.

      You could say, had the catholic church not been so prevalent in Ireland, it would already be united and independent from britain.

      The closest we got to unity was the protestant united irishmen and they failed because of mistrust of the catholic church and the anti papist animosity which existed and perhaps still does.

      The catholic church was loyal to the king throughout, and even today I can see why they would be considered untrustworthy.

      Protestant planters and even english soldiers appear to have had no problem embracing the irish language, sharing trade and even a desire to establish an independent Irish culture. It was always the mistrust of the catholic church in particular that seemingly was used to their downfall.

      Perhaps TheHist could shed some light on this.