Ireland’s Bedraggled Journey

Part one of a speech delivered by Ard Chomhairle member John Joe McCusker at the Ruairi O’Bradaigh summer school in 2017. Giving a brief historical narrative of Irish Republicanism up to the present day.  

Each year, perhaps on several occasions Irish Republicans are requested to review and reassess Ireland’s bedraggled journey from the time of Brian Boru to the present day.  I use the word bedraggled because for the past eight hundred and fifty years our people have never know true freedom, been subjected to harsh penal laws, transportation, evictions and starvation.  Despite this we have never accepted slavery, defeat or conquest.


The English fully recognised following the 1798 Rebellion that they could only frustrate the efforts of Irishmen and Irishwomen to claim their place among the free nations of the world.  Despite the Repeal act of 1782 and the Act of Renunciation in 1783 which put the Irish Parliament beyond the power of England; the English brought influence to bear on the members of the Irish Parliament of the dangers of allowing Catholics into the legislature.


Although at this time the Irish Parliament was only Landed Protestant gentry, there was an affinity across the landed gentry Protestant and Catholic and there was a fear that this would lead to equality which would see Catholics in the Irish Legislative Parliament. Indeed this was highly probably as the Irish Parliament had in fact given a vote to the Catholic Gentry and property holders in 1793.  The natural progression of this would need to be averted and so England made her move to undermine what was described as Henry Grattan’s’ Parliament.


The English did not initially have the numbers in the Irish Parliament and so they did what they do best, coerce.  Some members to the Parliament were blackmailed some were purchased and a policy of gerrymander was conceived whereby new boroughs were carved out and loyal members elected on slender numbers.   These were to become known as ‘Rotten Boroughs’ as they had no evidence of necessity; except to deliver a favourable vote.  Henry Grattan the leader in the Parliament pleaded the case for the retention of the Irish Parliament, despite this, the majority of members voted the Irish Parliament out of existence.


Having secured the Act of Union in 1800 the Act became effective January 1801. The English now involved themselves in the second stage of the strategy.  It was envisaged by the English that Catholic Emancipation would eventually be arrived at.  In 1829 Catholic Emancipation was secured by Daniel O’Connell.  The vote however was again attached to land ownership and at this stage peasant farmers were only tenants and had no vote.

It was also the English desire to purchase the affections of the Catholic Church and the Catholic landed gentry and thereby retaining a semblance of democracy.  To the greatest extent they were successful in this.


All rights had to be agitated and fought for.  The ‘Great Hunger’ of 1847, which could so easily have been avoided, had a national government been in control, was to devastate the country while the ships full of corn and cattle sailed from our shores the people of Ireland starved.


The Young Ireland movement offered some resistance but this was easily dealt with and was ‘run of the mill’ colonial management for the British military and their Irish constabulary.


Between 1847 and 1852 our country lost three million of our people to death and emigration as a consequence of the English Government’s management.


The Irish Fenian movement was founded and commenced a campaign in England in 1867.  This was known as the dynamite campaign. Always throughout our history we have resisted the strangulation of our small Nation by this foreign power. 1916 – The Easter Rising – and throughout each decade since; political agitation and campaigns of guerrilla fighting and bombing have been used to force the English from our land. The execution of our Irish Leaders, this leading into the War for the Independence of our country.


The establishment by England of a ‘Free State’ Parliament controlling 26 counties and the northern state comprising 6 counties remaining under English control. The 1956-62 border campaign with the death of many volunteers and this inspiring the young men of the six occupied counties to again assert the right of the Nation to National Independence.


The people of Ireland on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday marching for ‘One Man One Vote’, one hundred and forty years following ‘Catholic Emancipation’.  They were answered with English bullets.  Fourteen of our people died in consequence.  ‘Croppy lie down’. The death of combatants and the slaughter of the innocent continued for many years culminating in the Hunger Strikes of 1980 and 1981 and the death of Ten Brave Men.


The move towards politics, the split in the Republican Movement the abandonment of the Republican Constitution and the recognition of the English established parliaments in Dublin and Belfast. Sporadic resistance continuing from the Republican Movement and elements of the provo movement which have moved steadily away from the constitutional approach chosen by the Provos.


So to the latest fall-out at Stormont and the intrigue surrounding England’s ‘Brexit’ from the European Union.  Politics galore and another European battle fought on Irish soil.


European politicians can come to our country visiting and shake their fists at England, they may fool the people of Ireland but they will not fool the people in the Republican Movement.   What border exists between Britain and Europe shall exist between the six counties and the 26 counties unless there is constitutional change.   European Capitalism and British Capitalism, I suspect, shall take the workers of Europe and Britain for every last cent on the currency markets.  Time to prop up the status quo.  Bonanza time at the stock exchange.


Still the essence of the Irish struggle remains and still England holds firm.  They have the bullets, they have every ounce and they still have our country.


Now to what some will say were, perhaps, missed opportunities in Irish history. The Renunciation Act 1783. The Irish Appeals Act 1783 (23 Geo 3 c28) commonly known as the Renunciation Act, was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. By it the British Parliament renounced all right to legislate for Ireland, and declared that no appeal from the decision of any court in Ireland could be heard in any court in Great Britain.


Grattan’s Parliament:

Could this have emerged and developed into an Irish Parliament for all the Irish people.  (One is prompted to ask the question was ‘Irish Parliamentary Independence put it place in order to ‘democratically’ remove it). (democratically by English standards). Whatever about this, the pace of change was seen as slow, although twenty years in politics is a relatively short period.  Impatient perhaps, but the parliament was not the parliament of a republic and the men of 1798 had a sound core of Protestant, Presbyterian and Catholic men at arms and seized on the opportunity to rise in rebellion to secure the republic.  (The leadership of the rebellion were perhaps alive to the divisions been carefully fostered by an alien people). With the rebellion defeated, (as stated earlier) the English turned their attention to the Irish Parliament also referred to as ‘Grattan’s Parliament’.


Although peopled by a Protestant landed gentry, England perceived there existed an affinity with the Catholic landed gentry of Ireland and this was seen dangerous to the intent of the English.

The 1798 Rebellion was further evidence of a coming together of all Irishmen.


Grattan’s Parliament would have to be undermined and so to work again for the English.  Irish Parliamentarians were bribed, coerced and the establishment of new ‘Rotten Boroughs’ whereby new and loyal members were returned to the parliament.  Thus, the Irish Parliament voted the Parliament out of existence and the Act of Union was secured in 1800. The Act became effective in January 1801.  (Like slavery, all legal and above board).

Home Rule:


Could Ireland have secured a Home Rule Government as envisaged by John Redmond?  Could this have evolved naturally towards an Independent Ireland?  The answer lies in the fact that England had partition in their minds from , at least, as far back as 1912 and the Buckingham Conference.


England was at all times holding fast to any ground and any power as long as they could stand up an intoxicated democracy.


The English Government would always change the goalposts long before any democratic process could effect change.   These two examples of great forward planning by HM Government needs to be heeded by Irish Nationalist and Republicans.


Could the failing power sharing at Stormont, coupled with Brexit, move to the next phase and become yet another gross injustice on the Irish people?  


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