Ireland’s history is far more complex than it first appears. For a long time the only colony in Europe and today an island that is still divided into Northern and Southern Ireland, Ireland has a unique history compared to other Western European countries. The more traditional historiography in Ireland records a recurring succession of conquest by foreigners and local resistance, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland in the first half of the 20th century.
However, such a chronological historiography does little justice to the historical development of Ireland. In order to understand history and historical developments in Ireland, it is necessary to carefully examine the various points of view and claims made on Irish history from the past. Possible perspectives include the perspective of the Republic of Ireland in the south of the island, a completely opposite attitude of the radical Protestants of Northern Ireland, an attitude of the residents of Northern and Southern Ireland that is more oriented towards the future and coming to terms with the past, as well as a changed direction of research by the historians themselves.
Irish history: Notes
This post is intended to serve as a general reflection on Irish history viewing and writing because, as in other countries, the concept of history in the case of Ireland encompasses more than just a chronological consideration of past events. It is not enough to list facts and figures and enumerate them as a consequence of cause and effect in historical order. This would not only simplify the history of the island, but downright falsify it. Even more: with this general, undifferentiated approach, it is not possible to approach complex contemporary phenomena such as the still existing Northern Ireland conflict.
The considerations and approaches to the historical consideration of Ireland in this article are by no means sufficient to grasp the various interpretations and scientific approaches in their diversity. Rather, the reader is encouraged to give some thought to the way of looking at and understanding Irish history.
Ireland in a Western European and British context
As a small island on the edge of Europe, Ireland already occupies a geographical position as an outsider in Western European historiography. One of the great main roles has always been assigned to its mighty island neighbor England, which through war and political engagement has asserted claims to power far beyond its own national borders not only within Europe, but also worldwide over centuries.
However, Ireland’s influence on and within Europe predates this period of more recent English colonial rule.Ireland’s presence on the European continent was not political but cultural and religious. For Irish monks and missionaries, the small island formed in the 6th to 9th centuries. AD the central starting point for the spread of Christianity in England and on the European continent.
Historiography as we mostly know it today, however, is the story of victories and conquests, of which Great Britain has won a large number. Ireland, on the other hand, never has its own army set up and sent overseas or Europe under the Irish flag. Ireland has never achieved a clear military victory that has clearly clarified the power-political relationships within its own country or on foreign soil.
Until less than a century ago, Ireland was the only colony in Europe to have always been politically, economically and militarily dependent on England and Great Britain. From a British perspective, Ireland was and is an aspect of its own historical development that does not really want to fit into the official historiography. To date, Great Britain has not managed to resolve the Northern Ireland conflict, let alone withdraw from Northern Ireland and free itself from the political responsibility it entails.
Conversely, Europe’s interest in Ireland was always focused on Great Britain. So was z. B. France willing to support the rebellion of 1798 militarily, because this would distract and weaken England in the context of the Franco-British conflict to the advantage of France. It was only under the political conditions in post-war Europe that the Republic of Ireland received attention from Europe that was not oriented towards power politics in the form of financial support from the European community of states .
Ireland and history
As the foreign policy plaything of British power relations within Europe, Ireland played an important role at times, if only for a short time. In general, however, Ireland’s history has had relatively little impact on European historiography. If history is always the story of the victors, then Ireland was of very little historical importance due to its colonial existence until less than a century ago. If it was not connected to Great Britain’s history, then Ireland was and still is often an (imaginary) place for the origin and tradition of the United States of America.But here, too, Irish history is quickly glorified into kitsch and dismissed in the context of important global actions by the USA.
In Ireland itself, history has long been primarily propaganda against British rule over the island. Irish rebels were z. B. made heroes and martyrs in ballads and stories. With increasing distance to the colonial past, the perspective of historical observation also opened up. There are currently many new impulses, especially from Irish historians, to relate Ireland’s history to global and European developments. Only the consideration of history independent of political affiliations appears to be a purely scientific form of historical analysis
to allow. Here the propaganda point of view is avoided and one concentrates instead on a critical examination of one’s own past.
In Northern Ireland, history is a far complicated term. The historical awareness of the republic, which is still dependent on Great Britain, is shaped differently than that of the republic in the south of the island. At the scientific level, research may be able to distance itself from these political realities. However, the various political and religious groups each claim their own version of (Northern) Irish history. This then takes a different form depending on your political views. For the unionists z. B. the colonial past of the island justifies the desire for a closer connection to England.
Ireland: some historical features
In addition to Ireland’s isolated geographic location and ties to England, there are other factors that further complicate the historical development and view of Ireland. Most of them are also the cause of the ongoing conflicts in the north of the island.
If historiography is primarily based on the victories and defeats of a nation, the problem with Ireland is that the island has never been completely subjugated by another culture. The military conquests on Irish soil were always focused on specific areas. The Vikings z. B. concentrated on Dublin and the surrounding area and settled in the so-called Pale, which guaranteed them proximity to the coast. The Norman Conquest failed because of the local conditions: the west of Ireland in particular did not offer any new settlement areas, and the Norman immigrants had their own economic advantage through integration into existing Irish rulership structures (e.g. through marriage or as a mercenary in an Irish army) Königs) and not through their military conquest.
A few centuries later Ireland experienced a tightened constitutional and administrative connection with Great Britain. The fact that domestic policy decisions for Ireland are made by the British Parliament in Westminster(with the participation of Irish MPs), however, contributed to the fact that the conditions on Irish soil were misunderstood or underestimated. In contrast to a colony such as B. India, where England promoted independent administration through appropriate training of the locals.
The complex amalgamation of domestic and foreign rule structures and attitudes now also complicates the concept of nation. Especially with regard to Northern Ireland, this goes hand in hand with the respective version of Irish history. For the Republicans, the Irish nation includes the population of the entire island, north and south, because they do not want to accept the historical circumstances of the independence of Southern Ireland. Here the concept of history develops on the one hand with regard to religious affiliation, e.g. B. Great Britain’s centuries of oppression of Irish Catholics. On the other hand, the particular version of history helps, the own identity of a minority, be it religious or even paramilitary in nature.
However, the latest developments have shown that even this conception of identity, always linked to togetherness, no longer corresponds to the realities on site. Reports of punishments or even executions against one’s own people have become a common headline in the Northern Irish media. The various paramilitary groups not only fight each other, but also take brutal action against their own members or sympathizers and their families.