Musings on Religion, Imperialism, and Identity

Map of Irish Catholic Land Ownership, 1641 and 1688
Map of Irish Catholic Land Ownership, 1688
Maps of Catholic landownership show how quickly colonization occurred in Ireland.
Images courtesy of: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/world-history/irish-plantations-map

The introduction of the Penal Laws in Ireland at the end of the 17th Century set Ireland up for the tumultuous years that followed. While England was nearer to Ireland than to the majority of the English Empire, they were treated no differently than other territories within the British Empire. Kilfeather notes that the Penal Laws disenfranchised Catholics in Ireland, but it also shows the beginning of a trend of disenfranchisement already found within the culture surrounding imperialism and colonialism. This trend towards disenfranchisement began with the Penal Laws, but as Duffy, Sigerson, and Hyde point out, led to the eventual suppression of language and culture.

Duffy, et al.  call for Ireland to throw off the yoke of Anglicization, as the Irish hadn’t learned to love English rule in the centuries that England held the island. They decry the Anglicization of traditional Irish names. This is another way that England treated Ireland as just another colonial property, by creating a culture that rejected names native to the island in favor of English names, the English also attempted to stamp out the Irish identity through individual identities. And while the language was almost successfully stamped out in 1904 when Duffy, et al. called Ireland to embrace its roots and return to an exclusively Irish Identity, the deep-seated religious animosity between the Catholics and the Protestant could not be quelled.

The constant back and forth between Protestantism and Catholicism was mirrored in the back and forth between political parties and Ideologies. As McMahon’s A Short History of Ireland illustrates in great detail from the beginning of the 19century when John Stuart Mill “stated in 1868 that the recurring question was not so much England’s Irish problem as Ireland’s English problem” (148) until the late 20th century, Ireland’s fight for independence and an Irish identity was equally religious and political. As England and other Western nations were becoming more secular Ireland was still fighting a largely religious war as it fought for Independence. Religion being deeply embedded in the Irish identity, as evidenced by  the fact that in“1986, a referendum to allow divorce was defeated, but towards the end of 1995, a new proposal to end de Valera’s constitutional ban on remarriage was carried by the narrowest of majorities.” The hardline religious vigor in the late 20th century shows how horribly colonization and imperialism had failed in Ireland.

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