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Northern Ireland 

Short History of Northern Ireland

Here is some information regarding the history of Northern Ireland.  This is not a comprehensive or complete history, but it aims to serve as a backdrop for the discerning tourist to understand how Northern Ireland came to be and the causes of the conflict that Northern Ireland is most notable for. 

The Plantation of Ulster

Northern Ireland is currently the most Protestant part of the island of Ireland.  (In the last census, approximately 45.6% of the population identified themselves as Protestant, 40.3% identified themselves as Roman Catholic while 13.9% identified themselves as no religion.)  However, this was certainly not always the case.  Northern Ireland had a key part to play in Irish resistance in the era of Queen Elizabeth and has been described as the most Gaelic part of the island of Ireland during that time by scholars.  Ulster eventually became the subject of a major planting of Scottish and English settlers in the early1600s after land was confiscated from the Irish owners.  This is since known as the Ulster Plantation, and was done to alleviate the threat that Ulster had become to the remaining part of the United Kingdom.  The plantation of people in Ulster worked, and by 1920, six counties of Ulster contained an overall unionist majority and would later form Northern Ireland. 

Act of Union and Home Rule

The all-island Kingdom of Ireland merged into the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland in 1801 with a parliament and government based in London.  Throughout the 19th century Irish opposition to the Act of Union was strong with a resulting cry for Home Rule (or an Irish Parliament that would make decisions on Irish concerns).  Ulster unionists fought deeply over the Home Rule issue as they felt that Home Rule may mean Rome Rule.  The battle lines were drawn. 

Ultimately, a Home Rule Bill was passed in 1914 (receiving Royal ascent and placed on the statute books) however it was suspended following the outbreak of the First World War.  A rebellion occured in 1916 in Dublin during the First World War; this was ultimately put down, but the follow-up to the rebellion was mishandled terribly by the British.  In the aftermath of the rebellion, the call for Home Rule in Ireland subsided; they wanted the British completely off the island and called for a completely independent Ireland.  In 1919, after the First World War had ended and a general election result in which Sinn Fein received a majority, 27 Sinn Fein MPs assembled themselves in Dublin and declared themselves, an independent parliament of an Irish Parliament.  The British ignored this and the Anglo-Irish War or the Irish War of independence commenced.

Anglo-Irish War and Anglo-Irish Treaty

This conflict lasted until 1921 and resulted in the Anglo-Irish Treaty being signed in December 1921 by both a British and Irish contingent.  This treaty was required to be ratified by both national governments, which it duly was and the Irish Free State was created in December 1922.  This treaty also allowed Northern Ireland an opt out option of the Irish Free State if the treaty was ratified.  One day after the Irish Free State was created, Northern Irleand opted out of the Irish Free State thereby partitioning the island. 

The Ireland Act of 1949

This act was the first legal guarantee that Northern Ireland would not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of its citizens. 

 

 


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