Why the Irish Empathise With Palestine
In the middle of the sixteenth century the English government decided to ‘plant’ English settlers in Ireland. The reasons were complex but certainly included the perceived need to expand the reach of the new Protestant religion beyond England’s shores. But it was also about reasserting the superiority of the Anglo-Normans who invaded the island 400 years earlier. And those Anglo-Normans were the descendents of the people who invaded England from Northern France a hundred years before that, and conquered it.
I use ‘England’ and ‘English’ rather than ‘Britain’ and ‘British’ in this context because Britain did not exist yet: England was still at war with Scotland at the time.
England’s ability to govern the island was frustrated. The governing families were confined to an area on the East coast known as ‘The Pale’. It was thought that by taking land from its current owners and giving it to English families the influence of the old Gaelic clans could be diluted.
The policy didn’t work then, nor did it work when it was expanded over the next couple of centuries and included the settling of large numbers of England’s old enemies from Scotland. It just led to many more years of conflict: the burning of crops and homes by both sides; sieges, ambushes, massacres.
After more than three and a half centuries of this, a two-state solution was imposed on the Island of Ireland. That was a hundred years ago this month. And there are still people on both sides of the border between the two states that don’t like it. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s they continued the violent conflict. Despite the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ of 23 years ago, there are still communities in parts of Northern Ireland where mutual hatred is so ingrained that they are separated by physical barriers.
Was the conflict about religion, or just a land grab? Or both? Personally I believe it was mostly about land. It was also, incidently, about defence materiel: Ireland had an abundant supply of native timber ideal for building the ships with which England subsequently conquered a large part of the world. Ireland now has fewer native trees per square kilometre than most of the rest of Europe.