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Protestant Irish Nationalism is the support for the reunification of Ireland by Protestants in Northern Ireland (previously a supporter in Ireland of a more or less fully independent Irish nation, varying from a form of home rule to complete independence). Prior to the creation of the Republic of Ireland, Irish Nationalists sought by both constitutional and by physical-force means to sever the Act of Union binding the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Protestant nationalists are notable because nationalism in Ireland is chiefly associated with Roman Catholics, while those Irish people who have preferred to maintain the union with Britain since 1800 have been mostly Protestants. Despite their relatively small numbers, key events such as the 1798 rebellion, the influence of the constitutional Parliamentary Party from 1886 and the 1916 Easter Rising would not have developed as they did without Protestant involvement.

Across the island of Ireland, the largest Protestant denomination is the Church of Ireland (having roughly 365,000 members,[1] making up around 3% of the Republic of Ireland and 15% of Northern Ireland), followed by the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (having a membership of around 300,000,[2] accounting for 0.6% of people in the Republic and 20% of Northern Ireland). As of 2008, 4% of Protestants in Northern Ireland supported reunification with the Republic of Ireland.[3]

Contents

Pre-Union background

In the eighteenth century the first attempt towards Irish home rule with little influence from London was led by the Irish Patriot Party in the 1770s and 1780s, inspired by Henry Grattan.

The Age of Revolution inspired Protestants such as Wolfe Tone, Thomas Russell, Henry Joy McCracken, William Orr, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, The Sheares Brothers, Archibald Hamilton Rowan, Valentine Lawless and others who led the United Irishmen movement. At its first meeting on October 14, 1791, all attendees, minus Tone and Russell (two Anglicans) were Presbyterians. Presbyterians, led by McCracken, James Napper Tandy and Neilson would later go on to lead Protestant and Catholic Irish rebels in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Tone did manage to unite if only for a short time, at least, some Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters into the "common name of Irishmen", and would later go on to try to get French support for the rising, recalling the failed French Bantry Bay landing of 1796.

At that time, the French republicans were opposed to all churches. Such men were inspired by Tom Paine of the American Revolution, who disapproved of organized religions in The Age of Reason (1794-95) and preferred a deist belief. Though the United Irish movement was supported by individual priests, the Roman Catholic hierarchy was opposed to it, in part because its new seminary in Maynooth had been funded by the government in 1795.

During the 1798 rebellion the military leaders were also largely Anglicans. After the initial battles in County Kildare the rebels holding out in the Bog of Allen were led by William Aylmer. In Antrim and Down the rebels were almost all Presbyterians, and at the Battle of Ballynahinch the local Defenders decided not to take part. In County Wexford, which remained out of British control for a month, the main planner and leader was Bagenal Harvey. Only in Mayo, where there were few Protestants, was the rebellion led entirely by Catholics, and it only developed because of the landing by a French force under General Humbert. The disarming of Ulster saw several hundred Protestants, tortured, executed and imprisoned for their United Irish sympathies. The rebellion became the main reason for the Act of Union passed in 1800.

1803 and 1848

In 1803 there was another Irish rebellion led by Robert Emmet, brother of Thomas Addis Emmet. He was joined by other Protestants such as James Hope and was later executed for his part in the rising. In the 1840s Thomas Davis, the revolutionary writer and poet, and John Mitchel were involved in the radical politics of their day, and William Smith O'Brien led the rebellion in 1848.

The democratic and non-violent Repeal Association led by Daniel O'Connell in the 1830s and 1840s was supported by a number of Protestants; the most eminent being Sir John Gray, who later supported Butt and Parnell (see below), and others such as James Haughton.

Home Rule period 1870-1914

Politicians

The new Home Government Association was founded by Isaac Butt in 1870, who died in 1873. William Shaw presided over the convention held to found its successor, the Home Rule League of which he was chairman. He was followed by Charles Stewart Parnell founder of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP). Herbert Henry Asquith called Parnell one of the most important men of the nineteenth century and Lord Haldane called him the most powerful man that the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland had seen in 150 years. Parnell led the Gladstonian constitutionalist Home Rule movement and for a time dominated Irish and British affairs. However, at the height of his power he was to be dethroned by the O'Shea divorce affair and died soon afterwards.

Other Protestant Nationalist Members of Parliament were: Sir John Gray, Stephen Gwynn, Henry Harrison, Jeremiah Jordan, William McDonald, J. G. Swift MacNeill, James Maguire, Pierce Charles de Lacy O'Mahony, Isaac Nelson, John Pinkerton, Horace Plunkett and Samuel Young.

Several Protestant figures in the early Northern Ireland Labour Party were nationalists. These included MPs Jack Beattie, Sam Kyle and William McMullen and labour leaders James Baird and John Hanna.[4] Meanwhile, trade unionist Victor Halley was a member of the Socialist Republican Party.

Artists

While not active nationalist supporters, authors who wrote about Irish life and history, such as William Wilde, William Carleton, Whitley Stokes and Samuel Ferguson helped to develop nationalist sentiment.

From 1897 the artist and mystic George Russell (also known as "Æ") helped Horace Plunkett to run the Irish Agricultural Organisational Society.[5] The IAOS rapidly grew into the main Irish rural co-operative body through which Irish farmers could buy and sell goods at the best price. Plunkett was also a cousin of George Noble Plunkett, father of Joseph Mary Plunkett. Horace Plunkett's home in County Dublin was later burned down in 1922 by anti-treaty Irish republicans during the Irish Civil War, as he had been appointed a Senator in the first Irish Free State Senate.

Russell was also involved in the "Celtic Revival" (or Celtic Twilight) artistic movement, that provided an intellectual and artistic aspect supportive of Irish nationalism. This was also largely started and run by Protestants such as WB Yeats, Lady Gregory, Sean O'Casey and JM Synge, who also founded the influential but controversial Abbey Theatre that opened in 1904.

1916-22 / some Protestant republicans

"The Dying Cuchulain", a sculpture by Oliver Sheppard.

Sam Maguire recruited Michael Collins into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in 1909. From 1928 the main prize for Irish football awarded by the Gaelic Athletic Association has been the Sam Maguire Cup.

In 1908 Bulmer Hobson and Constance Markiewicz founded the Fianna Eireann, intended as a nationalist boy scout movement. The Irish Volunteers were a paramilitary organisation established in 1913 by Irish Nationalists and separatists including Roger Casement, Bulmer Hobson and Robert Erskine Childers, all Protestant Irish nationalists (although Casement, who had been secretly baptized a Catholic by his mother, officially converted to Catholicism just before he was hanged in 1916). The Irish Volunteers were formed in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers by Edward Carson and James Craig. The Ulster Volunteers were a Unionist paramilitary movement who feared a Dublin-centric, anti-protestant Home Rule parliament in Dublin.

The Irish Citizen Army existed from 1913-1947 and one of its creators was Jack White from Ulster, son of General George White. On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, 220 of the group (including 28 women) took part in the Easter Rising. Most of the rifles and ammunition used in the Rising had been imported from Germany in July 1914 by Robert Erskine Childers on his yacht "Asgard" along with Conor O'Brien and assisted by the former Quaker Bulmer Hobson. The rest of the rifles were shipped by Sir Thomas Myles, at the suggestion of the barrister James Meredith, and were landed at Kilcoole. In 1913 Hobson had sworn Patrick Pearse into the IRB; Pearse was one of leaders of the Rising. A prominent signatory to the Anglo Irish Treaty in late 1921 that followed the Anglo-Irish war was Robert Barton, a cousin of Childers.

The archetypal work of art that commemorated the 1916 Rising, the statue of the dying mythical warrior Cuchullain, was sculpted by Oliver Sheppard, a Protestant art lecturer in Dublin who had been a moderate nationalist for decades. Cast in bronze in 1911, it was unveiled at the GPO in 1935.

In the subsequent Irish Free State governments Ernest Blythe, a former member of the Irish Volunteers, held various ministerial posts. Seán Lester was a League of Nations diplomat. The founder of the Gaelic League and first President of Ireland was Douglas Hyde. Dorothy Macardle opposed the 1921 Treaty and was a life-long supporter of Eamon de Valera, writing his view of history in The Irish Republic (1937), but also refusing his suggestion to convert to Catholicism on her deathbed in 1958. Some like the Revd. Robert Hilliard fought in the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39.

Former unionists in the Free State

As well as the more or less republican Protestants, a considerable number of former Protestant unionists accepted the new reality and worked with the new Free State from its difficult start in 1922-23. These included judges such as Lord Glenavy, whose suggestions for a new law courts system was enacted as the Courts Act 1924, and twenty accepted nominations to the new Senate, such as Lord Mayo.

Protestant nationalist converts to Roman Catholicism

A large number of Protestant nationalists also converted to Catholicism, for a variety of reasons:

1940-present

Protestants in Belfast joined the minority Republican Congress and the Irish Republican Army in the 1930s and 1940s. These included John Graham, George Gilmore and George Plant.[4] Plant was hanged in the Irish Free State for his activities. Neither group developed mainstream popular support.

Later figures included Ronnie Bunting of the Irish National Liberation Army and John Turnley who were assassinated by the Ulster Defence Association. Bunting was the son of Ronald Bunting, a close associate of Ian Paisley.[8] John Turnley, also killed in 1980, was the Protestant Chairman of the Irish Independence Party.

Today in Northern Ireland most Ulster Protestants oppose the reunification of Ireland, traditionally supporting continued union with Great Britain. However there are some who do support reunification, or are indifferent, though it is a small percentage. In the past, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) has had some Protestant councillors, the most famous recent leader of Protestant Nationalism being Ivan Cooper. Billy Leonard, a former member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), is currently a councillor for Sinn Féin (Leonard's wife and children are Catholic).

Republic of Ireland

As far as is known, Protestants in the Republic of Ireland (largely Church of Ireland) support Irish re-unification in accordance with the referendum of 1998. The Irish media considers that the Republic's chief spokesman for Protestant interests is Martin Mansergh, previously a senator and a long-term advisor to the Irish government on Northern Ireland, who was in 2007 elected a TD in the 30th Dail. In 2009 he stated that a United Ireland was no longer a government priority; the important thing was that the border had disappeared socially if not legally.[9]

See also

References


A Protestant Nationalist is a Protestant supporter in Northern Ireland of the unification of Ireland (previously a supporter in Ireland of a more or less fully independent Irish nation, varying from a form of home rule to complete independence). Prior to the creation of the Republic of Ireland, Irish Nationalists sought by both constitutional and by physical-force means to sever the Act of Union binding the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Protestant nationalists are notable because nationalism in Ireland is chiefly associated with Roman Catholics, while those Irish people who have preferred to maintain the union with Britain since 1800 have been mostly Protestants. Despite their relatively small numbers, key events such as the 1798 rebellion, the influence of the constitutional Parliamentary Party from 1886 and the 1916 Easter Rising would not have developed as they did without Protestant involvement.

Across the island of Ireland, the largest Protestant denomination is the Church of Ireland (having roughly 365,000 members[1], making up around 3% of the Republic of Ireland and 15% of Northern Ireland), followed by the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (having a membership of around 300,000[2], accounting for 0.6% of people in the Republic and 20% of Northern Ireland). As of 2006, 7% of Protestants in Northern Ireland supported reunification with the Republic of Ireland[3].

Contents

Pre-Union background

In the eighteenth century the first attempt towards Irish home rule with little influence from London was led by the Irish Patriot Party in the 1770s and 1780s, inspired by Henry Grattan.

The Age of Revolution inspired Protestants such as Wolfe Tone, Thomas Russell, Henry Joy McCracken, William Orr, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Archibald Hamilton Rowan, Valentine Lawless and others who led the United Irishmen movement. At its first meeting on October 14, 1791, all attendees, minus Tone and Russell (two Anglicans) were Presbyterians. Presbyterians, led by McCracken, James Napper Tandy and Neilson would later go on to lead Protestant and Catholic Irish rebels in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Tone did manage to unite if only for a short time, at least, some Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters into the "common name of Irishmen", and would later go on to try to get French support for the rising, recalling the failed French Bantry Bay landing of 1796.

At that time, the French republicans were opposed to all churches. Such men were inspired by Tom Paine of the American Revolution, who disapproved of organized religions in The Age of Reason (1794-95) and preferred a deist belief. The Roman Catholic hierarchy was opposed to the United Irish movement, though it was supported by individual priests, in part because its new seminary in Maynooth had been funded by the government in 1795.

During the 1798 rebellion the military leaders were also largely Anglicans. After the initial battles in County Kildare the rebels holding out in the Bog of Allen were led by William Aylmer. In Antrim and Down the rebels were almost all Presbyterians, and at the Battle of Ballynahinch the local Defenders decided not to take part. In County Wexford, which remained out of British control for a month, the main planner and leader was Bagenal Harvey. Only in Mayo, where there were few Protestants, was the rebellion led entirely by Catholics, and it only developed because of the landing by a French force under General Humbert. The disarming of Ulster saw several hundred Protestants, tortured, executed and imprisoned for their United Irish sympathies. The rebellion became the main reason for the Act of Union passed in 1800.

1803 and 1848

In 1803 there was another Irish rebellion led by Robert Emmet, brother of Thomas Addis Emmet. He was joined by other Protestants such as James Hope and was later executed for his part in the rising. In the 1840s Thomas Davis, the revolutionary writer and poet, and John Mitchel were involved in the radical politics of their day, and William Smith O'Brien led the rebellion in 1848.

The democratic and non-violent Repeal Association led by Daniel O'Connell in the 1830s and 1840s was supported by a number of Protestants; the most eminent being Sir John Gray, who later supported Butt and Parnell (see below), and others such as James Haughton.

Home Rule period 1870-1914

Politicians

The new Home Government Association was founded by Isaac Butt in 1870, who died in 1873. William Shaw presided over the convention held to found its successor, the Home Rule League of which he was chairman. He was followed by Charles Stewart Parnell founder of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP). Herbert Henry Asquith called Parnell one of the most important men of the nineteenth century and Lord Haldane called him the most powerful man that the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland had seen in 150 years. Parnell led the Gladstonian constitutionalist Home Rule movement and for a time dominated Irish and British affairs. However, at the height of his power he was to be dethroned by the O'Shea divorce affair and died soon afterwards.

Other Protestant Nationalist Members of Parliament were: Sir John Gray, Stephen Gwynn, Henry Harrison, Jeremiah Jordan, William McDonald, J. G. Swift MacNeill, James Maguire, Pierce Charles de Lacy O'Mahony, Isaac Nelson, John Pinkerton, Horace Plunkett and Samuel Young.

Several Protestant figures in the early Northern Ireland Labour Party were nationalists. These included MPs Jack Beattie, Sam Kyle and William McMullen and labour leaders James Baird and John Hanna.[4] Meanwhile, trade unionist Victor Halley was a member of the Socialist Republican Party.

Artists

While not active nationalist supporters, authors who wrote about Irish life, such as William Wilde, William Carleton and Samuel Ferguson helped to develop nationalist sentiment.

From 1897 the artist and mystic George Russell (also known as "Æ") helped Horace Plunkett to run the Irish Agricultural Organisational Society.[5] The IAOS rapidly grew into the main Irish rural co-operative body through which Irish farmers could buy and sell goods at the best price. Plunkett was also a cousin of George Noble Plunkett, father of Joseph Mary Plunkett. Horace Plunkett's home in County Dublin was later burned down in 1922 by anti-treaty Irish republicans during the Irish Civil War, as he had been appointed a Senator in the first Irish Free State Senate.

Russell was also involved in the "Celtic Revival" (or Celtic Twilight) artistic movement, that provided an intellectual and artistic aspect supportive of Irish nationalism. This was also largely started and run by Protestants such as WB Yeats, Lady Gregory, Sean O'Casey and JM Synge, who also founded the influential but controversial Abbey Theatre that opened in 1904.

1916-22 / some Protestant republicans

Sam Maguire recruited Michael Collins into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in 1909. From 1928 the main prize for Irish football awarded by the Gaelic Athletic Association has been the Sam Maguire Cup.

In 1908 Bulmer Hobson and Constance Markievicz founded the Fianna Eireann, intended as a nationalist boy scout movement. The Irish Volunteers were a paramilitary organisation established in 1913 by Irish Nationalists and separatists including Roger Casement, Bulmer Hobson and Robert Erskine Childers, all Protestant Irish nationalists (although Casement, who had been secretly baptized a Catholic by his mother, officially converted to Catholicism just before he was hanged in 1916). The Irish Volunteers were formed in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers by Edward Carson and James Craig. The Ulster Volunteers were a Unionist paramilitary movement who feared a Catholic dominated Home Rule parliament in Dublin.

The Irish Citizen Army existed from 1913-1947 and one of its creators was Jack White from Ulster, son of General George White. On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, 220 of the group (including 28 women) took part in the Easter Rising. The rifles and ammunition used in the Rising had been imported in July 1914 by Robert Erskine Childers on his yacht "Asgard" along with Conor O'Brien and assisted by the former Quaker Bulmer Hobson. In 1913 Hobson had sworn Patrick Pearse into the IRB; Pearse was one of leaders of the Rising. A prominent signatory to the Anglo Irish Treaty in late 1921 that followed the Anglo-Irish war was Robert Barton, a cousin of Childers.

The archetypal work of art that commemorated the 1916 Rising, the statue of the dying mythical warrior Cuchullain, was sculpted by Oliver Sheppard, a Protestant art lecturer in Dublin who had been a moderate nationalist for decades. Cast in bronze in 1911, it was unveiled at the GPO in 1935.

In the subsequent Irish Free State governments Ernest Blythe, a former member of the Irish Volunteers, held various ministerial posts. Seán Lester was a League of Nations diplomat. The founder of the Gaelic League and first President of Ireland was Douglas Hyde. Dorothy Macardle opposed the 1921 Treaty and was a life-long supporter of Eamon de Valera, writing his view of history in The Irish Republic (1937), but also refusing his suggestion to convert to Catholicism on her deathbed in 1958. Some like the Revd. Robert Hilliard fought in the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39.

Former unionists in the Free State

As well as the more or less republican Protestants, a considerable number of former Protestant unionists accepted the new reality and worked with the new Free State from its difficult start in 1922-23. These included judges such as Lord Glenavy, whose suggestions for a new law courts system was enacted as the Courts Act 1924, and twenty accepted nominations to the new Senate, such as Lord Mayo.

Protestant nationalist converts to Roman Catholicism

A large number of Protestant nationalists also converted to Catholicism, for a variety of reasons:

1940-present

Protestants in Belfast joined the minority Republican Congress and the Irish Republican Army in the 1930s and 1940s. These included John Graham, George Gilmore and George Plant.[4] Plant was hanged in the Irish Free State for his activities. Neither group developed mainstream popular support.

Later figures included Ronnie Bunting of the Irish National Liberation Army and John Turnley who were assassinated by the Ulster Defence Association. Bunting was the son of Ronald Bunting, a close associate of Ian Paisley.[8] John Turnley, also killed in 1980, was the Protestant Chairman of the Irish Independence Party.

Today in Northern Ireland most Ulster Protestants oppose the reunification of Ireland, traditionally supporting continued union with Great Britain. However there are some who do support reunification, or are indifferent, though it is a small percentage. In the past, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) has had some Protestant councillors, the most famous recent leader of Protestant Nationalism being Ivan Cooper. Billy Leonard, a former member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), is currently a councillor for Sinn Féin. (Leonard's wife and children are Catholic).

Republic of Ireland

As far as is known, Protestants in the Republic of Ireland (largely Church of Ireland) support Irish re-unification in accordance with the referendum of 1998. The Irish media considers that the Republic's chief spokesman for Protestant interests is Martin Mansergh, previously a senator and a long-term advisor to the Irish government on Northern Ireland, who was in 2007 elected a TD in the 30th Dail. In 2009 he stated that a United Ireland was no longer a government priority; the important thing was that the border had disappeared socially if not legally.[9]

References

  1. World Council of Churches
  2. Presbyterian Church of Ireland
  3. [1]
  4. 4.0 4.1 Michael Farrell, Northern Ireland: The Orange State
  5. *Plunkett Foundation history
  6. Aodh de Blacam notes
  7. Gone But Not Forgotten - Fiona Connolly
  8. Beginning of the End
  9. Irish Times report, 10 June 2009

See also


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