Relevance Today

Rebellion & Division

Massacre_at_Drogheda2The legacy of Manorhamilton Castle is with us today. The Flight of the Earls and the subsequent Plantation of Ulster sowed the seeds of the division in the Northern part of Ireland.

Whilst in other parts of Ireland the native Irish elite did not completely lose their land or prestige, in the North most Gaelic Lords were totally dispossessed as they aggressively resisted English rule and were regarded as hostile to the Crown.

In 1641 a prolonged rebellion broke out against the new colonists and many planters were killed before it was brutally suppressed by Oliver Cromwell’s infamous campaign in Ireland, leaving an indelible impression of English cruelty on the Irish.

The 1641 rising and subsequent failed rebellions hardened attitudes amongst the settlers to the native Irish and vice-versa. A deep distrust grew which led to increasing segregation of the two communities.

Catholic vs. Protestant

penalSince the Protestant Reformation in England the British crown had been disputed between Protestants and Catholics claimants. The overall European political situation also centred on a struggle for supremacy between Catholic and Protestant monarchs. England’s main rivals were Spain and France who were determined to defeat Protestant England.

Religious repressions were instituted throughout Europe and in Ireland the English introduced a similar series of laws known as the Penal Laws. These laws severely disenfranchised and discriminated against Catholics, who were distrusted, in favour of Protestants, who were known to be loyal to the English crown.

The Penal Laws

hedgeschoolThe Penal Laws were a draconian series of laws enacted over time aimed at imposing English rule and culture in Ireland. The principal laws were as follows:

  • Exclusion of Catholics from all elected or public offices and teaching positions.
  • Ban on intermarriage with Protestants.
  • Exclusion from voting, University education and the military.
  • Exclusion from the legal professions and the judiciary.
  • Right of son to inherit entire family estate on conversion to Protestantism.
  • Ban on the teaching or public use of the Irish language.
  • Ban on converting from Protestantism to Catholicism and on Catholics inheriting Protestant land.
  • Priests had to register to preach, bishops were banned and the building of churches was obstructed .


daniel o'connell2These laws persisted for generations and engendered a deep sense of victimisation in their own country amongst the native Catholic population. The Penal Laws were not largely repealed until 1829 with the granting of Catholic Emancipation achieved by Daniel O’Connell (pic). However the Protestant Ascendancy retained power in Ireland until the 1916 rebellion led to the partitioning of Ireland in 1921, into the Southern Irish Free State and the State of Northern Ireland. The Free State eventually became the independent Irish Republic whilst Northern Ireland remained united with England.

Civil Rights

Derry-Civil-Rights-March-BSIn the South the Ascendancy lost their power to the Catholic middle class but in Northern Ireland Unionists remained in control. Catholics were still routinely treated as second-class citizens and continued to be denied power, influence and opportunity.

In the late 1960’s young Catholics, emboldened by the success of the Black Civil Rights movement in the USA,  began demonstrating for equal rights with Protestants in Northern Ireland. This Civil Rights movement was opposed by the state leading to violent clashes. The British Government moved to suppress the movement but the situation rapidly escalated into the sectarian war which became known as ‘The Troubles’.

‘The Troubles’

troubles2The guerrilla army known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was formed with the aim of ending British rule in Northern Ireland. They were opposed by the British Army and Police as well as Loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). This bitter conflict was characterised by surprise attacks, assassinations and bombings combated with imprisonments, ambushes and military rule.

Finally in 1998 a negotiated settlement was achieved after intense diplomatic efforts involving the US and the United Nations. Nationalist and Unionist politicians together with the Irish and British Governments signed the Good Friday Agreement which brought an end to the conflict after almost 30 years. The  Agreement mandated the setup of a new devolved power-sharing Government between Unionists and Nationalists so as to ensure fair representation and equal access to decision-making and administration.

Peace and Reconciliation

610x2A welcome spirit of reconciliation has emerged as Ireland attempts to heal the wounds of the Northern troubles.

Manorhamilton Castle stands as a testament to the struggle for supremacy in Ireland between Protestant and Catholic, native and settler, which began in earnest those hundreds of years ago. The Castle ruins may appear to the modern visitor like an ancient building from another age, unrelated to our own. However, it is sobering to observe how the same divisions and enmity which led to its construction and destruction have persisted, unresolved, right up to the dawn of the 21st century.

Hope for the Future

It is time surely for forgiveness and trust to develop between all people in this country, allowing each tradition to be respected. It is important not to ignore history and perhaps the violent story of Manorhamilton Castle will serve as reminder that oppression and violence is futile, and ultimately only destructive.

Hopefully the present peace process in Northern Ireland will lead to a lasting change for the better and that the legacy of war and division has finally come to an end on this island.

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