A country Divided


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"A Country Divided" from One Belfast Boy by Patricia McMahon

The following excerpt focuses on the civil conflict in Ireland

In 1170, the king of England, Henry II, declared himself king of Ireland as well. Gradually, with great bloodshed, Ireland was brought under the control of England, or Great Britain, as England came to be known. Through the centuries, Ireland was held as a colony of the British Empire - held against the wishes of the Irish people.

There were also other people living in Ireland, however. English settlers had been going to Ireland for centuries, and beginning in 1609, James I, then king of England, offered land to Scottish settlers if they would move to Ireland and farm the land - land that was being taken from the native Irish.

To the Irish, these new arrivals came to be known as the strangers: people with a different language, a different way of life, and, most important, a different religion. For the people of Ireland were Catholic and the strangers taking over their land were Protestant. At that time in England, and in much of Europe, a terrible intolerance existed between different religions.

1. Based on the first few paragraphs, what is the author's purpose for this article?

A. To entertain B. To inform C. To persuade

The English gradually put laws into place that said Catholics could not own land, could not vote, could not be elected to public office, or work for the government. Catholics were not allowed to be lawyers. They were not allowed to speak the Irish language or study Irish history or literature. They were forbidden to hold Mass. Bishops, priests, and monks were forced to leave the county. By 1790, the Irish people owned only 5 percent of their own land, and in 1800 the British government passed the Act of Union, declaring Ireland part of the Untied Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

2. What are three important things the Catholics were forbidden to do by the English?


b. _____________________________________________________________________

c. _____________________________________________________________________

Through the long years of British rule, the Irish fought for their freedom. They fought with what weapons they had, in rebellions great and small- rebellions that the vast British army always put down. The Irish fought with words as well as weapons. They organized and signed petitions, held massive nonviolent protests, and after Catholics regained the vote in 1829, they lobbied in the English Parliament for their freedom.

In 1916, during World War I, a small rebellion broke out in Dublin, (Ireland's Capital) on Easter Monday. The Irish rebels were quickly defeated. Sixteen of the leaders were shot, and many men and women were jailed, including some who had not been involved. Anger grew in Ireland. People began to join Sinn Fein, a political group working for Irish freedom. In the Irish language, Sinn Fein means "ourselves alone."

3. What was the reason for the civil war? What religion were the rebels?

intolerance - prejudice; hostility to other groups

Mass - Catholic church service

lobbied - attempt to influence

Those who felt it was necessary to fight with weapons joined the IRA - the Irish Republic Army - and fought the British army where and when they could. The outnumbered IRA, lead by a man named Michael Collins, managed to inflict losses on the superior British forces. The Irish people began to believe that this time would be different; this time freedom would finally come.

But the Protestants of Ireland did not approve of the rebellion. They had lived in Ireland for generations. They owned land and business, and they knew who they were: They were British subjects, and they believed Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom. They were willing to fight to keep it so. "No surrender" became their motto. Great numbers of Protestants were living in the North, which they called Ulster. Their cry was "Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right.

4. Did the Protestants favor the Catholics or the British government? Why?

The damages inflicted by the Irish rebels grew, and in 1920, the British government met with the Irish for peace talks. After difficult negotiations, the British finally agreed to Irish demands for self-government and freedom. But they did not agree to freedom for all of Ireland. Ulster, where so many British Protestants lived, would become Northern Ireland and would become part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. This was the deal the British offered. If it was not accepted, the talks would be ended, and the fighting would begin again.

4. How did the British government divide Ireland?

In Ireland, the arguments over the proposal were fierce. In the end, Ireland took the offer. But anger over the division of the country was so strong that civil war broke out. Friends who had fought together against the British now turned on one another.

And so in 1921, while most of the Irish gained their freedom, the Catholics of Northern Ireland remained under British rule. In the new Ulster, Catholics could not vote unless they owned land, which few did. Businesses, government, public housing, and jobs were all controlled by Protestants.

In 1968, Catholics began to form civil rights organizations, inspired by the work of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States. Catholics wanted to have the same rights as Protestants. They began a series of protest marches across Northern Ireland. The government forbade the marches. Catholic demonstrators were attacked and gassed. Catholic homes, neighborhoods, and churches were attacked by mobs who believed that the Catholics were not entitled to equal rights.

The Catholics began to fight back, arming themselves. The Irish Republican Army, whose numbers had dwindled since the country was divided, became active again. The British army moved in to try to stop the fighting, but the battles grew worse. After fourteen unarmed protesters were killed by a British army regiment in 1972, on a day that became known as Bloody Sunday, the IRA's membership swelled. Soon the cities and towns of Northern Ireland were battlegrounds.

Both sides made bombs and blew up buildings, and created armies. Both Catholics and Protestants were guilty of murder and mayhem. At one point, there were as many as seven armed groups on the streets of Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. Even the question of civil rights seemed to have been lost amidst the violence and the constant calls for revenge.

More that 3,200 people have died in the fighting called "The Troubles"-men, women, and children-Protestants and Catholics alike. They died over the question “Are we British or are we Irish?" And after all this time, there are still two very different answers to that question. The deaths have not changed this.

5. What peaceful protest was attempted?

6. Name two violent results of the fighting.


b. _________________________________________________________________________

The habit of hating is a hard one to break, but many people believe it is worth a try. People on both sides who want peace keep working to stop the fighting. In 1997, a new cease-fire went into effect. Peace talks began, which led to the signing of a peace accord in 1998. A new government for Northern Ireland guarantees the rights of Catholics. But some say there will be no peace until the whole island is one country. Others say there will be no peace if that ever happens.
Although a peace accord was signed in 1998, as of 2001, peace has not been established in Northern Ireland. Both sides continue to work on resolving the conflict.

7. What is the main idea of "A Country Divided"?



"Lives in the Crossfire" from Children of "the Troubles" Laurel Holliday

December 20, 1976

I would love to risk sleeping some Christmas night with curtains flung back from the windows, nothing but shiny black glass between me and the stars and sky, the drizzle and the horses, but [IRA] bombs ruthlessly silence my wishes, for a while at least.

-from the diary of Sharon Ingram, eighteen years old, Balleygawley

28th April, 1994

I am frightened living on this street across from the Protestants. I am frightened they will com e and kill us because this is the eleventh time they have shot people in our street. I don't know why they want to kill us.

-from the diary of Bridie Murphy, eleven year old, Belfast

From the moment children are born in Northern Ireland, they begin to live in a majority Protestant or a majority Catholic neighborhood. They go to either a Catholic or a Protestant school, and their friends are likely to be exclusively one or the other. They are taught to shop only in their "own" shops in some towns and, eventually, to socialize only in their "own" pubs. And of course, when they die they will go to a segregated graveyard.

Amazingly, I think, to those who haven't been raised there, in Belfast even the taxis divide along religious lines, with one fleet heading to Catholic and another to Protestant neighborhoods. In some parts of the country, even the sidewalks are painted to designate political/religious loyalties. In addition to these very obvious distinctions that children need to learn in order to survive in Northern Ireland, they also absorb differences in language and perspective that set them apart from one another for the rest of their lives. If you are Catholic, for example, you call Northern Ireland's second largest city Derry; if you are Protestant, it is Londonderry to you. If you are Catholic, you call the nearly three decades of "the Troubles" a war; if you are Protestant, you are careful to point out that there has been a terrorist uprising, not a war, in Northern Ireland.

In fact, even the name you call your country will be in question. If you are raised in a Catholic family wanting the reunification of Ireland, you will refer to the North of Ireland as your homeland or call it the six counties, rather than making it sound as if it were a separate country called North Ireland. And if you were raised in a Protestant environment, you will be more likely to call your country North Ireland or Ulster.

8. Give two examples of the difference between Catholics and Protestants living in Northern Ireland.

a. __________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________

b. __________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________

Not only are most children in North Ireland set on divergent sectarian (different paths based on belonging to a particular religious group) courses from birth, but from the age of seven some Protestant and Catholic children are coerced into running secret errands for terrorists and assembling and hiding their weapons.

Although the majority of people in North Ireland abhor the violence and take no part in it themselves, virtually every family in North Ireland has had members beaten, tortured, or murdered, and the country's children have been witness to it all. For this is not a private war, conducted behind closed doors, not a war where the men go away to fight the enemy. This is an everyday, in-your-face war, where the enemy lives on the next block and speaks (almost) the same language.

9. What is one similarity that both the Catholics and Protestants have faced?

10. What is the main idea of the article "Lives in the Crossfire"


perspective - point of view

reunification - joining together

coerced - force

abhor - hate


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