The Great Brexit Backstop stumbling block has revealed just how little British politicians seem to know about Ireland, its people and its history.

Racism puts up a smokescreen between the perpetrator and the victim. Neither can see the other clearly: facts, figures and human relationships become obscured by hatred and ignorance.

In the main the British Education system and the national curriculum, has done little to lift the veil by offering positive information about the language, culture and history of those subjugated by the Brutish Empire. If racism is to be challenged, schools have a crucial role to play.

Twenty-one lesser known facts about Ireland and the Irish

  1. As the official language of Ireland, Irish is recognised as a modern European language by the European Union but is not available as a language option in British schools.
  2. The Irish language is older than Anglo-Saxon, and both Scottish Gallic and Manx are dialects of Irish.
  3. More people, and a larger proportion of the population in the Northern Ireland (where there is a no special provision for Irish language broadcasting), make regular use of Irish than speak Welsh in Wales (which has its own Welsh language TV channel) or Gallic in Scotland (where the British government is funding Gallic Broadcasting Service).
  4. The first Irish parliament is reputed to have been held on the Hill of Tara at least seven centuries Before Christ.
  5. St Brendan the Navigator, a theologian and founder of a school at Clonfert, County Galway, is credited in many different accounts with having ‘discovered’ a new world on the far side of the Atlantic, during the 6th century AD, 800 years before Columbus.
  6. During England’s so-called ‘Dark Ages’, Ireland flourished  as a centre of trading, manufacture and scholarship, with universities to which students came from across Europe (avoiding the dangerous route through Britain).
  7. In the 7th century the English scholar known as the Venerable Bede wrote: ‘At that time there were many of the English nation, both of noble and of lesser rank, who, whether for divine study or to lead a more continent life, had left their native land and had withdrawn to Ireland. Certain among them gave themselves up willingly to the monastic way of life, while others rather went form cell to cell of the teachers and took pleasure in cultivating study. And all of these the Irish mots freely received and made it their study to provide them with food from day to day without any charge, with books to read and with free teaching.‘
  8. Early Ireland had its own system of codified laws, the Brehon Laws, which predated Roman law and continued to operate into the 16th century. Based on arbitration conducted by a professional Brehon (law giver) they covered every aspect of personal and social relationships.
  9. The last time Ireland was a united kingdom was under Ard Rhi (High King) Brian Boru at the end of the 10th century. He died aged 73 in a battle against Viking invaders.
  10. The Norman Catholic king of England, Henry II, who invaded Ireland in 1171 had the blessing of the only English pope, Adrian IV, and his successor Pope Alexander III. He gave control of Dublin to the burghers of Bristol. The Dutch Protestant king William of England, who invaded Ireland in 1690, was part-financed by Pope Innocent XI. The Popes had wanted to bring Irish Catholics to heel, but William of Orange declared the Episcopalian Church the only legal religion, causing mass emigration from Ireland among both Catholics and Scottish Presbyterian settlers, to America and Canada.
  11. The expression ‘beyond the Pale’ refers to the wicker barricades set by by Henry II’s commanders to enclose an area of ‘ethnic cleansing’ around Dublin. For centuries England failed to gain absolute control of the Irish countryside. Even the gentry given land and sent out to colonise it tended to ‘go native’, marrying into local families and adopting Irish customs and language. 
  12. Henry VIII was the first English monarch to officially call himself ‘King of Ireland’ in 1541. However, the whole of Ireland was only declared to be part of Britain by an Act of Union passed in Westminster in 1800.
  13. The term ‘Lynch law’ originates from 15th century Galway, where the mayor John Lynch FitzStephen passed sentence on and publicly executed his own son for killing a Spanish guest, after local people had refused to hang the murderer and tried to rescue him.
  14. As part of a long campaign to hamper Irish trade England introduced a two-tier currency in 1477, after jailing Irish merchants who used Irish coinage in Bristol. The Irish version was worth 25% less that its English counterpart. Refusal to honour the new currency exchange rate was made punishable by death.
  15. Oliver Cromwell launched an 11 year war in Ireland in 1649, and executed English soldiers who refused to take part. Under his order to drive the Irish ‘to Hell or Connaught’ thousands of Irish people were slaughtered and their lands given to the conquering soldiers. Catholics owning more than 50 acres of land were sent into internal exile in the barren north-west province of Connaught.
  16. Ironically, the term ‘Tory’ originates from the Irish toraighe (a pursuer) after the 17th century dispossessed who took to the hills and engaged in a guerrilla war against the English colonialists. It came to be used a term of abuse against any militant Irish, Catholics or Royalists, including those who opposed the exclusion of the Catholic James II from succession to the English throne. The latter were the forebears of the modern Conservative and Unionist party.
  17. Dublin-born Anglican statesman Edmund Burke was elected MP for the city of Bristol in 1774. He lost his seat in 1780 for opposing the penal laws that discriminated against Irish Catholics, and supporting Ireland’s right to engage in free trade. His statue still stands in Bristol city centre. Among his most significant quotes are: ‘Bad laws are there worst sort of tyranny.’; ‘ When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.’; ’ Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.’;  ‘It is a general popular error to imagine the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.’;  ’The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth.’;  ’Superstition is the religion of feeble minds.’
  18. Ireland’s green, white and gold flag owes its origins to the tricolour flown during the French Revolution. The white symbolises peace between republicanism (green) and unionism (gold/orange).
  19. Over a million Irish people died during the ‘Great Starvation’ (1845-51) after the failure of successive potato crops upon which the peasantry depended for food. At the time huge quantities of barley, oats, wheat, vegetables, meat and dairy produce were exported from Ireland to England. In the following decade two million Irish people emigrated, reducing the population by 25%.
  20. The term ‘boycott’ owes its origins to the fate of Lord Erne’s estate agent in County Mayo. Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott became a laughing stock when he complained in a letter to The Times that the locals would not do business with him. For refusing it accept rent from tenants and ordering their eviction, he became the first person to be ostracised under the Irish Land League campaign of 1880.
  21. Ireland’s greatest export has been its people, whether as artists, doctors, economic migrants, missionaries, political exiles, missionaries, nurses, writers or traders or writers. As a result more than 100 times the current population of Ireland can claim Irish descent. Anyone who can trace a grandparent born in the Republic was under British rule (before the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921) may claim Irish citizenship.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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