Oct 30 2018
Ireland’s history to most outsiders is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Those were the words quoted by Winston Churchill about Russia. He was good with words, yes like most politicians, good with words. Politicians feel threatened by words so it’s always useful to be good with words in parliament. Churchill didn’t really like Ireland once he’d found out they wouldn’t be joining in World War Two. Luckily for Ireland, he hated India more. Ireland’s history has been a kaleidoscope of mythology and legend, of mystery and intrigue. Poets and writers have graced it’s land, heroes and heroines, romantic and charismatic figures litter the route, along with a few odd characters, many whom made their fortune overseas and still look affectionately if somewhat through rose tinted spectacles on the old place.
It has also had it’s villains, some looked upon affectionately, others despised as traitors. One of only two women pirates of any note for example, was an Irishwoman called Grace O’Malley who roamed the high seas, the west coast of Ireland bit, in the 18th century on her stolen galleon. She was wanted for treason, but these days she is a legend from Ireland’s past. Likewise the 1916 rebels, vilified at the time by Dublin’s womenfolk, whose sons and husbands were fighting and dying for the English crown at Passchendaele and Ypres, are nowadays looked on as brave martyrs who fought the English invaders for the right to govern their own country.
My family on my mother’s side and both her grandparents came from Liverpool. From Liverpool, they moved to an area of Sheffield called Attercliffe. Liverpool was the first port of call for many Irish, landing on English soil after escaping the ravages of the famine in the mid 1800′s. There is still a considerable Irish influence in Liverpool today.
Attercliffe was the most industrial area of Sheffield, heavily populated and rife with poverty, a city renowned for steel and coal production. Jobs were lowly paid and were ten a penny. As you can imagine it was a very rough area and poverty was rife. Indeed my grandfather was the youngest of nine children so feeding that many mouths was difficult, more so because his father liked his drink so the money had to stretch further. Many families in England have a family history similar to ours. Like many people, I am interested in my lineage, where they came from and how I came to be born in Sheffield. I am a lifelong student of Irish history. I have gleaned much from reading and through conversation with friends in Ireland and have a good understanding of the reasons why the Irish left Ireland in their droves and maybe why one side of my family did.
England occupied Ireland, called it a colony and treated it shamefully rather like it did India, Rhodesia, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria: the list is endless, using its inhabitants for it’s own ends. It never knew quite what to do with Ireland because the Irish had elements refusing to submit to the crown and whilst ever there is an English presence in Ulster, always will have. And rightly so. None of us were born onto this earth to be subservient to others. We are all free.
It is just a natural human feeling we all have in us to stand up for what we feel is right and oppose what we feel is wrong. The potato blight, which started in October 1845 occurred in the following two years causing a devastating famine. In excess of 1,500,000 people starved to death, whilst several other million emigrated. At the exact same time, the rich and land owning classes had never had it so good, exploiting the poor and getting rich and fat from their labours. It got worse when the landowners started kicking tenants off their land and replacing them with sheep. Sheep produced wool and meat, tenants produced little or nothing. The population dwindled from 8 million to 3 million over a few sad years. The fact that the British, (who incidentally were exporting vast amounts of food out of Ireland and into England), could have done something to stop it and did next to nothing, does not help the way most Irish perceive their neo-colonial past. It is a shameful chapter of British history that they allowed a famine of such magnitude to fester under their own rule and do nothing about it.
The British way of evicting someone from their home for non payment of rent was to drag the inhabitants out and demolish their home. Little has changed, save for court cases, fines & rehousing the tenants in non desireable areas of cities and extracting monies by covert means instead of by the end of a wooden club or pistol.
Irish schoolchildren are taught about the English in their history lessons in much the same way we were taught about the Germans. They will have learnt that in the first year of the famine, the English government allocated £100,000 towards the famine relief, of which hardly any got through. Greedy clerks and administrators gobbled up most of it, and yet, in the same year £200,000 was gifted to Battersea Park, London “for the upkeep and refurbishment of!” If they aren’t taught this, they should be! No wonder the Tories are trying to take history out of the school curriculum.
I have not forgotten what my grandparents told me about the Germans. The conditions they were put under, the rationing, the blitz and the “doodlebugs”, the V1 rockets Adolf Hitler sent over towards the end of WW2. My mum says she can remember one flying over Sheffield. I don’t suppose Irish people forget what their descendants told them about the time the English were in Ireland, the famine, the cruel landlords and the barbaric black and tans (battle hardened career soldiers back from the western front with no prospect of employment out of the army).
These pages are my reflections of Ireland and it’s not all serious historical stuff! In the late 1970’s to the early 90’s Ireland changed forever, the old ways are history but they are my history and it was magical.