Be­ware per­fid­i­ous Al­bion again

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Letters -

Sir — So the DUP is now de­scrib­ing the Brexit back­stop as poi­son, as though its ex­is­tence is prevent­ing them from reach­ing some kind of nir­vana with other Brex­i­teers in a brave new world. They would do well to learn a few les­sons from his­tory.

One of the water­shed events in the his­tory of the North, apart from Brexit and the con­flict from 1970-1998, is the Siege of Derry. In 1689-90, a smaller force of Protes­tant de­fend­ers (Epis­co­palian, Pres­by­te­rian, non-con­form­ist) held out for six months against a greater Ir­ish Catholic force loyal to King James, and by the slimmest of mar­gins and the luck­i­est of cir­cum­stances, man­aged to break the boom on Lough Foyle, thus al­low­ing re­lief ships to come to their res­cue. This coura­geous de­fence se­cured Ul­ster for King Wil­liam and en­sured Protes­tant dom­i­na­tion there for 300 years un­til to­day.

But not ev­ery­thing was rosy there­after in Ul­ster’s gar­den. A lit­tle re­counted fact is that, for all their al­le­giance to King Wil­liam, the Pres­by­te­ri­ans in par­tic­u­lar were to be sadly dis­ap­pointed in think­ing their loy­alty to the king would count in their favour. Firstly, English landown­ers killed the flour­ish­ing Ir­ish cat­tle trade by procur­ing laws from Par­lia­ment pro­hibit­ing the im­por­ta­tion into Eng­land of Ir­ish cat­tle, sheep, pigs, pork, ba­con and even but­ter and cheese. The Nav­i­ga­tion Act was passed un­der which Ir­ish ships were pre­vented from any share of trade with the colonies and was thus an­ni­hi­lated.

With the Ir­ish cat­tle trade killed by the jeal­ousy of the English, the Pres­by­te­ri­ans and other union­ist landown­ers turned to sheep to pro­duce wool of ex­cel­lent qual­ity. But English wool mag­nates again moved swiftly to ruth­lessly kill the com­pe­ti­tion. In 1699, the Bri­tish par­lia­ment en­acted a law of such crush­ing sever­ity that the ex­port of Ir­ish wool was pro­hib­ited to any coun­try in the world. The Ir­ish were told to switch to linen.

They fared bet­ter at this en­ter­prise but al­ready many Pres­by­te­ri­ans, dis­il­lu­sioned by their treat­ment at the hands of the smug Walpole par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and the sav­age sup­pres­sion of their agri­cul­tural and in­dus­trial suc­cess, be­gan to em­i­grate to the new colonies of Amer­ica in large num­bers. Their de­scen­dants be­came US pres­i­dents such as An­drew Jack­son, James Polk and James Buchanan. The heroic fron­tiers­men Daniel Boone and Davy Crock­ett were of Ul­ster Protes­tant stock. Among the most fa­nat­i­cal and fe­ro­cious fighters against the Bri­tish in the Amer­i­can War of In­de­pen­dence were the seed and breed of Ul­ster Protes­tant em­i­grants.

There is am­ple his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence to ad­duce that the Ul­ster Protes­tants, apart from those de­fend­ing Derry in the siege, were treated hu­manely and fairly by their Catholic neigh­bours. Up to the end­ing of the siege, Ir­ish Catholics held the over­whelm­ing power in Ul­ster. The whole of the prov­ince, apart from Derry and En­niskillen, lay at their mercy, yet the Protes­tant pop­u­la­tion lived al­most un­mo­lested ei­ther by Ir­ish troops or Catholic peas­antry. In­deed the Protes­tants of this area later main­tained they never suf­fered from the Ir­ish Army such dam­age as was in­flicted upon them by Wil­liam’s com­man­der, Schomberg. John Gra­ham, a Protes­tant cler­gy­man and fer­vent union­ist, was at pains to list the names of 10 Catholic priests who had be­friended their Protes­tant neigh­bours.

Nor did the lead­ers and de­fend­ers of Derry un­der siege fare bet­ter. They were treated by the English gov­ern­ment with a shabby mean­ness. Colonel John Mitchel­bourne, the city’s mil­i­tary gover­nor, whose en­tire fam­ily had per­ished in the siege, was ar­rested in Lon­don in 1709 af­ter he went to press his claim for com­pen­sa­tion and thrown into debtors’ prison. An­other, Colonel Wil­liam Hamill, who had pur­sued a claim for Derry’s vic­tims for 30 years, was im­pris­oned for debt, hav­ing spent thou­sands of his own money seek­ing re­dress for the sol­diers of the siege. There are such har­row­ing ex­am­ples of English in­grat­i­tude too nu­mer­ous to men­tion.

The les­sons are salu­tary. Ir­ish­men of ev­ery stripe, Protes­tant, Catholic, Pres­by­te­rian and Dis­senter, should be un­der no il­lu­sion as to their dis­pens­abil­ity if it comes to a choice be­tween them and Bri­tain. It hap­pened be­fore and his­tory has metic­u­lous records of it. In­deed the phrase per­fid­i­ous Al­bion was not coined by an Ir­ish Catholic at all, but by an Ul­ster Protes­tant. It may be that the time is ripe once again for his­tory to re­peat it­self. For the DUP, it may not be the back­stop that is poi­son but those whom they per­ceive as their English po­lit­i­cal bed­fel­lows. Mau­rice O’Cal­laghan, Stil­lor­gan, Co Dublin

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