Believe it or not, I’m actually in Ireland to study, not just to travel the countryside. I’m with a program called LSU in Ireland, along with 21 other students and three professors. I’m earning a total of six credit hours with a British history class and a comparative politics class. In both classes, I’m learning about the culture of the British Isles, and it’s enriched my experience so far. I’m picking up on certain trends, attitudes and beliefs of the Irish people I come into contact with that I wouldn’t have understood had I not taken these classes.
The G8 Summit was just wrapping up in Northern Ireland when I arrived in Limerick. Every news channel covered the meeting in detail. It was interesting to watch an Irish anchor speak in Gaelic about Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin’s disagreements over the Syrian Civil War. The news stations and papers also covered the First Lady’s trip around the island; Natasha and Malia didn’t hide their boredom in Trinity College’s Old Library, though!
Some pundits have pointed out, however, that it might have been dangerous to hold the summit in a land just recovering from 35 years of terror called “The Troubles.” John Horgan and John Morrison of CNN warned in “A New Breed of Terror in Northern Ireland” of a possible attack either at the summit, or more likely, in the general area to distract the world from the meeting’s purpose to a new and evolved version of the IRA.
In the column, the authors give a brief history of the Troubles, a series of violent events after the Anglo-Irish War. The southern part of the island was given free state status that eventually led to the Republic of Ireland, and the northern section remained as part of the United Kingdom. It was a complex time period. Some wanted a united Ireland; some wanted the politics to stay as they were in the 1930s and 1940s. Some thought the way to create a united Ireland was through diplomacy and lobbying, while others, like the IRA, used terrorist tactics. Ireland was divided geographically, but it was also divided religiously. Much of Ulster in the north was and is Protestant, while most of the Republic of Ireland remains Catholic. Some early reformers like Daniel O’Connell wished for a peaceful and non-sectarian Ireland, despite small rebellions like Young Ireland’s Battle of Widow McCormac’s Cabbage Patch.
Things turned more violent with the turn of the 20th century. The 1916 Easter Rising is iconized in Irish history, along with the guerilla warfare that followed. The authors note that though the majority of the country hopes for peace and stability, a growing minority is fulfilling their grandfathers’ mission of a complete Ireland through physical force. These new groups are called “dissident” Republicans, and they have evolved in a way unlike the old IRA. There’s the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA and the Óglaigh na hÉireann – or Irish Volunteers. There’s also the New IRA, which is a combination of the Real IRA and the Republican Action Against Drugs. The dissidents have murdered police officers and soldiers, organized shootings and bombings, and have made numerous threats. The members are of all ages: the younger ones were born after the Irish cease-fire, and the older ones were part of the old IRA, and have terrorist experiences. The dissidents only have a few hundred followers across the island, but their recruitment efforts are succeeding and their weapons are becoming more and more sophisticated.
The piece was written before the summit took place, and Horgan and Morrison worried that the dissidents would use the G8 Summit as an opportunity to attack and make their efforts known worldwide. Obviously, and thankfully, nothing of the sort happened. Maybe it was due to the influx of thousands of extra police officers on hand across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, or maybe it was because the dissidents are waiting for a more opportune time to fight: the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. It’s only a few years away, enough time to increase their numbers, organize their efforts and create a plan to unite Ireland once and for all.
How likely is this to happen? I’m not one to judge. I’ve only been here a little more than a week, read so many articles and spoken to so many natives. I’m not about to make a grand theory about a country I know little about. However, during my time here I have heard more than a few comments from Irishmen and women about their disdain of the British, their hope of a united Ireland, and their love of nation. My tour guide in Limerick spoke of Oliver Cromwell with such contempt, you’d have thought the Lord Protector ruled just yesterday. I witnessed a young British boy pass a guard at Bunratty Castle and tell his mother, “Look Mummy, a copper!” To which, the uniformed man said sternly, “I’m not British! I’m no copper! I’m a police officer!” That terrified the boy, and the man’s eyes turned from anger to guilt; the kindergartner didn’t know any better. To try to right his temper, he gave the boy a high five. A pub owner told me singers from “all 32 counties” perform at her bar. “And just for clarification, there are 32 counties in Ireland, not 26,” she said with fire in her eyes. She ignored the border and included the six counties in Northern Ireland as part of the number of counties in the Republic of Ireland.
There are two states on the island of Ireland: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Many natives would argue, however, that there is one nation of Ireland. The people of this island share history, traditions and culture unlike that of the other British Isles. Many wish the two were united, but few want to give up stability and peace for it. This island has a bloody history, and the many Irish people are tired of fighting. Whether the Brits leave by diplomacy or force – or if they even leave at all – will soon play out in the coming years leading up to the centennial of the Easter Rising.
Thanks for reading,