Note: We’re kickin’ it old school to celebrate #tbt (throwback Thursday) and digging into the archives. Originally titled “The Troubles,” this piece was posted on March 17th, 2009. Enjoy, and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like it’s 2009.
Today, much of the world will, in one form or another, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The wearing of green, drinking of Irish beverages and the occasional dying of a river (try Chicago’s) mark some of the traditions associated with the holiday. Historically, it is a Catholic holiday celebrating the introduction of the religion to Ireland by St. Patrick– but these days it also has a large secular following. However, it is the holiday’s roots in Catholicism that play a major role in what residents of Ireland refer to as “The Troubles.”
As most of you know, Ireland is an island just west of the British Isle (comprised of England, Scotland, and Wales). The island itself is split into two territories: the large southern portion, called the Republic of Ireland, and the smaller northern portion, called Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is majority Catholic and is controlled by its own sovereign government, while Northern Ireland is majority Protestant and is controlled by Great Britain… and therein lays the rub. Many citizens of the Republic of Ireland consider themselves nationalists, which is to say that they are in favor of unification of the two parts of Ireland into one cohesive Irish-ruled entity. Many citizens of Northern Island, who call themselves unionists, wish to strengthen ties with Britain rather than sever them.
Throughout the history of the region this has been a source of constant dispute, and from 1969 – 1998 it nearly erupted into a civil war. The Catholic nationalists of the Republic formed the Provisional Irish Republic Army (IRA) with the intent of ending British rule of Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, the Protestant unionists formed the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) to retaliate against the actions of the IRA. Both were considered to be paramilitary forces that were not necessarily endorsed by the governments of the Republic of Ireland or Great Britain, but recent evidence has suggested otherwise.
Either way, by the time the Belfast Agreement (which established a shaky truce between the Republic and Northern
Ireland) was signed in 1998, both sides had committed atrocities against civilians and paramilitary squads alike. Under the agreement, they pledged to use only peaceful methods of resolving differences, which included disarmament of the IRA and UVF paramilitary squads.
Recently, the political party “Sinn Féin” has gained considerable support for its policies, the main one being support for a United Ireland (no British rule), while at the same time, a splinter paramilitary group that calls itself the “Real Irish Republican Army” has waged attacks against the protestant population of Ireland.
So, when celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this year, keep in mind the turbulent history of Ireland, the Catholic holiday you are celebrating, and the implications of religious and governmental intolerance that continue even in this day and age. Perhaps, on St. Patty’s, when everyone is “Irish for a day”, the troubles can be forgotten… even it if is just for one day.
Cameron for My Wonderful World.