Ulster Unionism – A History of Delusion & Decline

Ulster Unionism – A History of Delusion & Decline

Ulster Covenant Belfast 1912
Ulster Covenant Belfast 1912

In 1912, at the time of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, the population of the six north eastern counties of Ireland that would become ‘Northern Ireland’ was 1.2 million. There were approximately 800,000 Protestants living in these six counties at this time, of which 600,000 were adult.  471,000 Protestants signed the Covenant supporting the continuance of the union with Britain, approximately three-quarters of the adult Protestant population.  However this left around 130,000 Protestants not signing the Covenant.

            Political Decline

Fast forward one hundred and five years to the 2017 UK general election – yet another time of political turmoil. The population of Northern Ireland had increased by 50% from 1912 to 1.8 million. In the 2011 Census 876,000 claimed to be ‘British’.  Yet in 2017 only 382,000 people voted for unionist candidates.  So, discounting 20% for those under 18 years of age, roughly half of those claiming to be ‘British’  – 300,000 adults – did not vote unionist: a major decline in unionist support from the time of the Ulster Covenant.

This decline has been quite recent. In the assembly elections of 1973 450,000 voted unionist. By 2007 this had declined to 330,000 while the size of the electorate had increased by 200,000 or 20% from 1973. Also in 2017 unionists lost their majority in the Stormont assembly: something that would have been unthinkable in 1973.

A similar pattern is seen in the provincial capital, Belfast – a previous bastion of Ulster unionism. In the very place where Carson signed the Ulster Covenant in 1912, Belfast City Hall, unionists last held a majority of the seats in the 1980’s.

Arlene Foster, DUP Leader 2017
Arlene Foster, DUP Leader 2017

            Economic Decline

But it’s not all about voting patterns and population trends since the Ulster Covenant began the separation of the north-east of Ireland from the rest of the island.

The opening line of the Covenant placed ‘material well-being’ above all other considerations:

‘BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster….’ (my emphasis)

This emphasis on materialism in 1912 could be understood. After all at that time 80% of Ireland’s industrial output came from the north-east and Belfast was the largest and most economically vibrant Irish city.  One hundred years later and that position has been reversed. Now ROI’s industrial output is ten times that of NI (David McWilliams 2017).

As a boy at school our young breasts filled with pride as we were told that we had the biggest shipyard in the world, the biggest aircraft manufacturers and the biggest rope works. All of that no longer applies. Most large manufacturers have gone; right down to the present day with the closure of Michelin and Gallagher’s in Ballymena, the heartland of Ulster Protestantism.

Now material well-being in Northern Ireland is a sick joke for many families whose breadwinners used to enjoy well-paid jobs in these large companies.

  • Today Northern Ireland households have the lowest income in the United Kingdom (Office of National Statistics).
  • Over 40% of all households in Northern Ireland are in fuel poverty. This is higher than the rest of the UK and Ireland (Consumer Council).
  • With over 40% of homeowners in negative equity, Northern Ireland has the highest levels of negative equity in the UK (Housing Rights).
  • Male suicide is the highest in the UK and Ireland with more people dying now by suicide since 1998 than died through violent acts during the ‘Troubles’ (BBC NI).
  • Youth and over 50’s unemployment is the highest in the UK (ONS).

Yet it can’t all be about money either.

What about those other themes in the Ulster Covenant?

‘our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the Empire’   (my emphasis)

            Religion

It is true that in 1912 outside the province of Ulster Ireland was dominated by the ethos of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact it could be argued that upon independence for the twenty-six counties the British handed over control not to the Irish people, but to the Catholic Church and this remained the case for many decades reassuring northern Protestants that they had made the right decision.

However since the fall from grace of the Catholic Church, Ireland  has become a secular state with attendance at Mass declining from 90% in the 1980’s to 18% in a country 78% nominally Catholic (O’Doherty).  This year the once monolithic Catholic Church has only six priests beginning training. The tiny Church of Ireland has twice that number. The average age of a Catholic priest is approaching 70 (Irish Times).

In 2015 the Irish voted in referendum to legalise equal or same sex marriage in spite of the opposition of the Catholic Church. In Northern Ireland equal marriage remains illegal.

Today Ireland is far from being a ‘Popish backwater’. It is a much more cosmopolitan country than Northern Ireland. In Ireland one in six people are foreign born. In Northern Ireland it is one in one hundred (McWilliams).

            Citizenship

The Covenanters of 1912 believed their ‘civil freedoms’ and their position as ‘citizens’ would be better protected under the union. In reality the exact opposite has been the case.

Irish citizens have the protection of a written constitution. The British do not. In fact the British are not ‘citizens’, they are subjects of a monarch who demands that elected representatives cannot take their seats in the people’s assembly until they swear an oath of loyalty to her.

But worse than this, since partition no British ‘citizen’ living in Northern Ireland can take part in electing the British Government: a government that levies their taxes, decides their pensions and social security and takes them to war. None of the parties of government in Britain make themselves accountable to the electorate of Northern Ireland. Since partition no politician elected in Northern Ireland has held any British cabinet position. Unlike England, Scotland and Wales, no Northern Ireland politician has ever been British Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary or Chancellor. Since partition Northern Ireland has been effectively marginalised and denied equal citizenship within the UK in spite of the desires of the Covenanters.

And of course the empire, as the Covenanters knew it in 1912, has ceased to exist many years ago – even though today’s unionists still have their imperial palace – Stormont. However even this iconic building is now under threat.

Imperial Palace, Stormont, Belfast
The Imperial Palace, Stormont, Belfast

 

Cruel delusion

Given this significant and consistent change and decline in the fortunes of the north-east of Ireland, how much longer do unionist parties believe they can maintain their position within this dysfunctional union? What price are they prepared to inflict on their people to maintain the delusion?

It seems to me that the union negotiated by Big House unionism in 1920 was a smoke and mirrors trick. It was a cruel illusion that the British ruling elite are very good at creating. Ulster unionists were given a prison of second class citizenship to live in. It only looked good for a while because their fellow Irish men and women in the republic were even worse off under another cruel illusion. But comparisons with the south – itself no shining example – now leave the truth about Northern Ireland exposed.

In conclusion Ulster unionism has so far shown itself to be incapable of reversing these trends or of even accepting that they exist and that their forefathers were fooled and of renegotiating their constitutional position in the 21st century. The strategy seems to be one of drift, hoping like Micawber that their ‘ship will come in’ or that no one will notice that the emperor has no clothes or that ‘them’uns’ will simply emigrate down south. The impact of this drift is extremely detrimental not just on ‘Protestants’ or ‘unionists’, but on all the people of Northern Ireland and on our children and why we must begin to force the pace of radical change.

 

Battle of the Boyne: a false flag event

Prince William of Orange, battle of the Boyne 1690

Battle of the Boyne: a false flag event

False flag events – events that are staged to appear different from what they really are – are nothing new.  I believe the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in July 1690 was a false flag.

Prince William of Orange, battle of the Boyne 1690
Prince William of Orange, battle of the Boyne 1690

Like any false flag event, in order to examine it objectively you must forget everything you have been told about it. For instance forget that the pope supported King William. He didn’t. Forget even that this was a ‘battle’. It wasn’t.

You must set this event called the ‘Battle of the Boyne’ in the context of the emerging English empire seeking to separate itself from its old colonial master, the ancient Roman Empire controlled by the Vatican and looking to create a ‘New World Order’. Henry VIII started this process when he staged his falling out with the Pope allegedly over his right to marry Anne Boleyn in 1532. Again this was a false flag. Henry and his advisors used this disagreement with Rome to begin the separation of England from Rome on the back of the reformation begun by Luther in 1517.

If you go to the site of the Battle of the Boyne near Slane in Co. Meath you will be struck by two things:  no mass graves- in fact no graves at all – and no war memorabilia excavated from the battlefield. Such excavations on the ‘battlefield’ as there have been have revealed few relics of any battle. It’s difficult to get any reliable estimate of casualties. This is in marked contrast to, say, the Battle of Culloden fifty years later.

Site of Battle of the Boyne
Site of Battle of the Boyne
Battle of Culloden mass grave 1745
Battle of Culloden mass grave 1745

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the Orange Order of Ireland provide no detailed information on casualties. The English Army Lists and Commission Registers 1661-1714 lists only two people killed at the Battle of the Boyne.

Prince William of Orange, battle of the Boyne 1690
Prince William of Orange, battle of the Boyne 1690

The Battle of the Boyne was a ritual or sham fight to hand power over to the new ‘Protestant’ empire headed by William of Orange. But the ritual that William of Orange and King James II engaged in was not a Christian one. It was an ancient pagan ritual governed by the Egyptian gods Set, Horus and Osiris. It had nothing to do with Christianity. The European Royal bloodlines loved their pagan rituals and still do today – both sides at the Boyne were packed with European aristocrats eager for a seat at the historic ritual.

Egyptian god, Osiris
Egyptian god, Osiris

King James was known as the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’. Why? Because on several occasions James gave away an unassailable position to his brother-in-law William of Orange. This was particularly so in Ireland where James enjoyed a dominant military position. At the Boyne, against the advice of his generals, James retreated across the Boyne to a much weaker position. James’ relocation did require William to cross the Boyne to meet with James’ army. However this was part of the pagan ritual because as soon as William crossed the Boyne, James departed the scene without any engagement. It was left to James’ generals to make some token effort. It was William’s act of crossing of the River Boyne that was part of the ancient Egyptian ritual. Once James saw that happening he knew his role in the ritual was complete and he departed the scene.

James did not re-group further south as he could easily have done. A contemporary writer, Bishop Burnett, records in A Light to the Blind that

‘the king (James) had no solid reason to quit Ireland upon the loss sustained at the Boyne in his troops. For the army was somewhat stronger at the end of that petty conflict than before.’  (p. 33).

In other words James did not suffer a real defeat at the Boyne.

James was in Dublin that night and, with William’s secret assistance, departed for France and exile the next day. Before leaving he ordered the Dublin garrison to submit to William.

Remember that this was the Boyne valley. This was Ireland’s ‘Valley of the Kings’ long before the Egyptian’s had one: Brú na Bóinne, where you find Newgrange, Knowth and Loughcrew.  In fact the topography of the Boyne at this point closely resembles that of the Nile River in Egypt and the pattern of the Milky Way in the sky above (for more on this read Andrew Power’s book – see below). This is sacred ground – that’s why Newgrange is there.

Rivers Boyne & Nile (Ireland: Land of the Pharaohs)
Rivers Boyne & Nile (Ireland: Land of the Pharaohs)

Sounds crazy, I know, but why else would the only Pope to set foot in Ireland in 1979, Pope John Paul II, come to this valley and stand on the exact same spot that William of Orange stood on in 1690 – Tullesker Hill?

Pope John Paul II at Brú na Bóinne 1979
Pope John Paul II at Brú na Bóinne 1979

After 1690 the English Empire began to lay its foundations. The Bank of England was formed in 1692, the Act of Union with Scotland in 1707 and the Dutch East Indies Company took over the trade routes with the Far East from the Dutch. Within fifty years England ruled the largest empire the world had seen.

So from all this we can see that one of the seminal events of Irish history – the Battle of the Boyne – is not what it has seemed. The foundation of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the genesis of the British Empire was not Christian. Pagan ritual played a huge part.

For more information on the true nature of the Battle of the Boyne and the ancient Egyptian ritual that took place there read Andrew Power’s excellent book, Ireland: Land of the Pharaohs. Unfortunately the book is out of print, but it is available in pdf format.

 

 

 

 

 

End the Union – Crossing the Rubicon (or Coming Out)

William Drennan Irish Presbyterian & rebel 1754-1820

Inherited beliefs.

I think it is fair to say that most of our views are the result of the conditioning of the class, culture and family we are born into. Few people rebel against this. They may modify the views of their family and peers or stage a token teenage rebellion, but only a select few will go on to reject the community values totally and maintain that rebellion for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps few wish to be isolated because they are perceived to have rejected the values of their family and community.

If this is true how can we claim that the views we hold are ours and not simply those of our tribe – what we soaked up sponge-like while sat on our parents’ knees and from our peer group?

I ask these questions because my own views have changed dramatically from those I acquired in my youth and I wonder why more have not undergone the same transformation as they move through life. After all if you’re over fifty, the world is a hugely different place from that which you grew up in. Life is for learning, is it not? How is it possible to hold the same views at fifty-five that you had at say twenty-five? But many do. I suppose nobody likes to admit they were wrong.

I am not making any special case for myself. I am not that intelligent, perceptive or indeed well-educated. Perhaps I am fortunate to have been exposed to a wide variety of experiences and influences. Whatever the reason many of the views I now hold are diametrically opposed to what I held at twenty or even thirty.

Birthmarks

All this is especially true in the place I grew up in, the place known as ‘Northern Ireland’ (NI). Here most citizens are categorised at birth into two simple groups – ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’ – and many of their political beliefs flow from this categorisation. This categorisation is forced on you by government whether you accept it or not. I ask you how many ‘Protestants’ are Irish Republicans and, vice versa, how many ‘Catholics’ are Ulster Loyalists? We are branded at birth to conform to the tribal norms and most stay within these camps all their lives.

Family background

I was born a ‘Protestant’ and middle-class to boot. I grew up in a rural community in County Derry or Londonderry (the language used depends on what brand you have been assigned) in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Sperrins, Co. Derry
Sperrins, Co. Derry

My parents weren’t committed ‘Loyalists’ in the strictest sense of that label in Ireland. My mother was a middle class, traditional Unionist at heart coming from rural Co. Derry where her family owned a general merchants store. As a young woman she went to live and work in England where she soaked up many radical views in the 1930’s.. She campaigned for banking reform and organic farming before and after WWII, but never lost her unionist roots. As they say: you can take the girl out of Ulster, but you can’t take Ulster out of the girl. My father was a second generation Scots Presbyterian born in Co. Wexford and, due to the fact that he was fifty-six when I was born in 1954, his formative years were lived in pre-partition Ireland. In spite of being a Dissenter he was schooled for a time by Christian Brothers and described himself as an Irish Nationalist who wanted to see an end to partition. I absorbed his deep love of Ireland and all things Irish. But it was many years before I absorbed any of his politics.

Given this background, like many Irish ‘Protestants’ of his generation, my father was deeply conflicted about his loyalty and identity. He could criticise the British for their behaviour in Ireland and he had no time for northern unionism, but as a disabled ex-British soldier he could still stand for the British national anthem and salute the Union flag. I suppose his ‘Britishness’ was of a different kind that existed in both the ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ Irish before the Easter Rising and the subsequent partition of the country.

Ireland and WW1
Ireland and WW1

Intriguingly, to the best of my knowledge, neither my mother’s nor my father’s family had any links to the Orange Order.

Tribal branding

As a boy in the 1960s I became interested in the Easter Rising. I had the 1916 Proclamation pinned to my bedroom wall. However when push came to shove in 1972 I reverted to my tribal branding and, while the northern counties of Ireland teetered on the brink of civil war, I became an Ulster Loyalist and binned the 1916 Proclamation in my bedroom. For passionate young men like me these were heady times. I had equally passionate ‘Catholic’ friends who joined the IRA. The irony is if I had I been born ‘Catholic’ I would have taken a very different direction. Sides were taken as in most civil wars according to your tribal birthmark.

1916 Proclamation
1916 Proclamation

This loyalist phase of mine lasted about ten years during the very worst of the ‘Troubles’, but was ultimately taken over by middle class demands of career and children. In any event by the 1990’s the scene was changing fast and so was I.

In the late 1980’s I was closely involved in the Campaign for Equal Citizenship (CEC). It was a non-sectarian campaign group arguing that as long as NI was part of the UK the parties of government – Conservative, Labour and Liberal (LibDem) must make themselves accountable to the electorate in every part of the UK if the country is to be ‘united’ and a democracy. Only the Tories responded, albeit half-heartedly. To this day Labour and the LibDems, while happy to govern all parts of the UK, refuse to make themselves accountable to all of the electorate, specifically the electorate in Northern Ireland. I began to understand the colonial nature of the union and of my second class citizenship within the ‘United Kingdom’.

Revelatory shocks

I suppose the first real shock to my view of the world was the murder of Princess Diana in 1997. To my mind there is no doubt she was murdered. That conclusion quickly undermined my inherited and naive regard for the British Royal family; already shaken by Charles and Diana’s divorce.

Princess Diana 1997
Princess Diana 1997

A short time later came the Good Friday Agreement bringing Sinn Fein into the government of the northern state. It was obvious the old world order was fast disappearing. Some years later I worked with Sinn Fein ministers and MLAs in a professional capacity. They were not the devils I had supposed them to be: quite the contrary. I remember attending an event at a state-run/’Protestant’ school as part of a project I was managing. It was in a solidly ‘Protestant’ area, but there in attendance was a young Sinn Fein MLA. He didn’t have to be there. There were no votes in it for him. There was no political advantage to be gained by him. He earned my respect.

Good Friday Agreement 1998
Good Friday Agreement 1998

 

The devolution that was happening in some UK regions at this time prompted questions in my mind about what was this ‘British’ identity. The old empire was gone; the homogenous nature of the British state was disappearing under devolution, the idea of Scots independence was gathering support, the Royal Family was badly damaged and ‘enemies of the state’ – former ‘terrorists’ some of them (as far as unionists were concerned) –  were in government in Northern Ireland.

Another shock to my world view was on the international stage when Tony Blair – a major player in the Good Friday Agreement – single-handedly took the UK to war in Iraq in 2003, in spite of huge public protest, because he ‘believed it was the right thing to do’. Blair based his case for war on outright lies about WMD. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered in order to get possession of Iraqi oil. I questioned the nature of the British state where one man could take a supposed democracy to war – a war that has since been shown to be entirely unjustified and an abject failure by any measure.

 

Iraq demonstration 2003 in London
Iraq demonstration 2003 in London

Awakening

In 2008, ten years after the GFA, disillusioned with the failure of NI to live up to the promise of the ‘peace dividend’, my wife and I moved to live and work in Scotland. I assumed I would begin to feel Scottish given my strong Scottish ancestry. By coincidence I lived in Fife for a while – the Methven’s ancestral home. As it turned out I was living three miles from my paternal great-great grandparents’ grave.

I was perplexed that I felt no connection with the place. My ancestors had lived and died in the area for generations – much longer than they had lived in Ireland. They were bonded coalminers and farm hands, slaves in other words. Perhaps they had moved to Ireland in the nineteenth century to get way from that drudgery and Ireland had given them a home and a better life. (They were not ‘Planters’. – they paid their way). I was also perplexed when asked to declare my nationality. I had had problems with the increasingly meaningless ‘British’ label for some time. I wanted to put ‘Scottish’, but it somehow didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel Scottish any more than I felt ‘British’. For one thing I still supported the Irish rugby team!

Men's Ireland rugby team 2014
Men’s Ireland rugby team 2014

I had to finally admit I was ‘Irish’. That set me thinking further. What kind of ‘Irish’ was I? Was there more than one? Was I ‘northern Irish’? Was there such a thing? What difference did the ‘northern’ qualification make? Was there a resistance to being fully ‘Irish’? Could I be ‘Irish’ and still a ‘unionist’? Did I even want to be a ‘unionist’ anymore? Many of my Scottish cousins whose ancestors had fought and died for the empire, built their railways and bridges seemed to think the union was now a bad idea.

 

UK MPs expenses scam 2013
UK MPs expenses scam 2013

Shortly after moving to Scotland the UK MPs expenses scandal hit the headlines: the true nature of corruption within the British state became apparent to me. Leading the pack of miscreants were Ulster unionists.

 

 

This was followed by numerous exposés of paedophilia in high places in the UK. It was revealed that Jimmy Saville and many other celebrities of the 60’s and 70’s had been protected by the BBC and others in high places. The BBC, the powerful symbol from my childhood of all that was high-minded and worthy about Britain was corrupt. Saville himself was a close friend of Edward Heath, a suspected paedophile, and latterly Margaret Thatcher who as Prime Minster lobbied repeatedly for him to be knighted and had him to stay at Chequers every New Year’s Eve during her premiership.

Saville and Margaret Thatcher
Saville and Margaret Thatcher
Ted Heath, British PM & his 'friend' Jimmy Saville
Ted Heath, British PM & his ‘friend’ Jimmy Saville

Irishness

While in Scotland I began researching ancient Scottish history with a view to writing an historical novel. This quickly led me into Irish history because of the close links between the two countries. That was when my journey into my Irishness really began and then ended with the publication of my book, The Hare’s Vision,  and with it came my conviction that Ireland needed to be free of its toxic union with England.

Attending a state-run school in Northern Ireland in the sixties and early seventies I was taught little Irish history; certainly nothing about the formation of the state I lived in. But I could rhyme off all the monarchs of England from 1066 along with the dates of their reigns. I knew all about Sir Walter Raleigh, but nothing of St Brendan or Brian Boru. Now in my late fifties I was learning about ancient Irish history for the first time and many things became clear. In particular, how prior to the Norman invasion there was a very different and well established civilisation in Ireland that both Irish ‘Catholics’ and Irish ‘Protestants’ could lay equal claim to – if they were allowed to. But the history of this time was not taught in either Irish or British schools.

2000BC Irish lunulae
2000BC Irish lunulae

I discovered too that Ireland – like many countries – had been invaded several times over the millennia. Prior to the Normans it was the Vikings and before them it was the Gaels from Spain who usurped the ancient and mystical Tuatha Dé Danann.

In the late twelfth century the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland at the behest of the Pope Adrian IV so that the Roman church could take control of the hitherto independent Irish Christian church: a church that had brought Christianity into much of western Europe. The Church of Rome came in on the back of the Norman invasion. Up to this point Ireland was Christian but not Roman Catholic. With the Norman/Roman invasion the glory that had been the Irish Christian church – ‘the Light of the World’ – was snuffed out as it was absorbed into the European church. From the late 12th century onwards the Irish were conquered and exploited not just by the English in the form of the Normans, but finally by the Romans; this time masquerading as a religious institution ordained by God.

Book of Kells 9th century
Book of Kells: early 9th century

I learnt that the Roman Catholic Church was every bit an invader and an oppressor of Ireland as the English.

So we all come from invaders. This was key.

My ‘Protestant’ mind was conditioned to believe that only ‘Catholics’ were truly Irish and, much as I might desire to be Irish, Irishness was exclusive and wasn’t available to me. I wasn’t a ‘Catholic’ and I wasn’t a Gael. So I couldn’t be Irish. ‘Protestants’ were Planters and foreigners. I now knew that to be another Irish myth constructed to divide the people.

During this research it struck me as odd that the earlier Roman military empire based in Britain had never invaded Ireland, not even plundered it for slaves. The stock reason for this given by all sides was that Ireland did not interest them, being as it was (allegedly) rain soaked and populated by illiterate bog-dwelling peasants.

It also struck me as odd that these bog-dwelling peasants suddenly blossomed into the finest scholars in Europe during the early Middle Ages. Doesn’t it strike you as strange that conventional history tells us that one man, St Patrick, brought writing to Ireland in the fifth century AD and within one hundred years of his death thousands of these illiterate pagans are leading the world in Christian teaching and in writing? Either, the Irish were remarkably quick learners and St Patrick was vastly superior to Jesus as a missionary and a teacher, or the Irish were already highly educated at that point and St Patrick (if he existed at all) and his hagiographers were lying to boost his image.

The Ardagh Chalice. 8th C. National Museum, Ireland
The Ardagh Chalice. 8th C. National Museum, Ireland

Historical truth

So something didn’t add up in my mind. Could it be that Ireland was in fact highly civilised at the time and too powerful militarily for the Romans to conquer? After all, the Irish also kept the Vikings at bay; confining them to toeholds of landand  defeating them on land and at sea on many occasions – when the English were largely overrun by them.

When they arrived in the late twelfth century the Normans and the English found a very different Ireland to the rain soaked bog image. It was rich and fertile. So rich and fertile in fact that they have never left.

But the victor writes the history.

It was obvious to me that the Irish history taught in both Irish and British educational systems was largely fabricated to hide the true nature of Ireland’s ancient history. It was important to both the British and to the Romans to paint the Irish as a nation of second-raters, in dire need of both temporal and spiritual guidance.

Eviction during Irish genocide (famine) 1840s
Eviction during Irish genocide (aka ‘famine’) 1840s

This construct is important because it has defined Ireland’s history and the Irish view of themselves for over eight hundred years. It cannot be just an academic subject for dusty historians who, let’s face it, have conspired in the maintenance of this construct. People must take ownership of their true history.

The Irish – north and south – have been taught in their schools and universities by their own teachers and academics for generations that almost everything of any value came to Ireland from elsewhere. From the time of the mythical St Patrick (a Briton) the Irish have been conditioned to believe the imperialist narrative that they needed an external civilising influence to stop them from killing each other or starving to death. This enabled the British to continue their presence in Ireland to this day. Significantly this construct also contributed to the northern Protestant belief that they should not throw their lot in with the southern wastrels; that they would be better allying themselves to the industrious and mighty British Empire.

Harland and Wolff Shipyard, Belfast 1911
Harland and Wolff Shipyard, Belfast 1911

Could it be that Ireland had had its own glorious civilisation with the military might to keep both Rome and the Vikings at bay for hundreds of years when England failed miserably to do so? It was this same Irish civilisation that brought Christianity and learning to Europe in the Dark Ages; a civilisation that that was destroyed and all traces removed by the Anglo-Roman assault in the twelfth century. The circumstantial evidence is strong.

If the proper investment was made in objective historical and archaeological research who knows what would come to light and what that paradigm shift in perception would achieve?

Final disillusionment

In 2010 following the banking collapse of 2008, a Tory government was elected in England by less than 25% of the UK electorate and by less than 1% of the electorate in Northern Ireland. Yet after this election and without a mandate, gratuitously cruel cutbacks were imposed in public services motivated by a political dogma that rewarded the rich and punished the poor and most vulnerable.

Deaths caused by cutbacks

Finally, following on from all the revelations of corruption, needless wars against much weaker nations, huge inequalities and the marginalisation of the north of Ireland, I could no longer see how I could or should give any allegiance to the so-called United Kingdom and its evil ruling elite. The union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was a con and the partition of Ireland one of many devices employed by the English ruling elite to divide the Irish against each other. It had infantilised Irish ‘Protestants’ reducing a once politically astute and radical people to a state of abject co-dependency with no understanding of democratic government. The British government and ‘British’ culture (whatever that was) were no longer anything I could identify with.

Flag protest in Belfast 2013
Flag protest in Belfast 2013

When I returned to live in Northern Ireland in 2013, Sinn Fein – the ‘enemies of Ulster’ – were well established in a power-sharing administration in partnership with their arch enemies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Paisley and McGuinness were best buddies. If these two could do it, I reasoned, why couldn’t the rest of us? More than this, it appeared that Sinn Fein, were not using their positions in government to undermine the state as far as I could see. They faithfully administered the government departments and even had dinner with the Queen of England whose ancestors had repeatedly inflicted such harm on the island of Ireland.

Ian Paisley and Martin Mcguinness
Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness
Ian Paisley, Arlene Foster and Gerry Adams 2007
Ian Paisley, Arlene Foster and Gerry Adams strike a deal in 2007

Dreary consensus

But the government of Northern Ireland is a sham. Twenty-five years after the ceasefires and Northern Ireland has been unable to find its place in the world. The promised ‘peace dividend’ has never materialised. Sectarian politics is still the order of the day. Politics that addresses issues such as poverty, health and education has failed to take hold.

Northern Ireland remains a backwater with its economy – commercial, social and political – still at the bottom of the UK barrel, subservient to an unaccountable regime in London.

Yet remarkably Irish nationalists and republicans had accepted the peace settlement. Having been granted a form of equality they willingly and enthusiastically operated a version of British rule in the north. All seemed set for a dreary and mediocre, yet peaceful future.

That dreary consensus ended when the RHI scandal erupted in late 2016. The mean-spirited nature of the DUP was exposed in their angry responses to the accusations laid at their leader’s door. The Sinn Fein grassroots had had enough and the Executive collapsed. It looked likely that the GFA was finished and with it the power-sharing devolution experiment.

Arlene Foster 'Crocodile' speech 2017
Arlene Foster’s ‘Crocodile’ speech 2017

I too had had enough of my mean-spirited co-religionists. I had never been a ‘Paisleyite’ or a DUP supporter. Now I found I was completely alienated from unionism, its politics and its culture (whatever remained of it). That’s a hard thing to say for one branded a unionist at birth.

It’s true that ‘Protestants’ and ‘Catholics’ suffered alike in the ‘Troubles’ and victims from both sides have been treated badly since. I had both good ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ friends killed and injured. I count myself as one of the casualties. I was one of the lucky ones who got through it in one piece. But I can no longer stand shoulder to shoulder with unionists. The unionism I had supported in the seventies was independently minded. It had a strong anti-English sentiment. We weren’t going to be told by a bunch of English toffs how to run our own country. We would set the terms of our union as was done in 1912. It had echoes in Irish nationalism and common ground could have evolved. However that independence of mind was marginalised for fear of looking like a bunch of Shinners and the British were masters at ensuring there was no common ground between Unionist and Nationalist.

In truth the union was always about the money. It was primarily a business contract as set out in the very first sentence of the Ulster Covenant of 1912:

BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster

(My emphasis)

Ulster Covenant 1912 signed by 470,000 Protestants
Ulster Covenant 1912 signed by 470,000 Protestants (38% of NI population)
Edward Carson 1921
Edward Carson 1921

Now unionism has no sense of self and has no resistance to offer to England’s power games. The businesses that the union was set up to protect – shipbuilding, linen and engineering have long gone. But unionism has not moved with the times and remains pathetically clutching to an idea of ‘Britishness’ which, if it ever existed, has also long gone. Their politics is a reactionary monoculture. Unionism does not embrace diversity and has been trapped by invented history. Their unquestioning loyalty to the Crown makes unionists blindly obedient to the state; even when the state is corrupt and acts against their interests. It is not something I can support any longer.

Abuse in Ireland

Of course the Irish state is equally corrupt and Irish nationalism/ republicanism has allowed itself to be too closely identified with the monolithic Catholic Church. It has been so since the creation of the state. When the state was created in 1922 the British handed government over, not to the Irish people but, to the Catholic Church who have been revealed to be every bit as oppressive and abusive. This reinforces my view that the Church partnered England in the invasion and oppression of Ireland from the 12th century onwards.

To my mind the (Catholic) Irish are finally coming to terms with the fact they are emerging a from a long history of coping with abuse. Like children with abusive parents they fled the family (the British) in adulthood and sought comfort in the arms of what appeared to be a reassuring partner. They have now gone through a series of abusive partners – the Irish Government, the Church and latterly the European Union. Those who work with abuse will recognise this as a common pattern with the abused. Now the Irish have to reach an understanding about themselves if they are to finally find their rightful place in the modern world free from abuse.

Dublin food queues 1923 & 2017
Dublin food queues 1923 & 2017
The Church run launderies imprisoned women until 1996
The Church run launderies imprisoned women until 1996

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern ‘Protestants’ suffered more subtle abuse at the hands of the British. Like their Scottish cousins, they fought and suffered in British wars, flew their flag and held the line against the perceived internal enemy. But, unlike the Scots, they have never been accepted as full British citizens and have never been allowed to live in a democratic state. They’re like an adopted child who loves their adoptive parents only to be constantly reminded of their difference from the rest of a very large family and who finds that their love is never returned. This was powerfully demonstrated by the vitriolic antagonism  focused on the DUP in England in the wake of the Tory Government’s £1 billion deal with them .

Protests in London against the DUP 2017
Protests in London against the DUP 2017

‘Protestants’ even looked to a big brother – Big House unionism – to help them, but big brother (the landlord class) knew the game was up some time ago and departed for pastures greener. So now northern ‘Protestants’ must also look to themselves.

Fear

It is remarkable that so few northern ‘Protestants’ speak out in favour of an end to the union. People self-censor and are afraid to break the tribal branding. I believe many are afraid to speak out for fear of upsetting family, friends and darker forces; for fear of being branded a ‘lundy’ – a traitor to the tribe, an outcast.

Fear is a major motivating force in the northern ‘Protestant’ psyche. Fear of being ‘sold out’, fear of them’uns, fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of being seen as ‘different’. This fear has facilitated their manipulation and control. This is no legacy to leave to our children.

The inability of ‘Protestants’ to speak out and to embrace change willingly and not to have it forever forced on them is indicative of a society where normal democratic politics has never existed and where there is a rigid and insidious control of public debate; a cornerstone of any totalitarian state. This is the price of the union with Britain  – ‘Keep your head down and whatever you say, say nothing’.

 

Protestants should not be afraid of alternatives to the union. After all they have worked closely for many years with their former enemies in Sinn Fein and the sky did not fall in. They have seen the baleful influence of the Catholic Church come crashing down under the weight of revelations of vile abuse. The border exists now only in people’s minds – unless Brexit changes this (I believe – if Brexit ever happens – it won’t create a hard border).

So finally it is clear to me that the voice of northern Irish ‘Protestants’ -marginalised and infantilised by the ‘British’ and left without any democratic voice at less than 2% of the UK population  – would now be heard loudly in Dublin at almost 20% of the Irish population. The impact of that 20% will be seismic and Ireland will change (for the better) immeasurably.

Ireland - Provinces & Counties
Ireland – Provinces & Counties

 

People like me hope that an accommodation can be reached between our abused peoples; that northern Protestants can find their long forgotten home in Ireland with their Catholic siblings that they lost contact with so long ago.

Debunking the St Patrick Story

Why the story of St Patrick is not a harmless myth

and why it matters today.

Cross

When researching early Irish history for my historical novel, The Hare’s Vision, I was struck by many anomalies relating to St Patrick and the indulgent attitude taken to the myth of St Patrick by museums and academics.

My aim in doing the research for what was a work of fiction was to make the story as historically accurate as possible before adding the myth that is central to the story. The main events of my story were based in Ireland in the century following what is believed to be Patrick’s mission to Ireland during the fifth century. So it would be natural to make some reference to the saint. However the anomalies I encountered regarding the figure of St Patrick convinced me to make no reference to this character; mainly because I came to have serious doubts that he ever really existed.

Those doubts have been reinforced over time. I am now convinced that Patrick was an invention initially dreamt up in the seventh century to support the campaign to have Armagh made the ecclesiastical centre of Ireland. However I believe the modern St Patrick fetish is promoted for much more overtly political reasons which have done immense damage to Irish culture and self-esteem.

faces

My initial doubts about St Patrick surfaced when I realised that within fifty years or so of Patrick’s death (the exact date of this is uncertain), St Finnian in Clonard abbey had some 3000 monks under tuition. This was replicated in several other monasteries throughout Ireland in the early to mid-sixth century. Bear in mind that at this time Ireland had a population (it is estimated) of around 500,000 and internal travel was by no means easy. So to have such a large number of people spread over a wide geographical area, not just converted to Christianity, but to have taken holy orders, within such a short space of time suggested that Patrick was not just a saint, but a wizard. In fact if this is true, St Patrick could teach Jesus and St Paul a thing or two about how to run a successful mission.

My doubts were further reinforced when I discovered that there were in fact already Christians in Ireland before Patrick’s alleged mission.

Writing in 431, Prosper, a confidant of Pope Celestine said:

‘Pope Celestine ordained Palladius and sent him to the Irish believers as their first bishop.’

Bede repeats the same statement some two hundred years later.

There were also Irish Christian saints who predated Patrick. Such as:

  • St. Ciaran of Saighir
  • St Ailbhe of Emly
  • St Ibar of Wexford
  • St Declan of Ardmore

Palladius’ mission failed within a year and the legend goes that Patrick arrived the following year. However Prosper (and later Bede) do not mention Patrick succeeding Palladius. From this it seems reasonable to assume that Patrick did not bring Christianity to Ireland. It was already there.

Could it be, I asked myself, that the apparent sudden growth of Christianity in the sixth century – that appeared immediately after Patrick’s mission – was part of a much earlier trajectory and had nothing to do with Patrick’s mission?

The other factor that convinced me to give Patrick a wide berth was that no early Christian writers in Ireland or Britain mention Patrick.

gildas

St Gildas (500–570) – thought to have taught St Finnian of Clonard and St. Columbanus (543-615) -a prolific writer and Bede in England (672-735) all make no mention of this Patrick. St Colum Cille’s biographer St Adomnán of Iona (c. 624 –704) – whom Bede met – makes no reference to Patrick who should have been a major influence on Colum. St Colum Cille was born only fifty years after Patrick’s mission to Ireland.

It was not until two hundred years after Patrick’s death in the late seventh century that his name is first  mentioned. A monk, Muirchú, under the patronage of Bishop Aedh of Slébte (Sletty, Co. Laois) wrote ‘The Life of Saint Patrick’. His work was supplemented by Bishop Tirechan sponsored by Ultan of Ardbraccan (Co. Meath). Both their works were included in the Book of Armagh (807) along with writings claimed to be by St Patrick himself – his Confessions and his Letter to Coroticus.

It is upon these manuscripts that the whole Patrick story is based.cathach

So what do they tell us (or not tell us)?

First of all the manuscripts held today that are attributed to Patrick himself – the Confessions and the Letter to Coroticus – are eighth, not fifth, century documents. There is no evidence that the originals were written by ‘Patrick’. The manuscripts themselves are extremely vague about Patrick’s life story and in some places quite contradictory.

The Latin used by the author is poor. Patrick acknowledges this and claims to be ‘a simple country person’, ‘ignorant’. Yet he also claims to be ‘noble’, the son of a Romano-British cavalry officer in one document and in the other to be the son of a ‘deacon’ and the grandson of a ‘priest’. Either, if true, suggests this was an educated family. Patrick says he lived with his parents until he was taken into slavery in Ireland at the age of sixteen. By which time he should surely have been fluent in both spoken and written Latin.

Patrick

After escaping slavery in Ireland, Patrick returned to his family home when he was twenty-two and did not return to Ireland for another ten years. By which time Patrick is claiming the title of ‘bishop’. Clergy would have been taught in Latin. So by the time he got to Ireland in his thirties with the rank of bishop this Patrick should have been an accomplished Latin scholar. Yet the Latin text is written by someone not highly educated and not brought up as a Roman with Latin in daily use.

These manuscripts tell us nothing about how Patrick spent his time after his escape from slavery in Ireland. He returns to Ireland after ten years claiming to be a bishop, but does not record how this came about. Where did he study? Who ordained him? Who sent him to Ireland? What are his credentials? Presumably if the author made specific claims these could have been checked out.

We know from Prosper that there were already Christians living in Ireland before Patrick. Yet the author makes no mention of these people. You’d think they would be Patrick’s first point of contact as a newly arrived missionary. Similarly, Muirchú and Tirechan also make no mention of these early Christians when writing about Patrick’s mission.

The writings of Muirchú and Tirechan develop the Patrick legend to new heights of storytelling. They describe many events that Patrick did not. They make much mention of how Patrick favoured Armagh. Muirchú writes that Patrick intended to die in Armagh, and though an angel convinced him not to specifically go there (there’s no evidence that he ever did), the angel stated that Patrick’s ‘pre-eminence’ would be at Armagh. In the writings directly attributed to Patrick he never mentioned Armagh.armagh-1600

This great emphasis on Armagh strongly suggests that the Patrick Story was part of the campaign to have the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland sited in Armagh. Both sponsors of Muirchú and Tirechan, Bishop Aedh of Slébte and Ultan of Ardbraccan were active in this campaign.

 

Muirchú has Patrick setting curses on people who did not accept his authority. Suddenly the ‘simple country person, and the least of all believers’, as Patrick described himself in ‘Confessions’, was replaced by a ruthless religious zealot, even slaying druids and princesses and burning their books –  180 in all, in order to impose his religious beliefs on the gullible, passive Irish. The tone of the language and the action describes what amounts to a military assault on native Irish religious beliefs. This was not a missionary who came in peace. Whoever this Patrick was he certainly did not model his behaviour on Jesus.

The legend of driving the snakes out of Ireland and the use of the shamrock was never mentioned by Patrick, Muirchú or Tirechan. This was added in the thirteenth century. There were of course no snakes in Ireland. This was a reference to the symbol of the serpent used by the druids who were eventually driven out of Ireland, but not in Patrick’s time.

Druid serpent
Druid serpent

So given that the Patrick legend is so suspect, how and why has it survived the centuries and why should it matter in the 21st century?

In the early Christian period hagiography was the norm. They were early propagandists. Writers talked up their champion and ascribed all kinds of super-human qualities to them to further their cause – in Patrick’s case the creation of Armagh as the ecclesiastical centre for Ireland. So legends like Patrick were not unusual and were believed without question as an act of faith for many centuries.

Even today I have been amazed at the how easily the media and the world of academia buys into the story of St Patrick without question. Academics who are normally so sceptical of all other Irish legends and demand provenance for historic manuscripts, accept that ‘Confessions’ and  the ‘Letter to Coroticus’ were indeed written by Patrick without any evidence being available. None dare even raise the slightest doubts!

The Ulster Museum in Belfast make bold public assertions about the provenance of the Patrick  manuscripts, copies of which are on display, but they can produce no evidence to support their claims1. The phrase that is widely used is that it is ‘generally accepted’ that these documents were written by Patrick; ignoring the fact that there is little evidence that the author, Patrick, is a real historical figure.

Book of Kells

So it is academic consensus that holds the Patrick Story together and few, if any, are prepared to break the spell. The churches – both Catholic and Protestant – are also keen to keep the legend alive. It’s one of the few areas of Irish history they agree on. Likewise Irish nationalism holds Patrick close to their hearts even though he was a ‘Brit’ and there were many other native born saints.  So any academic casting doubt on the Patrick Story will risk the ire of not just their fellow academics, but of Irish nationalism and the churches.

Beyond a desire to conform among academia, I have concluded that the reason Patrick’s legend has survived into the 21st century and is believed blindly by so many all around the world is political, not religious.

The Roman Catholic Church, which conquered the independent Irish church in the 12th century on the back of the Norman invasion, eagerly adopted the Patrick legend for two reasons.

The first was that the creation of the ecclesiastical centre in Armagh was part of a long campaign to introduce Roman systems of church governance into Ireland such as the role of bishops as opposed to abbots and the use of the Roman system of dating Easter. The Patrick Story was central to this campaign.

Irish gold lunulae circa 2000BC
Irish gold lunulae circa 2000BC

Secondly, and more importantly in the modern age, was the reinforcement of the ancient narrative that all good things in Ireland have come to it from abroad, especially in the matter of religion. It was crucial to the English and to the Romans in their subjugation of Ireland that the country was seen as a backward, primitive society in need of an imperial power to avoid them killing each other. This discourse is still in evidence today. The Patrick Story fitted this narrative; in fact the Patrick Story was and still is the cornerstone of this narrative.

We are told Patrick was a foreigner who brought Christianity to Ireland – in spite of being cruelly mistreated by them as a slave. He destroyed the native belief systems and their pagan religion, imposing some good Christian order with a degree of ruthlessness. He was made patron saint when many native born saints were more deserving.

The Ardagh Chalice. 8th C. National Museum, Ireland
The Ardagh Chalice. 8th C. National Museum, Ireland

I am always struck when researching Irish history how prevalent this narrative is among academic and non-academic historians today. These are not just Church historians, but English and American academics and especially the Irish themselves. Whether it is in religion, metalwork, pottery, writing, boat-building, anthropology or building: it all came from outside Ireland. Nothing was accepted as original. The Irish created nothing of value and influenced very little elsewhere is the dogma.

The iconic Newgrange is a good example. It was not until the 18th century that it was finally accepted that the Vikings did not build Newgrange. Then it took another two hundred years to convince the academics that this structure and many others were in fact sophisticated observatories and not simple burial chambers. So strong is this narrative about the Irish that it seemed impossible to classically trained historians that there ever could have been a civilisation in Ireland capable of such technical skill.

newgrange-aerial

In the same vein, the reason why the Romans never conquered Ireland is fitted into this narrative: the Romans were disinterested, we are told. There was nothing in Ireland to make it worth their while. Ireland was all bog and bog-trotters. This is taught in Irish schools of all denominations to this day. Even though four hundred years after the Romans, the Vikings showed great interest in Ireland, but significantly they were unable to conquer the island, being frequently chased back to England where they had little trouble subduing large areas. Could it be that the mighty Romans had the same difficulty with Ireland as the Vikings?

viking-ship

However it was the English who finally helped disprove this theory of disinterest when they came to Ireland in 1170 and were so impressed that they have never left; showing an intense interest in the place ever since.

Effectively Irish history began with Patrick in the fifth century. Everything before Patrick is regarded as misty-eyed legend, the stuff of fairy-tales and has been closed off to the Irish through the destruction of records. Because few resources are invested in the pre-patrician era, few discoveries are made to shed much light on this period.

We are told as part of the Patrick Story that there were no books in Ireland before Patrick arrived. The unquestioned narrative is that Christianity, namely Patrick, brought writing to the island. But Muirchú tells us that Patrick burnt many Irish books. Whether this actually happened or not is not the point here. The point is that an Irish monk writing in the seventh century believed that many books existed in Ireland prior to Patrick. How many other ancient books were destroyed? What did they tell of ancient Irish culture?

“Ireland would have been the richer had not the fears or bigotry of the priests discouraged the reading of pagan poems and romances, and thrown thousands of MSS. [manuscripts] into the flames.”

Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, by Patrick Kennedy; New York and London, Macmillan; [1891]

In all this we are asked to believe that prior to St Patrick arriving in Ireland there was no organised religion in Ireland and no books. Yet within a short space of time the Irish were world leaders in both Christianity and books. A sudden turn around for a primitive people, is it not?

kells

I believe that as we approach St Patrick’s Day in 2017 some questioning of this Patrick Story is appropriate and long overdue if Ireland is to escape the legacy of ancient abuse and misrepresentation.

 

 

1 Ulster Museum FOI Response 12 January 2016

The Hare's Vision
The Hare’s Vision

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleeced in France

 

It was in the nondescript northern banlieue or suburb of ‘Suresnes’ that I had my first experience of Paris in 1976. While I have loved Paris and France ever since, the word ‘banlieue’ continues to fill me with dread.

I had just turned twenty-two and had never been in a foreign country before. My naivety was off the Richter scale. But I had one major advantage. I had trained as a chef, in England, in classical French cuisine. So I could understand French menus. In addition I had an ‘O’ level in French and, although conversational French was beyond me, I could ask and understand directions.

I planned to stay a week in the youth hostel in Suresnes to explore the city before heading south and go ultimately on to Italy and Greece. It was in the hostel that I met John from Youghal in County Cork. He was a big farmer’s son with an interest in art on a tour of the big European galleries. He proudly introduced himself as,‘Happy John’. He said that was what people back home had always called him. Irony must be an inclination of the people of Youghal for John did not have a happy disposition.

“You want to watch these feckers,” were his first words to me in reference to the French. He’d latched on to me after witnessing the competent manner in which I had ordered ‘le petit dejeuner’ in the hostel. John hadn’t a word of French and I surmised that this gulf between John and the French had contributed to his distrust of them. He assumed that if they didn’t speak to you they must be talking behind your back and probably fleecing you into the bargain.

“I’ll show you a trick or two,” he proudly announced.

John’s main trick was not paying on the banlieue train system. He’d spotted a loophole in the system caused by the fact that no one checked your ticket at any stage. I was impressed as this scheme would save a few precious francs out of my meagre budget.

It was on the fourth day of our journeys into Paris from Suresnes that Happy John’s train scam unravelled.

As we arrived in Gare du Nord, to our dismay we saw uniforms of some kind at the end of the platform and our hearts sank.

Gare du Nord, Paris
Gare du Nord, Paris

“Keep walking,” said John. “We’ll bluff it out. Just act the stupid big Irishman. It always works!”

Sure enough, the two officials demanded our tickets. As they looked remarkably like Laurel and Hardy we struggled to take them seriously.

We shrugged, as if not understanding their demand, thinking these two jokers would be easily bluffed. We tried to walk past them but they swiftly blocked our path.

“Passport, s’il vous plait!” the fat one insisted as he clicked his fingers imperiously.

He examined John’s Irish passport.

“Ah! Le Guinness,” he said smiling at Happy John and turning to show the passport to his colleague. John smiled back nodding gormlessly; evidently believing that his ‘stupid big Irishman’ act was working a treat.

Then, examining my British passport, the fat officer said flatly to his skinny comrade, “Anglais.” They both shrugged their shoulders resignedly. There were no smiles for me.

No point disputing that I was not English, I thought. Try explaining the Irish Question to a Frenchman in pidgin French.

“Une centaine amende franc, s’il vous plaît,” the fat official demanded with a chubby hand outstretched. I understood enough French to know he was demanding money.

Again we shrugged. So the skinny one wrote in his note book and showed it to us: “100 fr”.

“Wait a feckin’ minute!” said John outraged.

“D’accord! L’office, s’il vous plaît, ou cent francs maintenant,” the skinny one said pointing to a sign saying ‘Gendarmarie’.

Again my grasp of French told me they were demanding one hundred francs on the spot or we would be taken to the police station.

“You know these feckers are putting this money straight in their back pockets?” demanded an irate John. “British feckin’ passport!” he mumbled in an effort to shift the blame for our predicament.

“What’s our choice? This was your plan, John,” I fired back.

What option did we have? We were caught red-handed. We feared if we went to the police station it would be worse for us.

So we paid Laurel and Hardy and they went happily on their way.

“Au revoir, Guinness!” the fat one shouted merrily to John.

“Feck off, you fat French shite,” said John.

That was the end of my excursions with Happy John. He blamed me because he believed we would have got away with it but for my British passport. I blamed him because it was his scam that had cost us.

I next saw Happy John in Florence. I heard this Irish voice shouting across a crowded square, “Oi, les Anglais!”

I turned to see his big red face, “le Guinness!” he shouts proudly pointing to himself. I promptly lost myself in the crowd.

Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy

Atlantean Irish

North Atlantic seaboard

North Atlantic seaboard
North Atlantic seaboard

A glance at this map should persuade most people of Ireland’s pivotal maritime position from ancient times.

There were close contacts between the Irish and the entire Atlantic and Mediterranean seaboard from ancient times that are little reported in modern history text books. This is just one of hidden aspects of Irish history that in the story of the Hare’s Vision I want to shed light on.

The Irish and the Phoenicians

Phoenician seal 8th Century BC
Phoenician seal 8th Century BC (British Museum)

This Phoenician seal from the 8th century BC was found in Dundrum, Co. Down. The Phoenician inscription reads:  ‘Belonging to ʿAbdʾeliʾab son of Shibʿat servant of Mittitti son of Ṣidqâ’ (British Museum).

The Phoenicians were a maritime culture based in the Mediterranean from 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is highly likely that Ireland traded with the Phoenicians as this seal strongly suggests.

Arabic cross 9th century AD
Arabic cross 9th century AD (British Museum)

This 9th century cross was inscribed in Arabic: ‘Bism’llah’. ‘As God wills (or In the name of Allah?)’ or ‘We have repented to God’. It was found in Co. Cork.

 

 

In 1834 the Dublin Penny Journal reported that the language spoken by Tunisian sailors could be understood by County Antrim peasants (The Atlantean Irish, Quinn, B. 2005).

In 2003 the skull of a Barbary ape (native to north Africa) was found in Navan Fort, Co. Armagh – the ancient site of the kings of Ulster. The skull was dated to the fourth century BC.

Similarities in traditional boat design between the oak built Irish hucaer and the Arab dhow are noticeable with the use of an angled lanteen sail design which allowed closer sailing to the wind. This enabled the Irish naval fleet to out-manoeuvre and defeat the Vikings at sea with their square rigged dreki on numerous occasions. The square rig restricted the Vikings to sailing with the wind behind them.

Irish Hucaer or hooker
Irish Hucaer or hooker

 

Arab dhow with lanteen sail
Arab dhow with lanteen sail

 

Viking Dreki or longship
Viking Dreki or longship

The Irish and the Vikings

These ancient Irish maritime connections were not confined to north Africa. For example the similarities between ancient Norse and Irish cultures are remarkable.

In both pagan cultures trees were at the heart of their beliefs – the ash, oak, rowan and elm were worshipped as highly sacred objects. They used a very similar written language – Ogham and Runic – and had strong oral myths regarding celestial gods of dubious morals. They had no central authority: the family or tribal unit was the source of all authority and loyalty. Yet they both had sophisticated legal systems agreed among the people and democratically enforced by legal assemblies.

The similarities in Irish and Viking cultures may have greatly contributed to the assimilation of the Vikings in Ireland in the 9th and 10th centuries. The Vikings never conquered Ireland as they did large areas of England and Scotland. They could only ever achieve toeholds in Dublin, Waterford and Limerick. But they did assimilate and inter-marry to create the Hiberno-Norse or Gall-Ghaeil. Their presence was tolerated by the Irish kings (to whom the Vikings paid tribute) because they brought trade and with it wealth and perhaps because they were not that dissimilar in culture and outlook.

Viking myth

The popular reports of the cruel Vikings pillaging Irish monasteries are largely myth. The Irish Annals report there were 26 such attacks in the first quarter of the 9th century. That’s one a year on average. Bear in mind that the Irish also plundered their own monasteries and frequently partnered the Vikings in such activity.

Irish trading empire

Because of its maritime connections Ireland should be seen at the epicentre of a huge and ancient Atlantean culture where it traded peacefully over thousands of sea miles for millennia. Ireland influenced and was influenced by many cultures bordering the littoral from Norway all the way south to North Africa.

Sadly many of these ancient records have been lost in the mists of time, misinterpreted or deliberately destroyed leaving Irish ancient history to be viewed as backward and isolated, passively soaking up influences from ‘superior’ cultures such as England, France or Rome.

 

 

What did the Romans ever do for the Irish?

Roman Emperor Constantine the Great

Was the Christian Church with its headquarters in Rome merely a front for the old Roman Empire and its global ambitions?

Why was Jerusalem sidelined and destroyed by the Romans in 70AD?

Roman Emperor Constantine the Great

The above is one of several questions posed in my historical novel – The Hare’s Vision – about the development of early Christianity.

In the Hare’s Vision Yeshua ben Pandira (Jesus to you and I) expressed this concern on his deathbed. He was troubled by a vision that his teachings would be misused by the Roman Empire to found a new religion and through this to perpetuate Rome’s global oppression.

So it fell to Ireland in the 6th century – as the only Christian country never to have been conquered by Rome’s legions – to honour Jesus’ dying wish that his true teachings be protected from imperial corruption.

But how and why did Rome – long term persecutor of Christians – become the centre of this new Middle Eastern religion instead of the holy city of Jerusalem where Jesus had walked and spent his last days?

Firstly the connection is through the legend that St Peter – one of Jesus’ disciples – and St Paul – an early convert to Christianity and one of its foremost evangelists – ended up in Rome and were martyred there. This caused Rome to be regarded as a place of great significance and pilgrimage by early Christians. But there is little or no proof of any kind that St Peter was ever in Rome, let alone buried there and tenuous evidence that St Paul joined him. So this connection to Rome is something of a myth most likely invented to further Rome’s age-old ambitions.

Roman Emperor Constantine the Great
Constantine I

Secondly it was the Roman Emperor – Constantine I – who in 313 AD began the conversion of the Roman Empire to the new ‘Christian’ religion after he believed the Christian God had intervened in a battle on his behalf. Constantine himself never became a Christian. In fact in 313, while he formally recognised the Christian God, Constantine found time to kill his wife, son and nephew who he suspected of plotting against him

Later the Donation of Constantine’ was used to enforce Rome’s claim to hegemony throughout Europe. This was an imperial decree by which Constantine the Great appeared to transfer authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the Bishop of Rome. The decree was found to be a forgery in the 15th century. However by then the church was well established throughout Europe.

Donation of Constantine
Donation of Constantine 778AD

On the other hand the position of the early Irish Christian church was quite different.

Because Ireland had never been invaded by Rome she was outside Rome’s sphere of influence when it came to the development of the early Christian church. As a result, Ireland developed her own unique form of Christianity heavily influenced by her ancient Druidic culture and her close links with Egypt. This ‘celtic’ church created a golden age of learning in Europe from the 6th – 10th centuries producing magnificent works such as the Book of Kells. This lasted until the late 12th century when – at the behest of the Bishop of Rome – the Normans invaded Ireland: all traces of the indigenous celtic church were removed and replaced with the Roman version. They rest is history……….

Book of Kells

Book of Kells. Trinity College Dublin
Book of     Kells. Trinity College Dublin

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hare’s Vision: an new Irish myth tells the story of how the Irish celtic church The Hare's Visionbecame the guardian of Jesus’ final radical teachings and through this challenged the power of Rome. These teachings threatened the very existence of the renewed Roman Empire in the 6th century (in the guise of the Church of Rome) as they had originally done in the 1st century with the old Roman Empire. It is available worldwide through Amazon in either paperback or ebook format. The paperback is also available through Waterstones in the UK