After thirty years of fighting and more than 3,000 deaths in the province of Northern Ireland, peace was agreed. In the first decade of the twenty-first century the Northern Ireland Assembly held democratic elections.
There have been sporadic outbursts of violence since, but most people, in the Republic of Ireland, in Northern Ireland and in the rest of Britain, seem to think that peace has come, and that the compromises on all sides have been worth the peace. The Republic has, in effect, abandoned its claim over the six counties of the North. It has accepted the partition of Ireland. The peoples of the six counties now enjoy, in effect, self-government, with power shared between Catholics and Protestants. The government in Westminster, while keeping a toe-hold in the province, and while retaining a special Minister for Northern Ireland, has given up any notion of 'making Ireland British' against its will.
Ireland was Britain's first, and least willing, colony, the most unsuccessful of all British colonial experiments. The pattern of Elizabethan failure in Ireland was to be replicated at other periods of history: first an attempt to woo the Irish, to persuade the people themselves to adopt laws and customs that were alien to them. Next, this wooing having known only partial success, or abject failure, an attempt at coercion; and one method of such coercion was a resettlement of Irish land by English, Welsh or Scottish incomers. Third, when neither gentle persuasion nor dispossession achieved the desired result - viz. the rule of English law on Irish soil - there was a resort to outright violence and massacre.
It was not, initially at least, a specifically religious matter, though by the end of the sixteenth century the rebels Hugh O'Neill and Hugh O'Donnell could see themselves as champions of 'Christ's Catholic religion' against the English heretics. The fundamental point of contention, though, was English interference in Irish affairs: English attempts to make Ireland less Irish. As a matter of fact, in the early stages of the Reformation, the Irish went along with Henry VIII's religious revolution more peaceably than the English did. There was no Pilgrimage of Grace, there were no Irish martyrs for the faith, no Irish Thomas More2 or Bishop Fisher. More than 400 Irish monasteries and abbeys were sold to Irish laymen during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
The Irish did not protest when Henry VIII made George Browne the Archbishop of Dublin - that was, the former Augustinian friar whoperformed the marriage ceremony between the King and Anne Boleyn. Perhaps, if a Gaelic Bible and Gaelic Prayer Book had been made available in Ireland, as a Welsh Bible and Prayer Book were in Wales by 1567, Ireland might have remained Protestant. It was not until the beginning of James I's reign that the Prayer Book appeared in Irish.
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