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1 Geography, Religion, and Society in Ireland: A Spatial History

Ian N. Gregory Indiana University Press ePub

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Even today, more than a decade after the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement, which marked an end to the Troubles, the visitor to Northern Ireland cannot help but be struck by the interplay between religion, ethnonational identity, politics, history, and geography. Protestant areas are demarked by the Union Flag (the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, formerly the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland), backed up by red, white, and blue curbstones and murals representing events such as the Battle of the Boyne and the Siege of Derry. Protestantism is seen as synonymous with the politics of unionism and loyalism, which have the union with Great Britain and loyalty to the British Crown as their core tenets. Orange parades further emphasize these links—Orangemen march to church in a symbolic way that makes explicit the links between their religion, politics, history, and, most controversially, territory. So too in Catholic areas, except the flags are those of the Republic of Ireland, the curbstones are green, white, and orange, and the murals tend to focus on the sufferings and tribulations of the Gaelic Irish population from the Norman Conquest all the way through to the recent Troubles.1 Catholicism is seen as synonymous with Irish nationalism and republicanism, which have sought to remove British influence from Ireland.

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4 The Famine and Its Impacts, 1840s to 1860s

Ian N. Gregory Indiana University Press ePub

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It has almost become a cliché to argue that Ireland’s population development over the last 150 years has been unique. It is the only developed nation in the world with a current population below that in the mid-nineteenth century and the only European country to have suffered a century of demographic decline in its recent history.1 However, spatiopolitical qualifications must be applied to this assertion. The population decline of the area that is now the Republic has been remarkable, but the area that is now Northern Ireland was able to arrest its population decline at a much earlier stage. Furthermore, at the time of the Great Famine all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, and what might be described as a long-term regional population decline seems less spectacular when it is considered within the context of the U.K.’s rapid urban population growth, to which Irish migrants made a significant contribution.2 Still, the impact of the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century on the shaping of modern Ireland cannot be trivialized. More than any other event it has defined both the literal and the metaphysical places of the Irish in the world. It has sent shock waves down through the centuries that are not only demographic but also socioeconomic, cultural, and political.

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8 Toward the Celtic Tiger: The Republic, 1961 to 2002

Ian N. Gregory Indiana University Press ePub

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Up to this point the story of the south of Ireland’s economic fortunes has been characterized by an agricultural economy blighted by stagnation and failure. From the beginning of the 1960s a series of policy changes would occur in the Republic that would have profound consequences for the state not simply in the economic sphere but in the social, political, demographic, and even religious realms. It may, at first glance, be tempting to view the period from 1961 to 2002 in terms of a linear path toward economic and social maturity, but such a simplistic teleological interpretation bears little resemblance to what was an extremely turbulent period in the state’s short history.

The 1950s in the Republic of Ireland has come to be seen as a time of economic and social stagnation. By that time people could reflect on the bitter reality that over the thirty years since independence, the state had failed in its primary obligation—to provide the economic means for people to remain living in their own country. De Valera’s 1943 dream of a land of cozy homesteads was instead a place of empty homesteads, much of the “sturdy youth” having departed for New York, London, or Manchester.1 More than four hundred thousand people left the south of Ireland between 1951 and 1961, most of them because of economic necessity.2 Yet it was the sense of failure that crystallized in this decade that led to a renewed determination to resolve the Republic’s ongoing population crisis.3

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9 Stagnation and Segregation: Northern Ireland, 1971 to 2001

Ian N. Gregory Indiana University Press ePub

9

The late twentieth century saw a stark contrast between the experiences of the Republic of Ireland, described in the previous chapter, and those of Northern Ireland over the same period. While the Republic saw rapid economic progress and a decline in religious divisions, the situation in Northern Ireland was almost the reverse. Between 1971 and 2001 Northern Ireland saw rapid economic change as its traditional industries declined. At the same time it experienced a prolonged sectarian conflict in the form of the Troubles, during which more than three thousand people died. The complexity of the situation means that the next three chapters will be devoted to covering Northern Ireland over this period. chapter 9 looks at demographic, economic, and social change, stressing that in many ways Northern Ireland’s experience was typical of declining heavy industrial regions, albeit with a unique spatioreligious undertone. chapter 10 then moves to exploring the patterns of violence that occurred during the Troubles, which started in the late 1960s and ended with the various ceasefires of the late 1990s. chapter 11 draws these two threads together, focusing on Belfast, the area in which these themes had their largest impacts.

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7 Division and Continuity, 1920s to 1960s

Ian N. Gregory Indiana University Press ePub

7

The Boundary Commission of 1925 confirmed the territorial settlement of Partition. Ireland would remain divided. In many ways Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State had the same central problem at the start of this period: the 1921 treaty had created two states, but it had not created two nations.1 Religious geographies had determined the spatial extents of both jurisdictions, but the choice for both the north and south was how to forge their own identities and the extent to which these identities would be defined by the sectarianism of their geneses. The new formalized division of Ireland was, as we have seen, about more than just religion—it closely reflected the social and economic divisions of the island as well. A second challenge was thus to develop their separate economies. A final question was whether Partition would mark a new beginning for Ireland or whether it would simply continue the trends that had been developing since the mid-nineteenth century.

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