Happy birthday, happy birthday, we wish you all, happy birthday … One would think that reaching one hundred years should be cause for celebration, but it is not the case with Ulster. First, because it arrives full of ailments, with not too buoyant health (some doctors say it won’t last long). And second, because it is not and never was a desired creature. The Protestants would have preferred from the beginning to remain fully British, like the English, without autonomy or their own Parliament or nonsense, and the Catholics would have wanted to be part of the Republic of Ireland.
So no birthday cake, no candles, no champagne, no gifts, no invisible friend or anything like it to commemorate the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the birth of Ulster as a political entity. Unionists and Republicans – no surprise – have not agreed on how to celebrate (or regret) the event, and all there have been are a handful of talks, concerts and conferences, a few buildings lit up at night, the broadcast of a stamp and you stop counting. Furthermore, with Brexit causing problems and tempers very heated in the unionist community, the oven is not exactly for buns.
If Marx said that capitalism carries within the seed of its own destruction (which has yet to be demonstrated, because it seems to resist everything), in the case of Ulster it is very true. In 1921, nobody wanted partition, and all the problems in the province (a disaffected Catholic community, an unpatrollable border, a violence that has claimed 3,500 deaths …) come from there. No wonder the Happy Birthday and may ghosts be everywhere in a beautiful and welcoming land, but also cruel and cursed.
Protestants did not agree to include three counties with a clear Catholic majority
At the dawn of the 19th century (1800 and 1801) London politically created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and abolished the Irish Parliament, which was integrated into that of Westminster, where the Protestants (especially the landowners) were represented, but the Catholics were banned until 1829. This led to a strong movement that demanded the home rule or autonomy and posed problems for London ( the irish question ). Liberals were sympathetic to the idea, and Conservatives (who exercised veto power in the Lords) were opposed. After several legislative defeats, it was approved only in 1910, when Prime Minister Asquith needed the support of the moderate Irish nationalists of the INP to form a government. But immediately the First World War broke out and everything was frozen.
A century ago two-thirds of the Irish were Catholics, and one-third were Protestants, the majority concentrated in Ulster, descendants of the English and Scottish settlers artificially implanted there by England in the sixteenth century. The former were already satisfied with the home rule , until radical nationalist elements organized the Easter Rising in 1916, in which 260 civilians, 66 rebels and 143 British soldiers were killed. London reacted by executing its leaders, the independence movement gained strength, the original IRA faced the English army, and the war of independence was served.
By 1921 it was too late to fix things. War was a fact in the south, and in Belfast (an industrial and port city with no good connections to Dublin) Catholics were subjected to open persecution with touches of ethnic cleansing. Fifteen thousand families had been evicted from their homes to create unionist neighborhoods homogeneous , and a wave of sectarian violence in the shipyards led to assaults, beatings and nineteen deaths. Ten thousand workers were fired just for not being Protestant.
Protestants wanted to remain only British, and Catholics, sovereignty
By the time London got on with it, there was no remedy. The Irish Act entered into force in May 1921 and created two self-governing territories and two parliaments, one in Belfast (which the Unionists did not want) and one in Dublin (which only held one session before being overwhelmed by the war). Months later, in November, he had to sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty that created the Irish Free State, the forerunner of the current Republic.
The partition forced the establishment of a border that, one hundred years later, continues to wage war. The three counties of historic Ulster with a large Catholic majority (Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan) were excluded, because the unionists already feared then – as now – to be demographically pushed towards the Republic, and in the end the four with a predominantly Protestant population were chosen ( Antrim, Armagh, Down and Derry), plus two others in which both groups were almost the same (Fermanagh and Tyrone). Downing Street established a commission to redraw the border line whose recommendations were shelved … until 1969!
Ulster was born out of violence, and violence has never left it. Twenty-three years after being signed, the Good Friday accords are in their greatest crisis, and younger generations of Loyalists flirt with the idea of returning to the weapons left behind by their parents. “The IRA has won by bombing, there is no doubt,” says Michael Nesbitt in a pub in Enniskillen, where the IRA was responsible for 101 deaths (including the uncle of Arlene Foster, the prime minister of the province), 95 of which are still considered “unsolved cases” -. He has taken over the police and many high officials, he controls the courts, he has the right of veto in the Executive and his prisoners have been released from jail ”.
The one established in 1921 was to be “provisional”, but a century later it is still the same
In Ulster people take the holidays around July 12, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, in which William III (King Billy) defeated the Catholics. Some, to participate in the parades of the Orange Order. Others, to be in Fuengirola when the Protestants pass with the drums in front of their houses. But demographics are inexorable and a century is a long time. For a decade, the nationalists have controlled the City Hall, and the pictures of the monarch and his wife that hung in the Board Room have created dust in a basement. Happy birthday, Ulster!