PDF The Origins of Sectarianism in Early Modern Ireland

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The vast majority of Catholic and Protestant children are taught in separate schools, but while the educational divide is often expressed in solely religious terms, schools can reflect the nationalist or unionist identity of communities they serve. The data illustrate the degree to which cities and towns remain divided or predominantly populated by one community, and the faultlines in a society still emerging from conflict. Each morning the brightly coloured tourist buses gather in the streets close to Belfast City Hall. The uniformed ticket-sellers comb the pavements for the tourists from the cruise ships and the hotels to sell them a tour of the city.

New Zealanders, Japanese, Norwegians and Texans climb on board, ready to see what National Geographic and the Rough Guide has assured them is one of the most exciting cities on the planet. The buses fan out to the areas where there is a chance to get out and photograph the famous peace walls. For those expecting a continuous, Trump-like wall what they see is something of a disappointment: there is nothing grand about the interrupted series of fences, corrugated metal and brick structures that stop and start in their zigzag progress through these depressed working-class neighbourhoods.

The Origins of Sectarianism in Early Modern Ireland | Marek Lewinson

The really remarkable thing though is that the walls are still here, in this city that describes itself in terms of its cool restaurants, cultural quarters and festivals. If, as now seems inevitable, we are heading towards a hard Brexit, then a hard Border will follow. But a hard Border it will be and Ireland will be more effectively partitioned than at any time in its history.

The creation of an exterior barrier will have a knock-on effect on the existing internal walls and, worryingly, it seems like May and her cabinet have no idea about the nature or extent of those divisions.


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In fact, it would be a good idea for them to join one of those tours. They would see that the problem is not just the walls. The neighbourhoods on both sides of those walls are showrooms of ethnic antagonism: painted kerbs, flags, murals of paramilitary heroes, and walls festooned with slogans.

There are still flags on the main roads but there is no longer the same sense of bristling hostility. Northern Ireland is still a very deeply divided society.

The Origins of Sectarianism in Early Modern Ireland

In those areas where an actual physical barrier has had to be erected, the numbers tell the story. There are now a total of peace walls across Northern Ireland. The Department of Justice owns 51, the Housing Executive The most contentious are in north Belfast where a patchwork of small orange and green areas are rammed up against each other, and it is here in places like Ardoyne that the divisions prove most combustible in the marching season. When we look at Northern Ireland as a whole we see a political geography that is just as divided and demarcated.

The incoherent and jumbled mix of areas left over from the Ulster Plantation of the early 17th century has left two communities — then known as the planters and the Gaels, now as Protestants and Catholics — frozen in separate but parallel lives.

Deep origins

Economic, familial and cultural ties have bound them together over the centuries, but without a common identity to unite them. There is no time when they stand together to sing the same anthem or salute the same flag. It would be a mistake to see this spatial segregation as purely the result of individual choices.


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  6. In areas where over 90 per cent of the population share a single religious identity, sectarianism reproduces itself through a loop of cause and consequence. For children growing up in residentially segregated areas there is a lack of opportunity to have meaningful contact with children of the other religion. Education could provide such an opportunity but the integrated schools movement has lost its momentum, enrolling under 7 per cent of pupils in the current year. There has been a lack of governmental commitment to either integrated schools or integrated housing.

    For the two main political blocs, there is an obvious benefit in having their respective electorates corralled in manageable geographical areas where their voting choices are securely anchored. The peace agreement negotiated in took the two communal identities as fixed and immutable entities and built the political architecture on these two pillars. The history of political events that brought us to this point has been described in countless books, but the underground forces shaping that history can be told much more simply through maps. The first census after partition showed a ratio in favour of Protestants.

    In the census, the Catholic population remained at 34 per cent , almost exactly what it had been at the time of partition. It was after this the seesaw began to tilt. When in Elizabeth insisted upon uniformity in clerical attire, a substantial proportion of the English clergy up to ten per cent in London refused to submit and was deprived. Further attempts to move the Queen to a more perfect Reformation, whether by Parliamentary statute or subtle pressure from the bench of bishops, proved equally unavailing. Despairing at the Queen's obstinacy and at the apparent indifference of broad sections of the population to the call to a godlier lifestyle, evangelicals took refuge in brotherhoods and congregations that became increasingly detached from the mainstream church.

    The frustration of reform measures in the Parliaments of and led some into formal separation. In the latter years of Elizabeth's reign Puritanism gave way to sectarian non-conformity, and eventually into outright confrontation with the established church. But the numbers involved in such open dissidence were small, the vast majority of the godly preferring to remain in communion and to seek consolation in voluntary associations which provided an appropriate context for the puritan lifestyle.

    And in the main, their choice was justified, for whatever their disappointment at Elizabeth's lack of godly zeal, England's general allegiance to the Protestant cause was not in doubt. Even from the beginning of the reign there were evident proofs of this in an ambitious foreign policy which led swiftly to confrontation with the leading Catholic powers.

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    By the last quarter of the century England was destined to play a pivotal role in the survival of Calvinist powers on the Continent, as they faced the most profound threat to their survival from a resurgent Catholicism. By the time Elizabeth's long reign came to an end in , English people had come to esteem their Church.

    The trials of the last three decades had in a very real sense secured England's Protestant identity. Through a generation of conflict in which the enemy had been foreign, Catholic and dangerous, English people had come to identify their Church and Protestantism, as a cornerstone of their identity. This was not manifested, necessarily, in any very profound grasp of the theological tenets of faith.

    While English readers seem to have been avid consumers of catechisms and other cheap volumes of religious instruction, their clergy, as elsewhere in Europe, continued to lament how shallow was their grasp of doctrine. Yet the identification could be more subtle and oblique, but still very real.

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    The Catholic festival year, for instance, had been gradually superseded by a calendar of new, largely unofficial and profoundly Protestant patriotic festivals: the defeat of the Armada, Crownation day, the date of Elizabeth's accession. In they would be joined by 5 November, the date of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, proof, if proof were needed that Catholicism was still considered perfidious, deadly and deeply un-English. The celebration of Guy Fawkes' day with bonfires and fireworks is a reminder of how fresh these Reformation controversies remained in the consciousness of the people for many centuries.

    Professor Andrew Pettegree's teaching and research interests include: British and European Reformation, the history of the book in the early modern period, especially the French religious book, , and the visual arts of the Reformation period. Search term:. Read more. This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets CSS enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience.

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    On this page Strange turn of events Initially, Henry defends the faith A powerful reforming party emerges at Court The new, insecure regime A secure Protestant identity Find out more Page options Print this page. Strange turn of events For much of the sixteenth century England and Scotland hated each other with all the passion of warring neighbours.

    A remarkably smooth transition. Henry's fateful decision. The best jobs had gone to Protestants, but the humming local economy still provided work for Catholics. Moreover, by restricting the franchise to ratepayers the taxpaying heads of households and their spouses, representation was further limited for Catholic households, which tended to be larger and more likely to include unemployed adult children than their Protestant counterparts. Those who paid rates for more than one residence more likely to be Protestants were granted an additional vote for each ward in which they held property up to six votes.

    Catholics argued that they were discriminated against when it came to the allocation of public housing , appointments to public service jobs, and government investment in neighbourhoods. The divide between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland had little to do with theological differences but instead was grounded in culture and politics. Catholics by and large identified as Irish and sought the incorporation of Northern Ireland into the Irish state.

    The great bulk of Protestants saw themselves as British and feared that they would lose their culture and privilege if Northern Ireland were subsumed by the republic. They expressed their partisan solidarity through involvement with Protestant unionist fraternal organizations such as the Orange Order , which found its inspiration in the victory of King William III William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in over his deposed Catholic predecessor, James II , whose siege of the Protestant community of Londonderry had earlier been broken by William.

    Despite these tensions, for 40 or so years after partition the status of unionist-dominated Northern Ireland was relatively stable. Ian Paisley , who became one of the most vehement and influential representatives of unionist reaction.