Monday, November 15, 2010

A History of Dublin

Well fans I thought it might be good at this point, while I'm flying and busy getting to the capitol city of the Republic of Ireland if I gave you some background on the history of the city so you can appreciate it a little more. 

Dublin was founded in 988 A.D., although traces of it's existence does go back further.  It was founded by the Vikings and was originally named Eblana.  The Wood Quay in the city center has uncovered some ancient Norman Viking ruins of a once walled city.  The town was captured in the 9th century by the Danes and the city changed hands from the Danes to the Irish several times.  Several key battles where the Irish wrestled control of the city from the Danes were in 1052, 1075, and 1124.  In 1171 the Danes were expelled for good by the Anglo-Normans under King Henry the II of England.

Until the middle of the 17th century Dublin remained a small town that wasn't faring very well.  In 1649 after the English Civil Wars the town was taken over by Oliver Cromwell.  There were only about 9,000 residents at that time.   By the end of the 17th century Protestant refugees poured into the city and it began to thrive.  As Dublin grew in size and wealth it was nicknamed "the second city of the British Empire" and the rights of the Catholics were denied them under the Protestant rule.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish Catholics had been prohibited from owning land, from leasing land; from voting, from holding political office; from living in a corporate town or within five miles of a corporate town, from obtaining education, from entering a profession, and from doing many other things that are necessary in order to succeed and prosper in life.

The Irish Potato Famine and the deliberate genocidal ethnic cleansing by the British stand as one of the most horrific human rights tragedies ever in the history of the world. One million Irish people starved to death when a blight destroyed the potato crop for many years. Potatoes were the staple of the Irish diet. The English took all the other edible crops out of Ireland, and used them inside their already well-stocked pantries. The English "solution" to the starving Irish was to tell them to leave Ireland forever, creating one of the worst Diasporas ever in modern history.

One Irish artist, Rowan Gillespie, created sculptures of the famine victims at a famine memorial at the Customs House Quay in Dublin, Ireland. He also created the sculptures which are part of the Ireland Park Foundation in Toronto, where many of the victims of the Irish famine fled in what became known as the "Coffin Ships," and often died lined up outside of Canada, forbidden to enter, locked into ship holds without adequate food or water.
This famine changed forever the makeup of Ireland and occurred between 1845 and 1852.  

In 1800 The Act of Union between England and Ireland abolished the Irish Parliament and drastically reduced Dublin's status.  A long decline set in that only reversed itself when Ireland became a free nation in 1922.  This independence came about after the 1916 uprising and the subsequent war of independence.   Dublin was the scene of some of the most severe fighting of the Irish rebellion of 1916 and of the revolution of 1919 to 1921, which resulted in the establishment of the Irish Free State.

After Independence Dublin became the political, economic, and cultural center of Ireland. The location of the Government of Ireland, Dail Eireann, assembles in Leinster House, Dublin. The Four Courts, seat of Ireland's judiciary, and the Custom House are excellent examples of Dublin's late 18th-century architecture. Both buildings were damaged heavily during the Civil War but have been restored.
South of the river is Dublin Castle, which was begun in 1204 and almost totally rebuilt in Georgian style in the 18th century. The castle was the seat of English authority in Ireland until 1922. Today it is the site of the inaugurations of Ireland's presidents. Near the castle are Christ Church and St. Patrick's, Dublin's two Protestant cathedrals. Both date from Dublin's earliest days as a Viking settlement.
They were extensively rebuilt by the Anglo-Norman invaders of the late 12th and early 13th centuries and were again rebuilt in the 19th century. Ireland's original Parliament House, now the Bank of Ireland in College Green, dates from the 18th century and is also in Georgian style.

Maritime trade has always been one of Dublin's most important activities. Dublin is Ireland's largest port and major exporter. It has also developed into the largest manufacturing city in Ireland, though the factories, aside from breweries and distilleries, are engaged primarily in light manufactures. The city's most famous business is the Guinness Brewery, founded in 1759 and one of Ireland's largest employers and exporters.
Economic planning efforts have attempted to locate manufacturing plants outside Dublin, and the city has had a dwindling share of manufacturing employment since the early 1960s. The manufacturing and exports of computer hardware and software have recently become a major business. Ireland is now the worlds leading exporter of these.

Dublin has an illustrious educational and cultural past. Trinity College, or University of Dublin, founded in 1591, has graduated authors Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, and Oscar Wilde. Its library houses the 8th-century 'Book of Kells', the famous decorated gospel book made by Celtic Monks.

Dublin was also the location for the premiere of Handel's 'Messiah' in 1742. Famous literary figures to emerge from the city include Richard Brinsley Sheridan, John Millington Synge, James Joyce, Bram Stoker, Samuel Beckett, William Butler Yeats and George Bernard. The city played a leading role in the revival of Irish language and literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This included the opening of the Abbey Theatre in 1904, dedicated to the revival of Irish drama. Museums in the city include the National Gallery of Ireland, The National History Museum and the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art.

North of the river and west of the city center is the Phoenix Park, nearly 2,000 acres(800 hectares) in size, with a zoo and a racetrack, it is renowned as the second largest enclosed park in the world, second only to Yellowstone in the U.S.A.

Why is Ireland divided?  This essay I found explains it better than I can although I can say this is a subject of touchy debate and it is not a good idea to bring up in a pub.  Emotions runs high on the subject of a Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland but  here's what I found thus far:

Henry VIII rejected Rome and put the Church in England under his
 personal control.  This church was to became more protestant,
 particularly under Elizabeth I.  Ireland's population remained
 mainly Roman Catholic. The conflict between Catholicism and
 Protestantism played a large part in 17th century several wars
 in England and Ireland:  civil wars, colonial wars, and at least
 one war (c.  1690) that was part of a wider European conflict.
 Following some of these disruptions, the winners forcibly
 transferred ownership of large amounts of land to new landlords,
 and sometimes new tenants: those who had supported the winning
 side or those who they felt would support them in the future.

 The majority of the Irish population were on the losing side.  A
 new elite was built of Anglo-Irish (people of English
 background, and also Anglicized Irish) members of the Church of
 Ireland (Anglican/Episcopalian).  This "Protestant Ascendancy"
 lasted well into the 19th century, with traces still in evidence

 English Protestants were not the only ones to settle in
 Ireland.  Presbyterians (historically known as Dissenters) from
 Scotland colonized north-eastern Ireland in large numbers.
 Other nonconformist Christians (especially Friends, better known
 as Quakers) started arriving in the 16th century, and their
 numbers grew in the 17th.  During this period they and the
 Protestant Ascendancy were not close allies:  there were
 significant differences in background, social class and style of

 Both the Catholic majority and the Presbyterians were the
 victims of discriminatory laws favoring the Church of Ireland
 (that is, the Anglican church established by the state).
 Generally, though, the discrimination against Catholics (who were
 regarded as treacherous and potential allies of France and Spain)
 was worse than that against the nonconformists.

 In 1801, Ireland was technically made one with England, Scotland
 and Wales by the Act of Union which created the United Kingdom of
 Great Britain and Ireland.  In some ways, this was a Good Thing
 for Ireland, as it led to electoral reform, land reform, and the
 disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and its right to tax
 the whole population.  But the colonial relationship remained,
 and as freedoms grew without real equality with England and
 the English, so did Irish nationalism develop and flourish.
 (Nationalism became a force throughout Europe in the mid
 nineteenth century, leading for example to the creation of Italy
 and Germany as nation states for the first time.)

 But there was a complicating factor.  In the late 18th and early
 19th century, the Ascendancy and the Presbyterians had begun to
 become allies on political and nationalist issues.  As Irish
 nationalism developed (mainly among Catholics), so, in response,
 did unionism (the desire to preserve the United Kingdom) develop
 and strengthen among both kinds of Protestant.  Several times
 the unionists threatened insurrection against their own
 government in order to stay under that government.

 In 1912, a third Irish Home Rule Bill was introduced to the
 British House of Commons, where it would pass its third and
 final reading in January, 1913.  This was blocked by the House
 of Lords, but they could only delay bills since the Parliament
 Act in 1911.  Unionists in Ulster reacted with alarm; an Ulster
 Volunteer Force was formed in 1913.  This force landed 25,000
 guns from Germany at Larne in April 1914, with the declared
 intention of using them if Home Rule were imposed on the
 northern counties.  Their slogan was "Home Rule is Rome Rule",
 referring to the fears they had of a Catholic dominated Ireland.
 In the event, Home Rule was put in the statute books but was
 never implemented because of the Great War which started in
 August, 1914.

 Two nationalist militias, the Irish Citizen's Army and
 the Irish Volunteers were formed, dedicated to Home Rule.
 They were far less efficiently organized than the UVF and they
 quickly split in 1914. However a small part of the force, led
 by Republicans staged an armed rebellion (the Easter Rising) in
 April 1916, briefly taking over a small part of central Dublin.
 Their attempt at gun running had failed with the capture and
 scuttling of the Aud, carrying thousands of German weapons.
 The general uprising the Republicans hoped they would inspire
 throughout the country never happened. The rebellion was
 crushed; its leaders were judged guilty of treason and shot.
 Many hundreds were interned in Britain.

 Before the war, a majority of people had supported Home Rule
 which would grant Ireland autonomy in domestic affairs.  After the
 war, Sinn Féin (previously a minor party with tenuous connections
 to the actual Rising) got overwhelming support for their platform,
 complete independence (but not in the north-eastern counties, where
 Unionists were in the clear majority).

 The failed rising was an inspiration to many join the newly
 created Irish Republican Army (IRA) and fight. The conflict
 escalated into a brutal war of attrition between the IRA and
 the British.

 But the unionists still held the north, and they would in turn
 rebel if Britain cast them loose.  Partition was made official
 by the Government of Ireland Act of 1920.  This was based on the
 old Home Rule Bill and formed the basis for the negotiations
 that were inevitable once the two sides had reached stalemate
 in the south.

 The Treaty of 1921 that ended the war with the British was a
 messy compromise.  The Irish negotiators, who included Michael
 Collins, but not Éammon De Valera, accepted it under the threat
 of "war within three days" from the British Prime Minister,
 Lloyd George.  There was also a vague promise that a Boundary
 Commission would adjust the borders, possibly gaining Fermanagh
 and Tyrone for the new Free State.

 Opponents of the treaty were outraged not so much by partition
 as by the Oath of Allegiance (to the King) that members of the
 Dáil would have to swear.  The negotiators in London had managed
 to water it down considerably, but any oath was unacceptable
 in principle to hard-line Republicans.  The Dáil, reflecting the
 feeling in the country, voted (reluctantly) to accept the treaty.
 The new Irish Free State had a dominion status similar to that
 enjoyed by Canada.

 The IRA split on the treaty issue and there was civil war.
 This became more brutal than the war of independence before it,
 with massacres and atrocities committed by both sides.

 (The South altered its constitution in 1937 severing most of its
 links with the UK. It declared itself a Republic in 1947.)

 The Boundary Commission that was set up as part of the Treaty to
 realign of the border between Northern Ireland and the Free State
 did not meet until 1924.  Both nationalists and unionists were
 reluctant to participate in it (the unionist delegate had to be
 nominated by the British government, and the Irish representative
 understood participation meant the end of his political career).
 The Commission's terms of reference were vague and included a
 proviso that boundaries be drawn "in accordance with the wishes
 of the inhabitants, so far as may be compatible with economic
 and geographic conditions".

 The Chairman of the Commission, Feetham, was not inclined to
 make any big changes.  In any case, (Southern and Northern)
 nationalist feelings about the border were muddled and
 ambivalent.  The Unionist position, "not an inch", had the
 advantage of being clear and simple.  The Free State drew up
 a minimum negotiating position that would gain Fermanagh,
 most of Tyrone and parts of Down and Armagh for the South.
 Even this minimum position could not be held, and so the
 Commission was quietly abandoned in favor of the status quo
 (the border created by the Government of Ireland Act) in 1925.
 This left substantial unionist minorities in Donegal and
 Monaghan and nationalist majorities in Fermanagh and Tyrone
 all on the wrong side of the border. 
The Irish Free State was overwhelmingly Catholic and nationalist, and unionists 
formed a clear (but not as overwhelming) majority in Northern Ireland.

Dublin today is peppered with double-decker busses, trains, a tram sytem and a lot of traffic.  There are many great sites to see including museums, art galleries, brewries, distilleries and places to eat and shop.  Dublin brings in a substantial amount of tourist dollars but has fallen on very hard economic times.  Most of the people I talk to from Dublin in preparation for my trip have said things like, "I hope to have a job for a few days soon" or "I'm working only part time".  Their feelings about Americans are generally pretty positive as the Irish are a positive upbeat people who have survived much suffering but there are anti-American sentiments here as in many places around the world.  Prejudice and intolerance are part every country but the majority of the Irish I've spoken with in preparation for my trip are warm, welcoming and delighted with people coming to visit their capitol city.
I will now get ready to leave and I can't wait to tell you all about my flight to Dublin and my first impressions as I ride the bus into the city center.

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