The Historical Background
Essentially this book is about religious sectarianism and national identity. The conquest of Ireland by the English was a gradual process that took many hundreds of years. However, after the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s when England and Scotland rejected Catholicism and the power of the Pope, Roman Catholic Ireland became much more of a problem for the English.
A key moment in Irish history that is still so raw today was the defeat of the Catholic forces at the hands of King William III - known as William of Orange. In 1690, at the Battle of the Boyne, the Protestant forces routed the Catholics and effectively took control of Ireland. The defeated Roman Catholics were made second class citizens in their own land and the power of the English Crown became absolute.
Over the course of the next 200 years the Irish struggled to rid themselves of their English overlords. Both political agitation and violent insurrection failed and at the turn of the 20th Century, Ireland was but one of many outposts of the British Empire, governed from Dublin Castle by the British Chief Secretary for Ireland. Those who opposed this rule were divided between constitutionalists who campaigned for Home Rule - a parliament in Dublin made up of elected Irish MPs - and those who craved a fully independent Republic and were prepared to use violence to achieve this end. The latter group were known as 'Fenians' - and many of them were members of a clandestine organisation known as the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood).
By 1912, it seemed as if the constitutionalists would prevail; the British Parliament passed the Home Rule Act which would come into force in 1914. Suddenly, the Protestant minority, primarily based in Ulster, was under threat; the Orange Order, an organisation that gloried in King Billy's victory at the Battle of the Boyne, began to arm itself.
Those who would see an independent Ireland, the Irish Volunteers, did the same. By 1913, most commentators believed that Civil War in Ireland was inevitable. For the Orangemen, reprieve came with the outbreak of the First World War. Home Rule was suspended indefinitely and Irishmen from both camps were encouraged to join up to fight for Britain against the massed hordes of the German Kaiser.
In 1916, with Westminster's focus firmly on the trenches of Belgium and France, the Republicans took the opportunity to launch a bid for independence. What became known as the Easter Rising of 1916 was a military failure, but lit a flame that would see Irishmen and women take the first steps towards creating what is now the Republic of Ireland.
This is where my story begins...….