Earlier this year, when she took her seat in the British Parliament, twenty-one-year-old Bernadette Devlin from Northern Ireland electrified the House of Commons in making a maiden speech two hours after her arrival. One of her many forcefully expressed remarks was that the Englishman had not been born who could understand Irish affairs. Miss Devlin was probably expressing a view that would command a rare unanimity among her fellow islanders, whether they came from North or South, whether they were Catholics or Protestants. This harmless piece of Celtic vanity is perhaps carried further in Andre Maurois’s statement: “If in the eyes of an Irishman there is any one being more ridiculous than an Englishman, it is an Englishman who loves Ireland.” An ineffable scorn, not to be confused with xenophobia, is the portion of all but the native born who express themselves on any aspect of the Emerald Isle’s affairs. In thus making myself vulnerable I have one negative virtue: I am not English. I am a Scot of Irish descent, a Protestant neither tinged with Red sympathies nor in the pay of the World Council of Churches.

My task here is not so much to comment on recent developments in Northern Ireland (these appear from time to time in this journal’s News section) as to try to fill in some of the background, in the hope of making current reports on the subject more meaningful.

Something must first be said, however sketchily, about the modern history of undivided Ireland. We begin with the year 1690, though any comprehensive treatment would go further back. The last of the Stuart kings, the Roman Catholic James II, in a last-ditch stand at the Boyne, lost to the Protestant William III, who had superseded him ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.