A Land Divided by Faith To understand the time of strife and conflict In Northern Ireland commonly referred to as “the Troubles”, one might look at the Intense sectarianism that split the province of Ulster into two very defined groups that did not blend well together: the Catholic population and the Protestant population. Many factors played a role in the segregation of these communities, such as political standpoint which is closely correlated with religious beliefs.
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However, a very clear picture can be identified through examining the destructive effects caused by the divide in religion alone. The differing religious standpoints caused much strife, death, and families to be torn apart. An excellent portrayal of the Troubles Is put forth by Graham Reid in the play Remembrance, in which a bias is given to neither side of the conflict. Rather, he aims to show the story and viewpoint of each opposing side, and how difficult it is for the two to overcome the divide to be together in the form of a romance between a Protestant widower and a Catholic widow.
Before the Troubles can be analyzed, It Is best to look at the history of how they began. Being a predominantly Catholic Island, Ireland gradually began to see an influx of Protestant settlers. The Plantation of Ulster attracted many of these settlers to the north, and this “meant that the Protestant settlers lived in close proximity to the Catholic Irish who were cleared to the geographical margins but not exterminated” (Dairy).
This caused a rift already beginning to form between these two groups, as the Catholic population felt they were being invaded, normalized, and that their land was being stolen from them. Meanwhile, the Protestant settlers began to feel uneasy, and always on edge. This Is where the sectarian divide begins, before the start of the period known as the Troubles (Dairy). Additionally, at this time Ireland was still under British rule. The Catholic population, wanting independence from the United Kingdom, largely achieved success in the twenty six southern counties.
It was only in the province of Ulster with a predominantly
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Protestant population where Independence from the UK that this was not achieved. Rather, with the roughly 65 percent Protestant population, Northern Ireland acquired a parliament salary to that of the K. A vast majority of the power in this parliament was held by Protestant population, and this caused a great deal of unease between the two groups; furthering the divide, and ultimately eating to the Troubles of Northern Ireland (Dairy).
The Troubles began during the 1 ass’s, when a cam rights movement began to move towards “equitable access to political power, social provision and cultural recognition” (Dairy) by the Catholic people of Ulster, This sparked great tension, and resistance to this campaign resulted in the British army becoming involved, which some of the Catholic population viewed as a revisited oppression by the United Kingdom, which they were still a part of. This is what sparked the formation of the Irish Republican Army (AIR), and a campaign of violence was launched by early 1970 Dairy).
By this time, the divisions were clear and you were expected by both sides to suck to your own side. Deviation from this was not received well, as we see In the Bert Andrews, a Protestant widower finds love in Catholic widow Theresa Donated. The two come almost as star crossed lovers, coming from opposite ends of the Troubles and each having lost loved ones to the conflict. Never the less, as they visit the graves of their loved ones, they spend more and more time together.
Their relationship develops, and the thing holding them back is the reactions they fear will come from their children. At the time this play takes place, marriages spanning between two different religions only makes up 6 percent of the total marriages in Northern Ireland (Elliot). This pre-existing divide between religions makes it difficult for Theresa and Bert to break the news of their relationship. In fact, when Theresa tells her daughter Joan she is outraged, automatically spewing very prejudiced and negative thoughts about Bert.
When Theresa explains that Bert was there for her after her sons grave was vandalized, Joan bursts out “Huh, vandalized! He probably did it himself, Just for an excuse to chat you up. I think it’s disgusting” (68). This is but one example of the difficulty of trying to form a connection across the divide. It was also difficult for people on the same side of the conflict, namely Republicans. Being an underground movement, much of the activity by the AIR was illegal.
Though this is not to say that all AIR members are Catholic, the illegal activity did land many of the Catholic population in Jail. For example, Thresher’s daughter Deirdre was forced to raise her children on her own because her husband was serving a life sentence in Jail for being involved with the AIR. As a Catholic woman, Deirdre was not allowed to divorce her husband nor seek the company of another man. In fact, if she must continue to regularly visit him in Jail “otherwise the bastards wont give [her] any money” (19).
Some insight as to how these prejudiced attitudes lasted as long as they do is provided by Elliot in his analysis of the social interaction of the two religious groups of Northern Ireland. From a young age, they are taught to think in the ways of their superiors (Elliot). With less than 2% of Northern Irish children attending integrated schools, the sorority grow up in environments that encourage the exact stereotyping, ignorance and denomination of the other community that leads to the appalling popularization that is so rampant in Irish society. Elliot) With this type of separation from an early age, it is no wonder Joan reacted to Thresher’s news the way she did. It is no wonder Victor, Beret’s son, desires to emigrate to South Africa because “out there it doesn’t matter if the criminals are Catholic or Protestant . So long as they’re black” (34). Victor is not the only character in the story that expresses a desire to move because f the strain the Troubles have placed on his life.
Deirdre, starved of male attention because of her religious devotion, wants to abandon her life and move to London to start fresh; escaping the Troubles altogether. The Troubles took their toll on the Northern Irish community. It was not until the late sass’s that large moves towards peace were taken, with reason falling over both the Catholic and Protestant sides of the divide. With the AIR calling a cease fire in 1997 and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (Dairy), peace started to settle over the horrible tragedies that had fallen over Northern Ireland.See More on Derry