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Ireland and Britain: 800 Years of Conflict

Weekend All-Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, November 6, 2021 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2167
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Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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A wall in Belfast—called the Peace Line—separates Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods from each other

Ireland and Britain share a troubled past. Since England first invaded the country more than eight centuries ago, Ireland has suffered from war, religious conflict, and political division, and the encounter between the English and the Irish has also left a profound legacy on Irish culture and even in the landscape itself. The peace process in Northern Ireland and Brexit outcome are writing a new chapter in the history of this complicated relationship.

Historian Jennifer Paxton, a scholar of Irish and British history, untangles the complicated threads in the story of the Irish and British peoples and analyzes how a heritage of conflict is being transformed by new opportunities and new challenges.

9:30 to 10:45 a.m.  The (Incomplete) English Conquest of Ireland

Ironically, the English were invited into Ireland. A deposed Irish chieftain sought English aid to reestablish himself on the throne, but the invaders quickly developed grander ambitions. Still, the conquest of Ireland took four centuries. Learn how the English settlers became almost “more Irish than the Irish themselves,” and how Ireland was left largely to its own devices until fear of Spanish intervention in Ireland in the 16th century prompted the English to complete the conquest at last.

11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.  Religious War and Persecution

Following the Tudor conquest, Ireland was caught up in the religious and political conflicts that were tearing England apart. Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland left bitter feelings that linger to the present, followed by repressive legislation aimed at both Catholics and Presbyterians. Paxton explains how the Irish fared in an age of religious conflict, and how canny Irish politician Daniel O’Connell mobilized the Irish Catholic population in 1829 to end the last of the discriminatory Penal laws.

12:15 to 1:15 p.m.  Break

1:15 to 2:30 p.m.  The Struggle for the Future of Ireland

From the Great Famine of the 1840s through the First World War, the “Irish Question” dominated not just Irish politics but British politics as well. Explore how the Irish were torn between three possible futures: complete union with Great Britain; autonomy under the British crown; and total independence, achieved by force of arms. The clash among these alternatives culminated in the Easter Rising of 1916, the War of Independence, and the partition of Ireland into two states: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

2:45 to 4 p.m.  A Terrible Beauty is Born

With the partition of Ireland, the relationship between Ireland and Britain changed dramatically. While the Republic of Ireland distanced itself from Britain, the Protestant majority of Northern Ireland clung fiercely to its British identity, and Catholics there suffered discrimination in employment and housing. Learn how the civil conflict known as the “Troubles” arose when northern Catholics began to demand equality. The heavy-handed response of the British authorities provoked a resurgence of Irish nationalist guerilla warfare and reprisals from Protestant paramilitaries. The conflict finally ended when politicians on all sides agreed to resolve their differences through peaceful means, but Brexit has cast the future of Northern Ireland into doubt.

Paxton is clinical associate professor in the history department, associate dean of undergraduate studies, and director of the university honors program at The Catholic University of America.

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