17th Century Ireland – the Dynamics of Myth and Fact

Introduction • Modern Popular Perceptions of 17th Century Ireland • 17th Century Ireland : PreludeStuart ReformPlantationsGraces and Covenanters1641 InsurrectionConclusion • Works Cited • Additional Bibliography


Introduction

According to popular historical tradition, the conflict in Northern Ireland between Irish and English, Catholic and Protestant, is one that has endured consistently and bitterly since the English Crown first set on its course to annex the island in 1169. It has been named an ‘ancient’ conflict (Walker, 2000 101), deeply embedded in the history, politics and culture of modern Ireland, seemingly beyond a resolution. It has been suggested that the past of Ireland, and its history of enmity, oppression, bloodshed and revolt, poses the greatest threat to peace in Northern Ireland today.

Numerous events in Ireland’s past are commemorated and seen to justify one group’s cause and their resentment of the other. Of these events thus held in memory many date back to the 17th century such as the Battle of the Boyne and the onslaught on Protestants during the Insurrection of 1641. It would indeed appear, on the surface, that the past preys upon the present, fuelling current hostilities, but is the past at the same time being preyed upon by the present, exploited to suit an agenda?

The intent of this essay is to assess the major events and changes that took place in Ireland during the first half of the 17th century and compare them with modern perceptions of this period in an attempt to understand the dynamics of myth and fact in present-day tensions in Northern Ireland.


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