I suppose its fitting that on St. Patrick’s Day I should happen to be reading in the history book for my War and Diplomacy class about the English oppression of the Irish. My European history is a bit rusty, so it was interesting to be reminded that at the same time the English were establishing a stronger parliamentary rule for themselves in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, they were doing precisely the opposite to their island dwelling neighbors. Though Ireland had a Parliament of its own, the English managed to strip it of any real authority with the “penal codes.” The majority of the Irish had remained Catholic after the Reformation and England’s move to Protestantism. Fearing Catholic and French intrigues against it that may emanate from the Emerald Isle, England established, through the use of Anglo-Irish landholders who controlled most of the property in Ireland, the Anglican church as the official state church, forbade Catholics from holding jobs as teachers, constables, or attorneys, and imposed restrictions on just about every form of trade that would have proved useful. Catholics could not vote for Parliament (the Irish version) until 1793, but even then couldn’t themselves be elected. So its no wonder that Ireland today, particularly Northern Ireland which is still part of the United Kingdom, is about the only place left in the world where different sects of Christianity still occasionally clash violently.
England most likely viewed their treatment of the Irish in the late 17th and early 18th century as a strategic measure to protect themselves, and in many ways it was, but it is also an example of how shortsighted political expediency can lead to long-term battles, political and real. Compared with most of Europe, and even the world, at the time, England’s parliamentary system and the restraints it imposed on its monarchs were vastly more liberal (in the classical sense) and enlightened than anybody else’s, even if it did heavily rely on and favor the aristocracy. Look hard enough–and in most cases you don’t have to look very hard at all–and you’ll see that every nation or people is guilty of some crime against a neighbor.