A History of Irish Republicanism: Part One, The Real World
It’s release day for A Theft of Magic! The hero, Ronan McCarrick, is an Irish Republican, so I’m going to share a little about the real history of Irish Republicanism in the 19th century.
Most of what I’m about to be write can be summed up as this: Over the course of almost four hundred years (seven hundred if you count the Anglo-Normans forcing the native Gaelic-speakers from the southeast/east), the English slowly and systematically removed Irish rights, land, and cultural identity. At the turn of the 19th century, they removed Irish sovereignty and self-governance completely by dissolving the Irish Parliament. This was accomplished by means of bribery, coercion, and promises which were later reneged upon.
So it’s no surprise that there is also a long history of unrest and rebellion in Ireland against the English. In this post, I’m going to focus primarily on the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the fictional version of which is what Ronan belongs to.
The Irish Republican Brotherhood was born from the ashes of the Young Ireland movement, who rose up in 1848-1849 in response to the Great Famine. Not only did the British Government generally ignore any requests for relief while millions were starving and dying, but they also required that the Irish continue exporting goods—often under duress. This caused massive unrest and anger, which resulted in violence and uprising.
The rebellion failed because the people were weak and starving, and they did not have the resources to succeed against the well-trained army. Several of the leaders of the rebellion escaped and fled to Paris, where they learned about secret societies and revolution. They developed a system of cells (called circles) with a single leader, several junior officers, and more soldiers. In theory, few people should ever know much about the others above them in the cell except whomever they reported to. They should also not know who was in other cells. That way, members would be protected against retaliation.
On 17 March 1858, the Irish Republican Brotherhood was officially born. They attempted risings in the 1860s, and—with the assistance of the American branch, the Fenians—a dynamite campaign in the 1880s. But most of their efforts were stymied, due to loyalist informants, mismanagement, and the fact that many of their supporters were across the Atlantic in America. Although the cell system was wonderful in theory, in practice, secrecy was not well-maintained. In 1883, a special branch of police were formed for the sole purpose of keeping an eye on the IRB.
A Theft of Magic takes place in 1896. There was a change in British government in 1895 over the issue of Irish Home Rule, but at that time in the real world, the IRB had lost some of its steam. In fact, in 1896, several Fenians who had long been imprisoned were released because of a shift in public opinion and a supposed lack of danger from the organization. If Home Rule had passed, things might look very different in our world today.
But it didn’t pass, and the next generation of IRB members were staunchly against it, feeling that it would actually strengthen the ties to England. Instead, they fought for a free and democratic republic of Ireland, and championed their own language, folklore, and culture. These tides are beginning to change at the point where my story begins.
In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about what’s different between the real history and my alternate universe, and what role Ronan McCarrick and his crew have in the IRB as it exists in the world of the Fay of Skye. Stay tuned!
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