5 Times The Irish Suffered Racial Persecution

It’s amazing how far the Irish have come from the days of severe persecution both inside and outside of Ireland. Although there are still many issues the Irish face, in general the Irish are accepted and loved worldwide. We should be happy for the remarkable distance the Irish travelled to get to this point and never take things for granted as our ancestors went through pain and hardship. With this in mind, here are five times the Irish have suffered racial persecution and discrimination.

1. Oliver Cromwell’s Genocide in Ireland

The Cromwellian conquest of Ireland refers to the conquest of Ireland by the forces of the English Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Cromwell invaded Ireland with his New Model Army to take on the Irish Catholic Confederation who controlled most of Ireland.

Cromwell is widely credited with the ruination of Anglo-Irish relations. From the moment he stepped foot on Irish soil until he left years later, Cromwell’s forces ruthlessly killed all that was in front of them. In Drogheda, the first town the New Model Army lay siege, he slaughtered almost every soldier and clergyman—nearly 3,000 men—for not surrendering soon enough. From there they moved on to Wexford, where his troops interrupted surrender negotiations to destroy the town so savagely that they couldn’t even use it for a supply port. At every turn, Cromwell handily defeated the Irish defenders. Even Ireland’s most formidable force, the Ulster Army, had a third of its men killed in one battle.

Without a comparable army, the Irish Catholic Confederation resorted to guerrilla tactics as early as 1650. In response, Cromwell enacted a policy of total war, burning food stocks in villages across the island and imprisoning suspected Tory sympathisers. What the ensuing famine failed to kill, the Black Plague preyed on. All told, roughly 40 percent of the island’s population was struck down by Cromwell’s actions, rivalled in Irish history only by the 19th Century Potato Blight.

2. Discrimination of Irish people in Ireland

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the majority of Irish people in Ireland were Catholics. Irish Catholics had been prohibited by the Penal Laws from purchasing or leasing land, from voting, from holding political office, from living in or within 5 miles (8 km) of a corporate town, from obtaining education, from entering a profession, and from doing many other things necessary for a person to succeed and prosper in society.

The laws had largely been reformed by 1793, and the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 allowed Irish Catholics to again sit in Parliament. The Penal Laws was a contributing factor in The Great Famine between 1845 and 1852. Religious discrimination continued in Ireland after this, especially in Northern Ireland, where it contributed to sectarian violence during the ‘The Troubles’.

3. Irish Discrimination in America

Irish refugees who fled the famine were met with hatred and discrimination in America. The discrimination faced by Irish famine refugees was not subtle or insidious. It was right there in black and white, in newspaper classified advertisements that blared “No Irish Need Apply.” The image of the simian Irishman, imported from Victorian England, was given new life by the pens of illustrators such as Thomas Nast that dripped with prejudice as they sketched Celtic ape-men with sloping foreheads and monstrous appearances.

In 1849, a clandestine fraternal society of native-born Protestant men called the Order of the Star Spangled Banner formed in New York. Bound by sacred oaths and secret passwords, its members wanted a return to the America they once knew, a land of “Temperance, Liberty and Protestantism.” Similar secret societies with menacing names like the Black Snakes and Rough and Readies sprouted across the country.

4. Irish Discrimination in Scotland

As a result of the Protestant and Scottish Reformations, Scotland adopted Presbyterianism (the Church of Scotland) as its state religion. Following on from this, economic hardship in Ireland meant that many Irish Catholic emigrants settled in Scotland.  Places in Scotland such as the east end of Glasgow began to have a large Irish community which resulted in increased competition for employment and housing and, in some instances, antagonism and conflict between competing groups. The result of the influx of Irish people into Scotland was met head on with rife religious discrimination and established tension between Protestants and Catholics.

5. Anti-Irish racism in England

Anti-Irish racism in England is as old as the 12th century. Even Irish jokes go back at least to the 16th century and chroniclers as long ago as 1187 were attacking the Irish for their filth and ignorance. A notable scholar Dr Mary Hickman, director of the Irish Studies Centre at the University of North London, stated in her book ‘Religion, Class and Identity’ that since the Anglo-Norman invasion in the 12th century the English have tried to justify their attacks on Ireland by racism.

Hickman said: “Many people assume that current English hostility or discrimination towards the Irish is the result of events in Northern Ireland so they see it as regrettable but understandable.” She argues that Ireland is important to the security of England and successive generations have tried to justify invasion and colonisation by stereotyping the Irish as wild and uncivilised.