Gareth Jones

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The Enigma of Ireland (i). 
The Western Mail - November 6th, 1933

The Enigma of Ireland

Ulster a Centre of Uneasiness and Strife.

Dangers Behind Religious Antagonism.

By Gareth Jones

“Mark my words, Ireland is heading full-speed towards the blood and terror of a civil war,” rapped out the white-haired old gentleman as we sipped our coffee in a London club. 

I felt a keen desire to take the first train to Dublin, but thought twice of it and telephoned an Irish friend. 

“Civil war! Nonsense!”  came his voice across the wires.  “De Valera has the whole country at his command and is building up a stronger, finer Ireland, and winning the economic battle against England.”  

I was intrigued and, deciding to seek another view, walked into the office of an expert on the Irish Free State, who declared: “De Valera, that half-Mexican dictator, is sending the country to wrack and ruin.  Ireland is doomed.  O’Duffy’s Blue Shirts are the only ones who can rescue the country.” 


What a medley of clashing views!  The more I asked the more I was puzzled by the varying analyses of those, on one hand, who described a sinister Irish Republican Army, drilling in secret with smuggled rifles and machine-guns, and of those on the other - especially Welsh Nationalist friends of mine - whose picture of Ireland was a land blossoming under de Valera into a paradise of prosperous peasant proprietors; of those who bade me hasten there lest I should be too late to see de Valera declare a republic; and of those who said a republic was never to come. 

These conflicting opinions made my urge to go to that land of dissension almost irrepressible, and thus I found myself on the Belfast boat watching the lights of Liverpool twinkle good-night, and wondering whether I should ever glean the slightest information about that most fascinating and yet most tragic of enigmas - the enigma of Ireland. 


Through the night I lay awake listening to the thud of the engines as the boat made its eight-hour voyage past the Isle of Man to the capital of Ulster.  When it was light I peeped through the portholes and saw Belfast’s dull wharves and warehouses looking sulky in the grey morning mist. 

I wonder how many rifles passed through those warehouses for Carson’s men before the war, was the thought that flashed through my mind and I recollected Ulster’s ugly history of hatred and strife which was not yet at an end, and the root of which I was destined within a few hours to feel and to see.  

As soon as I had left the boat and had found myself in a comfortable home on the outskirts of the city I seemed to sense an atmosphere of bitterness and antagonism. 


Whether I am supersensitive to popular feeling in a strange land I do not know, but just as hot air weighs down upon one so a certain oppressive tenseness hovered over me in Belfast. 

Suddenly I noticed what it was when I said to my hostess, a charming, jolly woman: “The relations between the Catholics and the Protestants must be one of the interesting -----.” 

Here Mrs. M. broke in abruptly and chatted about something wholly irrelevant until the servant-boy had left the room and had shut the door behind him.  She put her hand to her lips to indicate the need for silence, and said: “We never talk about religion in front of the servants.  The hatred between the Protestants and the Catholics is the curse of Ulster, and unless carefully handled poisons all human relationships.  So be careful what you say when others are about.” 


It is really as bad as that?  I asked. My hostess replied by telling me of an English family who had come to live in Ulster and laughed at the tradition that Catholic and Protestant servants could not be mixed.  They engaged a Catholic cook -fat and forty - and a little wisp of a Protestant kitchen-maid. 

The experiment was a great success, and the atmosphere in the kitchen was as amicable as it could be, until the family went away for, a holiday, leaving the pair behind.  One day the English people received a telegram: “Come back immediately.  House wrecked.”  They took the first train home, entered the house, and found shattered furniture, broken pictures, and a litter of smashed crockery.  After a bout of questioning, they got at the cause of the destruction.  The Catholic cook and the Protestant maid had been seated happily before the fire when the cook said: “I wonder what William of Orange is now doing in hell?” 

“Having a chat with the Pope, probably,” replied the Orange girl - and the furies of centuries of religious strife entered their souls, gave power to their arms, and they did not rest until they lay weary amid the wreckage their fight had caused. 


Could such bitter strife between religionists be possible in the twentieth century?  I asked myself.  I never imagined that I should see in the world today the same spirit which dominated Europe at the time of the Religious Wars.  It seemed like waking up and finding oneself in the seventeenth century, although in outward appearance Belfast had the quiet solidity and the orderliness of an English manufacturing city. 

I, therefore, decided to thrash the matter out in the very centre of Ulster politics and to go at once to the Houses of Parliament.  As the car was speeding through the city I said to my English friend who was driving, “I notice that some streets are paved and tarred and some are cobbled. Why?” 

He chuckled: “Thereby hangs a tale,” he said, “When we had fighting the mob would dig out the large cobbles and hurl them at the police.  They won’t be able to tear up a paved road!  So the authorities are paving all the streets.” 

He smiled, as if it were all in the day’s work.  “Last year, when the troubles were on, you would hear the rifles crack in the streets.  Women and children would stand in the doorways and the men would snipe from behind them.  It was very brave of the Prince of Wales to come just after that to open the Parliament.” 


Before long the car was rushing at sixty miles an hour up a straight road which led to a massive and dignified building on the hill.  It was the Parliament of Northern Ireland.  After entering its artistic portals, the designs of which resemble the delicate figures on the doors of the National Museum of Wales, I went through its marble halls and came to the room of the Minister of Labour, Mr. Andrews, who, it is whispered, may be the next Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.  

A middle-aged Belfast business man who looks like a churchwarden, he also told me of the power of the religious element in Ulster politics.  His outlook was that of a British Imperialist, and he was more loyalist than the King. 


Mr. Andrews’s reference to the bitterness of religious strife was borne out by an event which happened in one of the corridors, and which was described to me when I noticed an empty space where once a picture had hung. 

A stern Ulsterman explained: “A picture used to hang there of William of Orange landing in Ireland, with an allegorical figure of a saint, and of a wandering friar in the clouds giving the Prince his blessing.  Two Protestants came and, taking offence at the presence of such Catholic symbols, hurled a pot of red paint at the canvas and with a knife slashed the friar out of the picture.” 

That threw another vivid light on the religious clash in Ulster and I determined to find out the results.  I, therefore, went to see an important organiser in the Unionist Party headquarters.  Waiting outside his room was a queue of poor women, in black shawls.  On the walls around him were hanging a dignified picture of the King and a grim photograph of Carson. 


I looked at the political organiser - an efficient, keen-eyed man.  Where had I seen his type before?  I wondered; then I realised, for he had the same face and the same practical outlook as a New York Tammany “boss,” but his views were different, for he declared passionate, undying loyalty to Britain, and I could imagine him distributing thousands of Union Jacks to the Protestants of Belfast. 

“We in the North are British to the core,” he proclaimed, and I noted mentally that this was the first and the most important result of the religious strife.  The Protestants are made more British by their antagonism to the Catholics, who usually become more Nationalistic against Protestant domination. 

The Protestant versus Catholic fight becomes a British versus Irish struggle and the Protestant section (nearly two-thirds of the population) do all in their power to keep the upper hand over the Catholic minority.  The memory of Carson, whose name to some sounds like a hiss and a rattle of guns, and to others like a harsh but strong British rallying cry, enflames this political rivalry. 


“We are two nations, North and South,” said the political boss, and in that phrase I saw the second result of the religious strife, namely, the fear and trembling in Ulster at the prospect of being submerged in a United Ireland. 

We would never submit to rule from Dublin,” I read in one newspaper, and that sentence pointed to a vital element in Irish politics, the partition of 1921, which separated Ulster (the six counties) from the 26 counties of the Free State.  We have not heard the last of that partition. 

The final result of the religious strife is the growth of the Irish Republican Army in Ulster.  “The boys are drilling up in the hills,” was one of the first phrases I heard in Belfast, and it meant the I.R.A. men training for the day when they will rise and attempt to destroy what they call the domination by pro-British Protestants, and to fight for a United Irish Republic. 

This is where the danger lies, and, perhaps, the ominous words I heard later in Dublin, “They will have an Easter Week (1916) Rising in Belfast,” may one day come true. 

As I was leaving Belfast I saw a bulldog, firm of hold, slow moving, but tenacious. 

That is Ulster, I thought; but I reflected that round the corner there was the Irish wolf-hound of the Republicans.  Will they one day come to grips?










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