History lesson: Let's just say the trouble between the Irish and the English goes a long way back, like all the way back to the 16th century when Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and became the head of the Church of England. Little by little the country left behind their Catholic beliefs and embraced Protestantism and Anglicanism, but not the Irish. Even though the English monarchs sent soldiers to "persuade" (more like pressure and terrorize) the Irish to convert, most Irish remained true blue Catholics.
Unfortunately, by the 19th century Protestant Great Britain controlled all of Catholic Ireland, which led to years and years of fighting between the Irish, who wanted their independence, and the English Protestants now living in the north of Ireland, who wanted to remain with Great Britain. In order to stop the fighting, Ireland was divided into six (mostly Protestant) counties near the north of Ireland while the rest of the island remained intact in what would eventually become known as the Republic of Ireland in 1922. "The troubles" didn't end there. The '60's were a tumultuous time in Northern Ireland (the part that stayed with Great Britain), as Protestants and Catholics fought each other on the streets of Belfast and Londonderry. The cause of the fighting remained the same, the Catholic Irish wanted a single state free from English rule, whereas the Protestant Irish wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom and free from the Catholics. It wasn't until 1998 when an agreement was signed between the opposing sides that fighting stopped.
We know that's a lot of historical context but it's important to understand if you want to get an idea of how important being Irish is to the Irish folk in this memoir. And why Malachy Sr. is instantly suspect because he's from the North of Ireland even though he fought for Irish independence. And why Mrs. Purcell says that Shakespeare is so good he must be Irish.
Questions About Patriotism and Nationalism
- What does it mean to be patriotic in Ireland? Is it different from what it means in America?
- Frank is Irish- American. How does that change how he views Ireland?
- Why is Malachy Sr. so adamant about passing on his fierce Irish pride to his boys?
- How did being a northerner affect Malachy Sr.'s political views?
Chew on This
The brutal oppression of Irish culture, education, and religion by the English held them back from progress and resulted in centuries of poverty and lack of progress.
The Irish need to forget about their grievances with the English and move on.