Sunday, November 01, 2009

Plantation Paradise?

(if you're reading this on Facebook, this is a post from my blog - All my posts there now feed across to my Facebook page)

INTRO: When I was at Regent House (1983 - 1990), one of the few things that stick in my mind was when I spotted an error in the history text book. It had the wrong date for the burning of Ridley and Latimer - I had consulted some of my da's old Victorian books about the Reformation to check. My teacher, Mrs Groves, wrote to the publishers, who wrote back and conceded that I was right - and that the next edition of their book would have the date corrected. For a while Mrs Groves had the letter pinned up beside her desk on the classroom wall.

I was about 14 at the time, and it was a big lesson learned. Textbooks can be wrong.

PLANTATION PARADISE?: Next year - 2010 - is the 400th anniversary of the Plantation of Ulster. Textbooks (and historians) often simplify and stereotype the experience of the Protestant settlers who came to Ulster in the early 1600s - English and Scottish alike. So next year carries a massive danger in that a lot of the falsehoods that are spread about the Plantation may well, once again, be pumped into the public mind. (and of course, the real origin story of the Ulster-Scots is NOT the Plantation!)

Two types of people spread this stuff - 1) those who are either opposed to, or uncomfortable with, Protestants being in Ireland in the first place, or 2) by those who have believed the false spin and who, as a result, are either uninformed, or feel guilty about, the Plantation. The arrival of the Protestant settlers here is often stupidly (or cynically) presented as a kind of social paradise - an idyllic existence where the native Catholic Irish were subjugated and the Prods lived happily ever after as oppressors and land thieves. It's divisive and false.

In the case of the Ulster-Scots community, the 1600s was a century of unimaginable upheaval and turmoil. Most of them had originally left Scotland voluntarily through the appeal of cheap rent and the hope of a new life across the water. In a nutshell here's the brutal reality of what happened to them during the next hundred years - the State which initially approved their arrival here quickly turned against them, through religious repressions / it drove some to consider and attempt transatlantic migration / then large scale massacres / then a brief period of religious respite (but which included threatened deportations by state authorities of people from east Ulster to the farthest corners of the island) / then a new King brought renewed and intensified religious persecution / which eventually became state-sponsored oppression and executions in Scotland where 18,000 were either killed or sent into exile as slaves / then a brief respite when the King (James II) was overthrown in 1688 / but in the early 1700s the persecutions resumed when James II's daughter Anne became Queen / then about 250,000 Ulster-Scots had enough and left for America...

A Plantation Paradise? Maybe for a handful of wealthy individuals in the gentry who were top of the pile - but absolutely not for the 99.9% of the common people.

"Mined in Scotland, Forged in Ulster, Exported Worldwide" was a phrase I devised about 10 years ago, and which the then Ulster Scots Heritage Council adopted as their slogan. It was the intense white-hot furnace of the Ulster experience that forged the history, character and identity of the Ulster-Scots - not some false utopia.

Don't believe the hype.