Saturday, April 23, 2016

Sweeping it all under the carpet?

When digging around for other things, I inevitably stumble upon other stories. This is one of them, from July 1903. I know a man who had the same experience, in Limerick, about 20 years ago, and has suffered ever since as a result of his injuries – sustained when attacked whilst preaching in the street in the city on a Saturday afternoon.

July 1903 Wicklow

It’s all about context of course. What sort of a character was Rev Richard Hallowes of Arklow? A quick Google shows he had been prosecuted in January 1891 for “obstructing the thoroughfare” with an open-air meeting in Arklow. The next month he and his car were attacked and his gardener was arrested for “presenting a revolver”. In March he was jailed, but his congregation said they would continue with the street preaching. In October he was back out, and was knocked over by an R.I.C. officer during another open-air service.

The following January “Maj. Welch, J. P., & Mr. Philpot, J. P., attended open air service in Arklow, & protested against treatment of Mr. Hallowes”. A year later Hallowes was again attacked during an open-air meeting, and in July 1893 was attacked once again. In September 1894 he was preaching in Athlone and a riot ensued. 

And so on.

Hallowes’ could have been a headcase - in 1890 The Tablet described Hallowes, his Methodist counterpart and a neighbouring COI Rector as “bigoted zealots”. He could have been a parish Rector with a (literal) conviction for the Gospel, keen to tell the Good News to as many people as possible. Somebody out there will know more than me.

The story does provoke other thoughts.

Over Easter weekend the scenes broadcast from Dublin were very impressive, a real sense of ‘nationhood’ as the Easter Rising was commemorated. There were some dissenting voices but very few. The establishment now owns the revolution!

But it does strike me that there is a darker story of difficult times, which has been hidden from view and swept under the carpet. I know many folk who live around here whose grandparents or great-grandparents fled to Ulster for refuge, having been intimidated from their homes in southern Ireland - people who had lived there for many generations and were fully integrated into their communities. Or so they thought.

Times have changed in the past 100 years, but I also know folk, and know of folk, who live in various parts of the Republic of Ireland and who choose to, as they say, “keep their heads down”. You know what that means. I recently heard a story of a Scottish-born soldier and veteran of the Great War, who was travelling through Ireland on a train. In conversation with some men, he told them of his wartime service - and was set upon, thrown from the moving train, and later died of his injuries. Many anecdotal incidents never recorded by newspapers.

Yet plenty of other Protestants remained in the rest of Ireland, lived in peace, and have never had any significant hardship or opposition. And a friend - and regular reader here - will be disappointed if I don’t cite him as an example of the counter-migration, he’s about to move from Northern Ireland to the Republic. 

But it’s hard to compare the two ‘minority communities” on each side of our border during the 20th century and not see a vast contrast. Protestants in ROI now make up around 2% of the total population, whereas 100 years ago they were around 20%. That is a huge exodus. They endured famine and poverty and hardship throughout the 1800s (Baptist congregations in the south and west of Ireland were decimated in the Famine years), and the 1900s were just as devastating - but for different reasons.

Northern Ireland is not perfect, and the whole world knows that. But neither was/is the rest of Ireland. There is a more balanced, inclusive, but darker story which is not being told.

But maybe, for the sake of the future, that’s a good thing. 

(PS - the story at the bottom is from 1897. Open-air evangelism in Enniscorthy, nine months before the 1798 Rebellion centenary, was probably not a wise move.)



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