This is a book about the history of Ireland. It is not a history of various groups backed by American money who sought the independence of Ireland. Such histories have been written in the past, largely with the aim of extracting more money from their American financial backers. Writers of such books never felt constrained to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’. This book is the fifth in a series of books on various periods of Irish history in which I aimed to do just that.
This book had its origin when the author was glancing through an English translation of Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. He was so struck by Hitler’s account of German history before, during, and after the First World War that he went and bought the book. What amazed him was its resemblance to the version of Irish history that he had been taught in Irish schools. There was no question of either side borrowing directly from the other, but equally obviously both were drawing on a common set of ideas and used a common method of exposition.
Further study showed that both exposed a racist view of history and believed in the Darwinian struggle of the races. Both regarded their countries as subjected by alien races who destroyed the pure native culture. Both attributed every evil in their respective societies to these malign evil influences. Both saw that the alien races would have to be expelled from their countries so that their countries could again prosper when their native cultures were restored. Protestant landlords in Ireland had the same place in Irish racist propaganda and political mythology that the Jews had in Nazi political mythology. Most Irish boys of the author’s generation had, like Hitler, come across an inspiring teacher of history who inspired them to nationalism with his one-sided stories of Irish wrongs at the hands of the English.
Having realised that the standard version of Irish history was vitiated in its roots the problem arose as to how a version of Irish history could be written which was fair to all parties involved. Many excellent books and monographs on various parts of Irish history have been written, and he has drawn on them considerably in this book. It is noticeable that the further the subject of an historical study is from the present the easier it is to be objective, and the less controversy there is.
There are two main themes in this period of Irish history. The first is the growth of Ireland into a modern industrial society. The other is the struggle of principally the Catholic middle classes to wrest control of Ireland, specifically the corruption and racketeering, from the Protestants.
Ireland by 1850 was already a well-developed modern society, more advanced than most countries in Europe. The period up to 1920 was one of increasing prosperity, and increasing social improvement. Every new development in the various aspects of society, industry, agriculture, communications, science and education, social improvements were all adopted. The propaganda picture of an impoverished and down-trodden Catholic peasantry crushed by an alien state is shown to be false. At the same time the rosy-tinted picture of brave disinterested young men going out to fight for Ireland’s freedom from a foreign oppressor is shown to be equally false. Neither their objectives namely to control the rackets, nor their methods namely terrorism are things that Irish people can be proud of. Nor is the undiscriminating support given by Americans to the terrorists anything that America can be proud of either.
But in this book I prefer to concentrate on the achievements Irishmen can be proud of. On can look at Irish industrial achievements. Belfast showed how ships on the North Atlantic run should be built and fitted out. The greatest linen industry in the world was built up. Two of the greatest dev developments in the modern world, the pneumatic tyre, and the three-point l
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