Sean McIntyre, University of Rhode Island
Senior Honors Projects, Paper 3, University of Rhode Island (2006)
There are few periods in the history of any nation as tumultuous as the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries in Ireland. The following paper examines the social and religious upheavals of this period and identifies an emergent national identity among ‘Gaelic Irish’ and ‘Anglo-Irish’ Catholics. Although English forces defeated the Irish ‘rebels’ in the two major military conflicts of the period, the Desmond Rebellion (1579-84) and the Nine Years’ War (1595-1603), the means employed by England to achieve victory, cultural continuity among the Irish (and Gaelicised English), as well as the conflict over religion throughout Europe ensured that Ireland would remain a point of resistance to colonialism and the reformation. The pages below question the historical orthodoxy surrounding the ‘Elizabethan conquest’ and explore Ireland during those years in terms of a nation being created rather than destroyed.
When did England firmly establish its dominion over Ireland? Answers to this question range from ‘800 years ago’ to ‘never’. The Norman Conquest (1166-1170) was swift and decisive, but it was completely reversed in the following centuries. Parliament crowned Henry VIII Ireland’s King in the early-sixteenth century, but he was content to rule in a manner ‘founded in law and reason, rather than by vigorous dealing…or enforcement by strength or violence.’1 Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, engaged in more ‘vigorous dealing’ with Ireland and its rebellious subjects during the late-sixteenth century. Hence, upon the Queen’s death, only days before the end of the Nine Years’ War (1595-1603), King James VI of Scotland inherited three kingdoms, ruling Ireland more completely than any previous English monarch. However, during the period that is somewhat misleadingly remembered as the ‘Elizabethan Conquest’, English colonialism met a new spirit of resistance–a spirit that was far from extinguished by 1603.