Tuesday, November 17, 2009

delanceyplace.com 11/17/09 - subjugating ireland

In today's excerpt - subjugating Ireland in the early
1600s. England, having recently broken away from the
Catholic Church, feared that Catholic Spain would use
still-Catholic Ireland as a stronghold for invading
England, and therefore had incentive to subjugate
and "colonize" Ireland. England could look to the new
European experiences in the New World for examples
of how to colonize and subjugate. And the colonizing
mission required colonists to wear civilized clothes
and inhabit civilized housing - however impractical that
might be:

"Ironically and perhaps fatefully, early English
conceptions of Indian life and character became
intertwined with the justification of another colonizing
venture. Ireland was nominally under English rule, but
effective control did not extend beyond the small
district known as 'the Pale,' centered on Dublin. The
rest of the island was home to 'the wild Irish,' who
were divided into loose collections of warlike people
with a common interest in defying the English. With
the Spanish seemingly set on ruling the world,
England awakened to the danger that Catholic Spain
might take over Catholic Ireland as a stronghold for
invading England. Subjugating the Irish became a way
of forestalling Spain. Elizabeth began by parceling out
the country to her favorites, [Sir Walter] Ralegh among
These English overlords could either tame their wild
Irish tenants or supplant them with a more productive
and tractable population. It was the same problem
that Ralegh faced at Roanoke and the Virginia
Company would face at Jamestown, not to say the
problem the United States would face in its long
march across North America.

"[To the English,] the Irish shared with American
Indians a profound
deficiency that required correction if they were to make
proper subjects: they were not civil. That word carried
hidden meanings and connotations that would
reverberate throughout American history. Civility was a
way of life not easily defined, but its results were
visible: substantial housing and ample clothing.
Uncivil peoples were naked and nomadic. Civility
required of those who deserved the name a sustained
effort, physical and intellectual. It did not require belief
in Christianity, for the ancient Greeks and Romans
had it; but Christianity, or at least Protestant
Christianity, was impossible without it. The Irish
Catholics and those Indians converted by Spanish or
French missionaries were not, in the English view,
either civil or Christian. The objective of colonization
was to bring civility and Christianity to the uncivil, in
that order.

"The objective was threatened, indeed civility itself
threatened, if lazy colonists, coveting the unfettered life
of the uncivil, went native, or, it might be said, went
naked. 'Clothes were of tremendous importance, ...
because one's whole identity was
bound up in the self-presentation of dress. The Scots
and Irish - and soon the American Indians - could not
be civil unless they dressed in English clothes, like
civilized people, and cut their long hair,' signs of a
capacity to submit to the enlightened government of
their superiors.

"England's preferred way of civilizing the Irish was
through force of arms, but after ruthless military
expeditions failed to bring widespread peace, and
with it civility, the new solution was to plant the country
with people who already rejoiced in that condition.
Refractory natives would learn by example, or simply
give way, left to a wretched existence on the margins
of a profoundly transformed Ireland. Not long before
the Virginia Company began supplying people to
Jamestown for much the same purpose, the English
authorities began settling far larger numbers across
the Irish Sea, an estimated 100,000 by 1641."

Edmund S. Morgan and Marie Morgan, "Our Shaky
Beginnings," The New York Review of Books,
April 26, 2007, pp. 21-22.


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