On September 3rd 2001 the students of Holy Cross Primary School were due to return back to school for the new term, however this was made difficult due to the Protestant protesters who had gathered outside of the school and the surrounding area to show their objection to the Catholic children and their parents walking down what was regarded to be a Protestant street on their way to school.
These riots made it extremely difficult for the young Catholic girls to get to and from school every morning and afternoon; their parents faced a choice, to either take their children through the barricades hastily erected by the police and army, therefore showing the Protestants that they would not back down, or to take their children to school via the back entrance, which avoided the riots, but meant that the children and their parents had to walk a much longer, and more difficult route. The Catholic parents also felt that this meant that the Protestants were getting their way, and so many of the parents chose to take their children through the police barricades, even though this meant subjecting the young girls to the violence and abuse that the Protestant rioters hurled at them.
These riots were not unprovoked. Tension had been growing in the surrounding area for some time and the events outside of Holy Cross were a result of the growing hostility that was felt between the two sides.
Both the Protestants and the Catholics felt threatened by each other, and neither wanted to show any weakness.
There were a number of short term causes for what happened outside of Holy Cross. The first of these was the fact that there were the two separate religious communities, the Protestants and the Catholics, living in such close proximity to each other, both communities felt threatened by each other, believing that the other community was taking liberties and trying to drive their community out of the area.
Another of these short term causes was the fact that there was a very high rate of unemployment in the area, this meant that there were a lot of unemployed adult men with nothing to do all day, therefore they had too much time on their hands to object to everything that the other community did, and also many of them would purposefully try and antagonise the other side so that they could release some of their pent up energy and anger.
One of the main short term causes however was the way in which the younger generations of both faiths were being brought up. Both Protestant and Catholic communities kept their children separated from children of the other religion, both by sending them to single faith schools such as Holy Cross, where only Catholic children attended, and by living in small communities of predominantly one religion families. Therefore these children did not get to know each other or become friends and so there was nothing stopping them from taking on their parents prejudices and political beliefs.
However, as I mentioned earlier the events outside of Holy Cross were not only caused by short term causes, but long term causes as well.
In 1171 the king of England Henry II visited Ireland and decided to name himself the ‘Lord of Ireland’, this change made very little difference to the ruling of Ireland, and by 1500 English kings had little or no power over any of Ireland except a small area surrounding Dublin known at The Pale.
This all changed in the 16th century when the English rulers started to take more of an interest in Ireland. As Ireland was still inhabited mainly by Catholics
To take more control of Ireland Henry VIII of England changed his title from ‘Lord of Ireland’ to ‘King of Ireland’ and told Irish nobles they were to be his subjects.
The Irish did not take this well, and in Elizabeth I’s rule the provinces of Ulster and Munster rebelled. Elizabeth sent in her army to deal with the rebellion.
In the 17th century the English Monarchy realised that the best way to gain control over Ireland was not by force, but by land. The main source of power in Ireland was held by Irish landowners.
The English monarchy set about taking land from the rich Catholic nobles in Ireland and giving their land to English Protestants, these were known as plantations, and the aim of them was to take control over Ireland by giving the land to people who were loyal to the king.
The main plantations were in Ulster which is now where the main conflict between Catholics and Protestants takes place.
This created both economic and social reasons for what would later become the troubles in Northern Ireland and so for what happened outside Holy Cross Primary School.
The economic reason was that taking a great deal of land off of people left them homeless, without a means of income and also introduced a lot more people into the communities and so therefore the communities had to deal with more people to support. The social reason was that taking the land off of the Catholics and giving it to the Protestants caused a great deal of resentment towards the Protestants.
However, even though the Protestants now held a large proportion of the land in Ireland they did not have complete control, and when Catholic king James II became king of England in 1685. King James II lost his throne in 1688 but soon returned to Ireland with French troops intending to invade England.
He was not successful and Protestant King William of Orange defeated James in the battle of the Boyne on the 1st of July 1690.
This is a social reason for the prolonged fighting in Northern Ireland because the Protestants still celebrate their victory at the Battle of the Boyne by organising Orange Marches, these only increase the tension between the two communities and often end in violence.
The Protestant victory now meant that they had complete control over Ireland and the Catholics, and they intended to keep this control, the Irish parliament introduced penal laws, which were in place to keep the Catholics out of power.
These laws stated that Catholics could not own large amounts of land, be properly educated, become a member of parliament or own weapons. This therefore made it extremely hard, if not impossible for a Catholic to gain any power whatsoever.
I think that this is both a religious and a political reason for the troubles in Northern Ireland because the Catholics were being discriminated against simply because of their religion and they were not able to gain any political power to help themselves to gain equal rights.
Towards the end of the 18th century many of the Catholics in Ireland decided that it was time to do something about the British rule over Ireland. They called themselves Nationalists because they wanted Ireland to become a separate nation from Britain. They fight between the Catholic nationalists and the Protestant unionists, who want to keep Ireland part of Britain, is the fight which still continues today in Northern Ireland and cause the events outside of Holy Cross Primary School.
During the 18th and 19th centuries the Catholic nationalist attempted 3 revolutions, all of which failed. Ireland was still controlled by Protestants.
In 1905 a nationalist political party was set up by Catholics, it was named Sinn Fein. With the start of nationalists having a voice in parliament changes slowly started to come around. The political nationalist were not demanding that Ireland became a separate state from Britain, only that it had its own government which would be fair to both Protestants and Catholics.
In 1918 the Irish people, both Protestant and Catholic voted on the future of Ireland, the outcome was that Ireland would have Home rule but stay part of the British empire. However, this did not please the predominantly Protestant province of Ulster where the majority of inhabitants were unionists and wanted Ireland to be entirely ruled by Britain.
In 1921 a partition treaty was signed, this excluded Ulster the home rule, meaning that it was still ruled by Britain.
However, this created a social problem in Northern Ireland because although Northern Ireland was mainly inhabited by Protestant thousands of Catholics were now left stranded in a country where they were the minority and very unfairly treated and most were unable to move.
The Stormont Parliament was set up, this was intended to look after both Catholics and Protestants but was not successful in this because it was entirely controlled by Protestants, who did not want to give equal rights to Catholics in fear of the Catholics taking control. This meant that they gave Catholics poor council housing, few jobs and unfair treatment towards all Catholics, causing political, economic, and social problems.
These past events show how the rivalry between the Catholics and the Protestants developed and grew. These events were long term reasons for what happened outside of Holy Cross Primary School because if it were not for the tension between the two religions and the segregation of Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland the short term events, such as what happened in 1968, would not have happened.
In 1968 Catholics in Northern Ireland started peaceful marches to try and gain themselves equal rights. These peaceful marches only ever ended in violence, because the Protestants felt very threatened by the Catholics trying to regain equality. The Protestants did not want to give Catholics equal rights because they did not want to relinquish their control over Northern Ireland. The fighting which was started by the 1968 Catholic demonstrations continued for many years, calling a halt to any prospect of peace talks between the two religious groups.
The fighting caused the resignation of the Protestant Prime minister Terence O’Neill, who had been so keen to install peace and equality into Northern Ireland.
By August 1969 the British army had been sent in to try and control the fighting. This was intended to be a temporary measure, but the army have never left, and are still there today.
At last the British Government managed to get unionist leaders of Northern Ireland to make changes in their policies to attempt to make things fairer to the Catholic communities in Northern Ireland.
The things that were changed were:
Elections, elections at the time were extremely biased in the Protestants favour as gerrymandering took place very often.
Housing, The council housing had been unfairly given out by local Protestant councils and this was an attempt to give Catholics decent housing.
Unemployment, the government promised to reduce the levels of unemployment in Northern Ireland, these promises were never fulfilled.
Police, the police force in Northern Ireland was an entirely Protestant armed force, which naturally was biased against the Catholics.
By 1970 Northern Ireland was in crisis, The British government had decided to suspend the Stormont government and take direct rule, meaning that Northern Ireland affairs were controlled directly from Westminster.
This had little effect however as paramilitary groups started to take hold over the country. A new strand of the IRA had emerged calling themselves the provisional IRA, they took control of many of the Catholic areas. They were determined to rid Northern Ireland of British control, and would do so by force. However the Protestant paramilitary units, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, Ulster Defence Army and the Ulster Volunteers Force were equally as determined to keep Northern Ireland linked directly to Britain.
Northern Ireland was in chaos, the fighting between Catholics and Protestants continued.
I believe that this fighting is directly linked to the riots outside Holy Cross in 2001, such recent fighting meant that both sides were still angry and threatened by one another.
The long term causes of the events outside Holy Cross demonstrate how the two religious sides became rivals, the introducing of Protestant plantations and the Protestants slowly gaining control over Ireland and the Catholics are what fuelled the fighting between the two communities for hundreds of years.
However, I do not believe that the fighting in Northern Ireland, and in particular the rioting that occurred outside Holy Cross Primary School in 2001 was entirely about religious beliefs, I feel that the fighting was caused by the political situation in Northern Ireland, the fact that the minority Catholic group want more control over what happens in Northern Ireland and that the Protestants do not want to give up their level of control, which is why they did not want to let the Catholic families walk freely down their streets to get to Holy Cross Primary School.
I think that the riots outside of Holy Cross where not entirely just about children walking down a street inhabited by a different religious community to get to school but about the fear the two communities have installed in each other during the short term causes such as the fighting. Both sides are scared that they will be driven out by the other.
In conclusion I think that it is not accurate to say that the causes of the demonstrations outside the Holy Cross Primary School in August 2001 date back to 1968 because the causes of the conflict in Northern Ireland dates back many centuries. I believe that It would be correct to say that the troubles from 1968 onwards are a major factor in causing the demonstrations outside Holy Cross Primary School in August 2001 but that the actual cause dates back a lot further than 1968.