Religion As A Cause Of War In Ireland

In my last post I argued that religion was a major cause of war. Now I want to discuss this in an Irish context. In fact the history of Ireland is basically the history of Protestants and Catholics warring among each other. There are numerous incidents where Catholics or Protestants were killed solely because of their religion.

There is a serious problem in separating actions based on religion from those based on nationality. In fact Daniel O’Connell went as far as to claim that being Catholic and being Irish was the one thing. This presents a serious problem in decoding conflict and classifying them as nationalist or religious wars. Some even argue that class was the driving force, with the poor Catholic Irish rising up against the rich British. However I feel that an examination of the main rebellions and wars reveal religion as the major (though not exclusive) factor.

Almost as soon as England became Protestant there was a rebellion. In 1534 Silken Thomas hoped to gain the support of Catholics in his rebellion, but was unsuccessful. In 1579, the Pope and the Spanish sent troops to help the Catholics in the Second Desmond Rebellion. The O’Neill’s also received aid from Catholic Spain during the Nine Years War (1594-1603).

During the 1641 rebellion, thousands of Protestants were massacred by Catholics because of their religion. While it is true that the dispossession of Catholics was also a factor, they were dispossessed because they were Catholics and given to people on condition they were Protestants.  In response Oliver Cromwell massacred thousands of Catholics.

The War Of The Two Kings (1689-1691) was fought over whether the King would be a Catholic or a Protestant. This culminated in The Battle of the Boyne which is celebrated to this day a victory of Protestants over Catholics. The Catholics received aid from France because both countries were Catholic. Following the war there were laws (known as The Penal Laws) discriminating against Catholics solely because of their religion. These denied Catholics the right to vote and own land among other things. This was a clear attempt to divide the population based on religion.

While the United Irishmen has noble ideas about uniting religions, it was more an alliance of Presbyterians and Catholics against Anglicans. Still a religious war, just with the sides switched a little. In fact, it soon broke out into sectarian strife such as in Scullabogue where 200 Protestants were locked in a barn which was then set on fire. The rebels in Wexford were led by a Catholic priest, Father Murphy, which makes it hard to deny the role of religion. Also, the Yeomanry which suppressed the uprising was comprised of Protestant Irishmen which shows it wasn’t an entirely nationalist rebellion. In fact civil war would probably be more applicable.

1916 and the War of Independence are claimed as nationalist wars, yet few Protestant Irishmen fought in the IRA. In fact the divide between the two armed groups at the time, The Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers was that one was Catholic while the other was Protestant. The War Of Independence was Belfast was blatantly sectarian with thousands of Catholics burnt out of their homes. Note that they were persecuted based on religion not political ideology.

There is wide debate over whether Northern Ireland was a religious war, with some arguing instead that its motivations were political. While this is true to an extent, it ignores the fact that people did not choose which side they were on, they were simply born into groups. You could not decide whether you were a Nationalist or a Unionist, rather this decision was already made for you. It depended on what religion you born into. This is explained in the video above far better than I ever could.

Most of the killing was done by sectarian paramilitaries who choose their victims based on religion not political beliefs. For example, in Kingsmill in 1976, a bus was stopped by the IRA. They did not ask the political opinions of the passengers, just whether they were Catholic or Protestant. The Protestants were then lined up and gunned down. The UVF would kill random Catholics on the street of Belfast. Bombs were planted in pubs based on the religion of its customers. Not their political opinions.

The paramilitaries claimed religion was not important, but then again they claimed they did not target innocent civilians, something they blatantly did. They should be judged on their actions not on their words, regardless of how noble they may sound. Likewise, Sinn Fein, SDLP, UUP and the DUP all claim to be non-sectarian even though they receive almost no votes from the other community. It is almost unheard of for a Catholic to be a Unionist or a Protestant to be a Nationalist (there are one or two exceptions but the rule holds in the overwhelming number of cases).

Religion has hugely affected Irish history. It has caused war, violence and the deaths of thousands. It has been a source of hatred and the prime divider of Irish society. We would have been far better off without it.

27 thoughts on “Religion As A Cause Of War In Ireland”

  1. Land has caused war. Would we have been better off without that?

    I think the bigger problem we have is our condition of selfishness and rebellion against God.

    1. In the examples I gave above, I felt religion was the main issue, if you think otherwise please explain where and why. While we cannot abolish land, we can get rid of religion

      Selfishness and rebellion against God is a separate issue, though please explain it, but I don’t understand it in the least bit.

      1. I agree that religion is used to start wars. My point with the ‘land’ comment was that no matter what, people will find an excuse to kill and war. If not religion, then land. If not land, race. If not race, power. Etc.

        I believe that this clearly demonstrates the fact that we are, as the Bible describes it, a fallen people in need of redemption.

        1. Get rid of religion for starters. There’s the Pope sitting up there in his castle He gives nothing to the poor just rakes it in.
          HOw can I belong to t hat religion ??
          Help me out on this one.

        2. Why did the english wipe out the indians? Not because of race, because of religion. Why did the crusades start. For land? No, for religion. Why did the english send over missionaries, for power? Yes, but they did that threw religion. No matter what religion is used to contole people into doing anythig you want because you said the invisible sky daddy said so

    2. False, we maynhave fought for land. But it was always in the name of god or another ideological belife. Point is religion at its heart is nothing but a means to control people and it has caused more fuckig deaths then both world wars combined. Yes we would be 10,000% better off without the idiocy of a invisible sky daddy that tells you to kill peoppe because they dont agree with you.

      1. look at the left in the West right now they have turned into a atheist dogmatic religion,religion is needed for some reason and traditional religions holds communities together but liberal nihilism destroys society’s. so before getting on your high horse and virtue signaling how wise you are that religion is bad and you don’t need it cause your so intelligent, consider the fact that if we have religion in nature its for a “so far” unknown reason, and when countries become secular they have major drops in birthrates and a breakdown of the family unit witch further spirals countries down a hole of problems. you think some invisible daddy in the sky is bad look at atheist communism and the millions that killed in the name of equality. people are gonna kill for any reason religious or not but only moral values will hold everything together as much as we may not like it

  2. Hej Robert,

    I do think that its people who are the major cause of war. We tend to justify our actions with religion, atheism, socialism, tribalism et cetera. I am the problem, and I poison everything. 🙂


    BTW: I answer your question in Leibnzian’s cosmological argument.

    1. I suppose it is a case of the age old question of correlation or causality which can never be properly answered. However I believe a lot of the actions I mentioned occurred specifically because of people’s religion. For example the Cromwellian plantations disposed Catholics because they were Catholics. the Penal Laws denied Catholics the right to vote. While it is true that people often manipulate ideology for their own personal gain, I feel you underestimate the power that ideas have on people and how they can shape people’s actions

      1. I totally agree Robert. But Ideas are like guns. There is a designer, manufacture, seller and user. We cannot blame guns, nor designer nor manufacture for shooting people. As a pop-say, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

        I ought not point fingers at those out there(those Catholics, those Darwinist, those Communist, those atheists, those tribe, those race) but me in here. I am the shooter. Sometimes a seller. I am the problem. I am the poison. I poison everything.

        Its ironic you used Richard Dawkins audio. He believes, if there is no design(-designer-God) at the bottom there is no evil, no good, just pitiless indifference. As an atheist(God does not exist), I do not see what ontological ground at the bottom one would have to judge religion. I wonder if Dawkins truly believe that all he said is at the bottom just another pitiless indifference.


  3. I don’t know if you’ve read Hitch-22, but Christopher Hitchens shares an interesting experience while in Ireland in the 1970’s I believe.

    You gave great examples in your post that demonstrate how religion has created a divide, and promoted conflict in Ireland. Conflict between Protestants and Catholics has been a defining characteristic of Modern European history. To everyone who says that it is political, well of course it is, but it is fueled by religion. This is what happens when you allow religion to influence public policy. What we see in Ireland though, is that this nation, that was once united by a shared disdain for the English, is now divided by religious differences. Clearly this shows that religion is more important to some people than the politics. Even though it would be to their benefit, politically, to ignore religious differences and unite.

  4. I think that this is a rather simplistic analysis of Irish history – war in Ireland was caused by an invasion. And the Irish foiught contiuously for 470 years after that invasion with both sides – the invaders and the invaded – being of the same religion. During the first 470 years of war in Ireland – religion played no part what so ever in the conflict.

    People cause war –

  5. You can call yourself a Catholic or a Protestant or agnostic or atheist but when someone does you wrong what are you going to do? Retaliate or forgive and repay with a blessing. Jesus commands both groups to forgive and repay evil with a blessing. When as believers in Jesus we are disobedient to our Lord unfortunately our Lord gets the credit for being bad. That’s why we need a Savior, because we are sinners!!

    1. My problem is im left Ireland when I was 8 Im not religous and I Just happened to be born in the South.
      I always say the wrong thing. When asked wot part of Ireland im from
      One time happened to meet a couple or real hardliners And they asked my that inquisitve probing ? wot part r u from
      I made the mistake of saying the South.
      Well they went into a huddle whisering and coud feel n sense ti vitriol oozing out of them
      It was pure evil.
      Thats happened a few times since I arrived in Canada without any baggage. 60 years ago.
      Sad but true.
      I was raised in London and have an english accent.

      Why Cant people leave their garbage behind when the migrate to the new world.
      There is so much hatred in Ireland . The rich against the poor. The old class system

      The rich farmers Who have all the wealth n are keeping it.

      But my most dislike was for the class system .

      If u werent from the right side of the tracks or dint come from a wealth off family u were insects

      on the other hand the priests were treated like royalty

      How cna on look back and embrace that kind of llife
      Angelas Ashes was a good book to read.

      But like I said plese new immigrants leave ur baggage behind and embrace the new world u will do well.
      Sad that Canada has lots of Orange men.

      I don’t care wot color they are
      I like a marching band no matter who it is.

      I remeemer when I first came to canada I was run off a farm cause the guy probed my heritage (little did I no he was setting me up) then he told me to get off his property. hehe

      He’s long gone now bitter to the end. hehe

      Im 82 and our family have survived with out any hatred and every one is doing very well.

      Nice to see the Class system destroyed.

      Anyone asks me my religion I tell them I was baptised a catholic but am an athiest and I dont belive in holy ghosts or Rich popes

      When disaster hits all the pope can say prey and let them heal themselve they will be stronger. jeeez.
      Not a penny will that old guy let go of.

      U must be mad ao worship something like that

      Merry Xmas.

  6. Goodness, I am shocked at how poorly informed this piece is. The war in Ireland was a result of invasion and oppression of the Irish by the invading force. Their land, their autonomy,their native language, their heritage, their right of education on their own identity and their religion were torn from them. The English treated them appallingly. During the period of English rule over a million died of starvation in the famine and lived in appalling poverty. Certainly religion was one distinct facet of opposing sides but there was never war for a religious principle. In the North in more recent time the IRA came into being because again the Irish nationalist community were forced into poverty by their UK rulers, they were denied jobs, safety, due process before the courts, right to democratic unimpeded elections(gerrymandering was known to be rife during this period)… they were grossly mistreated and
    the IRA and the troubles that erupted were a response to that. Ultimately the proof of the pudding is in the eating : when a political compromise was reached on the above issues the “troubles” as we knew them from the 70s-90s ceased. Nothing changed with regards of religious identity of the two factions.

  7. My father’s grandmother immigrated to Canada from Northern Ireland in 1850. Her entire family was killed for being Protestant. She and a brother were the only survivors and only because they were not at home when the onslaught happened. I was raised not being allowed to celebrate the holiday because it is a Catholic holiday. Was it a religious war? I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But the information handed down from prior generations to me would certainly indicate that religion had a lot to do with the deaths of both Catholics and Protestants. And here is my problem with religion: Religion is the product of man’s interpretation of the Bible. I may not get the same thing from a passage as any other person, but that does not make my interpretation wrong the same way it does not make anyone else wrong with their interpretation. My belief is that I do not have to pay to pray and that I should treat all people the same way I would like to be treated in return.

  8. This post is lacking in reasoning. The reason for these wars weren’t because of differences of religion. Catholicism and Protestantism share the same religion, Christianity, they just arrive by different methods. Nothing In this behavior is acceptable to Christianity (New Testament). In the Old Testament which would be pre-Christianity, or pure Judaism, sure, fighting for religion was tolerable. The reasons for these wars were hatred, bias and bigotry. Their EXCUSE, not reason, was religion.

  9. I very much agree with the author of the piece. Religion was and still is the predominant cause of the divide which is still evident today although perhaps not as pronounced as it was prior to the enforced political solution during the Thatcher years, but it is by no means at an end. It is still underlying and as such will remain the major factor.

    Just because both religions are of the Christian orthodoxy, there are many significant differences between them in the same way there are potentially conflicting differences between non-Catholic Christian sects as well. The same is to be found in the different sects of Islam, giving rise to outright conflict.

    Those that maintain only land and politics are the cause of the Northern Ireland sectarian divide, are not researching the issue with sufficient depth and even honesty. It is easy to cast a deaf ear to anything one doesn’t want to hear.

    Innocent people were burned at the stake across Europe and the Americas because of religion.

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