One hundred years ago, on May 3, 1921, the British Parliament passed a law that made Ireland split in two. This law was put into effect.
The Government of Ireland Act 1920 split the country into two parts: Northern and Southern Ireland. Things didn’t go as planned with the act.
Thirty-six of the island’s 32 counties broke away from the United Kingdom and formed a new country called the Republic of Ireland. Six northern counties, most of them Protestant, stayed British.
A century later, Ireland is still split up and the legacy of 1921 lives on.
The anniversary comes at a time when tensions over Brexit are rising. Loyalists (people who don’t want to see Ireland reunited) fear that so-called “Irish Sea” border controls will push Northern Ireland away from the UK. In Northern Ireland, riots broke out last month. They erased memories of the Catholic-Protestant conflict that has divided the country for a long time.
What caused Ireland to be split up?
Britain has long been a powerful country in the world because of its strong trade ties with the European Union. It used to be three separate countries: England, Scotland, and Wales, with Wales being the strongest and most powerful. During the 1100s, Ireland was invaded by England, which eventually took it over.
Even though the Irish lords were still in charge, this changed in the 16th century when the English monarchy tightened its grip on the areas. It had subjugated the reign of the now-infamous King Henry VIII, which made this situation even worse. Catherine of Aragon was an old queen when King Henry VIII married her. He wanted to get rid of her, so he broke away from the Pope in Rome and had himself named head of the church in England instead.
An important Irish landowner didn’t like King Henry VIII for going against Rome. It was because of this that a large army was sent to quell any opposition and seize the property of those who were against the English crown.
The next few centuries saw a lot of rebellions in Ireland, many of which threatened the survival of England. Most of these rebellions were supported by Spain and France, which were mostly Catholic at the time. These uprisings were usually very dangerous and bloody. In a particularly harrowing case, Queen Elizabeth first ordered that rebel leaders be hung, drawn, and quartered because she was so afraid.
In 1919, a member of the country’s nationalist party, Sinn Fein, said that the Irish Republic was at risk of civil war. The next year, Britain decided to split the island into two parts. The north, which is mostly Protestant, and the south, which is mostly Catholic, now have two separate parliaments.
This was done through the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, which the Republicans didn’t like. This led to the creation of the Irish free state in 1922. But Northern Ireland left and returned to the United Kingdom, which promised them the right to run their own country. This is why they did this.
Some people didn’t like the way things worked out. Though there was a lot of fighting between the Protestant majority of Northern Ireland and its Catholic minority, which led to violent terrorist attacks. That caused a lot of damage to the region and the protesters. People who were unionists or supporters of the United Kingdom didn’t want to leave. Most of them were happy to stay in the country.
There were also some Catholics who wanted to see a separate Northern Ireland that was part of Ireland as a whole. These people were called “nationalists” or “republicans.” From the late 1960s to the late 1990s, there was a lot of political fighting. It was called the troubles. It came to an end on April 10, 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement or the Belfast Agreement was signed. This agreement set up a new government for Northern Ireland in which power was shared equally between the unionists and the nationalists.