In his poem The Second Coming written in 1919 at a time of political and social ferment across Europe and an earlier constitutional breakdown within the United Kingdom, WB Yeats (that great Anglo-Irishman, a descendant and representative of “no petty people”) wrote the following lines:
… Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand ….
Against that apocalyptic vision, it is of some interest to note a recent op-ed piece in the Irish Times, in which the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole has made the intriguing suggestion that one possible political response to the further break-down of our constitutional order which the Brexit vote heralds, might be for a complete re-configuration of the nations within the Anglo Celtic Archipelago/Atlantic Isles. He suggests that Scotland and Northern Ireland might leave (and so dissolve) the United Kingdom, and join Ireland in some form of, a yet to be worked out, union.
Historic precedent for a Scots-Irish union ?
It is sometimes said to be a characteristic of the Scots and Irish that (like the Bourbons) that they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Their role in a Tolkien saga might be that of “The Grudge Bearers”.
In that spirit, and taking the approach of la longue durée to Fintan O’Toole’s suggestion, we might find some historic precedent for setting up a Scottish-Irish Union (sans et contre l’Angleterre) in the campaign of Edward Bruce, younger brother of and then heir to Robert Bruce, who in the year after his brother’s 1314 victory at Bannockburn, sailed to Ireland from Scotland with a sizeable fighting force and there allied with native Irish fighting against Anglo-Norman magnates owing fealty to the English crown, and had himself proclaimed High King of Ireland.
This is attested to in a remarkable document of 1317 which the native Irish princes (led by Donal O’Neill, king of Cenel Eoghain or Tyrone) addressed to the Avignon Pope John XXII through two of his papal nuncios who were then in England attempting to broker a post-Bannockburn peace between Edward II of England and Robert Bruce, King of Scots. This Remonstrance notes in part as follows:
“[O]n account of the injustice of the kings of England and their wicked ministers and the constant treachery of the English of mixed race, who, by the ordinance of the Roman curia, were bound to rule our nation with justice and moderation and have set themselves wickedly to destroy it; and in order to shake off the hard and intolerable yoke of their slavery and to recover our native liberty, which for a time through them we lost, we are compelled to wage deadly war with them, aforesaid, preferring under stress of necessity to put ourselves like men to the trial of war in defence of our right, rather than to bear like women their atrocious outrages.
And that we may be able to attain our purpose more speedily and fitly in this respect, we call to our help and assistance Edward Bruce, illustrious earl of Carrick, brother of Robert by the grace of God most illustrious king of the Scots, who is sprung from our noblest ancestors.
And as it is free to anyone to renounce his right and transfer it to another, all the right which is publicly known to pertain to us in the said kingdom as its true heirs, we have given and granted to him by our letters patent, and in order that he may do therein judgment and justice and equity which through default of the prince Edward II the King of England have utterly failed therein, we have unanimously established and set Edward Bruce up as our king and lord in our kingdom aforesaid, for in our judgment and the common judgment of men he is pious and prudent, humble and chaste, exceedingly temperate, in all things sedate and moderate, and possessing power (God on high be praised) to snatch us mightily from the house of bondage with the help of God and our own justice, and very willing to render to everyone what is due to him of right, and above all is ready to restore entirely to the Church in Ireland the possessions and liberties of which she was damnably despoiled, and he intends to grant greater liberties than ever otherwise she has been wont to have.
May it please you therefore, most Holy Father, for the sake of justice and general peace mercifully to approve what we have done as regards our said lord and king Edward Bruce, forbidding the King of England and our aforesaid adversaries henceforward to molest us, or at least be pleased to render us with fitting favour our due complement of justice in respect of them.
For know, our revered Father, that besides the kings of lesser Scotia who all drew the source of their blood from our greater Scotia, retaining to some extent our language and habits, a hundred and ninety seven kings of our blood have reigned over the whole island of Ireland.”
The Avignon Papacy neither recognised Edward Bruce’s claim to the High Kingship of Ireland, nor did it respond favourably to the Irish princes’ Remonstrance. In October 1318 the Scots-Irish army under Edward Bruce was defeated by the Anglo-Norman forces of Edward II. Edward Bruce was killed, his body quartered and sent throughout Ireland and his head delivered to King Edward II. Continue reading