It is the 30th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1972.
The place is Northern Ireland, the country on the North East tip of the island, just to the north of the other Ireland.
Being in the 1970s and Northern Ireland, you would be right to guess that our topic today comes amid the time known as "the troubles," a delightfully sounding period of a terrible sectarian war between Catholic Republicans and Protestant Unionists. It can be confusing, so let's turn the clock back a bit and work up to '72.
If we're in the British Isles, we might as well jump back to 1066, the Norman Invasion, and all that. Well, these Normans, setting in Britain, decided to make their way to Ireland in 1169. The Vikings had already set up shop there, and the Gaelic Irish had been there for centuries.
And now, with Anglo-Normans, Vikings, and the Irish, there was a reckoning coming for supremacy on the island. The Anglo-Normans, with support from both the English crown and the church, would gain the upper hand. A distinction could be made between the native Gaelic Irish and the English Ruling class.
The English would settle in the north. After the devastation of the Black Death and various internecine wars, the English in the north could now be distinguished from the Gaelic Irish in the south.
Jump ahead to the Reformation. While we know of Henry VIII's devious acts in England, we shouldn't forget the devastation he left in Ireland. He sold the monasteries and church property in Ireland as he did in England; rebellions were crushed, and Henry's kids also harshly ruled the island. News of Irish Catholic rebellions scared the English, who were more than happy to send Oliver Cromwell to crush some Irish skulls.
And so now we have the majority of the English in the north supporting the Protestant crown and the majority Irish in the south supporting their mother church. To oversimplify, think North=Protestant and South=Catholic. So now we've taken ethnic and regional differences and added religious controversy to the powder keg.
By 1700 there was no love lost between Irish Catholics and British Protestants. And by 1801, the act of Union brought all of Ireland into the United Kingdom. The northern Protestant Britains cheered the Union, while Irish Catholics wanted independence.
Soon, anti-Catholic laws will begin to give way to some notions of Catholic emancipation in the early 19th century, but then the Potato famine. About 1 million Irish die, and about 1 million left via immigration. By 1900 there were calls for Ireland to gain some degree of independence via Home Rule. But then World War 1 suspended those talks. But some Irish republicans got tired of waiting, and so the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, began its campaign of guerrilla war versus the British Protestants arguing for a stronger union with the crown.
Skipping some serious stuff, the two-state solution in Ireland became a reality in 1949 with the Republic of Ireland's creation. The UK kept "Northern Ireland." (It has different names, one of which is Ulster.)
But what about those Catholic republicans who happened to live in Ulster? Fearing uprisings because, well, all of this, specific oppressive measures, including internment without trial, led to Catholic civil rights marches in the 1960s.
One such peaceful march was called for in Belfast on the 30th of January in 1972. The British military was called in, and this escalated the situation. On what is called Belfast's Bloody Sunday, 26 Catholics were shot, and 14 died. Acts of terror on both sides shook the island until the Good Friday agreement in 1998.
It became faddish for a time to reject any theological or religious undertones in these troubles as insincere. After all, some have reasoned, isn't the sectarian violence of the Reformation a relic of the past? Or others suggest that Catholic or Protestant labels are more convenient than based on theological conviction.
Or do we learn that regardless of how modern we think of ourselves, ethnic, regional, and religious conflict, when combined, leads to unfathomable damage too often in the name of Jesus?
Almost a millennia after the Normans and nearly 500 years after the Reformation, Catholic and Protestant strife came to Belfast on the 31st of January in 1972.
The last word for today, appropriately perhaps, comes from Henry Vaughn, his poem, "Peace."
My Soul, there is a country
Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars;
There, above noise and danger
Sweet Peace sits, crown'd with smiles,
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious friend
And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow'r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who wonders what some Irish have against Individual Retirement Accounts, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.