History is often more complex than legend allows. Nowhere is that more true than in Northern Ireland.
When my Grandmother’s Grandfather’s Grandfather’s parents and siblings emigrated from Northern Ireland to South Carolina in 1768, the anti-Catholic/anti-Presbyterian laws had been in effect for well over a century. These laws of the English Crown that deprived the Irish of employment, education, property, and other rights were specifically aimed at not only bolstering the dominance of Anglican landlords over the native residents, but also at destroying the unity of the United Irishmen.
As author Tim Pat Coogan observes in his book The Troubles, “The Anglicans looked with disfavour on one section of Protestantism, almost with as much disfavour as they did the Catholics. These were the Presbyterian Dissenters in the north of Ireland, who also suffered a certain amount of disability under the law, thereby encouraging some of them to make common cause with the Catholics.”
In fact, the United Irishmen, led by the famous protestant Theobald Wolfe Tone, aimed to unite Catholics, Protestants, and Dissenters in setting up an Irish republic which would separate from England. It wasn’t until 1795, twenty-seven years after my ancestors Shane and Margaret O’Neal and their children departed from Belfast on the Brig Dungannon, that Wolfe Tone, “generally regarded as the father of Irish republicanism”, made contact with the French to acquire arms for the rebellion.
Two hundred years after my line of O’Neals landed in North America, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, once again, emphasized the unity of the dispossessed and unrepresented — Catholic and Protestant — against the apartheid regime of Anglican fundamentalists backed by the English military. Not a story that has often been told.
[Jay Thomas Taber (O’Neal) derives from the most prominent tribe in Irish history, nEoghan Ua Niall, the chief family in Northern Ireland between the 4th and the 17th centuries. His maternal family name in Irish means champion. Jay’s ancestors were the last great leaders of Gaelic Ireland, and in 1999 he walked the fields of Kinsale where they once fought. His grandmother’s grandfather’s grandfather emigrated from Belfast to South Carolina in 1768.]
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