I think it’s fair to say that British history is often reduced to purely English history – and the Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland and Wales rarely get a look in.
And its been that way for so long that most of us don’t think anything of it. However, recently as part of my Welsh History Month on the Hisdoryan blog, I did my first ever Instagram Live – and the feedback I got was eye-opening.
People loved learning abut Welsh History. And what’s more, people realised there is a whole lot of history right here in the United Kingdom they had never been exposed to. And it wasn’t just Welsh history they were missing out on, but Scottish and Irish history too.
It got me thinking. I didn’t really know that much about Irish and Scottish history – but I definitely wanted to learn!
So I called upon the power of the history blogging community and summoned up three fab history bloggers to help me. Together we have written a two-part blog post giving you a great introduction to the history of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom, including pivitol moments and suggestions for if you want to learn more.
So lets get the ball rolling…first up is Ireland and England!
I am Scott Edgar from Wartime NI. Born and raised in rural Co. Armagh in Northern Ireland, I moved to Belfast in 2000 to study at Queen’s University. Other than a B-Grade A-Level, I’ve never studied history but consider myself an enthusiastic amateur. My primary area of interest is World War Two, particularly in Northern Ireland. I’m also researching my own ancestry and may have an actual axe murderer in the family!
For me, British history conjures up images of kings and queens, World Wars, and the Empire. These areas are popular with audiences but there are many more stories to tell.
The British Isles
Until very recently, I’ve thought British history to be very English-centric. As it becomes easier for people in communities to share their own stories and resources, this is less the case. The BBC have done some great work in recent years to highlight the history of different regions and to throw light on other sides of well-known stories. ‘Digging for Britain‘ was one such show that covered all the British Isles.
Northern Ireland’s History
The complexity of the history of this one corner of the British Isles is fascinating. Northern Ireland as a state only came into existence in 1921 but fractious relations between the British and Irish go back many hundreds of years. Before partition, the north of Ireland was forcibly settled by English and Scottish settlers forcing many from their lands. Through famine, partition, The Troubles, and beyond into Brexit, the history of Northern Ireland remains a curious and complex thing.
World War Two in Northern Ireland
A few short years between 1939 and 1945 in Northern Ireland is my area of research. While much is written about The Troubles and The Titanic, this fascinating era is often forgotten. The US Army Rangers formed at Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. The first US Army infantryman to set foot in Europe landed at a Northern Irish port. Belfast suffered the highest loss of life in a single night outside of London during the Blitz. There are many more groundbreaking stories such as these and many of the buildings and artefacts remain to be studied.
Top Moments in History
Moments in Irish and Northern Irish history are not always positive. This short list is what I consider to have had the greatest impact rather than the “best”.
- The Battle of the Boyne in July 1690 pitted exiled king of England and Scotland James II against William of Orange. The conflict boiled down to Catholic versus Protestant and has shaped much of Northern Ireland’s culture since. The 12th July parades each year still sees the Orange Order celebrate William’s victory.
- The Potato Famine of 1845-1847 resulted in a catastrophic loss of life across the entire island of Ireland. This event changed rural communities forever and led to mass emigration. Many of those who consider themselves Irish across the world owe their heritage to those who were in a position to flee the famine or escape to the ‘New World’ in subsequent years.
- In more recent history, the Belfast Agreement of 1998 saw a pivotal shift in politics in Northern Ireland. After 30 years of violence between Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries, the document, which became known as the Good Friday Agreement sought to change the political landscape for the better. Paramilitary groups went on to declare ceasefires, the structure of policing was analysed and reformed, and many politicians strived to work for a better future for Northern Ireland.
History is not always something that happens in the distant past. We continually make history and I believe the current Brexit negotiations are a defining moment in the United Kingdom. Relations between the British, Irish, and those living in the 6 counties of Northern Ireland will forever be changed regardless of the outcome.
There are many museums and historical resources throughout Northern Ireland. The capital city of Belfast houses the Ulster Museum, full of artefacts dating back thousands of years. While in the city, also pay a visit to the Linen Hall Library and the national archives at PRONI.
Around this time of year, both Protestants and Catholics celebrate the 17th March as St. Patrick’s Day. Irish people across the world observe the holiday, dressing in green, drinking Guinness, or attending religious services, or pilgrimages. However, history suggests that Patrick was not Irish. He came from Roman Britain in an area now in Wales and the colour most associated with him was blue not green. Ireland also has two other lesser known patron saints, St. Colmcille and St. Bridget.
I’m Helen and I run the Lassicist blog which is based around Women’s History. I originally come from the north east of England so I’ll be focussing on English history. I studied Egyptology and Classical Studies at university and other than the ancient world my historical interests include the Tudor period and the Victorian era.
I think a lot of the time people would think of the British Empire and colonisation when they hear the term British history. But if they were specifically thinking about what went on in Britain, they would mainly focus on what was going on in England (and in my opinion specifically the south of England!) such as with the Royal family. Oh, and castles, they’d definitely think about castles!
The British Isles
I don’t think that British history covers anywhere near the amount of stuff that actually happened. A lot of the time I think the history focuses on the upper and middle classes which obviously does not cover large bits of the country. I also think the history of the nations (other than England) gets pushed into the background due to previous colonialist historians. There’s so much that happened that people just don’t know about.
There’s a few things which make English history unique in my opinion. Firstly, due to the size and population of England there are few distinct cultures whereas I think the other nations have a more homogenous culture (not to say there aren’t differences too!). Also, there has historically been a concentration of wealth and power in England which has led to an increase in inventions and business. Finally, and most noticeably, British history is often written by the English so frequently has an English spin on it.
The Romans in England
I’d have to go with my academic roots and say the Roman period is the most interesting historical era in English history. The way the culture in England at the time mixed with Roman culture, particularly in religion, is fascinating. They’d do this thing where they would mix a Celtic god with a Roman one which was comparable to create a mix of the two. You can see this in Bath with the goddess Sullis Minerva!
Top Moments in English History
Boudicca’s rebellion, the Pilgrimage of Grace and the opening of the Stockton to Darlington Railway which kickstarted the Industrial Revolution.
This is a really difficult one as I think England’s relationships with all three of the other nations are all quite unique so I might cheat a little and pick one per nation! For Scotland, it has to be the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots because it shows the dominance that the English queen wanted to demonstrate.
For Wales it probably has to be the Miner’s Strike in the 80s because it shows the negative effect that a predominantly English government had on large parts of Wales but also the solidarity Wales had with other bits of England such as the north east.
For Northern Ireland I think I’m going to go with the Good Friday Agreement, despite all the Troubles it shows a way forward with the support of the other nations. I know some of these seems quite negative and don’t paint England in a good light, but they are all key events in the history in Britain.
I think I’m going to have to go with one that focuses on women and that is A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray. There are some women in it that aren’t English but I think it covers a lot and is very accessible.
There is a pub in England that has been open since 1189 – it’s called Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem and you can find it in Nottingham!
Come back on Wednesday for part two, where I’ll be sharing my love of Welsh History and Jess from An Historian About Town will be teaching us about all things Scottish.
In the meantime, why not tell me what your top moment from British history?