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Across the Troubles in Northern Ireland: From the Jacobite Rising to the Mountbatten Bombing

Mullaghmore, Ireland, site of the Lord Mountbatten bombing.

This is the third in a series of five articles about Northern Ireland on the eve of Brexit, which threatens to put a “hard border” between the six counties of the North and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the European Union. This is part III.

An Early European Cold War (1690-91) Comes To Ireland

When I rode the train across Ireland in summer 1990, most of the west country was rural, dotted with farmland and thatched cottages. I also expected mist on the horizon.

Thirty years on, most of the thatch has been replaced with modern (read ugly) tiles, and spliced into the farmland, at suitable intervals, are malls and convenience stores. Meandering in the car, I wondered what ballads Irish poets would write about divided highways and Costa Coffee outlets.

I was pleased to make it to Aughrim, as the year before, together with a friend from Dublin, I had gone to visit the battlefield of the Boyne, where in 1690 a Catholic coalition was routed on the banks of a meandering streaming (the Boyne). In effect, the two battles are bookends in the same war.

If Aughrim was the end game of the Jacobite rising in Ireland, the Boyne was more decisive, in that Catholic King James II of Britain and his French Catholic allies were scattered by a coalition of Dutch and British mercenaries, who ended any dreams that the Catholic population had for an autonomous Ireland.

I had not known much about the Boyne until that springtime visit. My only acquaintance with it came from childhood conversations with my father, who lived as much in the past as he did in the present. (Over dinner we would be quizzed about the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and other happenings in our day.)

Whenever a political conversation would touch on the Troubles raging in Northern Ireland (the 1960s and 70s were bad times), he would bring up the battle of the Boyne—to set the cause of the violence in its historical context, which was that Ireland, after the Boyne, was an English dependency.

Mention of the Boyne also had a way of cutting short any headline discussion about the Troubles, as few remembered the ignominy of (Catholic) King James II, who cut and ran from the Boyne and apparently did not stop until