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Friday, February 04, 2011

A millennium of Irish kidnapping, exile and enslavement


The first man I met this morning is expecting his fiancee to be kidnapped and made to slave abroad anytime now.

"It's inevitable at this stage," he said through bloodshot, sleepless eyes. "I fell like I'm powerless to stop it. It's like my entire future has just been amputated. What can any of us do?"

The second man I met this morning has already had both his sons kidnapped and is fearing his daughter may soon be taken too.

"It hurts every day," he admitted. "But you can't say that. People think you're whining. Everyone's in the same boat. Who hasn't had someone depart? It used to be that exile and banishment was a punishment for some of the worst possible crimes. Nowadays, it's all young people have to look forward to."

The third man I met had been kidnapped himself many years ago. It took him decades, most of his life, to escape and return home.

"We were conditioned to accept it, weren't we?" he asked. "We just didn't query it. It was normal. That's what people did. They went away. People went to slave abroad and those left behind were to just act as if that was perfectly normal. But it wasn't normal. It was how a slave race behaves. In darkest Africa, where they don't have anything at all, they have their children, their fathers, their husbands and wives. Their children aren't taken. But ours were. And are."

This is a tale of Irish helotry. A long dark tale with no happy ending.

A millennium ago, the Norsemen conducted raids all across the North Atlantic, pillaging land and monasteries, and taking children and women as slaves. Among the worst affected places was Ireland, where the passive locals seemed to accept a proportion of death and captivity as their lot in life. Elsewhere, they fought the Vikings off.

In 1631, Barbary Corsairs from the North African coast conducted a famous raid on Baltimore in Cork. The slavers departed with the entire populace of the town, all but one of whom were destined for a life as a galley slave or harem whore.

The Seventeenth Century was something of a high water mark of Irish people being kidnapped into slavery abroad. Following the Battle of Kinsale, the English had 30,000 military prisoners to deal with. So they sent a load of them into slavery in the New World colonies.

The first ones are thought to have arrived in the Amazon around 1612. A proclamation in 1625 formalised the system. Irish political dissidents would be transported and sold as labourers to planters in the West Indies.

Cromwell upped the ante further in 1649 after sacking Drogheda, when he said: "I do not think 30 0f the whole number escaped with their lives, but those that did are in safe custody in Barbados." The following year he oversaw the sale of 25,000 Irish children to planters in the island of St Kitts. That following decade, more than 100,000 Irish children, mostly under 14 years old, were sold as slaves to planters in the Caribbean and New England.

For the masters of independent Ireland in the period between the 30s and the 60s, economic development was much less important than subduing the populace with fundamentalist religion and maintaining the post-colonial one-party state for the benefit of the elite within that party.

The policy was simple - export the excess population, the ones with drive, ambition, education. Because they were dangerous. They risked rocking the boat. They risked overthrowing the cosy cartel. So the elite learnt from Cromwell - export your enemies. Exile the opposition.

A later variant of this same poisonous clique realised that a certain degree of economic development might be welcome, since it would provide a bigger pie for them to carve up among themselves. After a period of time, they found that they had for the first time in a millennium, reversed the flow of population.

Ireland's lost children took the opportunity to return. They sold up their successful lives abroad in their thousands for the chance to return home and be among their friends and family once more.

But they were bitterly betrayed, their fortunes pirated from their pockets by the property developers and then their futures at home eradicated by the cosy cartel of thieves as they stole all the wealth, and indentured the country to pay for their gambling debts.

And now, after that brief hiatus, we find ourselves resuming the same sad old song we've been keening for over a thousand years. Once again, our bright, our young, our talented, are being exiled to slave abroad.

One time, nearly a millennium ago now, the Irish resisted the process of kidnapping, exile and enslavement.

Brian Boru faced down the Viking raiders in the Battle of Clontarf, the visceral anger of the Irish finally sprung forth and found voice. Of 6500 Vikings, only one in ten was still alive when the day was over. There were casualties - Brian himself fell in battle. But that one time, the message of resistance was clear.

We need that same spirit today. We can no longer indulge the coterie of filth who line their pockets while our families are broken up, our loved ones exported like cattle abroad.

When Fianna Fail come knocking - if they dare - think on everyone you know forced abroad as a result of their pocket-lining policies.

And I won't blame you if you give them a taste of what Brian Boru would have done to them.

1 comment:

shell Nor said...

i was kidnapped in the 1960s..age about 2 or 3 years old. i remember bits and pieces of it. and i keep trying to remember the other bits. my mother wouldnt speak for 15 years she lost her ability to trust everything that she said. we lived in lisburn ireland at the time. then in england i was sold into slavery and branded. when i was 6 or 7. i cud t L u loads.