An Almost Historically Accurate Introduction

In the early 1600's, predominately Catholic Ulster was considered a "bastion of ancient Celtic culture," the remainder of the isle having surrendered to the influences of Viking, Norman and English neighbors for whom invasion was a perpetual pursuit.

But sovereignty over seventy-five percent of the peoples of this comparatively tiny neighbor to the north was not sufficient for England. The English being … well … English…were intimidated by the strength of the Gaelic clans that ruled and protected Ulster. Equally alarming in English eyes was the potential for a formidable alliance with a very Catholic Spain. Inherent in that union was the establishment of a well-armed force of fighting Ulstermen, as well as the production of thousands upon thousands of little Catholics who would grow into big Catholics, creating an even larger thorn in their political side. Clearly, this would not do!

So the English did what the English do so well, --they amassed armies, built forts and hunkered down around the southern perimeter of Ulster. They destroyed farm lands and burnt crops in order to starve their feisty opponents into submission. They performed dastardly deeds with abandon, some of which were recorded; some of which were not. And eventually, they won.

While the legendary Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone and his fellow chieftains fought the good fight to protect hearth, home and their centuries-old Gaelic social system, they were defeated in 1601 at the battle of Kinsale and again in 1602 by Lord Mountjoy at Omagh in County Tyrone. A treaty was signed in 1603 allowing these noblemen to keep their lands on condition they adopt English law and relinquish their Irish titles. The Lords of Ulster found this a most disagreeable solution and departed their homeland. This "flight of the earls" soon gave way to the infamous Ulster Plantations.

Actually…"plantations" is a misnomer. The strategy used by the English to further tip the balance of power in their favor was but a variation of a simple and very effective form of oppression known today as "Ethnic Cleansing." Land in Ulster was offered at sixpence an acre to the Scots across the channel as well as to urban Englishmen weary of city life. Many British urbanites settled in County Derry (thus the name change to Londonderry); the Scots in Tyrone, Donegal, Antrim and Down. Unfortunately for the Irish, these new immigrants purchased and settled on lands already occupied by those celtic natives who'd refused to flee. Having no chieftains to protect and guide them, these stalwart peasants were removed to the most desolate parts of their homeland and forced to farm on lands capable of producing little more than an impressive rock garden. While the English remained but a short while, the Scots, already accustomed to a harsher way of life, flourished in their adopted homeland (enter the Scotch-Irish) as did their Presbyterian values and Puritanical way of life.

By 1691, anti-Catholic laws were so harsh that many Ulsterman and their families converted to Protestantism just to escape the consequences of "growing up Catholic." A few choice restrictions included: (1) gun ownership; (2) seeking a professional occupation, except if medical; (3) education, except if Protestant; (4) owning land; (5) any and all political involvement, and, (6) owning a horse worth more than five pounds. By 1728, voting prohibitions and retaining ownership of one's land if one's son(s) converted to Protestantism added even more fat to the political flame.

Being a Presbyterian also had a few drawbacks. In 1704, new laws prohibited Scottish Presbees from joining town councils or serving in any other official capacity. Presbee ministers were not allowed to conduct wedding ceremonies.

Fast forward to September 17, 1768 and the birth of John Alvin Cinnamond whose father was reportedly a well-to-do merchant in Northern Ireland. John was a bristling lad of 21 when American colonists were beginning their own fight for freedom. In addition, a new and improved (!) French government (established from the successful revolution of 1789) again offered blanket assistance to the inhabitants of Northern Ireland. Ever the instigator, France proclaimed its desire to assist any peoples in the market to overthrow their government/king. Back at the Ulster ranch, a group called the Society of United Ulstermen was established under the leadership of Wolf Tone. This new entity declared its belief in a peaceful Ireland in which both Catholics and Protestants could co-exist harmoniously. The goal of the SUU was to establish a "French-styled" democratic republic independent of England. This, of course, disturbed the Brits mightily, particularly since they were at war with France (again). Plans were immediately formulated to dispose of these Ulster rascals.

The degree of young John's Cinnamond's involvement in the political and social history of Northern Ireland has yet to be determined. Yet we do know that he grew into manhood in a climate of protest, turmoil and mind-boggling injustice. We do know that he was an intelligent and educated man who brought with him the skills, determination, and incomparable Irish grit that enabled him to thrive in a harsh and unknown land. We know that two years after his forced migration to America, the Irish Rebellion of 1798 took place.

And we are allowed to imagine that perhaps he knew and worked beside the likes of Wolf Tone and a score of other freedom-seeking Ulstermen; that he cheered from afar the victories of his countrymen; that he bitterly mourned their defeats. And that somewhere and always in the depths of his broken Irish heart was that yearning to go home again. --[M. Cinnamon, Dec 1998]

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