Protestants went north in the 1920s for various reasons

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

Robin Bury (‘Buried Lives, The Protestants of Southern Ireland’, Philip Bradfield, May 1) yet again claims there was a mass exodus of Protestants from the south from 1920-23 due to sectarian intimidation and murder.

Mr Bury suggests that the decline in the Protestant population was as a result of terrorism, boycott and land grabbing. This view clearly promotes a sectarian narrative about republican actions which Mr Bury claims drove Protestants out of the Free State during the War of Independence.

That theory has been exposed as fraudulent. Extensive research has undermined the sectarian explanation of the decline in the Protestant population. I retain an open mind on the cause of those events. Mr Bury appears to have a closed one.

Although some Irish Protestants were victims of a process of expulsion, coercion, and in some cases murder – acts which would have been abhorred by those who planned and executed the Easter Rising and War of Independence-the primary reason for this population decline can be identified with the Great War and with aggressively encouraged relocation North.

The horrific slaughter of young Irish Protestant men in the first World War had a devastating and disproportionate impact on the male Protestant population of the South.

This was reflected in the birth rate for decades following the war. In addition, the Northern Ireland regime led by Sir James Craig enticed large numbers of Protestants, through the offer of government jobs and housing, to relocate north of the Border in an attempt to offset Catholic majorities in border counties.

This was, in effect, part of the creation of “a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people”.

The strong religious, cultural and political ties which Southern Protestants had in common with the Northern majority resulted in a sizable shift of Protestants north across the border.

Some in government service chose to leave with their families rather than enter the civil/public service of the Free State.

In addition, there was a large British military establishment in Ireland which was stood down in 1922. This group was disproportionately Protestant. Others left because they no longer enjoyed the social and official privilege being Protestant once brought.

It is worth noting that two Protestants who decided to stay south subsequently became presidents of Ireland.

Tom Cooper, Dublin