The Long View: The Irish Empire

One of John's original compositions, an imaginative bit of alternative history that puts Ireland in the place of Britain as the exporter of European civilization. This story features one of John's stranger ideas, homo sapiens who are not human, and also one of his funnier ones, the samurai Jesuit.


The Irish Empire
by Paul O'Johnson
(This is a summary of the book. The original is 1,546 pages long.)
Among the many dismaying events of the twentieth century, few would have surprised and appalled the optimistic mind of the nineteenth more than the complete disintegration of the Irish Empire by 1960. For centuries the chief bulwark of Christendom against the Quetzal League of the Mississippi, its swift decline from the largest unified political unit in the history of the world to a squabbling "Commonwealth of Nations" seemed to put the whole of civilization at risk. As is often the case in history, our worst fears were as unfounded as our fondest hopes, and the terrible North American tyranny collapsed at the very moment it seemed poised to gather the empire of the world to itself. The process by which we were saved was almost as disconcerting as the one we thought would damn us.
No single ruler was more responsible for the ultimate rise of Irish civilization that the Roman Emperor Britanicus. After the suspicious death of his adoptive brother Nero in 54 A.D., he presided over a prosperous, uneventful reign which did much to redeem the reputation of the imperial office. Britanicus occupied his time primarily in the pursuit of the pedantic interests that had so largely concerned his father, the Emperor Claudius. It is due to Britanicus's filial diligence in promoting the copying and distribution of his father's historical works that the histories of Claudius are among the most widely-preserved primary sources that have come down to us from ancient times. It was also out of filial piety that Britanicus pursued his father's original conquests in Britain, to a degree that perhaps exceeded the actual value of the province. The invasion of Munster in 60 A.D. by Governor Paulus, made in response to the depredations of Irish pirates on the loosely defended coasts of newly Roman Britain, occasioned the first permanent foothold of the Roman Empire in Ireland. The conquest of the island was not completed, however, until fifty years later under the Emperor Trajan.
Roman Ireland was more isolated and eccentric than its British neighbor to the east, but in some ways its condition was happier. After the initial Roman penetration of the eastern and southern areas of the country, the local kings of the north and west resigned themselves to civilization and submitted to Rome, in exchange for a large degree of local autonomy. Far more peaceful than imperfectly-conquered Britain, Ireland soon developed a lively if peculiar literary culture. The Romance language of Ireland, Ibernacha, has clear roots in the late Latin dialect of the country, which was unique among the colloquial tongues of the west in finding written expression even before the empire collapsed. Also, perforce, the province developed a precocious maritime technology to keep in touch with the rest of civilization. The island was scarcely affected by the civil wars that wracked the Roman world in the third century. When the Roman legions withdrew from the British Isles in the fifth century, both major islands were briefly ruled from the Irish provincial capital at Rodillanegra. When the Anglo-Saxon invasions overran southern and eastern Britain, Wales and north central Britain were organized as Irish marches to keep the Germanic peoples at bay. This basic configuration of the British Isles, a Latino-Celtic west and north surrounding a West Frisian (historically called "English") lowland based in London, continues to this day.
The years from about 450 A.D. to the Norse conquest of 800 A.D. are usually called the first Irish Golden Age. The only part of western Europe to escape barbarian invasion during the collapse of the Roman Empire, the island actually remained a nominal province of Byzantium after the abdication of the last western emperor in 476. The unfortunate attempt by the Emperor Justinian to send an exarch to the island to collect taxes caused the last "Roman governor" of the island (by then, the office was hereditary to the ruler of the Rodillanegran Pale) to declare himself High King in the sixth century. The survival of literary culture in Ireland was vital to the restoration of civilization in western Europe. It was chiefly due to the Irish that Christendom was not confined to western Europe, but spread in a great arc from the steppes of Russia to the Great Plains of North America. Throughout this period, Irish missionaries and teachers moved in great numbers across the continent. It was, of course, the Irish who won the northern and eastern Slavic peoples for Roman Christianity, cutting off the cultural influence of Orthodoxy beyond the Balkans and the Black Sea. Many European cities were founded around the sites of Irish monasteries. The city of Munich, for instance, was originally "the place of the monks." Just as important for later history, Irish missionary and commercial enterprise pushed gradually west into Iceland and Greenland, until finally the first port cities were founded on the North American continent about the year 700 A.D.
The spread of Eurasian civilization to the western hemisphere was to have vast consequences both for good and evil in the distant future, but the near-term effects were almost wholly positive. Metallurgy, literacy and husbandry spread throughout the eastern half of the northern continent, far beyond the political influence of the scattered Irish colonies on the east coast. The disease ecologies of the two hemispheres were gradually brought into harmony. Great Christian states came into existence. The Iroquoian Republic in the area south of the Great Lakes contributed mightily to the soaring architecture of the Age of the Cathedrals, while the Cherokee Kingdom of the Appalachians, which developed paper currency even before the Chinese, became nearly synonymous with medieval financial enterprise. Although the loyalty of the Irish colonies to the High King was rather nominal during this period, still Ireland remained the great, inevitable trading center between the two hemispheres.
It was beyond Christendom, in the dark, dynamic society of the Mississippi Valley, that the terror of the next millennium was being formed. Agricultural societies in the continent's chief river valley long antedated the European stimulus. Left to themselves, however, these societies would have been characterized by middle-sized towns with no particular technological edge over their neighbors. The diffusion of Eurasian technology from the east coast changed that. Armed with metal weapons and armored cavalry, the southern half of the Mississippi Valley had achieved unity by the ninth century, and was already moving to extend its control over the ancient, degenerate civilizations of Mexico and Central America. By the standards of most cultures for most of their histories, the spirit of those southern regions was quite literally diabolical. The Mississippians, a subtle and ingenious people, took took that spirit for their own.
The Quetzal Teaching, as it came to be called, is sometimes classed not as an ideology or religion at all, but as a mind control technique. Abandoning such crudities as government sponsored human sacrifice, its goal was sacrifice of the spirit, to conquer this world for the Otherworld by peopling it with "living victims." (The Quetzal term for "citizen" was "the Eaten.") Under its influence, the whole of Mississippian civilization, and to lesser degrees the societies under its influence, became a network of identical, tomb-like cites. Quetzal cities were laid out in perfect grids of paved streets and white buildings, and their layout was never altered from the day of their foundation. Devoid of art, crime, social classes or places of worship, their inhabitants had no names except for their addresses. It was only in the twentieth century that archeological finds in Indus Valley revealed a society eerily similar to this. Some chaos-historians have pointed out that Earth's weather could be governed by one of two strange attractors, the one we have, and the permanently frozen hypothetical world called "the White Earth." Similarly, they suggest, human civilization may be capable of two basic forms, that known to most of history, and that of the Indus and the Mississippi. In any event, we know that the Indus Valley (or Harappan) Culture, lasting from 2500 B.C. to 1500 B.C., led a death-in-life existence similar to that of the Quetzal League. The big difference, of course, was that while the Indus Valley was unassertive, almost reclusive, the Mississippi evinced a terrible hunger to expand.
Ireland's immediate problems came not from the West but from the North. The conquest of Ireland in 800 was unique among the Norse conquests in that it was done at a single stroke. The country did not have to be repeatedly invaded and absorbed piecemeal as local governments were improvised. Though hardly a model of administrative efficiency, the "Lands of the High King," as the Irish state was known, were still far more unified and rationally governed than any other polity in western Europe. Furthermore, the early commercial economy of the kingdom was something the Norse understood and were eager to promote. Ireland naturally became the center for Norse activity in the British Isles. Rodillanegra was the seat of King Canute's ephemeral empire, which included the British Isles and Denmark. This rather rickety structure passed to native control with the expulsion of the Norse by King Brian Boru in 1011, and then collapsed entirely when the Normans invaded West Frisia in 1066.
Since then, potentially rich West Frisia has been a debatable land, the prize of the governments of Normandy, Ireland, Scotland and, since the seventeenth century, the Netherlands. Despite occasional expressions of nationalist sentiment, West Frisia makes most sense as an integral part of the Low Countries, on both ethnic and linguistic grounds. There are, of course, religious objections. West Frisia was the only part of the British Isles to remain in the Roman communion at the time of the Reformation, despite the fierce persecution by the Calvinist Church of Ireland, which exercised ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the country during the last phase of Irish political control. However, it is hard to believe that this peaceful agricultural country could really contemplate an independent existence.
The Norse period served to strengthen the powers of the Irish central government. It also began the long evolution of representative democracy with the creation of the Seaman's Court. The merchants who made up this assembly provided most of the kingdom's tax revenues. The High Kings increasingly found themselves compelled to negotiate with the Court for funds to support the state. Naval technology improved enormously. The North American colonies were expanded and unified, until they formed a sold chain down the entire east coast. By the time the Spanish began their transatlantic expansion at the end of the fifteenth century, after the successful completion of the Reconquista, there were already considerable Irish colonies in Brazil and the Rio dela Plata. Irish traders were slowly gaining control of the commerce of Peru.
The terrible series of Irish-Spanish conflicts forms one of the darkest chapters of the Wars of Religion. Many factors served to envenom and prolong the conflict, from the rich spoils to be found in the Western Hemisphere to the fact that Spanish and Ibernacha are sufficiently similar to allow of mutual invective. The Irish did better in the earliest stages of the century and a half of conflict because of the technological edge provided by their long maritime tradition. However, the Spanish wove an ultimately successful series of anti-Irish alliances from France to Peru, composed of states long suspicious of Irish ambitions. The Irish were driven from the Pacific entirely by 1600 through the concerted efforts of the Spanish and their ally, the newly Catholic Empire of Japan. To this day, despite nearly two centuries of later alliance between Japan and Ireland, the figure of the Samurai Jesuit is enough to excite the prejudices so deeply rooted in even the most enlightened Irish heart. The final result was that the High King lost all of South America outside Brazil, which itself fought a successful war of independence in the eighteenth century.
In the long view, it may perhaps have been to Ireland's advantage that it was forced for a century to confine its interests more narrowly. Rather than squandering its resources in a premature world empire like Spain, Ireland struggled to develop the legal and social mechanisms necessary to free market capitalism. It forged what seemed to be permanent dynastic links with Scotland and Wales, and began the long, hard work of constructing a barrier of alliances in North America against the Quetzal menace to the coastal colonies. By the late seventeenth century, it is already anachronistic to speak of "The Lands of the High King." The Irish Empire known to history already existed in embryo. With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the Irish Kingdom of Scotland, the Empire was in a position to become the first true world power.
The story has long been told how the Empire expanded its influence in Europe to oppose French attempts at hegemony. As Spain declined, the Irish became first its predator and then its protector. In India, for reasons that seemed like a good idea at the time, the Irish gathered up the fragments of the moribund Mughal Empire into a polity that itself had to be regarded as one of the major political subdivisions of mankind. Allied with the Kingdom of Poland, which in those days extended almost to the Urals, it financed the defeat of Napoleon, itself providing the crucial forces for the final battles in the Low Countries. With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Irish Empire was without peers anywhere in the world, and without real enemies. Except, of course, the Quetzal League.
The Great Game, as it came to be called, between the League and the Empire was the defining theme of the next hundred years of world history. Even the three German War between 1870 and 1940, and the expansion of the Empire to include a quarter of the world's land area, seem like distractions in comparison to the great struggle to keep the terrible power of the Mississippi contained. The League tended to absorb technological advances rather unevenly, but from the very beginning of its existence it made the study of the military and industrial technique of the rest of the world one of the chief functions of the state. Neither was it wholly without the power to innovate. Thus, though early ironclad ships gave the combined Nipponese-Irish fleet a decisive advantage in the defense of Honshu in 1854, the combined fleet of the same powers was wholly outclassed by the Quetzal forces in the catastrophic battles for the defense of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1904.
The tale of the Irish Empire in the twentieth century was one of decline, punctuated by dazzling recoveries. The Empire's role in world affairs was first shared with and then largely transferred to the Republic of Brazil, a nation in any event inextricably linked to Ireland by ties of blood and language. Since the turn of the century, that state has been the leading economic power in the world. The century brought a new golden age of Ibernacha literature, coincident with the dominance of the language in world trade and scholarship. Still, even the glories of Yeats and Joyce could not illumine the dusk into which the Empire, indeed all of Christendom, seemed to be falling.
The end of the colonial period revealed Ireland for what it was, a mild, North Atlantic island that is a convenient place to stop on the way to North America from continental Europe, if you are going by sail power. Though centuries of relative security and good government have made the island a place where people feel safe doing business and otherwise parking their money, there was no intrinsic strength in the country to support the historical role it had taken on itself. First its dependencies demanded autonomy, and then independence. The harbinger of the coming disintegration was the granting of substantial independence to Scotland and Wales in 1922. For the first time since the end of the Roman Empire, no part of Britain answered directly to Rodillanegra. These events were not lost on the Empire's chief enemy. The Empire's ancient allies in North America began to curry favor with the ascendant Quetzal League. Finally, in 1936, the Irish colonies on the coast were induced to "invite" the League to occupy them for their own protection.
While the burden of defense was exhausting, even the German Wars were not so enervating as the spread of Quetzalist philosophy to the upper and intellectual classes of the Empire. Step by step with the decline of the Empire aboard, progressive people called for the adoption of features of the Quetzal way of life in Ireland itself. The bare, white austerity of Quetzal archetecture became almost manadatory, representative art disappeared from the galleries, the very concept of the integral human person was deconstructed by writers and psychologists alike. Indeed, it is now known that, at the very time that the League was about to disintegrate, the High King's Cabinet was secretly considering application for admission to the League as an associate member.
The Quetzal League came to an end on that memorable day in 1989, when all communication with the Mississippi Valley abruptly ceased. There has never been a satisfactory explanation of what happened. The first tentative relief expeditions found chaos, death, and mass suicide on a scale that can scarcely be imagined. Comparisons with the fate of the Indus Valley Culture were what naturally came to mind. There, it is known, the chief centers of civilization had simply ceased to function in a very short period of time. Bodies lay in the immaculate streets that, for the first time in a millennium, no one came to clean in the morning. Scholars speak learnedly of "non-linear cultural change" and the "loss of social strange attractor," but their speculations simply mask their ignorance.
This turn of events preserved Ireland from external destruction, perhaps, but at the cost of undermining its faith in the fundamental rationality of the world. A fight to the finish, even if lost, at least would have been an explainable end. So would a negotiated surrender. As it is, civilization seems to have been preserved by a suspension of the laws of nature. This is not altogether encouraging.

Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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