October 03, 2015

The stereotype of the Irish Protestant

The banker from the film Calvary who personifies vulgar excess and the lingering ascendency in Ireland
For the the outsider, every one from Ireland is Irish, Green and Orange and every shade in between. The natives suffer from and indulge in the vanity and narcissism of small differences. Irish people all have a notion of "the other". The person who is "the other" is the confessional and constitutional counterpart, the person in the house next door or in the adjoining community.

For "the other" we have certain preconceptions and stereotypes. Almost always myths and untrue.

Dr Deirdre Nuttall who is running the 'The Irish Protestant Folk Memory Projectsaid;
"A lot of older people believe in the idea of the Protestant work ethic. There are stereotypes [about Protestants in southern ireland]: Protestants are good at growing daffodils and can make a meal out of barely any food."
She also wrote:
"Many Protestants arrived in Ireland at the time of or in the wake of the Cromwellian wars in the mid-1600s (when Ireland was conquered by the forces of the English parliament). It‘s reasonable to assume that many, if not most, old Protestant families have at least some ancestors among them. However, even in families that can proudly trace their ancestry through the centuries, many are reluctant to countenance this possibility and quite a few vehemently deny any ancestral link to the plantations, even when they haven‘t been asked about it. Many appear to feel that contemporary Irish Protestants are invited to assume a collective sense of shame for the terrible things that happened a long ago, such as the massacre carried out by Oliver Cromwell in Drogheda in 1649, or the subsequent clearance of Catholics to be replaced with ―planters‖, and to apologize for or express this shame. Some have even been explicitly told, at school or in conversation with their friends and neighbours, that they should be ashamed, because they are descended from the villains of Irish history. One of the first things that many Protestants in the Republic of Ireland say when they start telling the story of their family is ―We have nothing to do with the planters."
One abiding untruth is of the northern protestant community as "dour", laconic and downcast. Conor Cruise O'Brien articules this perception below, where he notes that Southern Catholics generally view Northern Protestants as a dour, humourless people. Conor Caffrey said below that Protestants were dark and colourless with no sense of humour. Conor Caffrey wrote:
"What is a Protestant daddy? A poem I remember by Mr Durkan. It summed up my early fears of those so called “left footers” in Greystones town. 
Greystones has always had a considerable density of Protestants since Oliver Cromwell rampaged his way through here. In my childhood, rumours abounded that the now genial Reverend Ian Paisley retreated here. Was that him that played the bagpipes at Smugglers Cove? I often wondered upon hearing the sounds of that alienated and most political of celtic instruments drifting out to sea. 
Protestants weren’t exactly monsters, but they had crooked angular features not unlike a painting by Graham Knuttel, but without the colour and much darker. They were tall, thin and wandered silently about town in black clothes, stooped, and lurched in shadows in the early evening or so I thought. They wore sunglasses which made we wonder if they had eyes at all. 
And St Patrick’s, on Church Road, was haunted with devilish ghosts. At least it appeared that way with uplighting and a full moon and my overactive imagination. I would run by quickly between the lampposts on the opposite side of the road. 
My early education was mediated through what I know realise to be the intransigent diatribe of the Holy Christian brothers and they had one view of those hellbound others and that was they were heading downwards and to burn. 
It didn’t help there were so many of them about town. They seemed to have all the money and live in the Burnaby. They spoke with Anglo accents, which I have to say as a teenager I later admired and thought sophisticated and even cool. Their shades looked cool now and no longer menacing. 
Now I am back and my kid is going to a Protestant school, albeit she is sent out with an agenda to proselytise and convert the heathens. And perhaps make one or two of her classmates jealous of her communion dress – the girls of course! 
And dare I say it. Just like our friend Mr Paisley north of the border I laugh and joke with the old enemy. Some of my best friends are Protestants. And two are even those dreaded Ulster Scots from the staunchest of Antrim and Down and shockingly they have a sense of humour that I enjoy. If it were not for the small family size, you would never know it. 
I have realised that besides their crooked features and impending doom at judgement time some of them Protestants are a likeable lot. 
According to the recent census we have the highest percentage of Church of Ireland attendees in Ireland. Not just Protestants but a baffling multitude of nonbelievers from Presbyterians to Pentecostal to Evangelical. I plead ignorance on the difference but they all have their churches and halls. 
And I realise that most of the settlers were of Protestant working class. Now there is a good reason for cultivating my Upper Redford Park accent."
Conor Cruise O'Brien wrote in his autobiography, ‘Memoir: My Life and Themes’ (pp. 428-430):
"I didn’t in fact think that the unionists in Northern Ireland were any more bigoted than nationalists. But because for historical reasons unionists’ bigotry tended to be uninhibitedly expressed, while nationalist bigotry tended to be covered over with layers of pseudo-ecumenical rhetoric, outsiders - British, American and other - tended to find nationalists nicer and more "reasonable” than unionists, a perception which has been greatly to the advantage of the former."
He continued:
"In the summer of 1995, a more formidable non-sectarian unionist, with no Thatcherite baggage, Bob McCartney, asked for my help and got it… I found canvassing with Bob McCartney in North Down a most interesting and illuminating experience an also a heartening experience. Bob is probably the most successful QC in Northern Ireland, but his own family roots are in the working-class area of the Shankill Road, Belfast. He is at ease with people of all classes in Northern Ireland, as very few other politicians are. In the working-class areas people recognise him and come up and chat with him. To my initial surprise, they were usually laughing and joking together. I was surprised because southern Catholics - the community of which I was an aberrant member - generally think of Northern Protestants as a dour, humourless people. Yet here they were joking and laughing like mad. How come? 
When I thought about that for a while, the answer was not hard to find. Most southern Catholics, when they talk with Ulster Protestants, try to induce the Protestants to move in a direction in which they have not wanted to go (that of a united Ireland). If you do that with any group of people you are likely to find that your interlocutors seem glum and uncommunicative. In short: if you try to push people around you will find that they will bristle. 
Canvassing with Bob McCartney, I was seeing Protestants as they are when they are at ease with themselves. Few people from a southern Catholic background can ever have seen Ulster Protestants under those conditions and I felt quite privileged and happy to have this experience."
Eighteen year old Irish protestant and Trinity College Dublin student Heather Jones said in 1996 in an interview with the New York Times:
"When you meet Roman Catholics they tend to judge you in the context of Northern politics… You don’t speak Irish (said citing the stereotypes)… You must be very Anglo-Irish, close to Britain, and financially well-off."
Tim Keatinge, an official at the COI College of Education, said to the New York Times in a 1996 interview:
"Twenty or thirty years ago, well, I wouldn’t say we were ashamed, but we were in the closet. But I never felt threatened. Roman Catholics would find out your religion and put you on a higher pedestal for some things, like honesty. They thought you could be trusted."
Conor Cruise O'Brien, described the Ulster protestant W.R. Rogers in ‘Introduction to Irish Literary Portraits’:
"Bertie Rodgers was an Ulster Presbyterian who sought and enjoyed the company of Southern Catholics. The case is not unique: it remains unusual… He was, among so much else, a good Dubliner and Dublin loved him."
Patrick Mayhew, British politician whose ancestors were Anglo-Irish in County Cork, said:
"Living in the south, Anglo-Irish families tended to think of northern Protestants as denizens of the wild woods."
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