September 13, 2016

Northern Ireland's image problem

Reginald Maudling, a Conservative Home Secretary, reached destination despair with Northern Ireland, as Eamonn Mallie explained. Having hauled himself up the steps of the plane at Aldergrove after his first visit to Northern Ireland in 1972, he declared:
"For God’s sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country."
HBO executive Michael Lombardo also derided Belfast. Jeremy Paxman called the city one of the most “benighted” places in the world. Restauranteur Emma Bricknell called Belfast a “laughing stock”.

BBC reporter Julian O'Neil said an “image problem” may explain a fall in visitor numbers to Northern Ireland from across the border. Grayson Perry made a rather downbeat disparaging comment following a visit to Belfast, when he said:
"[Loyalism is] rooted in a vision of Britain that perhaps doesn’t completely gel with the modern 21st century idea of Britain we have nowadays."

Also read this on my Tumblr here.

The 'Despised Tribe' and 'Despised hangers-on'

In a previous post I wrote that Catholic-Nationalists in Ireland can regard Protestant and Unionists as associated with "Saxon and Guilt".

I also wrote about Northern Ireland's image problem and the Reginald Maudlin moment here. I wrote about Unionism's anglophobia here. I also wrote about Ireland's "big, mad children".

In this post I look at how the British press and mainland opinion often looks with low regard upon the pro-Union community of Northern Ireland. Conor Cruise O'Brien wrote in his autobiography, 'Memoir: My Life and Themes', published in 1998:

September 12, 2016


Col. Tim Collins, RBAI alumnus and classic NIPPLE
I have written many times before about normal Northern Ireland and the two world's of Northern Ireland, and I've also written about the 'Unionist Gap'. Peter Geogheghan wrote that Northern Ireland is increasingly "janus-faced".

August 29, 2016

When John Steinbeck came 'back to Ireland'

The website Steinbeck Now notes that John Steinbeck "returned repeatedly to his family roots in Northern Ireland". Steinbeck's grandfather Samuel Hamilton was a Scots-Irish immigrant who settled as a farmer in California’s Salinas Valley in the 19th century. The 1962 Nobel Prize winner's Irish forebears hailed from Mulkeeragh, an area outside Ballykelly in County Londonderry. His grandfather was born on October 7 1830 and emigrated 17 years later, leaving for New York at the time of the Great Famine.

August 23, 2016

Northern Ireland's Dance, Ctd

Mandan tribal dance - George Catlin (c. 1835)
I previously wrote about the Northern Ireland dance here. MCB alumnus now in Washington Niall Stanage wrote in the New York Times:

August 19, 2016

The lost Orange of Ireland

Royal Black Preceptory Parade, Cootehill, Cavan, 1920

In a previous post I noted that Martin McGuinness said in March 2015 that "The orange part of the flag is as important as the green", and Gerry Adams said at his party’s Ard Fheis that same year that "We need reminded again and again that our flag is Orange."

August 16, 2016

James Connolly's angry nativist language

James Connolly, by  Mick O'Dea
Hate and racism is a universal trait - it isn't specifically a Protestant or unionist thing. Irish travellers in Southern Ireland were in Southern Ireland what Catholics were in Northern Ireland, second-class, and thet continue to be. As Willie Kealy said, “We [Irish] have always been a bit racist about Travellers.”

August 15, 2016

Protestant, planter and guilt. Catholic, Gael and virtue.

Captain John Smith trading with Virginian Indians. Painting by Sidney E. King, National Park Service.
On Slugger O'Toole I wrote that being protestant is often a byword for outsider and guilt, while being Catholic is shorthand for Erin and virtue. In that I wrote:

August 01, 2016

Irish nationalism's xenophobia against long settled Protestants

Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan tweeted:
"Unionists didn't have a problem with immigration when their ancestors descended on Ireland to grab land from the native population..."
While, republicans don't have a problem with immigration, so long as it's not protestant immigration to Ireland of centuries past. As Eoin O'Malley of Dublin City University wrote in the paper 'Populist Nationalists: Sinn Fein and redefining the 'radical right'':
"Nationalism in Ireland cannot sit easily with anti-immigrant bigotry (as long as the immigrants are not long settled Protestants."

July 29, 2016

William Walker versus James Connolly

William Walker was a self educated shipyard worker from Belfast (apprenticed as a joiner in Harland and Wolff). Born in 1871 he founded and led the Independent Labour Party in that city. He died after a long illness in 1918.

July 27, 2016

America, land of the planters

A 1914 painting of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony
I use the title ironically, since for zealous Irish republicans "planter" is the epithet and pejorative of choice for the unpersuadable and defiant unionists in Ireland. Yet, if Ireland's protestants are planters, what of America's white christians?

Christopher Hitchens said in a TV debate:
"It goes back as I said to the initial beginnings of Islamic fundamentalism. The first attack on this country was in 1788 by Muslims who said that, "The koran gives us the right to punish and enslave infidels.” That is Bin Laden’s ideology. Bin Laden wants the restoration of the Caliphate. The Caliphate is an empire, he’s pro-empire, not anti-imperialist… He’s for the banning of all music, all books, all philosophy. And this because he cares about the Palestinians? Any one who believes this is a fool."

July 25, 2016

The gael's Northern Ireland

A street I passed driving through Monaghan
When American's think of Britain, they think of Monty Python. When Irish republicans think of Britain, they think of the Famine and the Black and Tans.

July 19, 2016

Ireland's “Big, Mad Children” politicians

Roy Foster wrote in ‘Luck and the Irish - A Brief History of Change’:
"After one debate between suspicious DUP representatives and unbending northern nationalists the current BIA chairman (a businessman with links in North and South) expostulated, ‘It’s like dealing with children. Big, Mad Children.’ In this he probably reflected opinions that the mandarins in London and Dublin held in private, and that brought them closer together."

July 11, 2016

The political orphaning of moderate unionism

NI Life And Times 2015

The unionist people are far ahead of unionist politics. I've written here that for all the madness there is much normality in Northern Ireland - there are Two Worlds in Northern Ireland. Alex Kane wrote that "people in Northern Ireland are much more liberal, laid back and genuinely cosmopolitan than the main unionist parties realise." Newton Emerson wrote:
"The political orphaning of moderate unionism has been a particular source of wonder and despair. 
What party represents the vast majority of unionists — those who are not Orangemen, bandsmen, gunmen, Bible-bashers, flag-flyers, bonfire-builders or all the other overlapping little constituencies that unionist politicians never dare to disappoint? What party can represent the 400,000 “garden centre” Protestants who refuse to vote, or appeal to any Catholic “economic unionists” who might just accept a British province that treated them with respect? How has such a substantial need for representation not been met for almost a century?"

July 06, 2016

Imagining if America and Ireland had stayed British

George Washington crosses the Delaware
John Bruton, former Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael wrote on his blog and in the Irish Times, 'Home rule could have led peacefully to independence'.

Dylan Matthews wrote on, '3 reasons the American Revolution was a mistake'.

July 05, 2016

The abstentionism of the Catholics from 20th Century Northern Ireland life

Newton Emerson wrote:
"For the first five decades of Northern Ireland’s existence, nationalism’s approach to Stormont was instinctively abstentionist. 
Is that instinct returning? The turnout in this week’s assembly election may be little different to last time’s 54 per cent but it masks a typical 3 per cent rise in unionist constituencies with an offsetting fall in nationalist constituencies."
In this post I wanted to consider the original abstentionist instinct. John Hume wrote in his famous 1964 letter to the Irish Times:

July 01, 2016

George Orwell on Ireland, Ctd

In a previous post I looked at George Orwell and his views on Ireland. Orwell viewed Ireland negatively - Catholic and authoritarian. George Orwell wrote in ‘Why Socialists Don’t Believe In Fun’, 1943:
"At this moment, for instance, the world is at war and wants peace. Yet the world has no experience of peace, and never has had, unless the Noble Savage once existed."

June 24, 2016

Henry Cooke and Catholic Emancipation (1825)

Henry Cooke
It is ever the case that Unionism and its avatars are presented as bigoted and regressive, while nationalism and its icons are liberal agents of change. Never has this clash of ideas been better encapsulated than with the Henry Cooke-Daniel O'Connell standoff. Yet O'Connell wasn't necessarily the paragon of enlightenment and liberation that he is automatically projected as. As Mick Hall and others have noted:
"Yet Daniel O’Connell, within five years of achieving Catholic Emancipation, stated that Protestants were “foreigners to us since they are of a different religion”."

June 23, 2016

Nationalism's failure to allay Unionism's fear of Rome Rule

Rev. Joseph Hocking
In a previous post I wrote that Edwardian Ireland was an apartheid state. I also wrote about the conciliation-omission of nationalism prior to the frustration of Home Rule, and I also wrote about the culpable neglect of republicanism post-partition to understand unionism or communicate to unionism the merits of unity.

June 22, 2016

Windsor's leadership in Northern Ireland

Steve Bell on the Queen's visit to Ireland, May 18 2011
The great cliché of this post-Saint Andrews age has been that unionism has no leadership. George Bernard Shaw once said that unionism is like a military without an officer class, there remains a degree of truth in this to this day. 

June 21, 2016

The new age of "Perked-Up Unionism"

The republican movement may represent an insurgent force in southern politics and present itself as a party of protest even while holding power in Northern Ireland, yet unionism still holds ascendency.

The classic trope of Northern politics is that nationalism represents confidence, which unionism represents demoralisation.

It seems the status quo has inverted. For Fionnuala O'Connor, we are living in the age of "perked-up unionism" and "stale nationalism". Fionnuala O'Connor wrote in the Irish News, February 9 2016, ‘We could be all be into a new political era without noticing’:

June 20, 2016

The RUC - For protestants they were friends, and for many Catholics they were vicious foes

Sir James Bernard Flanagan, a Catholic and Chief Constable of the RUC; and Michael McAtamney a Catholic and Deputy Chief Constable
Declan Kearney recently wrote in 'Uncomfortable Conversations':
"Seeking unionist repudiation of British state forces and the RUC is as unhelpful as demanding republican repudiation of the IRA."

June 15, 2016

John G. Ervine on Carson and Irish Protestants

John G. Irvine by William Conor. Also see a cartoon of John by David Low here.
As Martin McGuinness morphed from violent separatist into an unswerving constitutionalist, the Irish protestant St. John Greer Irvine journeyed from Home Ruler to a staunch Unionist. 

June 05, 2016

The Irish republican fight is with with Irish monarchists, not England

The Mad Bull (James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon and Michael Collins) by Sir John Bernard Patridge (1922)
I previously looked at the anglophobia of unionism on this blog, and on Slugger O'Toole. Here I look at how republicans misunderstand unionists, as typified by what David McKittrick wrote: "If it weren’t for the unionists, [the British] would leave right away." 

May 27, 2016

Ian Paisley was a proud Irishman

Ian paisley wrote:
"Edward Carson was a life-long Irishman, as well as being a life-long unionist,and that made all the difference… On this 28th day of September [2012], 100 years after his pen touched parchment, we salute the man who taught us all how to be true Irishmen and women."

April 21, 2016

John F. Kennedy's Texas speech on the Catholic Religion (1960)

JFK speaking at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas, September 12 1960 (speech in full here and at bottom)

Today, American politics is hugely varied religiously. In 1960 it was very different. 

Today Congress is run by a Catholic and a Mormon, the president is a black- Christian, on the Supreme Court sit six Catholics and three Jews.

April 06, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - John Kyle

John Kyle is A Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) councillor at Belfast City Council. He is contesting the Stormont Assembly Elections 2016.

April 05, 2016

A narrative account of the Easter Rising 1916

The seven signatories to the Irish Proclamation

Read my account of Sunday April 23 1916 here. The rebels are thrown into chaos by Eoin MacNeill's countermanding order, which read:
‘Owing to the very critical position, all orders given to Irish Volunteers for tomorrow, Easter Sunday, are hereby rescinded, and no parades, marches, or other movements of Irish Volunteers will take place. Each individual Volunteer will obey this order strictly in every particular.’

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Thomas "Dixie" Elliott

I was born in Rickmansworth England in 1957. My Mother is a Catholic and my late Father was a Protestant. My Father was working over there at the time and my Mother later joined him. They returned to Derry when I was two years old. I went to Saint Joseph's Secondary School where I was really only ever good at art. I became involved in Republicanism at the age of sixteen and was jailed in 1976 at the age of nineteen. I was sentenced to twelve years in 1977 and went on the Blanket Protest, where I remained for four and a half years until it ended after the second Hunger Strike in 1981. I spent nine years out of the twelve year sentence in jail and was released in 1985. I was married in 1988 and it was around this time that I left Sinn Fein. I'm an artist and I also write. I have finished two children's book's as yet unpublished which I've illustrated myself and I am presently writing an adult novel which could be best described as being a cross between Puckoon and An Beal Bocht by Flann O'Brien.

April 04, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Mick Fealty

Mick Fealty was born in Belfast and raised in the religiously mixed community of Holywood in Co Down. In his early adult years he worked extensively in schools across Ireland and Britain and western Europe. For much of the last twenty years he has lived in England working as a qualitative researcher and consultant advising companies and third sector organisations on digital engagement as well as finding time to be the founding editor of what some have suggested is NI’s ‘blog of record’, Slugger O’Toole.

April 03, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Alan Burnside

Alan Burnside was born in North Belfast in 1947. He lived on the front of the Woodvale Road from 1953 to 1973 opposite the original Holy Cross Primary School. From 1969 the immediate vicinity of his family home was a scene of frequent public disorder (even today) and occasional murders. His home and the adjacent houses have since been demolished to create a sterile barrier. Alan's education was at Boys’ Model, Methodist College Belfast and Queen’s University for a BSc(Econ). Following ten years in the NI Civil Service, most of it as a Departmental press officer, Alan was in the NI Housing Executive Information Service for 18 months, then three years in the Belfast office of the CBI. The combination of experience as a press officer and the business credibility developed in the CBI encouraged Alan to launch a public relations business in 1982. He is now semi-retired and working mainly at Westminster.

April 02, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Anthony McIntyre

Anthony McIntyre grew up in South Belfast until, aged 16, he was first imprisoned. Anthony moved to West Belfast upon release from imprisonment and he is now a denizen of Drogheda.
Anthony gained a first class honours degree in politics from the Open University and a PhD in history from Queens. He has effectively relinquished the doctorate, having lost all faith in academia to stand up for anything other than academic careers. A doctorate is more like a bell to warn people, “beware, academic approaching.”

April 01, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Shane Kenna

Shane Kenna is a Doctor of History. Shane holds a PhD in Modern Irish History from Trinity College, Dublin and has written extensively on the subject of Irish Republicanism. He has a particular interest in Fenianism and the Irish question in the early 20th century.

March 31, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Mark Neale

Mark was born in Larne but grew up mainly in Ballymoney, educated at the genuinely, non-contrived, integrated grammar school of Dalriada. His father is from the Cavan and his mother County Down. His father has a very poor view of the “Free State” into which he was born and brought up, while his mother being a Presbyterian from the Ards, although staunchly unionist, has a romantic view of the men of 1798, interspersed with her father’s my grandfather's role in the 1912-14 period. In his own words: "So my popular history is unionist with a recognition that my forefathers were probably not always that way inclined." Having studied and lived in England for 6 years Mark returned in 1990 and joined the UUP, was elected a councillor in 1997 and has subsequently moved out of politics and now works in public affairs.

March 30, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - David McCann

David McCann is a political pundit and deputy-editor of Slugger O'Toole. He is from Belfast and was educated at Ulster University where he was awarded as PhD in politics. Read David's political testimony, '1916 Rising and how it inspired me 78 years later'.

March 29, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Olwen Dawe

Olwen Dawe is a businesswoman and economics student, undertaking an MEconScience in Policy. She is based between Westport, Co. Mayo and Dublin City. She is a feminist, arts enthusiast, music obsessive and politics junkie.

Olwen was the former Project Director of Yeats2015 and President of Network Ireland. She is a graduate of the National College of Industrial Relations and is an advisor to economic and social development agencies, including cross-border projects.

March 28, 2016

The Redmondisation of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness


We're all Redmondites now. We live in an age of gradualism and evolution, not revolution; an age of realism, not radicalism. The Provisionals, once terrorists wedded to British withdrawal, have entered a new phase that we should call The New Departure, with an alliance of separatists and constitutionalists. 

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Peter M

Born and bred in Belfast, Peter M was schooled at RBAI before studying at Durham University. He now works in investment in London.

March 27, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Ian Acheson

Ian Acheson is married, is 48 years old and is living in south west England. He is a "council house culchie made good via amazing parents and grammar school." Born in Enniskillen he was educated at Portora. He is a former senior civil servant with the Home Office, now living off his wits in the private sector with the odd diversion into troubles poetry you can see here in a collection called '51% British: writing the Troubles out of my head'.

March 26, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - David McElfatrick

David's full name David McElfatrick. He wasn't given a middle name because my second name was considered long enough already. David grew up in Coleraine and attended a staunchly protestant primary school in Millburn, then a staunchly catholic grammar school in Portstewart. After that, he attended the University Of Ulster, studying Computing Science. Whilst studying, a creative side project of his called Cyanide & Happiness started to take off, and that eventually became a full-time gig/business. David is currently living in Dallas, Texas where he now co-runs an animation studio and creative lab. So he's a cartoonist, animator, writer and amateur musician by trade!

March 25, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Dr Ian Malcolm

Dr Ian Malcolm is Portadown-born, Lurgan-raised and is still there. His background is Protestant and firmly Unionist. He was educated at King’s Park Primary School, Lurgan Junior High, Lurgan College and Lurgan Tech. He only took an interest in education after leaving school.

His Further Education includes a BA Hons and PhD at Queen’s University Belfast. Ian now works as an Irish language lecturer, writer, broadcaster and author.

March 24, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Chelley McLear

Shelley was born in England. She grew up in Surrey, went to Ulster University at Coleraine in 1992 and has been here ever since. She now lives in Belfast and works as a freelance writer, facilitator and arts co-ordinator.  Most of her work is with Community Arts Partnership for whom she co-ordinates the Literature and Verbal Arts Projects.

March 23, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Conor Houston

Conor Houston is a 32 year old who lives in Holywood, Co. Down. Conor is a social entrepreneur, influencer, lawyer, change agent and active citizen. 

Conor born in Holywood but moved with his family to Surrey, England at the age of 3 where he spent 10 years of his childhood. Conor returned to Northern Ireland in 1996 and attended Our Lady & St Patrick's College, Knock.

March 22, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Ruth Dudley Edwards

The name on her passport is Ruth Edwards, but the men of the family had Dudley as a second name so it became the family name and she couldn't escape it.  Ruth was born Dublin 1944 and brought up there, though parts of summers were often spent with maternal relatives in rural north Cork.   

March 21, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Brian Todd, RBAI

Brian Todd was born in Drogheda in the early 1950s of northern Presbyterian parents. He lived in Dundalk until 1965 when he and his family moved back to Northern Ireland. Educated in both the secondary and grammar spheres before Queen’s University, Belfast. He "did one or two unmentionable things before settling to teaching in the late 1970s." He Taught history at Inst for over thirty years, taking the position of vice Principal 2001-2011, before retirement. In retirement Brian discovered running.

March 20, 2016

W.B. Yeats describes the Easter Rising

Yeats by Tom Lalor

W.B. Yeats was in Gloucestershire when he first heard about the Dublin rebellion. He wrote a letter to Lady Gregory, May 11 1916:
"If the English conservative party had made a declaration that they did not intend to rescind the Home Rule Bill there would have been no rebellion. I had no idea that any public event could so deeply move me—and I am very despondent about the future. At this moment I feel that all the work of years has been overturned, all the bringing together of classes, all the freeing of Irish literature and criticism from politics… I do not yet know what [Maud Gonne] feels about her husband’s death. Her letter was written before she heard of it. Her main thought seems to be ‘tragic dignity has returned to Ireland’. She had been told by two members of he Irish Party that ‘Home Rule was betrayed’. She thinks now that the sacrifice has made it safe… ‘I am trying to write a poem on the men executed—‘‘terrible beauty has been born’’."
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