Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Is Heaney right when he talks about us having ‘caste politics’?

Wed 30 January 2013, 9:08am

I was wondering if in my absence yesterday someone on the Slugger team might have picked up the gauntlet thrown down so casually by the south Derry Nobel Lauret, Seamus Heaney. It seems not.

In an interview with the Times it seems the poet doesn’t think there is going to be a united Ireland. In fact this may have been the least interesting thing he had to say.

According to the Irish News, he also noted…

Loyalism, or unionism, or Protestantism or whatever you want to call it – in Northern Ireland it operates not as a class system but as a caste system.

That’s an interesting shift in terms. If there is a lasting and useful legacy of Marx, it is the conception that different economic classes in society have separate and competing interests. This has given rise to and inspired some of the great political movements on the right as well as the left across the world.

Not here in Northern Ireland though, where the threads of ethnic and sectarian alignments are long, deep and, for the most part, poorly understood. At the bottom end of the scale, caste politics is not an inaccurate term for what passes political commerce here.

The reduction of meaningful political conflict to how long and where a flag flies suggests a hollowing out of public interest to benefit of a small number of signal issues that re- emphasise the “legacy communities” of history.

So community ownership of the shops at Ardoyne displace from political discourse the more pressing material concerns of over crowding inside Catholic and increasingly in recent years Protestant upper Ardoyne.

I suspect Heaney is on to something here. His pessimism on the ‘national’ possibly springs from this bleak but not unjustified fear that the pretension at larger and more noble ideals in our politics is little more than a veneer upon a deep (and mutual) ethnic antipathy.

All of which leaves us a long way adrift of unification of any sort…

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Comments (47)

  1. Sp12 (profile) says:

    My gut tells me it’s a better description than the Dawkins’ shoehorning in chapter 1 of the issue into a ‘textbook religious conflict’.

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  2. Scáth Shéamais (profile) says:

    I don’t think Dawkins ever referred to the conflict here as a “textbook religious conflict”.

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  3. Old Mortality (profile) says:

    The fact that mutual antipathies have survived the weakening of religious belief tends to support Heaney’s observation. The relative insulation from economic reality has also tended to nurture them, hence the absurd notion of ‘community ownership’ of public spaces as in Ardoyne.

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  4. Chucke (profile) says:

    Judging by the level of scorn being passed on Heaney’s comments in other blogs there are many out there who don’t get, or perhaps don’t want to get, the concept of unity that he seems to be alluding to

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  5. Sp12 (profile) says:

    “I don’t think Dawkins ever referred to the conflict here as a “textbook religious conflict”.”

    Other than offering it up as the first example of a religious conflict in a textbook on why religion causes problems, no, I don’t suppose he did.

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  6. Nordie Northsider (profile) says:

    There is a certain kind of Northerner resident in the South who, eager to fit in with the ambience of boredom that surrounds all things Troubles-related, likes to declare that he or she is above all that tribalism. In fact, that’s why they had to get out and good riddance to all of it.

    I’ve never much liked that attitude. It’s a pose, for one – a pandering to a not very admirable ‘nothing to do with us’ anti-historical attitude, trying to pass off ‘I don’t give a shit’ or ‘please don’t think I’m like THEM’ as an enlightened political position. Heaney’s statement came very close to that.

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  7. Ulick (profile) says:

    “Is Heaney right when he talks about us having ‘caste politics’?”

    Níl fhios agam, but he’s dead on the money when he says “Loyalism, or unionism, or Protestantism or whatever you want to call it” is based on “a caste system”. i.e. don’t be including we native Indians in your definition of “us” as it obviously wasn’t intended to be by Heaney.

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  8. Scáth Shéamais (profile) says:

    Other than offering it up as the first example of a religious conflict in a textbook on why religion causes problems, no, I don’t suppose he did.

    I’m not sure what textbook you’re referring to; any time I’ve read of a reference by Dawkins to the North he has always stated that the conflict is political in nature, but that religion is used as an easy identifier, as a simple label.

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  9. Nevin (profile) says:

    You might also like to add Eric Kaufmann’s recent “‘White Flight’ from London?” study. Are there parallels here in terms of Catholics moving in and Protestants moving out in places like Malone? The Athboy conspiracy was not just about who moved through certain areas; it was also about who lived there. The conspiracy was initiated by nationalists but was reciprocated by unionists to the disadvantage of minorities everywhere. All of this has implications for our electoral demographics.

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  10. Brian Walker (profile) says:

    I don’t think too much should be placed on Heaney’s remarks on the current trouble They were an aside in one of a series of interviews he was doing about a PEN event at the Tricycle I couldn’t get to. Not sure what he meant by “caste.” Perhaps it connects with his reference to “an entitlement factor” like Brahmins who accord themselves privileges and assign lowly functions to harijans “(untouchables”). More poetic imagery than political science perhaps. Interesting that both he and Malachi shares fears that “all could lost” or “we could slip back.”
    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/news-analysis/malachi-odoherty-it-would-be-so-easy-to-slip-back-to-the-past-and-throw-away-all-that-wersquove-gained-16267363.html

    How would I know? I haven’t even been back since the flags row started. Both may justify their fears by seeming to subscribe to the Maoist notion of militant fish swimming in a sea of tacit support. I still have to be convinced that the angry fish are swimming in no more than shrinking cesspool which the rest of can step around easily enough. In other words, the ground is narrowing and that itself has its own frustrations. We could do with throwing a few more nice positive fish into the pool to sweeten it up as well as those wonderful plants that eat up pollution. Ok enough metaphor. To end with, here are all Seamus’s recorded remarks on the subject in that interview in the Times.

    “Heaney is pleased that Derry is European City of Culture this year (there will even be a mini-festival devoted to Heaney — called On Home Ground — just outside the city in September), but he recognises that, despite progress, the atmosphere and violence in Northern Ireland are worse than they have been in a long while. “It’s very dangerous indeed. Somebody made this remark, and it made me alert to a new possibility — they said, if this goes on until the marching season, everything is, in a sense, lost.”
    The Loyalists, he says, “perceive themselves as almost deserted. And right enough. I think Sinn Fein could have taken it easy. No hurry on flags. Jesus.” He shakes his head. “What does it matter? But — it matters utterly to them. And now there’s no way they’re going to go back on it, of course. As someone who knows something of prejudice, from early on, I can understand the Loyalists — but the unremittingness of it … I remember, at the very beginning of the Troubles in Derry, Eddie McAteer, a big Nationalist politician, he was like the paterfamilias of Nationalism. And he said, ‘both sides are entitled to their pageantry!’ Which was a rather grand utterance, but true enough. But there’s no doubt that the Loyalist side take the pageantry to extremes, they wipe the floor with the others.”
    He offers no solution: and, Mandelstam aside, not much hope. “Loyalism, or Unionism, or Protestantism, or whatever you want to call it, in Northern Ireland it operates not as a class system, but a caste system. And they [the Loyalists] have an entitlement factor running: the flag is part of it. There’s never going to be a united Ireland, you know,” he says plainly. “So why don’t you let them fly the flag?” “

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  11. Brian Walker (profile) says:

    sorry about typos above. I clicked the damn thing to post too early by mistake.

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  12. Sp12 (profile) says:

    “I’m not sure what textbook you’re referring to; any time I’ve read of a reference by Dawkins to the North he has always stated that the conflict is political in nature, but that religion is used as an easy identifier, as a simple label.”

    From The God Delusion, in the opening argument

    “Imagine, with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ-killers’, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles’.”

    He makes further references in the book about ‘pusillanimous’ reluctance to call a spade a spade and call Loyalists Protestants and Republicans Catholics.
    When he does refer to the troubles as ‘political’ he doesn’t even finish the paragraph before stating that the ‘politics’ of the conflict not exist in the first place if it wasn’t for religion.

    I’m not trying to be combative over this, the point I’m trying to make is Heaney’s use of the word caste does sit a little better with me that the Dawkins ‘religious’ description, or the other descriptions that invariably combine the words ethno, religious, nationalistic etc words in whatever hyphenated order.

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  13. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    I found this comment by Dawkins:

    “another of the evils of religion is that it acts as a badge that identifies what is “other” as opposed to what is “us”.If you look at what’s going on in Northern Ireland, for example, one gets into trouble if one says that the conflict in Northern Ireland is about religion, people argue, “No, it’s not religion, it’s all about politics, it’s all about economic deprivation and the unfairness of things” and of course it is, but if you ask how do they know who’s “us” and who’s “them”, how do they know who’s the one who’s been oppressing them economically over centuries, how do they identify that WE have been oppressed by THEM over the centuries, it turns out that religion is the only label. If they were different in colour as in South Africa , or if they were different in language as in Belgium, then that would be the badge. But in Northern Ireland they’re the same colour,they speak the same language. Religion is the main candidate for a badge to identify us versus them.”

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  14. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Political scientists and psephologists should now feel emboldened to start pronouncing grandly on sprung rhythm and spring migration.

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  15. Scáth Shéamais (profile) says:

    I accept that Dawkins gives religion too great an importance. This piece below is also from The God Delusion, the issue he is pointing to is clearly the use of labels to create ‘us’ and ‘them’ divisions, but he goes on to blame this specifically on religion (in a very abstract sense), which is where he falls down I think.

    When an Ulster Protestant paramilitary murders a Catholic, he is not muttering to himself, ‘Take that, transubstantiationist, mariolatrous, incense-reeking bastard!’ He is much more likely to be avenging the death of another Protestant killed by another Catholic, perhaps in the course of a sustained transgenerational vendetta. Religion is a label of in-group/out-group enmity and vendetta, not necessarily worse than other labels such as skin colour, language or preferred football team, but often available when other labels are not.

    Yes, of course the troubles in Northern Ireland are political. There really has been economic and political oppression of one group by another, and it goes back centuries. There really are genuine grievances and injustices, and these seem to have little to do with religion; except that – and this is important and widely overlooked – without religion there would be no labels by which to decide whom to oppress and whom to avenge. And the real problem in Northern Ireland is that the labels are inherited down many generations.

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  16. SDLP supporter (profile) says:

    David Crookes, very good! +1. Seamus Heaney, like all of us, can be a bit of a pain in the arse sometimes.

    Fed up with frogspawn, digging pens, bodies in bogs in Jutland, Station Island, even the Circle Line.

    Dublin 4, the Athenaeum, the dreaming spires, the Harvard Yard, can be a ghetto too.

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  17. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Thanks a lot, SDLP supporter. Poor SH suffers from having been made into a Living National Treasure quite early in his life. I salute him warmly for moving away from the pompous lunacy of the Field Day world.

    ANY kind of a ghetto is to be avoided. Dreaming spires! Whenever I read a novel in which the author comes out with some form of the “Oxford = eternal quest for truth” equation, I have to go and get a whoopee cushion.

    But I suppose if Richard Dawkins can talk as an expert about history, it’s OK for SH to talk as an expert about frogspawn.

    And I must confess to being excited about all kinds of pond life myself. In my experience the academic ghetto is much more malign than the palustrine ghetto.

    Years ago, in the ‘Irish Communist’ I think, there was a wonderful parody of SH entitled ‘Boggery’.

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  18. son of sam (profile) says:

    I think it would be wrong to categorise Seamus Heaney as being seduced by Dublin 4etc.The one thing that comes out of the late Denis O ‘Driscoll’s book of interviews with Heaney is that he is very much his own man and will not be dictated to by anyone.An example of this is shown at pp 257/258 of the book when he is approached by Danny Morrison and encouraged to write something for the Republican cause.”I didn’t feel menaced.I simply rebelled at being commanded.If anybody was going to pull rank ,it wasn’t going to be a party spokesman.————-After that,I wouldn’t give and wasn’t so much free to refuse as unfree to accept”If the quote in the Times is accurate,he is probably refusing to be commanded by the current Sinn Fein orthodoxy! He may wonder if a Nobel Laureate would be allowed freedom of expression in a United Ireland controlled by colleagues of Mr Morrison.

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  19. Chucke (profile) says:

    Hah, so now he’s simply feeble minded and irrelevant because he’s spoken outside the prevailing community norm. Still these comments are fairly mild – dismissal through condescension? – compared to the anger he has attracted in other current blogs. Back to your original question Mick. If it’s ‘caste politics’ in the sense of generally being exclusive and insensitive to ‘the others’, it describes things well for me.

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  20. socaire (profile) says:

    Séamus’ pronouncements may have carried more weight and deserved closer dissection if he hadn’t fled the 6 counties to live in the safety of Cill Mhantáin when the troubles were at their height. Not really anything to do with me, old boy.

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  21. SDLP supporter (profile) says:

    Socaire, totally disagree. Where you move to live throughout your life, whether Ireland or elsewhere, should be of no consequence on your right to comment.

    On of the things John Hume said when he proposed the Wider Horizons of te International Fund for Ireland (yes, his idea) was that people, especially young people, needed to get out of the North, if only for a few years.

    Reminds me of the pathetic letters to the ‘Andersonstown News’ in years gone by from Sinn Fein supporters excoriating Joe Hendron for having the temerity to live in the leafy suburbs of South Belfast, a whole three quarters of a mile or less from Stockman’s Lane.

    Criticise what SH may say, but don’t deny his right to say it.

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  22. aquifer (profile) says:

    Caste politics. Held down in ethnic and economic ruts or stuck up, with no prospect of political redemption or cultural relief.

    Poets do honest work with words.

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  23. son of sam (profile) says:

    Socaire
    Presumably you lived in the North during the Troubles!

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  24. Cric (profile) says:

    I find Christopher Hitchens was much more accurate than Dawkins in describing the current situation in NI – while agreeing that there is a certain amount of politics involved in our territorial and religious differences he recognises that if there wasn’t faith present in the first place then we all would have long assimilated – as a group of white pale ginger humans who speak exactly the same and behave as almost mirror images of each other.

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  25. Alias (profile) says:

    Heaney is correct when he says that there will never be a united Ireland (unless these things are determined by a spin on a magical wheel of fortune) but it isn’t an observation that will endear him to all folks in Northern Ireland.

    He’ll be will be greeted with a chorus of “He writes nice little poems but what do poets know about politics anyway?” by those who prefer the comfort blanket of denial. Of course, if he had said the opposite, the chorus would be “He’s Ireland’s greatest genius. The most brilliant of minds, and he’s one of us, don’t you know! Surely he deserves another Nobel award!”

    I think Heaney was referring to a ‘caste’ system within Unionism where the loyalists are at the bottom. If they are Shudras within unionism, they are Untouchables within nationalism – and so as bad as things are for loyalists with the UK, they’ll be far worse within a united Ireland. And until they support it, it won’t happen.

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  26. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Alias, you say, “…..until they support it, it won’t happen.” Here you say in seven words what many persons have failed to say in whole books. Thanks.

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  27. Alias (profile) says:

    I think that’s what Heaney was referring to on the flag issue: that you have to show generosity to people of different persuasions, particularly if you require their support.

    As far as the Shinners are concerned the only use loyalists have is to wind them in order to secure local votes from those who see the Shinners as their protectors from the loyalists. They can’t achieve that by shooting Protestants anymore in order to provoke the loyalists into retaliation against Catholics so they attack their community and ethos by other means. You will never get those people to support your ‘project’ when you treat when with such abject contempt, and so you do profound damage to any prospect of a united Ireland. There is no humanity at all in that equation and nothing worthwhile will ever emerge from those methods.

    There isn’t any parity of esteem – only parity of contempt. If the aim is to preserve the union, folks can do no better than to support the Shinners.

    While Heaney wasn’t saying all (or even any) of that, you can only begin to talk about a united Ireland when the orange and the green on the flag actually mean what they’re supposed to mean. The Shinners’ sponsored agenda seems to be to delete that symbolism and to delete orange culture and tradition along with it. And I have my own opinions about why that is which I won’t attribute to Mr Heaney. ;)

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  28. Nordie,

    ‘It’s a pose, for one – a pandering to a not very admirable ‘nothing to do with us’ anti-historical attitude, trying to pass off ‘I don’t give a shit’ or ‘please don’t think I’m like THEM’ as an enlightened political position. Heaney’s statement came very close to that.’

    I liked this observation, something I too have noticed when abroad (like now) or the many times I’ve worked abroad. I think it stems from genuine embarrassment though, trying to explain things that happen in the North is so awful as people only deal everywhere want to hear something simple and distilled arguments, not the many shades of nuance that are required. Our problems just sound intractable and medieval compared to everything else happening.

    Personally, I hate trying to explain what’s going on to foreigners with only a small interest or knowledge of our history, we just seem like we’re picking petty fights probably because we are picking petty fights amongst ourselves

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  29. Greenflag (profile) says:

    footballcliches ,

    ‘Our problems just sound intractable and medieval compared to everything else happening.’

    Not true . In a European context outside of the Balkans it’s true enough that NI comes across as a ‘toad in the hole ‘backwater ‘ or to be precise that is the image that is conveyed to the outside world by a small number of flaggists and dissidents .

    Compared to Syria or the ethnic cleansings in Iraq /Afghanistan /Iran or the current Israeli/Palestinian never ending war or the Libyan/Tunisian / Malian conflicts -NI is a peaceful oasis .

    And yes outsiders are not interested in the shades of nuance .

    There are worse fates than a United Ireland and/or remaining within the UK . But hey we all know that don’t we ?

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  30. PaddyReilly (profile) says:

    Yes, spot on Séamas. There is a frequently recurring recourse to the word ‘tribalism’, particularly among Alliance types with no pretence to independent thinking, to describe Northern Ireland’s problems. This is a part of a belief among the politically correct brigade that if there is some widespread attitude that inconveniences you personally, you only have to give it a name ending in –ism and then you can tell it to go away.

    Tribalism is not the problem. We are not in Africa: we do not carry shields and throw assegais: we do not have tribal areas. But the difference between Protestant and Catholic in Ireland does resemble the caste system, where people who live on the same street have different caste identities. Protestants have always specialised in being policemen, prison guards, bailiffs, landlords; most Public Houses and Betting shops are run by Catholics, etc etc.

    Tribalism is easily dampened down by giving each tribe a particular tribal area. But castes are interactive: though they may hate each other, they are actually interdependent.

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  31. socaire (profile) says:

    sdlp supporter, when you move off the field you become a hurler on the ditch. Heaney may be a good poet – even a ‘provo’ poet – but his political opinions are no more valuable than mine or Ian Paisley. And son of sam – is that relevant?

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  32. David Crookes (profile) says:

    THANKS, socaire. Poets, do-gooders, academics, and window-cleaners have equal rights when it comes to political commentary.

    I have to laugh at the professional scholars of ‘conflict studies’ whose only experience of conflict is derived from conferences in big hotels. If you want to learn about ‘The Cold Hard Facts of Life’, you need to listen to Porter Waggoner.

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  33. Greenflag (profile) says:

    @ paddy reilly ,

    ‘We are not in Africa:’

    Shame the sunshine might do yiz all a world of good ;) ?

    ‘ we do not carry shields and throw assegais’

    You do or at least a small minority do . They are called kerbstones , petrol bombs , pipe bombs , etc etc .

    ‘we do not have tribal areas.’

    You do -It’s just that they are all over the place unlike those in parts of Africa where tribes tend to concentrte in distinct areas /regions of a country -as in Nigeria with the Hausa (north ) Yoruba (centre ) Ibo (east ) in Zimbabwe with the Mashonas (North ) and Matabele (south )

    BTW -Some Africans might object to your outdated belief that they still use assegais and shields in battle . I assure you that that has not been the case now for many decades . Barring the Rwanda genocide in the 1990′s -most of the 6 or 7 million killed in African wars this century (21st ) have been as a result of modern western weaponry . And of course war generated local famines and civil wars have added to the total .

    ‘But castes are interactive: though they may hate each other, they are actually interdependent.’

    Perhaps the proper word is, given the NI context not interdependent but ‘mutually assured parasitism’ While each host body feeds off the other -both sides share in feeding off the larger host bodies both across the water and across the border ?

    -

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  34. socaire (profile) says:

    ……………’Committed to Parkview’?

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  35. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    NN,

    “Heaney’s statement came very close to that.”

    It’s very close to the same attitude Gaybo used to express about Irish politics generally, “why can’t we be more like the British?”; esp on his radio programme (which I was addicted to for a large chunk of the 80s and 90s)…

    But whatever people say about him, he has a certain facility for shaking depth out of language (a skill that’s little in evidence in much of our political class, it has to be said)…

    I think the word caste does have some resonance, for the reasons I’ve laid out before. Most people have no choice as to their politics; they vote the way of the caste they are born into.

    This is the point Malachi O’Doherty was trying to make Arlene Foster on Nolan last week, but got pushed aside.

    As for telling the future, he has no more power to do that than you or I or any number commenters on here who will tell you they absolutely know how Irish political history will end.

    But I would say he’s more familiar with the imperatives of the Irish Constitution than many of those [ejits? - Ed]. Do you want a card?

    Article 3 1. It is the firm will of the Irish Nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island.

    In that respect he has distinct grounds for expressing such dire pessimism…

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  36. Mainland Ulsterman (profile) says:

    Heaney’s never quite got the other tribe, much as I have enjoyed some of his poems. His attitude to “Loyalism, or unionism, or Protestantism or whatever you want to call it” was as dismissive back when he wrote ‘Dockers’ as it was in these recent comments.

    Robert McLiam Wilson had him banged to rights in ‘Eureka Street’ I thought. But I do welcome that the penny seems to have dropped with him on Irish ‘unity’.

    ‘Caste’ is an odd choice of word though – really unclear what he meant by it.

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  37. Kevsterino (profile) says:

    I take ‘caste’ to mean you are born into it and there is nothing you can do about it, ie there is no ‘caste mobility’ unlike class where you can work your way out of it.

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  38. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Bang on, Kevsterino. There is still this daft idea in NI that if you espouse a form of constitutional politics which differs from that of your caste or tribe or family, you have become a traitor to your country.

    It’s so bad on my side of the fence that if you were murdered for being such a traitor, some people would say SLAP IT INTO HIM in their hearts, if not out loud in the pub.

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  39. PaddyReilly (profile) says:

    The lambeg balloons at his belly, weighs
    Him back on his haunches, lodging thunder
    Grossly there between his chin and his knees.
    He is raised up by what he buckles under.

    1966 no less. One of the few quiet years in a lot of people’s lives, and these jokers were still at it.

    There is a fair amount of mobility between castes, in India. People marry up, marry down. Castes which once performed one task, move into something new. But the system is still held in place by defective imagination and a sort of hatred of any of our lot escaping. If you try to escape the sweepers caste the other sweepers will drag you back down again, if they can. Slap it into him describes them well.

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  40. Hi Greenflag,

    Whilst I agree with you that we are nowhere near as bad as many other places and have relative peace here, in the eyes of others our disagreement is somewhat nonsensical and seen as the last battle of the 16th century wars of religion, a place that time has passed by in many ways.

    ‘There are worse fates than a United Ireland and/or remaining within the UK . But hey we all know that don’t we ?’

    We do, though as both sides at times appear to be playing the zero sum game it does manage to do its best to make tensions heightened way beyond what they should be.

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  41. son of sam (profile) says:

    Socaire–6 .59pm
    Yes,it’s relevant if you suggest that Seamus “fled” the Six Counties for the safety of the South.By inference we must presume that you stayed there and endured the “Troubles”.Is that correct ?

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  42. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Paddy,

    Escape to another caste? Well, quite. You don’t get just one caste in a system.

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  43. PaddyReilly (profile) says:

    A caste is a unit of interrelatedness larger than a family. Just as we are most of us stuck with the family we are born into, so you are generally stuck in the caste of your birth. Born Fealty, there is no way you can reinvent yourself as Mountbatten-Windsor.

    Marriage with a person of a higher station is the easiest way, something you can sometimes pull off if you are extremely good-looking, or rich. But this carries its own risks: the family of your bride will probably not accept you, and you will burn your bridges with your own kin. Also your bride may turn out to be unbearable arrogant.

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  44. Greenflag (profile) says:

    I also thought Heaney’s use of the word ‘caste’ was odd until Kevsterino’s above comment

    ‘ I take ‘caste’ to mean you are born into it and there is nothing you can do about it,’

    As it was in medieval Europe and modern India and no doubt the same applies in other parts of the world . Caste in India follows a very direct skin colour/shade socio economic hierarchy or at least did so in pre independence times . NI may be now 2013 more a case of competing ‘caste ‘systems with the hangover of NI’s former ‘industrial ‘days as background . The unemployed Protestant shipwright is not in the same ‘caste ‘ or class as a Catholic solicitor but he can belong to the same political caste as a Protestant solicitor .Ditto for the unemployed Catholic retail worker .

    The ‘popularity ‘ of the British TV series “Coronation St in a Castle ‘ otherwise known as Downton Abbey and the earlier generation ‘Upstairs Downstairs ‘ in it’s time , is perhaps a reflection that once upon a time the world was at least for some a more ‘kindly ‘ place -where everybody knew their place and the ‘boss’ could be depended on to behave towards his social and economic inferiors with what used to be called noblesse oblige .PG Wodehouse forged a literary career poking fun at that world but unlike Dickens did’nt venture close to the harsher realities for most people in that world ..

    Other than the Social Reforms and legislation passed in the 1950′s by successive British Governments the greatest ever leveller in British history was the Black Death back in the 14th century . Ironically in todays world there seems to be a reversal of the earlier ‘class mobility ‘ possibilities which came in the post WW2 period in the UK & USA . While this is the case in the West there is a lot more class mobility in the emerging developing world economies even if in some of the former Eastern European countries -especially Russia the former upper caste /class Communists simply changed their clothes to become the new ruling ‘red in tooth and claw ‘ Gilded Age’ capitalists !

    Best to rememberalso that Heaney is a poet .So was W.B Yeats and so too was Patrick Pearse . Romantic Ireland did’nt die nor did it go anywhere btw . It did’nt exist – except perhaps in the mind’s eye of De Valera and the notorious Archbishop McQuaid and our Mr Pearse .

    Personally I always preferred Ogden Nash for his realistic approach to that oft times motivator of political behaviour barring a few notable exceptions of course .

    ‘Behold the politician
    Self-preservation is his ambition.
    He thrives in the D.of C.
    Where he was sent by you and me.

    Whether elected or appointed
    He considers himself the Lord’s anointed, And indeed the ointment lingers on him So thick you can’t get your fingers on him.

    He has developed a sixth sense
    About living at the public expense,
    Because in private competition
    He would encounter malnutrition.

    He has many profitable hobbies
    Not the least of which is lobbies.
    He would not sell his grandma for a quarter If he suspected the presence of a reporter.

    He gains votes ever and anew
    By taking money from everybody and giving it to a few, While explaining that every penny Was extracted from the few to be given to the many.

    Written in 1935 . Plus ca change eh ;) ?

    For those interested the full poem is linked here

    http://www.americanreform.org/member-blog/comments/the_politician

    On another note and apologies for the straying into different territory Dewie seems to be away these days .

    We gotta beat the Welsh this weekend . Former England rugby star Jeremy Guscott picked his Lions team for 2013 in advance of the Six Nations and simultaneously coined I a new word in the English language . He described his 4 English , 5 Irish, and 6 Welsh selection as Scotless -no less – a sad but true reflection on the current state of Scottish Rugby no doubt . Scot free I always considered a veiled tribute to the stereotypical frugality of the haggis eaters but I’ve never encountered the word Scotless . Naturally one thought begets another and so I tried Irishless (doesn’t work ) Englishless (ditto ) Welshless (that works ) Frenchless (yep) , Daneless (ok ) Americanless (no go) Germanless (no go ), Japanless (no go ) , Now why is that ?

    Ogden may himself have provided the answer

    “Farewell, farewell to my beloved language,
    Once English, now a vile orangutanguage.”

    George Orwell would have approved that message ;)

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  45. Greenflag (profile) says:

    @ footballcliches 31 January 2013 at 11:35 pm

    ‘as both sides at times appear to be playing the zero sum game it does manage to do its best to make tensions heightened way beyond what they should be.’

    Very true . But then nobody likes a 0- 0 result be it in football , rugby, or and I’m stretching the analogy here basketball . Eventually they’ll bore each other to death which is preferable I suppose to goring each other to the same destination .

    It could be a lot worse and I understand that’s no excuse for political inaction or political ineptitude .

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  46. Mainland Ulsterman (profile) says:

    I like ‘Scotless’ – I think I’ll start using that.

    I get the broader meaning of caste, but I think it has unfortunate associations not just with the idea of permanent marker with being a social stratum (as it is in India). Given the need to escape the half-***ed Marxian misrepresentation of the Northern Ireland situation as “class struggle”, I find the word “caste” a bit problematic, I have to say, outside a truly poetic context.

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  47. Greenflag (profile) says:

    Mu @ 1 February 2013 at 3:45 pm.

    ‘I like ‘Scotless’ – I think I’ll start using that.’

    Me too although outside the British Lions rugby context it’s hard to envisage a ‘use ‘ for it ? There might be a use come the 2014 Scottish Referendum ?

    Would the Daily Mirror /Sun report the result as

    UK -Scotless ?

    Probably

    Caste conjures up for me – images of cows bring sacrosanct juxtaposed with Hindu windows leaping on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands and Hindu Brahmins having to quarantine themselves for 3 days and go through ‘ritualised ‘ ablutions because they have been accidently or otherwise ‘touched ‘ by an untouchable.

    I guess humanity is nothing if not creative when it comes to finding ways to distinguish themuns from usuns .Of course some take it very seriously as was the case with William the Conqueror -who reacted badly when referred to as “William the Tanner’s bastard ‘ (his mother being a French tanner ( skin/hide cleaner ). Rivals who taunted the conqueror with this jibe soon learned not to . William usually had their castles razed to the ground and everybody within the walls slaughtered without distinction. Ah the oul aristocracy you can’t beat them for running a tantrum when their escutcheon was impugned ;)?

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