Robin Chichester Clarke was the last of the gentry that treated government as part of the family business.

Robin Chichester -Clarke, the last of the old unionist gentry to hold office in either Stormont or Westminster,  died a fortnight ago at home in Norfolk at the age of 88.  His elder brother Jimmy, later Lord Moyola, (familiarly known as  “Chi-Chi,” after a notably  infertile panda) was Northern Ireland’s penultimate  prime minister in the darkening years of  1969 to 1971. Their family home was the handsome Moyola Park outside Castledawson, now a golf club. They belonged to a small elite family network that had  enjoyed a leading role in political affairs for centuries but had vanished politically  by the mid 1970s – and even personally, as many decamped to England and a quieter life.

For generations this network based on original  seventeenth century Planter landowners, had a fine instinct for survival through strategic intermarriage, complemented by a long tradition of imperial service and local noblesse oblige. The double- barrelled name was created by his grandfather a Lenox Conyngham Clarke, to perpetuate  his grandmother’s married name of Chichester the founding family of Belfast by her first marriage. Another branch adopted the name of the ancient Ulster chieftainship, O’Neill.

Their granny was the formidable Dame Dehra Parker, who  had been minister of health during Brookeborough’s government, the only woman to serve as a minister in the old Stormont government. ( see Ric Wilford’s DNB entry). She was also the grandmother of Terence O’Neill who served as her junior minister for a time,

Jimmy replaced cousin Terence after O’Neill failed to gain enough support from a terminally divided unionist party for limited reform  in the February 1969 Stormont election, the old parliament’s last. But neither of them could stem the tide that swept them and  the old political  system away. The Troubles rapidly foreclosed on the old order  underpinned by Stormont which had seemed so secure until  the mid 1960s. The  end of deference was  part of the social and political revolution that shattered  what had seemed monolithic but was in fact a careful – and carefully concealed – set of trade-offs until the O’Neill era.

Most of the gentry like Robin Chichester- Clarke were beached on the losing  relatively liberal side. Its last gasp was to prefer Jimmy as Terence’s  successor to the obviously more able Brian Faulkner, whose roots were in textile manufacturing and Presbyterianism rather than in land and Anglicanism.  As a plotter against Terence because he always thought he was the better man, Faulkner inspired less trust than the  gentlemanly but none-too-bright Jimmy.

The Irish News, no less, carries a generous  obit which attributes active reform to the Chichester Clarke brothers and interestingly, echoes the Newsletter’s

On November 11 1968 brothers Robin and James Chichester-Clark met in the library of their ancestral home at Moyola Park, Co Derry. With Robin writing on his knee, they drew up a list of reforms for housing, voting and local government..

Following the Macrory report in 1969, the housing allocation functions of local councils were to be scrapped and the  gerrymandered Londonderry Corporation which had prompted so much of the civil rights protests was to be abolished. The numbers and patronage of the multi-tiered council system  were drastically reduced and replaced by a system of boards and 26 councils with very limited powers – (“only  to empty the bins” was the complaint). Stormont itself was to become  in the phrase of the time, “the grand county council.”

But it was all to prove too little, too late, not least because of Paisley’s counter demonstrations which Robin Chichester Clarke deplored and the escalation of violence which too few tried hard enough to prevent. Jimmy’s bid for the succession to Terence was in fact based  on a vague retreat from reform and on an appeal to unionist unity which turned out to fruitless, in the face of escalating violence.

Chris Ryder’s obit in the Guardian  captures the atmosphere of the 1970s at Westminster in which the old guard Ulster Unionist MPs, operating largely independently of the Stormont leadership steered an implausible course between attacking Gerry Fitt then the sole nationalist  MP as an IRA stooge, and tentatively supporting moderate reform, combined calling for the inevitable “tighter security”.

Robin Chichester -Clarke flourished in the more spacious days for Unionism in the 1950s. He was friendly with Ted Heath, perhaps because they had both served in the Conservative Whips’ office in their younger days.   Soon after he became Leader in 1965, Heath visited Northern Ireland. What happened was typical of the era.   In accepting an invitation  to address Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Heath gave a dreary lecture about keeping careful accounts  because  of the notorious Westminster  convention never to discuss  Northern Ireland politics that then applied.  Because of the same convention Heath hid under a blanket in the back seat of Chichester –Clarke’s car on a trip across the border.

In the dying days of his government Heath made Robin minister of  state for employment in 1973 in the reshuffle which just preceded the Sunningdale conference and William Whitelaw’s abrupt and ill-timed move from the Northern Ireland Office to the Employment Department to try to end the miners’ strike and the three day week .

It was all to no avail. Robin Chichester Clarke  did not stand for re-election in the February 1974  general election which Heath lost. He was replaced by a  right wing local party official  Willie Ross.  The former retainers were now the masters. The power sharing executive that Sunningdale ratified collapsed three months later.  The estrangement between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists which began with direct rule in 1972 was complete. And there was no room any more in politics  for the likes of Robin Chichester- Clarke.

Today, his heyday seems even more distant than fifty years ago. For good and ill, others persisted,  perhaps in part because they had nowhere else to go.

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  • SDLP supporter

    Ah, the good old bad old days. The last hurrah of the old unionist hegemony was the 1964 Westminster election (Wilson in) when unionists got all 12 Westminster NI seats. The cracks in the ice began to appear with Austin Currie getting elected in East Tyrone and, especially, Gerry Fitt winning West Belfast in 1966.

    Austin Currie used to carefully preserve a newspaper cutting where Sir Knox Cunningham, MP for South Antrim (electorate 100,000+, biggest in UK) announced he was moving from Kent to Surrey “in order to be closer to his constituents”.

  • eamoncorbett

    Wasn’t Jerry Fitt a unionist , certainly wasn’t a nationalist.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Somerville and Ross encapsulated both.

    Tom Lehrer says there is no rhyme for algebra: how about Neuralgiabra.

  • SDLP supporter

    If you are not actually trolling, try to inform yourself. Gerry was as good an Irishman as you or I and had plenty of guts. The people of West Belfast elected him five times. An Irish nationalist is someone who wants Ireland to be under the sovereignty of the people of Ireland, and Gerry fitted that definition.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The cracks had appeared in the 1962 election here with NI Labour getting 76,832 votes against 147,629 Unionist votes. Of course the Unionists had 34 seats and Labour 4 (oh and the old Nationalist Party 9 seats with only 45,860 votes). Unionism was so afraid of the their displacement by a massive shift of protestant voters to Labour that they began a campaign of “Vote Labour for a United Ireland” in the 1965 election, fully endorsed by Captain O’Neill.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gerry’s fine work in the 1960s as a major Labour figure here, working freely outside of the rather nervous constraints the NILP set for themselves, is all too easily forgotten by those who only remember him as a Baron, but not for those of us out for Civil Rights in 1968 who remember his support for the Coalisland march in the Commons within days of its being blocked and his beating by the RUC at Derry soon after.

    No, not a Unionist………

  • terence patrick hewett

    Was that the Terence O’Neill whose log cabin was in Lymington?

  • Declan Doyle

    When one looks back to fifty years ago compared with today. The extent of Unionist decline is pretty remarkable.

  • Jollyraj

    Indeed. As remarkable as the massive gulf in world-view, ideals and expectations that has opened up between the average Irish person from Ireland and your typical NI-dwelling Irish Republican.

  • eamoncorbett

    All I will say is this , you’ll never hear of Lord Hume , Lord Mallon ,Lord Durkin nor Lord Eastwood.

  • NotNowJohnny

    An astonishingly ignorant comment in more ways than one. Of course Gerry Fitt was a nationalist. Do you think Sir Roger Casement wasn’t a nationalist? What is your definition of a nationalist anyway?

  • grumpy oul man

    Really, care to point out some of these “massive gulfs” only a lot of southeners vote SF same as a lot of northeners.
    They accept our Irishness as people up here accept theirs.
    Of course there are regional differences (god knows kerry folk are unique, )and the average Ulsterman does stand out from the crowd imho.
    So what are these gulfs then.

  • Jollyraj

    Indeed, aye. In response to the usual codology from Declan.

  • grumpy oul man

    Yes Gerry was a nationlistand a better one than the nasty thugs who attacked him and his family.

  • grumpy oul man

    Gerry thought he could make his vioce heard in the lords.
    He was a socailist as well as a irish nationlist and never a abstentist.
    I may disagree woth his logic but it cannot be doubted that he was a nationlist who done a great deal for the people that he represented.

  • eamoncorbett

    Fitt was a socialist first and foremost , where are the pronouncements on Irish unity , I can’t find any . As for your second comment , Casement imported weapons for armed resistance I don’t think Fitt would do the same . My definition of a nationalist , someone who believes the island of Ireland should be self governing .

  • Declan Doyle

    Cork, if ever there was an autonomous region in waiting it’s Cork.

  • Katyusha

    The rise of Sinn Fein from a fringe party in the North and a non-entity in the South, to overwhelmingly the main nationalist party in NI and the third biggest party in the Dáil suggests there isn’t as much of a gulf as you’d like to think. If anything it’s closing. The leftwards motion of Fianna Fáil (you know, that other Irish Republican party) supports this as well.

    That’s it for parties. As far as the difference between the “world-view, ideals and expectations” of our people, North and South, there is practically nil. We’re much the same in our ideals and hopes and dreams, at least those of us who don’t have money or power. Ireland is not a homogeneous unit and Ulster has been both an integral part with its own distinct character since time immemorial; but in general we share the same culture and people want the same things in life. The northern shade of nationalism is still as certifiably Irish as it ever was, and any differences in our politics are no more marked than those between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and much less marked than the division between Dublin and Munster in the civil war days. Somehow I don’t see any gulf today as wide as that one.

  • Declan Doyle

    The wheels on the bus go round and round

  • Roger

    One gulf must surely be ‘southern’, ‘south’. Irish citizens in Ireland don’t use the former to describe themselves or the latter to descibe their state. Naturally I generalise here.

  • Roger

    How come so many in UK census in UKNI describe themselves as Northern Irish. Is that evidence of a growing gulf ?

  • NotNowJohnny

    At least you’re no longer suggesting the he was a unionist. I don’t think being a socialist first and foremost excludes one from being a nationalist any more that being a conservative first and foremost excludes one from being a unionist. I would suggest that Gerry Fitt did more for northern nationalists than Roger Casement ever did.

  • grumpy oul man

    yes you do , and you are wrong, anybody in the nine countries of Ulster is usually referred to as a northerner, and the reverse for south of Monanghan may well be called a southerner.
    Hardly the imaginary massive gulf of Jolly’s fevered mind.

  • grumpy oul man

    Declan not a autonomous region but instead our one true capital.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well, yes, He had moved to Lyle Court Cottage near where his wife had grown up as a girl. Pylewell Park, near Lymington, was her family home.

    I’m very critical of O’Neill’s serious miscalculation in demonising Labour in 1965, seeing him and other “liberal” Unionists such as Jack Andrews primarily as conservative modernisers whose “pluralism” was driven by pragmatic business considerations rather than by anything like the kind of genuine commitment to the kind of secular pluralistic constitutionalism that might have begun to sort out the problems inherited in the 1960s from Unionism’s style of sclerotic one party government. Had O’Neill been a more liberal imagination he would have relished the challenge of a genuine move away from the confessionally based political system Craigavon had established with his constitutional changes just before the 1929 election to the kind of cross community voting the 1962 shift to Labour represented.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    With its own characteristic literature (in both Irish and English) even. Our finest twentieth century short story writer, Daniel Corkery, as just one example.

  • grumpy oul man

    or blood pudding and Beamish.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And, GOM, anyone who knew him would not even begin to doubt his sincerity and commitment.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ahhhhh……Beamish!!!!!!!

    Another claim for Capitol status on grounds of an (arguably, I admit) superior product to Dublin’s!

  • grumpy oul man

    try asking for a Guinness and directions to the capital, as i did of a impolite barman.
    you get quite a look .

  • SeaanUiNeill

    There are a few Guinness “dealers” if you know where to ask and are willing to pay in cash……….

  • Declan Doyle

    Up the people’s Republic !

  • Katyusha

    Hardly. I’d previously provided you with data that the “Northern Irish” identity is declining amongst Catholics, and gaining traction amongst our Protestant population.
    If anything, that’s evidence that the gap between the two jurisdictions is shrinking, not growing.

  • Slater

    The Unionist all-class alliance is being rebuilt despite the best efforts of London.
    The election of Danny Kinahan is one sign of that.
    The flight of the earls was manageable but the departure of the middle classes in Belfast is a harder nut to crack.

    The Alliance Party over-reaching itself by becoming Union-neutral is beginning to show the way back in that department.

  • Roger

    You did indeed point me to data about fairly marginal changes. It doesn’t really address that per the census there are far fewer Irish than persons who vote for nationalist parties.

  • Roger

    Needless to say I don’t agree that what you’ve said is accurate. Galway people don’t call themselves southerners for example. southerners as used in the post I referred to clearly was used in reference to 6 and not 9 counties.

  • Nevin

    Gerry had a fine turn of phrase following the decision to keep the two factions apart in Dungannon, according to DI Sterritt [pdf file]:

    Mr Fitt made a most provocative and highly inflammatory speech, he said amongst other things that “My blood is boiling at the police ban and let me tell the County Inspector and District Inspector who are in charge of the police here to-night that they are only a pair of black bastards of Gestapo and we are not afraid of the blackthorn sticks and batons and but for the presence of women and children I would lead the march into The Square”. This inflamed the crowd, a section of which started to chant “R.U.C. SS”, “Gestapo”, “On to The Square”. This section surged forward and the marshals had to force them back resulting in many scuffles, one youth attempted to strike me with a pole and I had to force him back into the crowd.

    According to Sterritt, the decision was taken at meeting in Bill Craig’s when senior police officers were present.

  • Katyusha

    It doesn’t really address that per the census there are far fewer Irish than persons who vote for nationalist parties.

    Irrelevant. And unsurprising, unless you were expecting that no-one who would describe themselves as Northern Irish to vote SDLP or SF.

    You understand what a “trend” is, Roger, what the words “rate of change” mean. If you have any evidence of such a growing gulf (your words), you’re free to present it.

    Until then, the data we have doesn’t show that. It might not show anything very important at all, but one thing it certainly does not show is a growing divergence in nationalist identity north and south of the border. If anything, the trend is in the opposite direction. A shrinking “Northern Irish” identity among the nationalist population, and especially amongst the young. A young nationalist population that is less distinct from their compatriots, politically, than their parents were, coupled to a movement by SF in the south from a pariah to a credible political force and the third biggest party in the Dáil; again, with much of their support from young voters.

    So, to answer your original question again, in short, simple terms…

    How come so many in UK census in UKNI describe themselves as Northern Irish. Is that evidence of a growing gulf ?

    No. It isn’t.

  • grumpy oul man

    and of course we are talking about how the Irish see themselves and Ulster is the Nine counties to the Irish.
    You reference to a six county ulster or NI is a British invention, and indeed Gal-way people do not call themselves southerners they like us Irish northerners call themselves Irish, but they call those from Donegal or Down northerners.

  • Katyusha

    Galway people don’t call themselves southerners for example.

    They’d have little trouble labeling people from Monaghan or Donegal as northerners, though.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As Brian quotes above: “the old guard Ulster Unionist MPs….. attacking Gerry Fitt then the sole nationalist MP as an IRA stooge”……..let alone the senior RUC

    Oh Nevin, for anyone actually there just outside Dungannon on our side of the cordon, we could see that the RUC were strung across the road with their unprotected backs to the Loyalist demonstrators, no attempt to control them whatsoever, so not so much any sense of keeping “the two factions apart” as apparently forming simply the first lines of the loyalist crowd. By the way, we leftist “Communist stooges” who were on the Coalisland march had just spent the afternoon protesting in central Belfast about the Russian troop move into Prague and the seizure of Alexander Dubček!

    But thank you for your sterling support for my comment in response to eamoncorbett’s “Wasn’t Jerry Fitt a unionist…”

    So Gerry, even eleven years dead, can still attract the ire of “both sides”…… possible confirmation of my feeling that he might just have been doing the right thing!

  • grumpy oul man

    Sorry Roger, I define myself as Northern Irish, its the Irish bit that matters the northern bit recognizes that i am for the moment in a political entity which will rejoin the rest of the island in due course.
    I hold a Irish passport and every bit as Irish as a person born in Galway.
    If you have some hope that NI will replace Irish as my identity then it a forlorn one.

  • grumpy oul man

    we wait with bated breath your Massive gulfs, any proof or just more badly thought out nonsense!

  • Nevin

    DI Sterritt labelled Gerry Fitt ‘Republican Labour’, a label Gerry himself used.

    If you were a participant, you may well have been part of a faction within a faction. Austin Currie had the following to say in 2008 [and Austin was accused by Sterritt of using intemperate language; Eamonn McCann, on the other hand, was labelled ‘mild’!]:

    On the outskirts of Dungannon, at the hospital corner, the point of the proposed RUC diversion, the RUC blocked the road in front of police tenders and behind them a crowd of about 1,500 loyalists had been allowed to assemble.

    It was a tense and potentially dangerous situation but the stewards did their job, moving between the police line and the marchers and restraining a small group of young socialists from Belfast intent on causing trouble.

  • Roger

    It already has. You pick Northern Irish to define yourself.

  • Roger

    I see. Weren’t we discussing the label ‘Southerners’? You seem to have agreed with me in the end.

  • 1729torus

    The problem is that this is a shrinking piece of territory, and Unionists are missing the chance to expand outside of it. It isn’t that unreasonable to expect the Unionists to hang onto to the bitter end though. Expect one last rally in in 2021 for the centenary, then a fairly rapid collapse as the floor falls out.

  • Roger

    Didn’t you tell me you don’t call yourself Irish but instead prefer Northern Irish?

  • grumpy oul man

    I am Irish but describe myself as NI, glad to jolly is keeping up with the debate (he up voted you) perhaps he could return and explain “massive Gulfs”!

  • grumpy oul man

    trust me it has not!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, I wonder if you have ever encountered the terms “pluralist” or “constitutionalist”? When you are speaking of a “faction within a faction” seemingly you do not take account of the PDs multiplicity of views, a profound “pluralism” where the uniformity of opinion orthidox parties form themselves around and enforce was an entirely alien concept to us!!! This is something I’ve described to you in some depth in earlier exchanges. I realise pluralism is a difficult concept for some of those who grew up under a one party system which local liberals compared at the time with Iron Curtain lands, intending only a slight hint of hyperbole.

    “Intent on causing trouble”, eh? Ho, humm……Well, none of us were in “the press to the front” anyway, something instigated by a group of people none of us were familiar with. We were there marching in support of a demand by local people for a long overdue revision of a housing policy which permitted bizarre things to occur through a system of currupt patronage copper bottomed by Craig’s decision to bring in FPTP in 1928 and reduce the entire political system to two ghettos. In making such a statement Austin Currie obviously had little idea who the Belfast group were!!!! The overview photographs in the press at the time clearly show any recognisable socialists present from Belfast clearly moving away from the violence. You really should not so readily trust everything you see in print!

    Gerry certainly described himself as a “Republican Socialist” and this is one of the reasons I’m occasionally questioning the correctness of any one political group, such as SF, appropriating the term “Republican”. In confirming such usage we are in danger of instigating attacks on poor Donald Trump by the kind of person whose ancestors (in the Specials) shot at the Norfolk Regiment engaged in peacekeeping on Belfast streets in 1922 because “the Duke of Norfolk was Catholic, and accordingly every one of his soldiers must be one too.”

    In the 1950s and 60s “Republican” simply meant, for most people, someone who wished to be ruled by a republic. Like myself I imagine you are old enough to remember this usage, before it was incorrectly appropriated by SF with the thoughtless connivance of the PUL. The desire for a United Ireland or a Republic are to my mind perfectly legitimate aims when they are engaged in by Constitutionalist Republicans or Nationalists, or by pacifists. Gerry was always a Constitutionalist, and his presence in at Coalisland 1968 was in support of the constitutional right of peaceful protest in public places.

  • Nevin

    Seaan, it’s not rocket science to imagine that there were a range of views within the PD faction but its overall behaviour and the behaviour of its public faces such as Bernadette Devlin and Eamonn McCann don’t convey any sense of liberal influences at play.

    In NI politics in the 50s and 60s the republican tag would also have been associated by most people with the IRA and the Republican Clubs.

    Gerry’s language in Dungannon, as reported by DI Sterritt, was good old-fashioned rabble-rousing stuff.

    “You really should not so readily trust everything you see in print!”

    You’re some slow-learner!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear Nevin, “In NI politics in the 50s and 60s the republican tag would also have been associated by most people with the IRA and the Republican Clubs.”

    Evidently not by Gery Fitt and Paddy Devlin! Nor by quite a few people outside of those committed to the Unionist representation of our history. “Most people” within the Big Tent Unionism perhaps…..

    And, regarding the PD, “the behaviour of its public faces such as Bernadette Devlin and Eamonn McCann don’t convey any sense of liberal influences at play.” How you interpret their behaviour arguably depends on how right wing you are. These terms are frightfully relative, after all. In this context it is of considerable interest that other liberals such as Kate Hoey and Lord Bew are prepared to highlight their association with the PD. This “Reds under the Beds” version of the PD, while current in Unionist circles the late 1960s and 1970s is thankfully gathering dust on the shelves of history alongside bizarre concoctions such as Stratton Mills and Robin Bailie’s pamphlet prepared for the New York residue of McCarthyism in 1969, which someone quoted to me as “proof” a while back.

    Oh and “as reported by DI Sterritt” pretty much says it all……remember, there are a lot of théâtre du Grand-Guignol versions of events out there on websites masquerading as historical documentation about the troubles. I was there, some of the people making these comments either were not, or lack my well known objectivity as they had an agenda to push. A police inspector blocking the road against an elected Westminster MP……..

  • Nevin

    “lack my well known objectivity as they had an agenda to push”

    Now that put a smile on my face, Seaan! Your condescension knows few bounds!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh Nevin, I’m genuinely sorry if you found anything I’d said merited the term “condescension”. I’ve often said here that I take great delight in how you expose the follies of current politicians on NAILL, and my respect for this is undiminished, but were you really trying to suggest that in his use of the term “republican” Gerry Fitt was somehow placing his beliefs alongside physical force Republicanism? Look, perhaps you were making some other point but if that were so, it passed me by. Or that the PDs highly articulate and analytic membership at that time was somehow duped by either the old “Officials” or by the kind of clapped-out old fashioned single mind set Trotskyists we all used to laugh at from the heights of our proto-Post-Modernist Adorno/Marcuse/Benjamin Frankfort School perception of a civilisation shallowing out every aspect of its critical faculty (fully borne out here by events). I know you are profoundly critical (quite rightly) of current political agendas, so quoting people with clear agendas of that time as some form of “proof” against my comments simply will not wash with me. But, I repeat, no condescension intended.

  • Katyusha

    “Replace”, Roger. “If you have some hope that NI will replace Irish as my identity then it a forlorn one”.

    Its hardly replaced anything if it’s a subset of his Irish identity, has it?

  • Roger

    It’s a subset of British identity born of a British statute enacted in 1920. The subset owes little indeed to the Irish.

  • Nevin

    “Nevin, I wonder if you have ever encountered the terms “pluralist” or “constitutionalist”?” is condescension.

    PD pluralism IMO doesn’t come within a beagle’s gowl of the pluralism I experienced as a QUB student in the early 60s or later as JCSS co-ordinator in Coleraine in the 70s and 80s.

  • Katyusha

    it matters not one jot that it was born of British influence. You could say exactly similar of various shades of Irish identity, Anglo-Irish being another one. You could even argue the same of the nine-county identity of Ulster is born from of an English statute, given the transfer of Louth from Ulster into Leinster (actually, given the history of Louth and it’s prominence in the Ulster cycle, it is somewhat odd that Louth isn’t considered part of Ulster).

    Northern Irish identity is not homogeneous, and as we’ve discussed before, has been becoming”more British” over time.
    If it is so bound up in British identity, then why do so many people on the census identify solely as Northern Irish, but not British? Do you think they have a reason for not professing a British identity?

    On the nationalist side, Northern Irish already includes and accounts for Irish heritage. It’s even right there in the description. We didn’t suddenly condense out of the ether as a new people in 1922. Talking about the “Northern Irish” and the “Irish” as separate peoples is a fiction. Our Irish heritage and culture is as present as it ever was. The gradual rejection of Irish identity on the Unionist side through the Home Rule Crisis, partition and accelerated by the Troubles, is another matter entirely. I’d argue the trend towards unionists identifying as Northern Irish, rather than solely British, is a movement towards unionists adopting or regaining their own unique shade of Irish identity that was rejected by their parents. No doubt you would disagree, but you have some mental hoops to jump through to justify how adopting a label that is identifiably Irish in its very name is not an affirmation of an Irish identity. Similar to the Anglo-Irish of the past (and present).

    The fact that you are talking to someone who considers it such a part of his Irish identity “- I define myself as Northern Irish, its the Irish bit that matters ” – and are unable to recognise this doesn’t speak well for your understanding of the concept.

  • grumpy oul man

    Did you miss the bit where i said the Irish is the important bit,

  • SeaanUiNeill

    It was intended as a light joshing irony, Nevin, something I’d think of as a sort of personal trademark here! Anyone who has read your general postings here and on NAILL would be well aware that you are certainly no stranger to these terms, but just might have caught the wistful sadness I was feeling that you should apparently dismiss both the complex and pluralistic character of the PD, and also that you should elect to obscure the very positive contribution of Gerry Fitt during difficult times with a regurgitated smear of the rancour of that era. It’s not as if we have had so many decent men in our recent history that Fitt’s sterling work in support of necessary change at a most difficult moment in our history should be dismissed as simply some side-show of SF.

  • Nevin

    “should be dismissed as simply some side-show of SF.”

    Seaan, that may have been someone else’s view; it certainly wasn’t mine. I merely pointed two other common uses of the ‘republican’ tag that were part of the political discourse here. Try catching the stick by the other end!

  • Lex.Butler

    Gerry Fitt was the last nationalist to get a Protestant vote from the the Shankill. I doubt I’ll live to see SF achieve that.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Perhaps then, Nevin, you might unpack the point you were actually making then with “DI Sterritt labelled Gerry Fitt ‘Republican Labour’, a label Gerry himself used.” and “In NI politics in the 50s and 60s the republican tag would also have been associated by most people with the IRA and the Republican Clubs.”

    How else am I to read these comments together other than through the impression they make that Gerry “should be dismissed as simply some side-show of SF.”

    If this quite straightforward impression somehow distorts your intention and should properly be understood as “someone else’s view”, perhaps it would be appropriate to explain rather more clearly what you are actually suggesting in the juxtaposition of the two quotes above?

    The variants of the IRA and SF have always felt that they are the sole repository of the Republican tradition, something that even “respectable” Unionists have colluded with them on, as it successfully demonises all possible emerging leftist non-violent Republicanism for the “sound bite” end of the Unionist voting block and airlocks such supporters in against any possible tendency to vote “cross-community.” As Lex.Butler says below “Gerry Fitt was the last nationalist to get a Protestant vote from the the Shankill”, votes clearly cast for his Socialism by those who were not scared off by the Project Fear of lumping Gerry in with the IRA. In this he was repeating the success of Jack Beattie, who, in the 1920/30s gained a substantial vote in Belfast Pottinger from those local protestant voters who recognised him as the sole candidate who was genuinely addressing the effect on ordinary people of that economic shrinkage that came to both parts of Ireland with partition, and not swallowing in the absurd “Rome Rule” fantasies Unionism fed them.

    There were, and are, many, many varieties of Republicanism, including an increasing body of pro-Union people who would describe themselves as Republican in their rejection of the monarchy. Gerry’s use of the term “Republican Labour” was certainly not flagging any association with Cathal Ó Goillín’s OIRA and those voting for him on the Shankill at the time were well aware of this! Really, I am entirely at a loss as to the point you are making with your run of comments on this.

  • Nevin

    “How else am I to read these comments together other than through the impression they make that Gerry “should be dismissed as simply some side-show of SF.””

    It’s a problem of your own making, Seaan. I made no links between the three uses of the ‘Republican’ tag; I merely pointed out that it was used in three ways, not just the one you alluded too. I see you have eventually got to ‘varieties of Republicanism’ which is a generalised form of my initial response. [cf ‘varieties of Nationalism’, ‘varieties of Unionism’, ‘varieties of Irishness’ and ‘varieties of Britishness’]

    I’m not sure what DI Sterritt means when he uses the ‘Republican’ tag as distinct from the ‘Republican Labour’ tag as used both by himself and Gerry. I suspect he’s lumping together armchair republicans with those militants who’d recently discontinued their armed campaign. This ‘Republican’ collective were cynically using rights issues to advance their 32-county agenda. See here and here.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Bless you Nevin, no direct links but a flow of directive meaning in the comments, whether this is conscious or unconscious.

    Regarding the links, as I’d said above “You really should not so readily trust everything you see in print!” I believe for a few decades, had you been relying on the printed word, Joseph Stalin appears to have carried out the Russian Revolution single handed with a little help from minor figures such as Lenin! Such things only become “proof” for historians when they are proven to be objectively true and not simply flourishes of rhetoric within the flow of comment.

  • Nevin

    This ‘flow of directive meaning’ apparently owes much to your fevered imagination, Seaan! I don’t recognise myself in your caricature. Gerry’s ‘gestapo’ and Seaan’s ‘Stalin’ make a delightful confection!

  • Nevin

    “For generations this network based on original seventeenth century Planter landowners, had a fine instinct for survival through strategic intermarriage .. Another branch adopted the name of the ancient Ulster chieftainship, O’Neill.”

    Strategic intermarriage certainly but as Terence O’Neill had matrilineal descent from the O’Neills of Shane’s Castle, Randalstown, the roots go much deeper than the 17th century. I apparently have a family link to the Stewarts of Bute and they are estimated to have acquired property in north Antrim around 1560. The Fullertons only joined the network in the late 18th century and when a Miss Fullerton married a Mr Downing the Downing-Fullertons arrived but the Downing element seems not to have taken root on the north coast. There’s the delightful tale of a male member of the Leslie family being dispatched to marry a Leslie relative to bring an estate back into the Leslie dynasty when her husband died!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Perhaps, Nevin, if you have a different directive agenda in picking these particular quotes (surely they are not arbitrarily picked with a pin?), you might still share this with us. If I, and perhaps others, are being led into such distorted misunderstanding of your intent then your comments obviously require rather more unpacking to help us all understand what point you are wishing to make on Gerry Fitt’s contribution to the utterly necessary reform of the scandalous abuses of long years of unchallenged one party rule. Enlightenment, please……..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, I’d made an ancillary point myself a little while back, in a reply to a comment by AG:

    “It’s all far too complex to simplify into modern national identities, and even the suggestion that “The O’Neills were originally from England and had changed their name from Chichester, and so were indeed Saxon incomers(!)” it itself subject to criticism. The present Lord O’Neill, while certainly having inherited Chichester blood from the Rev William Chichester who inherited the title when the 3rd Viscount (direct male line) died without issue, is still himself also a person directly descended (through the female line) from the sixteenth century Brian McPhelim O’Neill, Lord of Clandeboye!!! That the O’Neill, Lisbon fully recognises our current Lord O’Neill as a fellow O’Neill (at least that’s what he’s told me) says it all.”

  • Nevin

    Seaan, you seem to have spun yourself deep into a hole of your own making so you can clamber out in your own good time!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “The problem is that this is a shrinking piece of territory, and Unionists are missing the chance to expand outside of it”

    Jeez, tell me about:
    “Erm, hey, guys, won’t don’t we sell unionism as a political ideology rather than just a quasi-religious, tribal club…?

    “NO!!!!!”

    I weep.

  • Nevin

    In farming circles, a woman with a bit of land attracted suitors who were more interested in the land than the woman!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I get it, Nevin, no clarification, beyond “you might say that I could not possibly comment”. Right.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    One of my very favourite figures in this context is James Hamilton of Tullymore, who has been described s one of the few planters to achieve wide land holding from a marriage into the old Gaelic aristocracy. A most interesting figure of the “War of Usupration” at the close of the century.

  • Brian Walker

    Nevin,
    I always knew you had it in you…

  • SeaanUiNeill

    AG, a normal political party actually putting the case for the Union certainly would be a start! People such as Brian Maginess and Clarence Graham tried this in the late 1950s and were give very short shift.

  • Nevin

    Your convoluted ramblings are your responsibility, Seaan, not mine.

  • Nevin

    All family trees need to carry the caveat that I once read in the records of Billy Parish Church: “Believed to be the father of”!

  • Nevin

    The Hebridean Macdonnells didn’t do too badly out of that marriage to a Bysett heiress in the Antrim glens circa 1400!

  • Nevin

    Is this the James Hamilton who was the son of William Hamilton of Erenagh and Ellen Magennis, the inheritor of the Magennis estate?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The same.

  • Roger

    Thanks for a thought provoking response. We agree on all sorts of things. That really shouldn’t be overlooked. Including that Northern Irish was born of a UK statute (‘British influence’ as you put it). Most English don’t even tick a British box in the census so I don’t think ticking Northern Irish alone for a moment hints at rejection of being British. The English by and large agree they’re British too.

    About sudden appearances, we disagree. Northern Irish did suddenly appear in 1921. Who gave his nationality as that before then? Do tell us. It’s identifiably NORTHERN Irish in its very name. Similarly, South Sudanese ain’t Sudanese either.

    Those who feel they are Irish but at the same time choose Northern Irish are entirely at liberty to feel that way. I can’t speak to or argue with their feelings. But we’ve both agreed Northern Irish arises from a UK statute. It’s s UK invention. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It simply reflects who invented the identity: Lloyd George, a British PM et al. It’s a subset of British identity. That’s so notwithstanding any confusion on the part of those who tick that box.

    You’ve noted the similarity between Anglo and Northern Irish. Agreed. Both particularly linked to things British. Though the former has a longer and more complex history. The latter, as I’ve said, suddenly appeared in 1921 and its origins are much more straightforward.

  • Katyusha

    Most English don’t even tick a British box in the census so I don’t think ticking Northern Irish alone for a moment hints at rejection of being British. The English by and large agree they’re British too.

    I very much agree, although I’d say that the character of “British” in England s different to that found in NI. In a society which paints its kerbstones red, white and blue I don’t think many people would neglect their British identity when asked about it.

    About sudden appearances, we disagree. Northern Irish did suddenly appear in 1921.

    The people didn’t suddenly appear, Roger. The people are what is important here. We didn’t suddenly wake up on May 3rd, 1921, having shed our Irish nationality like a snakeskin, even amongst the staunchest unionism. Indeed, it would appear especially amongst unionism; its difficult to find any references to “Northern Irish” at the time. The shift in identity has been a subtle and gradual process.

    It’s identifiably NORTHERN Irish in its very name

    Of course it is. The North has had its own identity within Ireland going back even before the first written histories of the place. Indeed, the territory of the Uí Néill was initially known simply as In Tuaiscert, “the North”, and their kingdoms centred in Tir Eoghain / Tir Chonnail were always referred to as the “Northern O’Neill”. Surely you’re not going to claim that the men who dominated the high-kingship of Ireland for most of its history, who’s territory was the fiercest stronghold of Gaelic tradition and culture were not Irish because they were always identified as northerners?

    But we’ve both agreed Northern Irish arises from a UK statute. It’s s UK invention. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It simply reflects who invented the identity: Lloyd George, a British PM et al. It’s a subset of British identity.

    Because the person who “invented ” the identity, i.e. drew a line across a map, was British, does not make it a British identity. It’s in the eye of the beholder and up to them to decide what those words mean to them. Some people will perceive it as Britsh in nature; others will not. Some people will take “Irish” and “Northern Irish” to be mutually exclusive, others will not. It’s up to individuals to decide how they see themselves. But what I object to is this;

    If you have some hope that NI will replace Irish as my identity then it a forlorn one.

    It already has. You pick Northern Irish to define yourself.

    and this

    That’s so notwithstanding any confusion on the part of those who tick that box.

    Here you are, telling somebody else what the terms they use to define themselves mean. Claiming that people who for whom the terms mean something subtly different to your own definition are just “confused”. That is the height of arrogance, Roger. What right do you have to tell somebody else how to describe themselves or what they mean by it? How do you know you’re not the one who is confused?

    Anyway, the men who draw lines on maps do not have the power to magic an identity out of nowhere. They might wish they had, but it is up to the people to decide what groupings they feel affinity with and which they do not; the labels they choose to apply to themselves.
    Don’t believe me? Go to Swords. Ask the people there what county they belong to. See how many answer “County Fingal”.

    This might interest you. A paper on national identity, written in 1991:
    http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/research/nisas/rep1c2.htm#chap2
    Scroll down to the tables on religion and national identity, and you will see that Northern Irish was a much more common descriptor for Catholics rather than Protestants, suggesting your view that “Northern Irish” is a subset of British identity was the minority view for much of NI’s history.

    This has only changed recently. I would say post-GFA, but it’s even more recent than that: at the time of the GFA, “Northern Irish” was seen as a neutral, catch-all label, a common label that our children would grow up under. The PSNI was given that name as a neutral compromise.

    This neutral character has receded. For the first time, Unionists have been adopting the label in greater numbers than nationalists, giving “Northern Irish” a distinctly British character; meanwhile, younger Catholics are not so much rejecting the label as simply not adopting it in the first place. They are becoming closer to their compatriots south of the border than their parents were.

    That is why it’s ridiculous to see this through a black-and-white filter of a pen-stroke in 1922. The label is filled with many shades of grey and its character has been constantly shifting over time.

    You’ve noted the similarity between Anglo and Northern Irish. Agreed. Both particularly linked to things British. Though the former has a longer and more complex history. The latter, as I’ve said, suddenly appeared in 1921 and its origins are much more straightforward.

    I’d contest this. For a start, the Anglo-Irish did not, and do not, describe themselves as “British”. But more importantly, they are much, much more straightforward in describing their identity, are clear and proud of its heritage and identity.
    They do not suffer from the same identity crisis that afflicts Northern Ireland. “Northen Irish”, with its ambiguity, varying interpretations, relatively low adoption and dubious history, is much more complex. If it is adopted wholesale by unionism then maybe it will become a more straightforward, but that is not how it was in the past.

  • Roger

    I make no comment on the character of those who are British, whether they live in England or Northern Ireland or elsewhere. However, I don’t agree with your conclusion that not many who feel British and live in UKNI would fail to tick the British box. Many English fail to do so. I have no doubt many British Northern Ireland people fail to do so too. To talk about kerbstones etc. really goes too far in the way of gross stereotyping and simplification. I don’t think it’s useful. However, all this is not directly on the topic we are discussing.

    Naturally no one suggested the peoples of what’s now Northern Ireland appeared in 1921. So we are again in full agreement on that. Very clearly, I was discussing the national identifier some there now ascribe to: “Northern Irish”. We both are in full agreement that the shift towards that label happened from 3 May 1921 onwards.

    You’ve made reference to how peoples who inhabited what’s now Northern Ireland were referred to in times past. No doubt some or all of them have been called various things over the course of the island’s long history. Again, we agree. That in no way alters the fact that “Northern Irish” quite clearly springs from a UK statute which came into force on 3 May 1921. It has no longer history than that. The authors of the statute did not have any regard to what the territory of the O’Neills was called or matters of that nature.

    I entirely agree with you that how an individual feels about the national identifier or label he ascribes to and what it means to him or her is a matter for that individual. As I said before, I do not speak to or argue with any individual’s feelings. I have never told any one what any national label means. I find the very idea silly. We are all individuals and what a particular label means to each of is for each of us to determine.

    What I do say is that “Northern Irish” is a British label. It was literally invented at Westminster 96 years ago. Of course, the fact that it is a British label does not mean those who ascribe to it can’t feel Irish. British and Irish are not mutually exclusive.

    We disagree about magic it seems. The authors of the 1920 statute did create a “Northern Irish” identity out of nowhere. To the extent that’s magic, I hold they were magical. They did not have a magic wand by which they could overnight mold in the minds of inhabitants a sense of being “Northern Irish”. That came (or is still coming) over time. The magic they wielded was in no way unique. One could list out a good many countries and nationalities whose names and national labels stem from statute. I’d flagged South Sudan as a particularly recent example.

    How people perceive “Northern Irish” as a label is a separate question to what it is. It’s a label invented in Westminster. A British label, quite plainly.The powers that be felt that it would be a helpful new sub-set of British identity. In hindsight, I think that it was a poor choice. But the authors did not have the benefit of hindsight.

    It’s another topic entirely but I certainly disagree with you that the Anglo-Irish didn’t consider themselves British. A very great many did and some who use the label today, may do so. I’m not familiar with any one who uses the label today so I can’t speak to that really. I’m not sure if it’s used much now.

    Identity has long been a field of heated contest in the island of Ireland and, no doubt, many other places. Labels are an important part of that. ‘Southern Ireland’ and its cognate, ‘Southern Irish’ were not popular with representatives of that short-lived jurisdiction. They were certainly regarded as British invented and imposed terms and discarded at the first opportunity by the inhabitants of the territory concerned. Those labels are the ones most closely akin to ‘Northern Irish’; their origins the exact same. I wonder if you disagree with me on these labels too?

    ‘Irish Free State’ wasn’t very popular either. It was again British imposed. Inhabitants and authorities struggled a bit with what its proper cognate should be. Some experimentation ensued. For a time they even resorted to ‘Saorstat’, which I personally think demonstrated something rather pathetic.

    Next for the new state came ‘Ireland’ and ‘Irish’. A return to a very old name. This name wasn’t popular with the UK. It wasn’t British invented or imposed. The UK was so much displeased that they decided for a time to insist on ‘Eire’. The country name was also itself used as a description of its inhabitants. The UK also used the rather more sneering ‘Eirish’ or ‘Eireann’ as cognates. If the Irish had meekly gone along with it and today were calling themselves ‘Eirish’, by your logic I suppose you would not regard that as a British label or a British invention.

    All that probably brings us full circle back to the little bits we disagree on. The authors of the 1920 statute would no doubt take a certain pleasure in seeing Irish of a decidedly non-British variety calling themselves Northern Irish.