Nationalist perspective on Unionism

Greagoir D laigh has an interesting historical response to A Long Peace?, our pamphlet on the future of Unionism, and finishes with a number of questions about Unionism he has never been able to unravel.

Archived Comments (132):

Having read this piece i must asked any unionists out there, How come you took home rule in Belfast? howerver were fully against Home rule for the entire island?

Posted by: Alan Anderson at October 8, 2003 01:43 PM

Presumably because Home Rule for the entire island was perceived to be “Rome Rule”, but Home Rule for the Six was a “Protestant Parliament For A Protestant People”?

Posted by: Ciarn Irvine at October 8, 2003 01:47 PM

Does this not show the hippocracy in the very foundation of Unionist organisations?

Id like a unionist to comment on that if possible.

In what way do unionists think a Dublin government would serve them any different from any other social minority?

Posted by: Alan Anderson at October 8, 2003 02:39 PM

You may both be discounting the possibility that there was little else on offer at the time.

Posted by: Mick at October 8, 2003 02:59 PM

Perhaps not however my question still stands;,

In what way do unionists think a Dublin government would serve them any different from any other social minority?

After all in its 70 odd year history Ireland has a much better human rights record than the UK.

Posted by: Alan Anderson at October 8, 2003 03:06 PM

hippocracy (n.) – a system of government preferred by large aquatic mammals who never mean what they say.

Posted by: Chewie at October 8, 2003 03:07 PM

How appropriate:
hippocracy (n.) – a system of government preferred by large animal like political dinosaurs who never mean what they say, and promote religous intolerance.

A bit of tweeking and you have the definition of Unionisim and the basis of the Northern Ireland sub-state.

Posted by: Alan Anderson at October 8, 2003 03:12 PM

Mick – how about accepting the temporary nature of partition and working the Boundary Commission and Council of Ireland Mk I in good faith to create a viable secular State for the whole island?

If they’d done that, after all, then the Irish State in the 1920s would have been an Imperial Dominion inside the Commonwealth with a Lord Lieutenant (or whatever the title is) appointed by the Monarchy and HMG as Head Of State; and whatever guarantees, checks against “Rome Rule”, and access to power they insisted on as the price of joining up.

Compare and contrast with what will be available whenever Unification finally happens…

Unionism’s religious sectarianism blinded them to the opportunity and led them down a path which created an oppressive and violent society in the north; and a virtually mono-ethnic society in the south where the Catholic Church had far too much influence. And while the south has eventually overcome the social, economic and religious disadvantages Unionism foisted on it by insisting on Partition, the north remains a deeply dysfunctional and violent society.

Unionism has been an unmitigated disaster for the entire island and everyone on it. Ironically, the people who have suffered most from it are the northern Protestant working class!!

Posted by: Ciar n Irvine at October 8, 2003 03:33 PM

“Having read this piece i must asked any unionists out there, How come you took home rule in Belfast? howerver were fully against Home rule for the entire island?”

Once again contibutors refusing to recognise reality— what protestants wanted (and want) is that which is theirs by right– freedom from catholic republican Ireland and her murder gangs,

The republic particularly in the 20,s and 30,s reduced its protestant numbers to an insignificant rump via murder intimidation and discrimination (my family has very detailed experience of all three)–the government of ROI connived at the importation of arms used by the IRA to kill protestants who had the temerity to serve as poloiceman. All this done without a cheep from the population of the republic.

As a member of the protestant working class let me disabuse- you as far as I am concerned unionism was and is the saviour of the protestant people of N Ireland

Posted by: barnshee at October 8, 2003 04:04 PM


“The republic particularly in the 20,s and 30,s reduced its protestant numbers to an insignificant rump via murder intimidation and discrimination (my family has very detailed experience of all three)–“

Give us the details, then.

Posted by: Jeremy at October 8, 2003 04:15 PM

surely this almost “ethinic clensing” must be documented? Could you point me in the general directions of such? or perhaps its just hearsay, in which case your making quite a poor point.

Posted by: Alan Anderson at October 8, 2003 04:22 PM


Sometimes your ignorance is astounding Alan.

I must also add that as I wasn’t alive in the 1920s I can’t really say why I opposed home rule but supported Stormont.

I suspect it might have been a fear of what Home Rule was a stepping stone to. Which is to say the kind of state the ROI turned in to.

My family are all Protestant working class, and have done very well out of the union thank you.

for a start free university education in the 1960s made them all firmly professional.

Which wasn’t on offer at the time in the ROI

Posted by: idunnomeself at October 8, 2003 05:24 PM

I can just imagine the arguments 70 years from now…
“Surely this ‘Terrorism’ you claim the IRA were involved in would be well documented…”

And the one about the RoI having a better Human Rights record than the UK is hysterical.

Posted by: Beowulf at October 8, 2003 05:35 PM

‘I think there is a greater onus on unionists to justify their creed. Why? Well, putting things simply, nationalists want Irish people to rule themselves; unionists want Irish people to be ruled by somebody else. More precisely they want British people to rule Irish ones.’

No, Unionists are British people who want British people to rule them. Nothing odd about that really.

It could well be argued the onus is on Nationalists to justify any change to the status quo.

Posted by: IJP at October 8, 2003 06:10 PM


You should *know* Unionists did not accept the 1920 settlement. After all, they never accept anything!

You should also know Unionists were opposed to any form of home rule for the northeastern six counties. After all, they are opposed to everything!

Seriously, my point is that Unionists did *not* get what they wanted in 1920. The idea that somehow NI and devolution was a Unionist idea is false. It was a means for GB to get out of Ireland while respecting the British majority in a large geographical part of it.

Posted by: IJP at October 8, 2003 06:15 PM

It’s very inconvenient that my comments have malfunctioned…

“No, Unionists are British people who want British people to rule them. Nothing odd about that really.i>

Well, no. This is tricky…

If you see Unionists as British, would you see Nationalists as British too? If not, you should change your first statement to: “Unionists are British people who want British people to rule them and their Irish neighbours.”

For what it’s worth, I’ve never met anybody in Britain who sees the people of Northern Ireland, of either community, as anything but Irish; the British view them as Irish, and have long done so.

So that would mean that, if you’re right, you should say: “Unionists are British people who want British people who do not regard Unionists as British to rule them.”

Posted by: Greg at October 8, 2003 08:34 PM

Damn html. I left out the

Posted by: Greg at October 8, 2003 08:35 PM

I have to ask, are all Nationalists as retarded when it comes to geography?

PS. Greg, most people I’ve met in Britain think the Irish drink a lot and are not very bright.

Posted by: Beowulf at October 8, 2003 09:13 PM

One general point which is worthy to note is that unionists don’t see themselves as being “ruled by someone else” but as being part of a large democracy. It is not that unionists choose to be ruled by someone else, but that unionists do feel that NI is part of the UK family albeit a very small part. Unionists sense of being part of the British family of these islands is very real and quite natural.

I read Greg’s piece and saw that as the main flaw there –i.e. it did not really consider this unionist way of thinking.

By the way, when it comes to these matters of identity there is no real emphatic “rights” or “wrongs”. Sometimes the impression I get from reading these discussions is that there is a rivalry which drives people to try to dismiss one of the two as being wrong-headed and in greater need of justification. But I think that there is integrity to both positions. That is why there are people of good character in both traditions.

But what is at the core of unionism, as I understand it, from within, as it were, is that unionists have a wide range of influences on their way of life, from Scotland England and Ireland, and therefore they prefer governance structures that unite and bring together these various strands under a coalition or union.

Posted by: Howard at October 8, 2003 10:16 PM

PS I have generally tried to use a rule here which is not to criticise or heap blame on “nationalism” in any sweeping statement. I do take an interest in analyzing it, or specific aspects of it, but the main point would be not to make sweeping criticisms, indeed I try to take a sympathetic position, trying to understand the fundamental integrity of the nationalist position.

I think Mick is right when he says that the most interesting comments about nationalism or unionism are from within, in a non-defensive, non-point-scoring setting.

Posted by: Howard at October 8, 2003 10:23 PM

Try the COI gazette 1918 -1932 and as already detailed elswhere on slugger- Peter Harts book item “taking it out on the protestants”

Posted by: barnshee at October 8, 2003 11:16 PM

surely this almost “ethinic clensing” must be documented

The Protestant Population in the south was declining at a rate of 0.7 % a year between 1881-1911.
Or roughly 7% a decade.
Given that the the gap between 1911-1926 saw the greatest decline in Protestant numbers, we have 15 missing years to explain.
One can guess, that the 0.7% decline a year would have continued with or without partition. This equals over a 15 year period (1911-1926) ~ 10.5% (call it natural attrition).
The protestant population declined by 30% between 1911-1926. If you take the actual rate of decline 30%, less the natural attrition 10.5%, you’re left with 19.5%.
This means that 19.5% of Protestants left because of partition. In absolute numbers this equals 70,000-72,000 Protestants who left, between 1911-1925 for reasons to do with partition.
Germany & Poland offer a good example here:
Between the period of 1919-1925, 20% of German speakers in Poland had left the Ceded territories for Germany proper.
The 20% decline in Polish- German’s seems to hold up well against the 19.5% of Protestants in the South that left for other parts of Britain.
I am not denying that some Protestants were killed or intimidated. I’m just saying that most partitions, no matter how benign, lead to a decline in the minority population. Furthermore, partitions normally lead to large transfers of poulations. For example: India/Pakistan, Israel/Palestine and Kosovo/Serbia.

Posted by: Shrike at October 9, 2003 12:20 AM


It’s really not that complicated.

You said:
‘Nationalists want Irish people to rule themselves.’

I said:
‘Unionists want British people to rule themselves.’

Northern Ireland, and indeed Ireland broadly, has both ‘British’ and ‘Irish’ people. So who gets to rule Northern Ireland/Ireland? I think you’ll find that’s what we’ve been fighting about!

You don’t seem capable of accepting that Unionists are primarily ‘British’. Many Unionists would not accept/care that you are primarily ‘Irish’.

So Unionist and Nationalist parties do not seem capable for even accepting the problem, far less solving it.

Which is why I’m not a member of and do not vote for any of them!

Posted by: IJP at October 9, 2003 12:29 AM

Just for the record, I don’t think I’m a nationalist; a united Ireland within a united Europe strikes me as the way to go.

But that aside, a few points might be worth noting. Shrike, while there was doubtless some intimidation in the border counties, it appears that the Protestant decline in the part of the country was largely due to a falling birth rate and intermarriage with Catholics. You might also want to factor in how many Protestants served in the Great War; your 1911-1926 period does cover the war, after all. I know that YMCA figures show an incredibly high rate of participation amoung young Protestant males. In fact, not merely does the 15 year period you consider include the years of the First World War, it actually includes nine years before partition, so partition can hardly be blamed for the decline in numbers. Partition was also followed by a Civil War, itself hot on the heels of the War of Independence; perhaps Protestants left because they saw their homeland going to hell in a handbasket?

IJP, I’m not sure you’re getting me on this. “You don’t seem capable of accepting that Unionists are primarily ‘British’. Many Unionists would not accept/care that you are primarily ‘Irish’.” My mother is English, my father Irish. I used to live in Ireland, and now I live in England. What am I? I reckon I’m a damn site more British than virtually any Unionist; my mother is British and I live there. How many Unionists can say the same?

But anyway, if you look at my last comment, you’ll see that I can accept, at least for the sake of argument that Unionists are British; however, even if I do, you’ll find that the vast majority of people in Britain won’t accept your claim. To them you’re as Irish as George Bush is American.

Beowulf, when you say “most people I’ve met in Britain think the Irish drink a lot and are not very bright” you are spot on. They think this of everyone in Ireland, no matter what political or religious creed. Do Unionists really want to be ruled by people who think so little of them?

And finally, Howard, as usual your comments are among the most thoughtful on this site. I should stress that my initial posting was not intended to criticise unionism as it was to express my puzzlement about some aspects of it. I was interested by your claim that Unionists feel themselves validly to be part of a UK family. I suppose what I find odd is how this appears to have so little historical basis.

In the late 18thC you have Orange Lodges issuing declarations that “as Orangemen we consider the extinction of our separate Legislature as the extinction of the Irish Nation” and demanding that Ireland’s (relative) independence be maintained.

It really looks like democratic reform and demographics led them to look on the Union purely as a practical device to ensure Catholics did not outnumber them; how could Catholics ever outnumber Protestants in a United Kingdom of GB and Ireland? This is simply sensible, pragmatic politics.

Tory politicians played on this and Ulster’s politicians became the leading spokesmen of the Union, on what might well be argued were understandable religious grounds…

In the end Ireland wound up as, effectively, two gerrymandered home rule districts, each with an inbuilt majority. Now this wasn’t what Unionists had wanted; the Union as they had seen it was gone, but they don’t seem to have complained. Why not? Why didn’t they have Stormont voted out of existence and power returned to Westminister at the first possible opportunity?

Was Unionism, in fact, a misnomer?

I guess what I’m most curious about is when Ulster’s Protestants really started to see themselves as British rather than Irish. Does anybody know?

Posted by: Greg at October 9, 2003 02:08 AM

I would say fundamentally there are no hierarchies of Britishness here and that being English or Scottish or Welsh does not make one “more British” than being NI as all are part of the UK and it is being “of the UK” that is what allows you to be British (if you want to be).

In particular, being seen as British by an Englishman does not make you any more Britsh. NI is only a small part of the UK, and as such ignorance about NI is quite common. Nonetheless it is typically regognised to be “of the UK” by your average Englishman. He will call an NI person Irish, perhaps, though I have generally found that if I say I am Irish, they will presume I am from the Irish Republic, so I always say I am Northern Irish if I want to avoid this inference, as a clear disctinction between these is made with the English.

Neither do I see any trade-off between British and Irish. I am both, for instance. This is a concept that is pretty natural to me.

Its not like Englishness and Scottishness, where there might be something of a frade-off (although I am not even sure there) because Britishness is a multi-national identity, that allows you to combine it with another nationality, e.g. Irish, Scottish, English, Welsh, or indeed a range of other things like Indian and so on, provided you are “of the UK”.

I am unaware of when NI protestants started “feeling British” but I would say that it was no later than the Victorian era, with all its wealth that you can feel as you walk around any NI city or town, and when the social and economic trends in (what is now) NI were very similar to the rest of the UK. (But protestants were Irish alongside that).

Studies have shown that it was in the period from the 1960s on that unionists stopped describing themselves using the term Irish, usually it is said that the troubles hastened this. (However that is before my time so I can’t say from introspection).

Posted by: Howard at October 9, 2003 08:02 AM

Gregg – on your point about devolution, this is something that unionists have not held a single view on. Some would prefer more integration, others less. It sounds like the OO were devolutionist in the late 18th c but of course one suspects that the great period of industrial wealth of the late 19th C was formative in NI attitudes today.

I would not see it as being an entirely inconsistent position to be simultaneously in favour of (i) preferring to remain part of the UK, (ii) preferring to avoid any form of home-rule from Dublin on an all-Ireland basis, but (iii) being prepared to accept home-rule on an NI basis.

Posted by: Howard at October 9, 2003 08:11 AM

There was a lot of participation by (what is now) NI protestants in British military efforts in the late 19th C as well as the 20th century. Like most NI unionists, members of my family were prepared to go off and die for the British cause in the 19th century and onwards — suggesting a high degree of attachment to Brisihness. Yet it is only more recently that unionists typically stopped calling themselves Irish – a mid/late 20th century thing.

Posted by: Howard at October 9, 2003 08:17 AM


from what I understand a commissioned officer could expect to do quite well in life once ones duty was performed.

There were plenty of Irish Catholic soldiers who fought in, say, the Boer war in the British army as privates without prospects – were they motivated by dedication to the principle of British Empire? Frank O’Connor made some interesting observations about this in short storys which featured his father.

Posted by: Big Mike at October 9, 2003 09:15 AM

Dunno Big Mike: certainly my own family experience is that you went in as an ordinary person, and left once the war is over, doing no better in life afterwards, those that were not killed.

Posted by: Howard at October 9, 2003 09:30 AM

So calling oneself British and(Northern)Irish is much like one calling themself Irish and European?

Would this be correct?

Posted by: Alan Anderson at October 9, 2003 09:59 AM

Alan: yes one could look at it that way. Indeed I call myself Northern Irish, Irish, British, and European without believing there is any contradiction.

Posted by: Howard at October 9, 2003 10:04 AM

I wouldn’t see a contradiction either, but I see my technical nationality as British. In my family it’s only recently (a generation or so) that the ‘Irishness’ has been dropped, or rather sidelined. And that’s simply down to being terrorised by the Irish (Republican Army).

Posted by: Beowulf at October 9, 2003 11:12 AM

As usual, agree with Howard 100%.


No, you are not more British than most Unionists. You may be more English, but that is different. I am half-English, though I live in NI, and I view myself as much more in tune with GB than most ‘Unionists’ in NI. But that doesn’t make me ‘more British’.

‘Was Unionism, in fact, a misnomer?’

*Is* Unionism, in fact, a misnomer? Now, you might actually be on to something there. Is Unionism, in most of its current incarnations, more a form of (British) nationalism?

Posted by: IJP at October 9, 2003 01:05 PM

Amazing how many Irish nationalists have such a one-dimensional understanding of identity.

Posted by: willowfield at October 9, 2003 01:18 PM

“Is Unionism, in most of its current incarnations, more a form of (British) nationalism?”

It seems to me that many Unionsts are actually retreating from the British identity to the more distinct and, dare I say it, “mono-ethnic” Ulster-Scots identity, possibly caused by a perceived betrayal by London and the fact that a PR battle between the UK and Ireland is always going to be won by Ireland whereas a PR battle between Scots and Irish is seen as more easily contested.


I would say that it is Irish Unionists who have the issue comprehending identity, rather than Irish Nationalists, dealing as they do with a complex dual identity one half of which some Unionists deny completely.

Posted by: Big Mike at October 9, 2003 02:41 PM

Maybe your too schizophrenic about what you wanna be,when you wanna be it…but thats fine…if an Irish person feels just Irish, that doesn’t make them one dimensional.Its certainly less confusing for the English!

Posted by: Michael at October 9, 2003 06:51 PM

Funny also how the whole point of Irish Nationalism is to stop the English running any part of Ireland, yet so many retreat to jibes about how the English view us all as ‘Irish’, as if that proves anything!

Those who don’t resort to such patent nonsense actually make very good sense, an example of which is Big Mike above, who is 120% correct about what is behind most (tho not all!) of the ‘Ulster-Scots’ movement.

Posted by: IJP at October 9, 2003 08:25 PM

Big Mike:

Spot on like I say.

There’s something in what Beowulf says, that Unionists removed the ‘Irish’ aspect of their identity because of the ‘Irish’ Republican Army. However, I believe that is just a surrender. Unionists should fight for their Irishness, to clarify it’s not all about being ‘Gaelic and free’. Ciarn’s already admitted it makes arguing with them from a Nationalist perspective much harder!

This is where the political side of ‘Ulster Scots’ is dangerous – for Unionism. It’s why most thinking Unionists reject it.

There is an Ulster-Scots culture, even though it’s largely unlabelled (think piping, the way we speak, even golf and soccer). It is true that it is unrepresented in the bilateral clash of ‘Irish’ and ‘English/British’. It is not true, however, that the Scottish dimension is exclusively the domain of Protestants and Unionists, nor is it true that there is an identifiable ‘Ulster-Scots Community’ that is now so often talked about. The Scottish strand touches us all – yes, perhaps more in the northeast than the southwest, but we all say ‘wee’ and ‘ay’!

This latest farcical idea – that Ulster Scots are all descended from the Cruthin who ‘were here first’ – is just the absolute pits and a clear sign of a total lack of vision among Unionists!

As Chewie has said in an earlier thread, it matters not who was here in AD 3, but rather who is here in AD 2003!

Posted by: IJP at October 9, 2003 08:35 PM

When I say Unionists should ‘fight for their Irishness’, I don’t mean literally of course.

One right out of the ‘don’t turn football into a political football’ camp!

Posted by: IJP at October 9, 2003 08:36 PM

There has been a change in attitude to Scots. The Ulster Scots way of speaking was for long thought of as rather primitive and vulgar — indeed I remember I was encouraged by my parents and school masters not to use it (implicitly, one might appear a ‘simpleton’).

It is good to see this snobbish attitude changing and perhaps, therefore, we perhaps ought to remember that Ulster Scots speakers have been subjected to enough condesenscion before embarking on more of the same.

That said, I can’t say I know of any unionist who one would describe as having retreateed from a British identity to an Ulster Scots identity.

Instead, I see a contunuation of the traditional NI tendency to a kind of ‘a-la-carte’ approach: a synthesis of (i) Irish culture, such as music, literature, and dance; (ii) Scots culture, such as presbyterianism, dance, and the Scots tongue (including Burns); (iii) and English culture, such as Anglicanism, sports like cricket, alongside (iv) the most central of all, namely UK-wide popular culture in literature, telly, music and so on.

Some years ago one used to hear some people claiming that ‘unionists don’t have a culture’. I think what they meant was that unionists don’t have an organic, home-grown culture of their own. (It may be that some in the Ulster Scots movement is a reaction to this). However, the claim is trivially unimportant, as obviously it’s impossible not to have a culture, and NI culture today (not just unionist) tends to be synthetic (as opposed to organic), drawing together and combining a range of influences as set out in the foregoing paragraph.

Posted by: Howard at October 9, 2003 09:20 PM


That strikes me as a fair assessment of what *should* happen. Sadly, it’s not always what *is* happening!

I *do* know of Unionists who go as far as to use the terms ‘Unionist’ and ‘Ulster Scots’ interchangeably! These are the same types who refuse to accept Scots is a single language and it makes sense to develop it as such, because they reckon that would be incoherent with a distinct ‘Ulster-Scots’ identity. But that’s another (boring) story!

Of course, there are also Unionists who think like you above – thankfully! And then, I hasten to add, there are non-Unionists who think like you above too!

Posted by: IJP at October 9, 2003 09:30 PM

That latter point is similar to the ridiculous notion that Americans don’t have a culture.

The reality is that their culture is so dominant (in the sense of widespread), we don’t notice it as ‘distinct’.

‘British’ culture can suffer from this also.

Posted by: IJP at October 9, 2003 09:31 PM

IJP: perhaps such people exist but I don’t think they would be representative of many. I’m afraid that the ‘Ulster Scots’ movement is not accorded that much attention or credibility by your typical man in the cul-de-sac, regardless of political persuasion.

As far as I can see, recent attempts to promote it are thought (at best) harmless sentimentality or (at worst) a rather expensive and not very funny joke.

It isn’t really in the mainstream consciousness of NI people, other than the well known and rather enjoyable and delightful poems by Burns.

Posted by: Howard at October 9, 2003 09:53 PM

In response to several queries as to Unionists opposition to Irish Home Rule and also the request for evidence of the `ethnic cleansing` of Protestants from the South. It is all documented and I can provide more if necessary. The reasoning behind the opposition was indeed Home Rule = Rome Rule as Carson was an Irish Unionist and against partition.
I quote the republics reform movement

Moreover, Bury suggests, with quite good supporting evidence, that the
strengthening of it as a practice, made increasingly more solid by regular
broadcasting in the second half of the 20th century, is consistent with
“Catholic triumphalism in a State where the few Protestants left had to
batten down the hatches.” And Robin Bury goes on: “They have been treated
with ‘barely repressed tolerance’, in the words of FSL Lyons, the eminent
historian, and ex-provost of Trinity College, Dublin. In 1984, the
ex-Cabinet minister, Dr Noel Browne, a Catholic, wrote: ‘The south of
Ireland is a Catholic Nationalist State, a state where no Protestant need
apply.’, It is a State now, of course, that has been legally and
constitutionally changed by recent acts and a referendum. Within the past
decade we have altered the text of the defining Articles Two and Three in
the Constitution and we have become part of the Belfast Agreement.

Eamon de Valera Prime Minister of the Irish Free State / Irish Republic 1930

“Justifying the sacking of a properly appointed librarian in Mayo, because, though highly qualified, she was a Protestant, de Valera argued in June 1930: “I say the people of Mayo in a county where I think 98% of the population is Catholic are justified in insisting on a Catholic librarian.” He went on to widen the issue indeed, and asserted: “a Protestant doctor ought not to be appointed as a dispensary doctor in a mainly Catholic area.”

“Our duty is to deAnglicanise Ireland, Gaelicise Ireland and Catholicise
Ireland” J. O’Mahony Fenian Movement

The Popes visit to Ireland in 1977

“Ireland is a Catholic country, perhaps the only one left and laws are not
to change to make it any less so. I am well aware of the tragic situation in
Northern Ireland but this does not warrant changing any laws.” Pope John
Paul II speaking to Irish Primeminister Dr Garret Fitzgerald April 1977.

“Is it any wonder that the Protestant people of the North would feel
intimidated in a United Ireland?” Joe Patterson Jnr.

“The Church of Ireland Gazette on 22nd June 1922 reported, “Be this as it
may, the fact remains that in certain districts in Southern Ireland
inoffensive Protestants of all classes are being driven from their homes,
their shops and their farms in such numbers that many of our little
communities are in danger of being entirely wiped out. The small Protestant
minority is at the mercy of local bands of lawless men who have learnt the
use of the revolver for obtaining the property of others which they covet.
The small Protestant communities in the towns and the isolated Protestant
farmers whose industry and character have developed comparative prosperity,
are considered “fair cover sheer covetousness and personal
On 16th June the Church of Ireland Gazette reported when writing about
ethnic cleansing in Ballinasloe, that Protestants first received anonymous
letters ordering them to leave by a certain date. If they ignored the
letters, the threat was followed up by bullets through the windows and,
“bombs are thrown at his house, or his house is burnt down. If the campaign
against Protestants which has been carried out on there since the end of
last month is continued in similar intensity for a few weeks more, there
will not be a Protestant left in the place. Presbyterians and members of the
Church of Ireland, poor and well-to-do, old and young, widows and children,
all alike have suffered intimidation, persecution and expulsion. In one
case, an old man who had not left when ordered to do so was visited by a
gang, who smashed everything in his cottage – every cup and every saucer,
and then compelled him to leave the town, with his crippled son, the two of
them destitute…The list of those proscribed is added to constantly, and
every Protestant is simply waiting for his turn to come.”

The Defenders 1798

Three quotes from an excellent Irish historical article about the so called “Defenders”

“and burning the homes of the peaceable Protestant inhabitants of the counties of Louth, Monaghan, Cavan and Meath, and even in the county of Dublin, making public declarations that they will not suffer any Protestant to reside within these counties, or in the kingdom” and

“In May Defenders descended upon a fair in County Cavan declaring that “they would destroy every Scotsman or Presbyterian they should find”.

Defenderism represented many things to many men, among them Catholic sectarianism. The experience of John Tuite á–‘Captain Fearnought of Meath illustrates the consequent United Irish dilemma. Tuite was sworn to both acts in 1795, that is he took first the Defender and then the United Irish oaths, but the Defender oath pledged him to quell the nation of heresy as well as to dethrone all kings, and plant the tree of liberty. The second part of the oath indicates how interaction with the United Irishmen accelerated and strengthened the politicising impact of French principles; the first part shows how much more the secular radical gospel had still to do. Putting the best gloss possible on a coalition fraught with internal tensions, Emmet later asserted that the United Irishmen had infused Defenderism with tolerance and republicanism. Presumably Tuites trial report had escaped his notice.

Posted by: Alan at October 9, 2003 11:51 PM

That might be a bit more convincing were it not for the egregious error of saying that Garret was “Prime Minister” in 1977!

And Noel Browne’s problems with hierarchy hardly make him an unbiased source! The fact that he spent his whole life as a hero to the Irish people, despite the hierarchy’s opposition to his brainchild, might in fact count against your claims.

By the way, your evidence is purely anecdotal. Statistics would be nice, as well as historical analysis by somebody who has written in last twenty years!

Posted by: Greg at October 10, 2003 12:44 AM

I always thought Noel Browne was a Protestant! Can anyone confirm?

Posted by: Ciarn Irvine at October 10, 2003 12:25 PM


Thanks for confirming my observation.

Posted by: willowfield at October 10, 2003 02:07 PM

Have some comments been removed from here?

Posted by: Greg at October 10, 2003 03:17 PM

Noel Browne – RC originally

Believer in the divine gospel of discontent.

Posted by: Jeremy at October 10, 2003 03:49 PM


Let us take it as read that bad things happened during the Civil War and the War of Independence. Let us accept that bad things happened to Protestants though I doubt anything as bad as the mass expulsion of Roman Catholics (and Protestants, mainly socialists, who wouldná–’t go along with the attempted pogrom) from Harland and Wolf and other events in the North at that time. Be that as it may few could doubt that fear and trepidation and the reasonable expectation of attack were common.

Let us accept that DeValeras statement on the Mayo Librarianship issue was a disgrace. Let us also accept that the ban on divorce in 1927 and the ban on contraception in 1935 were as well.

It is my contention that a conservative southern state attempted an ideological control over the primarily Roman Catholic population. It is not the case, as Bury alleges, that Protestants had to batten down the hatches. If anything Protestants did well out of the economic policy pursued by Fianna Fail governments from the 1930s to the 1960s. Laws requiring Irish companies to be in beneficial Irish ownership meant that British companies setting up subsidiaries had to find Irish people to sit on Boards of directors. The offer was taken up in the main by the Protestant business class (class is probably the wrong word), who had family and other links to Britain. The policy on import substitution, requiring high tariffs on imported goods, had the effect of preserving many Protestant owned business that might otherwise have gone to the wall or been bought up by larger foreign competitors. Of course, this policy had the effective creating a small business (and inefficient business) economy by the late 1950s.

Some bitter unionists declaim these persons saying they were bought off. But then figuring out where your next slice of bread is going to come from has a lot to do with a persons outlook. Isnt much of the basis for unionist support for the Empire and heavy industry and latterly for the welfare state and employment in the public sector given as a reason (by unionists) for unionist support for the union? Mr Bury just has a sectarian idea that Protestants should be unionists. Where can he have gotten that idea?

Many Protestants joined Fianna Fail (many were already in Fine Gael). Some became TDs and some were appointed to the Senate. Preserving three senate seats for Trinity graduates had the effect of strengthening a Protestant ethos and indeed liberalism (Mary Robinson) in the Irish parliament. Protestants did not have a hang up about the Irish state and were enthusiastic promoters of the Irish language and other aspect of Irish culture. I am sure they found the oppressive RC atmosphere a trial, but then so did increasingly the majority of their fellow citizens. Since the RC atmosphere was not aimed at Protestants (a clear distinction from the paranoid attitude toward Roman Catholics in the North) there was never a major problem of them and us.

Mr Robin Bury, the guy you quote is in fact in a minority among southern Protestants. He wants Ireland to rejoin the commonwealth and (as far as I am aware) is a member of the Orange Order he certainly did his best to organise an Orange march in Dublin a few years ago (the OO pulled out at the last minute after the CofI told them No they could not use the CofI church and it appeared that there would be protests). He does his best to popularise the cause of sectarianising southern politics, but so far it has been a failure.

Burys argument is typical: in effect, no one has said they agree with me, which means they are too afraid to. In fact many Protestants have spoken out, but to disagree vociferously with Mr Burys movement. Mr Burys argument has the virtue of becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you tell people that you will be attacked for saying certain things, then those who might believe it will be too terrified to open their mouths. In addition, the vast but silent and imaginary ranks of supporters of Mr Bury will swell, subject tot no verifiable empirical test. It is a neat trick. I have come across, and have heard speak, prominent individuals who espouse the cause of unionism in the South. Their big problem is that it is not a very popular cause (in the sense of few people support it), so they tend to sublimate it (maybe this is what Mr Bury means) and to promote (for example) visits by members of the British Royal Family (and on the occasion of which there is never any shortage of fawning natives ready tug the forelock of old, like a habit that had never gone out of fashion).

Now to Noel Browne: he wrote that in 1984 (good year for it), a year after the referendum making abortion unconstitutional. There was a panic among liberals who thought that there was a resurgent Roman Catholic right ready to re-take back all the gains won in the 1970s. It didnt happen and the referendum had the effect in a few short years of making abortion constitutional (in certain circumstances). Public attitudes became totally transformed, with tolerance for the reasons why someone might want to avail of abortion winning the day (by a mile). The moral ‘coup’ (which is what it was) and immediate success represented by the 1983 abortion referendum has been turned into the biggest unmitigated disaster for the conservative religious right in Ireland for years. And, here is the rub, to win the referendum, the socalled pro-life proponents made liberal use of Protestant fundamentalist unionists in the North to bolster the case for winning the referendum. Rather foolishly in my view, those opposing the referendum attempted to suggest that people should vote No because a Yes would put off northern Protestants. Result, a deluge of northern Protestants descended to make common cause with the conservative Roman Catholic right (it was a real case of Protestant and Catholic unite). In many ways partition suits both conservative Roman Catholicism and Conservative Protestantism it creates zones of monopoly influence (except that both projects are in crisis).

Noel Browne was wrong on that one.

As for what the Pope said in 1977 about not changing any laws. Who listens to him? Laws have been changed wholesale.

The Popes influence is diminishing because he says all the wrong things as afar s the majority of people are concerned when they survey their own lives. It does not mean that they are no longer Roman Catholics. It just means that they do not obey the rules and have no intention of doing so.

Posted by: Jeremy at October 10, 2003 05:34 PM


For information, what is the current law regarding divorce in the Republic? (How does it compare to UK, for example?)

Also, I assume the contraception ban was not in the constitution. Was it an act of parliament – or some sort of regulation? When was it overturned and what is the law now?

Regarding censorship, when did that go, and how?


Posted by: willowfield at October 10, 2003 05:44 PM


Divorce is available after five years (including two years separation). It is ‘no-fault’. I would have to look up the exact details (and I will). There is a state funded mediation service and family courts that sit in camera there is criticism of the latter because it makes it difficult to asses the consistency of decisions and the development of precedent. This may change soon.

Contraception was banned by an act of parliament in 1935. Divorce had been banned by law and was subsequently made unconstitutional (in 1937, now rescinded).

Contraception became legal for private use as a result of a Supreme Court decision in 1973. A Mrs McGee argued that her doctor had told informed her that any future pregnancy would put her life in danger. The Court decided that the constitutional protection of marriage (this is separate from the ban on divorce) meant that Mrs McGee and Husband would be prevented form living a full married life (if you know what I mean, I think you do). Therefore she and her husband had a right to use of contraception. There then arose an anomaly contraception for use in married life was legal, but its sale was still illegal. You could import contraceptives for personal and private use (most of it is!) but not for sale (whether it was for public or private use).

In 1974 the then Fine Gael/Labour government attempted to bring in a law allowing limited contraception use much to the disgust of the highly conservative Minister for Justice (Patrick Cooney) who had to pilot it through Leinster House, while metaphorically holding his nose. The bill was full of references to fornication and other archaic terminology. The bill fell because the Taoiseach (Liam Cosgrave) and the Minster for Education voted against it (to the astonishment of their colleagues).

Meanwhile, thousands of women were getting the pill prescribed (as a period regulator there was a lot of irregularity during those years). Family planning clinics were set up and did a roaring trade. A campaigning group called the Contraception Action Programme (CAP!)opened a shop selling condoms (Condoms Unlimited) and sold them openly in markets, all in open defiance of the law. Bemused members of the Garda were occasionally dispatched to take names nothing happened.

The cross border trade in contraception ended í–– customs on the southern side was completely uninterested in the practice. It was just a giant exercise in hypocrisy and moral piety that fell apart.

In the late 1970s Charles Haughey (yes him) as Minster for Health successfully brought in a bill that allowed the use of contraception and the sale of condoms for bona fide family planning purposes. No, this did not mean it was illegal to use them as balloons. It meant that they were only available by prescription to married couples (believe it or not?). Haughey originated the phrase in defence of his measure that it was an Irish solution to an Irish problem. By 1984 the law was changed again and condoms became available for sale in shops and thorough vending machines.

Censorship was onerous up until the mid 1960s most Irish authors had the distinction of being banned in Ireland. The censorship acts (in film and literature) were liberalised in the 1960s by the late Brian Lenihan (a sort of Fianna Fail version of Jim Rodgers, or rather a combination of Jim Rodgers and the Rev William McCrea). They were further relaxed in the 1970s. Now the situation is more or less the same as in Britain, I would think. There was a ban on information with regard to contraception that lasted a bit longer and a short-lived ban on abortion information in the 1980s the later information ban was overturned by referendum (as part of the liberalisation of attitudes to abortion, alongside an unhindered right to travel outside the state for an abortion).

Posted by: Jeremy at October 10, 2003 06:40 PM