Unionist culture: dark, dour and unenlightened?

One of my Unionist interviewees for the “Long Peace”, explained that unionists are the last of the whigs – their loyalty is contractarian, ie the people rationally agree to be governed by the sovereign, not the other way round. Alan Bairner, however, takes a much darker view. In fact he bewails what he sees as the loss from the ‘rational’ fold of Ulster protestants, the very people, he argues, amongst whose ancestors were some of the most significant progenitors of the Scottish Englightenment.

19 thoughts on “Unionist culture: dark, dour and unenlightened?”

  1. One of those rare and satisfying instances of ‘couldn’t have put it better myself’ journalism. Excellent, incisive piece.

  2. ‘But it is also evidence of a people in search of some kind of direction and cultural identity.’

    what is, that loyalists wear baseball caps??

  3. Perhaps it’s a mistake to see the antecedents of unionism as necessarily Protestant, and the antecedents of nationalism as necessarily Catholic.

    The influence of 18th Century Protestantism on nationalism is well-known, but I wonder whether there aren’t at least parallels between contemporary unionism and the Catholic Jacobite loyalism of the 17th and 18th centuries.

    In both cases you have a situation where the identity and interests of a people are articulated not through an idea of their own sovereignty, but through an often nominal loyalty to an external agency over whom they exercise little real control.

    I think somebody mentioned on Slugger recently that continental observers are often surprised to find that Protestants are loyalists and Catholics are republicans.

    The switch-over seems to have happened in the 18th Century, and we shouldn’t under-estimate the continuity of ideas across it.

  4. ‘But it is also evidence of a people in search of some kind of direction and cultural identity.’

    what is, that loyalists wear baseball caps??

  5. I don’t know about any ‘switch-over’ ever occurring in Ireland, but anyone who’s watching the current documentary series ‘Monarchy’ on C4 will have seen in Monday night’s episode that up until the reign of King Henry VIII, England was an overwhelmingly devout Catholic country, and the only reason this changed was because Henry VIII was a bigamist, a despot and a tyrant who was desperate to spawn a male heir but lacked the juice for the job, so he divorced/imprisoned/executed his way through wives until he eventually found a woman capable of conceiving one and that probably wasn’t even his.

  6. Dandyman
    Obviously you have never had the faintest notion of history given your gob-smacked reaction to learning something about the Tudors. This is evidenced by your exact repitition on this thread of something you posted on another. If you are starting to wonder why friends and family are now giving you a wide berth it might just be because they are already sick hearing of your new-found discovery. It obviously means so much to you because you can use it to give some sort of spurious logic to your sectarian attitude.
    I will repeat below my reaction from the other thread:

    And your potted and obviously unbiased historical account is to highlight which particular point exactly?
    That because Henry VIII turned his coat ever since then Prods have felt bound by loyalty to the Crown and therefore the union?
    Doesn’t seemed to have worked with Judge Catherine McGuinness, Martin Mansergh, Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and scores of Scottish, English and Welsh republicans. Not to mention the Protestant anti-royalist Founding Fathers of the USA and similar-minded Prods throughout many other parts of the world.
    Martin Luther did have something to do with Protestantism as well, of course.
    And there were many clergy and bishops in England secretly sympathetic to Martin Luther before the obvious boost they got by Henry climbing on board – in both senses of that term.
    But all that shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of your pet theory, now should it.
    Talk about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.

  7. Some people will believe anything, what a load of nonsense.

    “Alan Bairner is Reader in the Sociology of Sport at Loughborough University in England. Previously he was a professor at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown. “

    Expplains it all really.

  8. Tom Griffin

    Thank you for a thought-provoking post. You have given me much to chew over.


    When Henry VIII’s son Edward VI was succeeded by his half-sister, the much-wronged Mary Tudor, all seemed set fair for a Catholic restoration in England. The English people were fed up with the disturbances of Edward;’s reign, sympathetic to Mary because of her sufferings at her father’s hands and, as G M Trevelyan put it were essentially “Catholic, nationalist and anti-secular”, ie, “Catholic” in being relatively content with the religious practices of their fathers, “nationalist” in sensing a new post-feudal English identity and “anti-secular” in having seen too much of the machinations of powerful churchmen like Cardinal Wolsey. Mary then set about handing over the governance of England to foreign prelates and burning some 400 Protestants at the stake, the last 2 warrants signed on her own death-bed. Mary had a far greater hand in turning England to Protestantism than her father, who, after all, did not want to change the religion of the English church, only its top tier of management.

  9. I don’t often have anything good to say about articles appearing in the Daily Raland. However, this article is on the money as far as I’m concerned.

    A lot of the points have been discussed on other threads. A common conclusion is that solutions for the protestant community have to start with enlightened leadership.

  10. Oops,

    In my previous post I wrote “anti-secular” when I meant, of course, “anti-clerical” (**blushes crimson**).

  11. Has not the Protestant Reformation changed the Catholic Church as it’s most enlightened early advocates set out to do ?
    If that is the case, then what’s next ?
    Reconciliation ?
    Irrationalism surfaces today in the continuing ‘protest’ against a changed Catholism out of pure ritual/culture and not out of any modern/intellectual reason to do so.

  12. art_macerc

    Nice to see you taking the time and had the patience to extend and put in context Dandyman’s historical enlightening. Much appreciated.
    I didn’t – in fact I was rapidly losing the will to live.

  13. “Irrationalism surfaces today in the continuing ‘protest’ against a changed Catholism out of pure ritual/culture and not out of any modern/intellectual reason to do so.”

    Don’t know what you mean by this, abucs. I’m a Catholic/Christian and am fully aware that my religious beliefs are based on irrationality. I see nothing wrong in this. It’s a faith question.

  14. Jacko

    ‘I didn’t – in fact I was rapidly losing the will to live’.

    That’s probably because you take these discussions – and yourself – way, WAAAY too seriously.

  15. Denny Boy,

    i meant a religious/political mix of irrationality, not a purely religious irrationality

    To explain, i meant that Luther and the start of Protestantism had some fair points about corruption and absolute power in the Catholic Church. But through the passage of time and protest this has been greatly reduced.

    I think that a lot of the negative aspects of Northern Irish Protestant culture is tied up in a continuance of a criticism of a medieval Catholism that no longer exists. This is because it was and is tied to a British Nationalism (Unionist)culture wrapped up in the mindset of seige. Because of this, it can become quite irrational, especially when time moves on and there is a change in the political landscape.

    When the current leader of Unionism has talked about “Rome Rule” and the Pope (whoever it is at the time) being the anti-christ this is evidently absurd and irrational. A Christian order which bans its members from marrying fellow God-loving Christians is also absurd today in my opinion.
    The old mentality of ‘Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right’ is dangerous, because it is exclusive and there is no exit strategy, just a continual fight against whoever seems to fit the bill at the time. Catholics, Nationalists, Terrorists, Prime Ministers, Secretaries of state, Luddites, US envoys, EU etc etc etc without end.

    Now Irish Nationalism does have it’s own set of irrationalities but i wasn’t talking about those here.

    As far as religion goes, I am a Catholic too, although i see virtually no meaningful religious difference to my neighbours protestant faith, neither of which i would describe as irrational.

  16. While we’re at it Jacko, I happen to have a degree in history, and studied the Tudor period in English history at university. Granted that doesn’t make me an expert. A little bit of reading is all that is really required to reach the same level of knowledge as a history graduate, but your almost hysterical reaction to my posts on three different threads now seems to suggest to me that you are going around looking for silly fights on the internet.

    The reason I posted the same point on two different (but similar) threads was because I believe the point is relevant to both posts. Tom Griffin in his post above refers to a ‘switch-over’ in faiths in Ireland and England.This is what I refer to in my post. There was a switch in England. I do not know of any evidence to suggest there was one in Ireland. IF evidence exists – ok, great. I don’t particularly care, I’m just saying I’m not aware of any, and I’m just trying to contribute to the thread.

    I do not have any sectarian attitudes and I think you will find that almost every historian that has spent any time at all studying the reign of Henry VIII will agree that the guy was an incompetent, an arrogant, vain arsehole obsessed with his own legacy and generally a total f*cking scumbag. Check out Charles Dicken’s quote re Henry VIII on the Monarchy Link on the C4 website – “a dirty spot of blood and grease on the history of England”.

  17. “….a lot of the negative aspects of Northern Irish Protestant culture is tied up in a continuance of a criticism of a medieval Catholism that no longer exists”

    Fair play to you abucs

    But some (many?) Northern Protestants would take the view that the Counter-Reformation (the Catholic Reformation as it is better known in Ireland) served merely to tighten up some of the disciplinary weaknesses of the Church (simony, absentee stipendiaries, concubinage and so on) without tackling doctrinal error (Purgatory, Mariolatry, indulgences etc).

    I think that your idea of “reconciliation” is great but if that means “reintegration” that is unworkable without a major change on the “Roman” side.

    Very best wishes,

  18. Eamon McCann had a good article a while back which suggested that history has vindicated Wolfe Tone’s hope that Irish independence would weaken the social power of the Catholic Church.

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