Loyalist identity: simultaneous progress and retreat

In the time since the first ceasefires of the early 90’s Howe detects a break between the ‘post modern heaven’ of the rejuvenated (largely middle) Belfast of the “nightclubs or shopping malls”, and the self concious pursuit of authentic local cultural norms of the two communities which puts both at odds with the actual pre-occupations of the rest of the UK on one hand and the rest of the island on the other. He comes up with some interesting conclusions.

Previously: demographic retreat is generic

Belfast-born poet Gerald Dawe writes well of how Belfast’s nightlife (and, one could add, its consumption patterns) “is today indistinguishable from Bristol or Birmingham, or, for that matter, Temple Bar. We all live, more or less, in the same postmodern heaven.” But in Belfast, as in Birmingham or Dublin, many people resentfully find they cannot afford a place in postmodern heaven. The syndromes of “Protestant alienation” and defeatism, including their additionally intense, working-class Loyalist versions, are in these senses phenomena of and explicable in terms of Charles Taylor’s and Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar’s “acultural”, socio-economic modernisation processes.

Yet their culturo-political origins and expressions are, of course, more obvious and more widely remarked. These are crises also of collective identity. Dawe’s essay goes on to remark that, simultaneously with the globalised “postmodern heaven” of Belfast nightclubs or shopping malls there flourishes, or festers, “a lifestyle based upon the conscious pursuit of cultural identity; a pursuit, if you like, of authenticity, of ‘Irishness’, or ‘Britishness’, or ‘Ulster-Scots’ which are no longer the preoccupations of the fathering or mothering homelands.”

He argues that as the aspirant Protestant middle classes have moved out of traditional areas the remaining Loyalist working class have been traumatised to a greater degree than similar Catholic communities:

…it is generally agreed that the pursuit of “authenticity” is most fraught, even desperate, among working-class Protestants. As Marianne Elliott summarises the conventional wisdom: “Catholic culture and identity is far more secure and all-embracing than that of Protestants”; while more affluent Protestants, with transferable skills and very often experience of non-local education or employment, can more readily assimilate to contemporary kinds of Britishness.

Ironically, the middle classes have become more attuned to the British norms across the water, “indeed almost three decades of direct rule from London greatly furthered that middle-class assimilation, in a variety of both material and less tangible ways”.