Political dimension essential to identity

I noted Stephen Howe’s excellent essay Mad Dogs and Ulstermen previously, and Mick will continue to focus on some of the many points it contains. Meanwhile, at the openDemocracy site, Graham Walker responds to Stephen Howe’s arguments – Loyalist culture, Unionist politics. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a Professor of Politics at Queen’s University, Belfast, Graham Walker argues that Stephen Howe has not given sufficient weight to the debates “around Unionist politics in Northern Ireland (what might be called “capital ‘U’ Unionism”) and those around the reformed and reforming United Kingdom (“small ‘u’ unionism”)”.

The article contains some pointed criticism of stereotyping and misunderstanding of Loyalism, in scholarly and journalistic writing, and he argues that the amorphousness of the British identity, in part because it is strongly felt by working-class Protestant communities, is both an asset and a problem –

Part of the problem is the amorphousness and “non-specific” quality of the United Kingdom and the very diversity and complexity of British identity (though these qualities can equally be regarded as the identity’s strength). There is little that is solid to reflect back the strength of Ulster Unionist loyalty and conviction.

And – in what seems a response to Stephen Howe’s identification of Loyalism as “distinctively an Irish culture” – he ends by calling for a greater focus on the east-west relationships, to match that on north-south –

The Protestant working class remains the cutting edge of an identity and an outlook which has to be accommodated on its own terms to a far greater extent than even the new nationalism or new Republicanism seems prepared to accept. The cultural manifestations of working-class Loyalism may be many, various and incongruous but there is still a core of political beliefs which is highly relevant to the ongoing refashioning of the UK and of Britishness. There is a need for more of an east-west focus in “Irish studies” as well as in the contemporary search for peace in Northern Ireland.

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