How my culture got replaced with, well stuff…

Newton Emerson has a skit on some of the condescending commentary we’ve seen on Slugger and in the mainstream on ‘the culturelessness of Unionism’. Here, as they say on Big Brother, is some of his best bits the whole thing:By Newtown Emerson

As another season of republican festivals, summer schools, workshops, concerts, recitals, readings, exhibitions and fire-bombings draws to a close, several commentators have observed that there are no unionist equivalents to these vibrant ethnic events. Some suggest this is because Ulster protestants have no meaningful culture, no notable intellectuals, no real sense of community and nothing interesting to say. Sadly they are quite correct, as my own empty life makes only too clear.

Take last Friday evening, for example. I could have popped down to the QFT to see Len Roach’s new film ‘The Hidden Agenda that Shakes the Corn’, then discussed the plot with friends in the John Hewitt afterwards over a glass of fairly traded Mecca-Cola. But what did I do instead? I mowed the lawn. Not very enlightening, I know – but you have to do it before the grass gets too long to pick up the dog dirt. Saturday was even worse. I’d planned to attend a panel debate at the Ballymena Summer School, entitled: “Prods – wilfully ignorant or just plain thick?” But I got stuck in Belfast all afternoon because the girlfriend had to pick something up from Boots and leave something back to Primark. In any case, by the time we’d got home, made dinner and watched The X-Factor, I’d completely forgotten what I wanted to ask.

On Sunday we went for a lovely drive through the Mournes, stopping for ice-cream in Rathfriland and polystyrene cups of coffee in the car park above Spelga Dam. I really must buy one of those fold-down table and chair sets that everyone else seems to own for such occasions. Also, I really must apply for that writer-in-residence post at the Kilkeel Literary Heritage Centre, so that I can fulfil my ambition to become the unionist Seamus Heaney. A three-month sabbatical should suffice – it doesn’t look particularly difficult:

“My passport’s blue. No glass of ours was ever raised in toast to you. Keep digging, digging. Will that do?”

However, those mountains can play havoc with your wireless broadband connection and the Arts Council only gives money to people who knit their own underwear. Maybe next year.

On Monday I decided to do something about the yawning cultural chasm undermining my British identity by organising a music festival in the community centre. “If we can’t watch Atomic Kitten in a loyalist context then the union is doomed,” I warned the girlfriend. “Don’t be silly,” she replied. “We’re middle class. We don’t have a community centre.”

On Tuesday night I really meant to catch Doublegrant Theatre’s new production of Billy Shootspatrick’s groundbreaking play ‘Drumming It In’ but we ended up watching Lost on Channel 4 instead. Then we switched over to E4 and watched the next episode as well, although that means we’re now a week ahead of ourselves. It’s really difficult following a series with all these new channels, isn’t it? Especially if you have one of those cheap digiboxes that doesn’t work with the video.

Curiously, in Lost, the castaways have reached an uneasy truce with ‘the others’ by agreeing to stay on their side of the island. Perhaps I should submit a PhD proposal to Queen’s on accidental unionist allegories in popular culture. On second thoughts, I might have more luck sending that one to Coleraine.

On Wednesday I was supposed to attend the launch of Dean Rector’s new biography of Sir Reg Empey, ‘Himself and David Ervine Alone’, at the University Bookshop, followed by an Ulster-Scots question-and-answer session at Yon Cultcher-Bildin. But I couldn’t leave the house because I had to wait in for the boiler repair man. You’d think it would be easy to get your heating fixed in August but no – they still make you waste a whole day while they turn up whenever it suits them, leave again for some part they’re too tight to keep in stock, then come back five hours later. Still, maybe things will be different once tradesmen are organised on an all-Ireland basis.

So here we are on Thursday morning after another week in which I have failed to undertake any community-based cultural activities whatsoever. No debates, discussions, lectures or seminars have affirmed my identity. No plays, poems, songs or stories have been written for my cause. Surely this proves that unionism is nothing more than a post-colonial illusion brought on by fear, prejudice and too much Schloer at an impressionable age? Yes, I think the game is finally up. I’d better call Community Restorative Justice and turn myself in.

  • Mardy Bum

    Good article from Newton. He’s on form at the moment.

  • Dec

    has a skit on some of the condescending commentary we’ve seen on Slugger and in the mainstream on ‘the culturelessness of Unionism’.

    Sheesh Mick, give it a rest about Unionism-bashing on Slugger. I mean did you read any of those GAA/Hunger Strike threads.

  • circles

    Add “uninspired” to the list there Mick

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Ah, this article is good fun, and as usual Newt is good value. I often disagree with him but it’s usually a pleasure to do so.

    One thing though. He finishes the article with this:

    “So here we are on Thursday morning after another week in which I have failed to undertake any community-based cultural activities whatsoever. No debates, discussions, lectures or seminars have affirmed my identity. No plays, poems, songs or stories have been written for my cause. Surely this proves that unionism is nothing more than a post-colonial illusion brought on by fear, prejudice and too much Schloer at an impressionable age? Yes, I think the game is finally up. I’d better call Community Restorative Justice and turn myself in.”

    Except that by writing this article, clearly he IS participating in this particular debate. He isn’t just getting on with his life while some meaningless debate is happening elsewhere – he IS taking part and putting his perspective forward.

    (It’s a variation – admittedly an eloquent and entertaining variation – on the “I’m too busy to be messing about with all that oul guff” theme that we’ve seen frequently here on Slugger from various unionist contributors.)

    Kind of ironic, I think. It’s a bit like that satirical Labour poster that did the rounds in ’97, when the gist of the joke was that Labour were so cautious that they were afraid to say anything. It was a big red poster that said: Vote Labour, and in brackets below, (This is not a poster).

    I was reminded of that when I read Newt’s article.

    Incidentally, wasn’t Newt a speaker at the Charlie Donnelly Summer School in Dungannon last year? Maybe I’m mistaken.

  • Rory

    A close textual analysis of the excerpts from Emerson quoted above is not necessary to see that the widening discussion on ‘the culturelessness of Unionism’ has struck a raw nerve. As indeed it might with anyone who found the community from which he sprang the focus for such speculation.

    His seemingly care-free, off-handed response however indicates that he too might be uneasy as well he might if he is aware of the despairingly low levels of educational attainment within that community.

    To recognise that this community might need help is not to condemn them nor to be ‘condescending’ towards them but to pretend that it is not happening from a misplaced sense of middle-class shame via association is to condemn them to the perpetuation of deprivation.

    The mass of less well-off people from within the Unionist community desperately need political leaders who care for their welfare and instead get those who exploit them on the one hand and sneer at their shortcomings on the other.

  • TAFKABO

    Rory.

    Your post is an argument for class based politics, not culture.
    I’d be happy to see some popular prod prole uprising, but you can keep yer Riverdance and yer West Belfast festival. If I’m going to adopt someone elses culture, it’ll probably be a mix of pop culture from Japan and America.

  • mnob

    Rory – so if we respond its because a nerve has been touched – if we dont then its because the argument is right ?

    Bit of a no win situation there.

    I’m also at a complete loss as to how a shared narrative built upon a single sided view of history would effect change in the educational attainment of young people – especially given the fact that there is not much difference between those who you say have a ‘culture’ and those who you say don’t.

    Newton is not sneering at the ‘protestant poor’ he’s sneering at you.

  • Rory

    I’d be happy to see some popular prod prole uprising.

    Aye indeed, TAFKABO, and so would I. I saw the best example of it in the shipyard worker and playwright, Sam Thompson, when he campaigned as a N.I.Labour Party against Brian Faulkner and the newly ambitious Eddie McGrady in East Down and helped as a schoolboy to stuff evnelopes, knock on doors and be laughed at for my enthusiasm. Sam lost, but his inspiration was my gain. I don’t know if his play “Across the Bridge” is produced much nowadays but it was one of the first fiercly polemical pieces of theatre that crossed communities in the north of Ireland (and got an audience as well as being shown on television adaption.

    I do not give a damn to oblige anyone to accept any culture they do not care for – it must stand or fall on its own appeal – but the confidence and caring mentoring that is necessary to help people develop their own creative potential seems sadly lacking as indeed it is in much of white working class society in Britain today. To recognise that there is a problem is not to denigrate the people who suffer it is the beginning of wisdom that tries to address the problem. The middle class will not address it. It is not in their interest. The people themselves must do it and must find their own leaders.

    So yes, it is class based as indeed is all of “politics”. I choose to throw in my lot with the exploited class and make no apology for that.

  • Borthberet

    It is surely not a coincidence that this article appears a week or two after the Féile an Phobail?

    I’m only going on the excerpts on slugger, but to me it looks like rather than defending the Unionist cultural tradition by talking of its vibrance, this correspondent prefers to satirise events like the ones held as part of the Féile.

    And is “Yon Cultcher-Bildin” a side swipe at Cultúrlann, the Irish language community centre on the Falls Road?

    Rather than going on about his shopping, perhaps he should have talked of the vibrance of the Unionist tradition? I hear that there are some excellent playwrights. Gary Mitchell for instance. Perhaps the fact that he chooses to take his scripts to the Féile would upset Newton Emerson’s argument.

    So sorry Mick, but as a critique of “condescending commentary” it’s pretty weak stuff.

  • John Maynard

    The point of this article is that ordinary life carries on regardless for the vast majority of people, and what constitutes ‘culture’ in the local two-tone political sphere is totally removed from the way most of us live. Mowing the lawn, going to the shops on Saturday, watching the X-Factor – that is the real culture of Northern Ireland, just like it is almost everywhere else. Unionist and nationalist identities sit above and apart from it and attempting to link them into some contrived ‘cultural dimension’ is just ridiculous tribal posturing. So, an appropriately absurdist piece for an absurd subject.

    I’m away to walk the dog.

  • John Maynard

    PS: Borthberet – you’re the one sounding defensive here. I think it’s more likely to be a ‘coincidence’ that this article appeared in the same paper that has printed pieces in the past few weeks from Brian Feeney and Briege Gadd which openly stated that unionists have no culture…

  • Rory

    John Maynard makes a compelling and true observation on the ordinary everyday concerns of most folk. And yet the concern remains unanswered. That this deprivation of creative development exists remains true and that those that might have addressed it did not – for their own reasons one can only suppose. What is lamentable is for nationalists to use the problem as a crowing perch from which to feel superior to their neighbours. Although adversity actually assisted the development of that richness of human life that needs not be bought within the northern minority there is no room for complacency when we see the yobbery and vacuous emptiness of youth in nationalist areas as well.

    We all need now to combat this bloody nuclear winter of the human spirit and the first thing is I suppose to stop expressing superiority over “themmuns”. One doesn’t help slow children, to write by constantly telling them they are thick, but neither are they helped by refusing to acknowledge that they need help.

    This question may well prove to be the elephant in the room of the northern Irish community and it is high time that a mouse was sent in to frighten the beast off.

  • exuup

    lets face it, Catholic /Nationalists “culture” is based around a dead language and adoration of terrorists…better of without it thanks

  • Garibaldy

    I don’t know what I’m more annoyed at. Feeney for saying this rubbish, or all of us for giving it time and energy

  • Anna Dale

    I’m too busy looking for a job, car and a lover to bother too much with this culture malarky.

    (paraphrasing Michael Portillo via Harry’s Place)

  • Gum

    “as a critique of “condescending commentary” it’s pretty weak stuff.”

    I’ve got to agree – this really isn’t a response to Brian Feeney’s articles at all. And not terribly amusing either. I hope Newton is not reading too much of own press…

  • Bushmills

    I disagree with much of what Newton often writes but frankly he’s spot on here. Just because we haven’t formed a Bushmills Womens Poetry Collective doesn’t mean we are deserving of contempt and scorn, it quite simply means we have better things to be doing with our time!

  • TAFKABO

    When one reads the likes of Feeney and others, one might be forgiven for thinking that the primary purpose of “Nationalist” culture is to give some insecure people something to boast about.

    Isn’t it concievable that most Unionists don’t go in for all this contrived culture malarkey simply because they already have a life?

  • Brendan, Belfast

    sorry guys – anyone who thinks article is “weak” is willingly blind to the truth or a feile season ticket holder. Newt shines a spotlight on many aspects of NI life and ‘culture’ and division which i suspect a lot of people (NIO / DCAL / local Government / paramilitaries)would rather was switched off. this piece is classic – sums up the underbelly of ‘culture’ which none os uf take advantage of and all are expected to cough up for.

    Long may he write

  • Pete Baker

    The attempt by Brian Feeney et al to ascribe a political label to culture is worth looking at through the prism of John Banville’s comments – more on John Banville on Slugger here

    “I feel part of my culture. But it is a personal culture gleaned from bits and pieces of European culture of four thousand years.”

  • Garibaldy

    Pete,

    Fair point. Although I think Feeney is well worth looking at through the prism of contempt for his shameless sectarianism dressed up as serious intellectual comment. From Brian Feeney!!!

  • Pete Baker

    Well… that’s a slightly more direct way of stating the implications of my reference, Garibaldy.

  • Garibaldy

    I realised that. I just can’t say how much I lack any respect for Feeney in any way shape or form

  • Crataegus

    Bushmills

    Spot on, I think Newton has it about right. He weilds a subtle knife.

    Sometimes I thing the Irish have an in build masochism. Who else would pay to watch wretched plays about some hovel by a bog where a senior citizen bemoans the parting of a loved one or whatever depressing subject or a lament about virtually anything. I could go on, but everyone to their own poison.

    Our culture is television, blogs, the cinema, literature, the tabloid press, the great buildings, our gardens, parks, nature reserves, our machines, values and priorities and not just the theatre, art galleries and museums. It is about how we work, how we think our values and not about what we do Thursday night. We may not like McDonalds or the local Mall, but these or the local nightclub may have more significance to current culture than appreciating Yeats.

    There is now literally a world of choice, we can pick whatever we like, go to the best in the world, no one has to be stereotyped and bracketed and no one is lesser or greater because they chose to fit into (or not fit into) a given serotype. The problem in Ireland is that a very narrow definition of culture is tied up with identity. It is inhibiting.

  • Nevin

    Bushmills may not have a Women’s Poetry Collective but it does have a rather quaint Alphabet Angel.

  • me

    Brillant nevin absolutely brillant.looks like those ulster scots lads have used their time well.

  • IJP

    John Maynard has it spot on for my money.

    Newt‘s problem is surely, for all his clever Unionist bashing, that he still votes Unionist…

  • james orr

    The artistic expression of the Ulster-Scots in Bushmills gets mocked.

    The artistic expression of Irish nationalists is eulogised and critiqued.

    Funny old world.

  • Fanny

    “Who else would pay to watch wretched plays about some hovel by a bog where a senior citizen bemoans the parting of a loved one or whatever depressing subject or a lament about virtually anything.”

    True words, Crataegus. A friend dragged me kicking and screaming to De Yabbey last week. I couldn’t believe they were roaring at one another across the stage like lunatics as though it was still 1906.

    And sin of sins: no airco. The place was like a Turkish bath. You’d think airco was expensive.

  • Shuggie McSporran

    James Orr

    “The artistic expression of the Ulster-Scots in Bushmills gets mocked.

    The artistic expression of Irish nationalists is eulogised and critiqued.

    Funny old world.”

    Well, if it’s any consolation, the Orange Order gets taken more seriously than the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

    It’s swings and roundabouts.

  • Billy

    Ex-UUP

    “Catholic /Nationalists “culture” is based around a dead language and adoration of terrorists”

    Not like the “Orange” culture then – based on a hatred of Catholics – celebrating the UVF/UDA/LVF, reliving battles over 300 years ago and unswerving loyalty to a Monarch and govt that couldn’t give a shit about NI or Unionists and would drop them like a bad habit if it could.

    That’s Culture!!!

  • Sam mcG

    It is good to see Unionists finally admitting they have no culture, save the scraps of Empire (Queen, dead supremacist working class ethos etc). The Irish (and Unioonists are not Irish) draw on thousands of years to sustain them, just like the English and others do. The Orange tribe are a lost tribe. They should go home.

    As regards the Abbey, the tourists, who sustain the place, want to see the old 1906-16 shite they put on.

  • TAFKABO

    Newt‘s problem is surely, for all his clever Unionist bashing, that he still votes Unionist…

    I’d have thought this was nationalisms problem. to be honest. Unionisms strength is that for all Newts Unionism bashing, he is still accepted by most Unionists in a way that people from a nationalist background never are when they dare to criticise Nationalism or Republicanism. Witness the sheer hatred and vitriol heaped upon any Nationalist who dares to criticise Sinn Fein.

    Ultimately, just like the cultural crowing of Nationalsim, this betrays a deepseated insecurity.

  • circles

    Crataegus : I acknowlegde that tastes may indeed differ, and that this article may have tickled your funny bone more than it did mine, but to accuse Newton Emerson of subtlety is really taking the piss.
    This article was about as subtle as a kick in the … Anyway, if it hadn’t have been for the Feile, old Newt would have been stuck for inspiration completely.

  • Dec

    I’d have thought this was nationalisms problem. to be honest. Unionisms strength is that for all Newts Unionism bashing, he is still accepted by most Unionists in a way that people from a nationalist background never are when they dare to criticise Nationalism or Republicanism. Witness the sheer hatred and vitriol heaped upon any Nationalist who dares to criticise Sinn Fein.

    Ultimately, just like the cultural crowing of Nationalsim, this betrays a deepseated insecurity.

    Just don’t tell that to O’Neill, Faulkner, Trimble, Lundy etc etc eh TAF?

  • Frustrated Democrat

    I know what my culture and heritage is, I don’t need to proclaim or justify it to be happy with it. I don’t need to go looking for flaws in it or to denigrate anyones elses’ because they do or don’t attend ‘cultural’ functions.

    Am I such a bad person for not exploring it and passing it through a cultural sieve that is acceptable to somebody else?

  • circles

    TAF – the last I checked the sdlp were still a nationalist party, voted for by nationalists, and very vocal critics of sf.
    Correct me if anything has changed here.

    Maybe I just don’t find Newt funny cos his humour is from another culture 😉

  • TAFKABO

    When was the last time you saw a Unionist complain about O’Neil?
    Trimble gets flak from his political opponents and this is par for the course. Lundy is hardly relevant to the conversation since he was a traitor in the literal sense of the word. Besides which, I was talking about commentators who dare to criticise the community from which they sprang, but you are talking about politicians.

  • Anna Dale

    I’m British, an Ulsterman, Irish, European and pushing the boat out even further a citizen of the world (maaan!).

    I kind of resent the implication that by not limiting myself to the rather narrow view of Irish “culture” and “identity” espoused by Sinn Fein, Feeney & Co that automatically I am buying into its *only* alternative in NI, “Orange culture” and “identity”.

    There’s part of the Irish “culture” (mainly the part that look slightly beyond the collective navel and forgets for a minute that the Brits are the be all and end all of Ireland’s problems) that I enjoy partaking in. There’s also a lot of work from people born in Ulster/N.Ireland (Hewitt, Mitchell, SLF, )that generally I can identify more readily with. Sheesh, there’s even part of the oul “Orange Tradition” that strikes a cord.

    But the the point is that.. its 2006.
    We (the Unionists and Nationalists, the British and the Irish) don’t live in a fortress anymore with two “cultures” that are distinct from each other and will self-implode if they’re ever forced to get too close or intermingle.

    It’s as quick to fly to almost anywhere in Europe from Belfast than it is to travel by car down to Cork. So like it or not, we are also part of the bigger European family and we are permitted to dip into that wider pool to pull out the things we like and identify with.

    My cultural identity is a mosaic of British, Irish, Ulsterism(?) and European and I’m damned if I’m going to let the likes of Feeney and the Orange Ultras equivalent on the other side, denigrate me simply because I don’t limit myself to what they determine is the only permissible “culture” (and view of history) allowed on my part of the island.

    From John Hewitt’s Letter to Montague

    “I always maintained that our loyalties had an order to Ulster, to Ireland, to the British Archipelago, to Europe; and that anyone who skipped a step or missed a link falsified the total.

    And what is the true definition of “culture” anyway?

  • Nevin
  • mnob

    Anna Dale – spot on.

    Maybe the problem is nationalists hanging on to an outdated monotheistic version of culture thats the issue here.

    To nationalists – isnt this all just a whinge because we’re different from you ?

  • Borthberet

    What about Brian Feeney?
    What about Briege Gadd?

    A bit too much whataboutery going on.

    John Maynward is right, to a certain extent. ‘Culture is ordinary’, it’s the ordinary things that ordinary people do. But it is also expressed in institutions and in the cultural endeavours of the extraordinary. Whilst the Féile and Culturlann are two separate attempts to build a post-peace process cultural institution, there are few comparable institutions within Unionism in Belfast. For a Unionist writer to mimic this in an attempt to defend the culture of Unionism is shortsighted.

    “the local nightclub may have more significance to current culture than appreciating Yeats.”

    Perhaps that’s why the Féile 2006 had lots of gigs at the Andersontown Leisure Centre and not a seminar on Yeats in sight.

    “The artistic expression of the Ulster-Scots in Bushmills gets mocked.” –

    Not be me. The project looks like it contains some interesting public sculpture, but I note that the website states that at the time of the conception of the project “the Ulster Scots heritage of the community had not been explored in any depth”. Good luck to the project developers in exploring their heritage.

  • Dec

    Besides which, I was talking about commentators who dare to criticise the community from which they sprang, but you are talking about politicians.

    Well, you didn’t exactly make that clear. Whatever, Unionism has a long history of demolishing anyone who appears to depart from the ‘No’ mentality. I believe an effigy of Lundy is still burnt every year.

    But since you’re on the subject of commentators, I suggest you pay particular attention to Unionist comments the next time someone opens a thread on something Susan McKay wrote.

  • IJP

    TAFKABO

    You make an interesting point.

    It could be that Unionists are rather better to laugh at themselves. Which may serve them well on occasions.

    It is also interesting that there are quite a few people like Newton who mock and mock and mock “Unionism” and its representatives – yet do not switch to Nationalism. And that is a problem for Nationalism.

    Of course I think, in the end, as this article indicates, is because they’re both pretty daft when you really think about it.

    However, my point is not that Newt should have a problem with British identity in NI, but with the Unionism he mocks so mercilessly. A fun joke here and there is one thing, but a sustained campaign to illustrate how daft it is – while still actually supporting it – is very silly.

    Is it not that our failure to distinguish culture from our political choices means we do not make responsible political choices (but rather that we feel almost obliged to vote the way we do without thinking about it) – and that is the problem with our whole political, and even social, system?

  • Mick Fealty

    Generally a very good thread, with rather more unionist comment than heretofore.

    It seems to me that there are simply different cultural pre-occupations within unionism and nationalism, which go back to their separate pro and anti state sensibilities. Much of the energy in nationalist discourse arises by and large from an historic absence of nationalist cultural norms from official life.

    Where I think Feeney has a legitimate point is that because unionists don’t tend to meet and talk about what is important to them, many nationalists are left trying to measure them up according to their own ‘cultural metrics’.

    Add Sinn Fein’s stated ambition of undermining confidence in the Unionist community and the result is that a lot of the cross community discussion on such issues is profoundly dysfunctional.

    The bottom line: you can’t always blame others for getting it wrong if you don’t take/make opportunities to tell them.

  • kensei

    “Spot on, I think Newton has it about right. He weilds a subtle knife.”

    Oh come on. this is absolutely anything but subtle.

  • Fanny

    What a measured and thoughtful post, Mick!

  • mnob

    There are still some nationalists who dont get it – Newtown is not poking fun at unionists – hes poking fun at those criticising them.

    We’re actually not too far from the other threads here bemoaning the fact that Dublin was a better place 20 years ago. Culture and the concepts of culture change continually. The feile concept of culture is all well and good but it is as quant and old fashioned as the idea of marching to commemorate old battles.

    It was Unionist and protestant ‘lack of culture’ that allowed them to adapt to new enviroments and integrate effectively in places like the ‘new world’. Instead of singing in bars about the ‘oul sod’ they went out and adapted.

    You just dont get that we dont want your idea of culture. Not through lack of confidence or becase there is something missing from our lives but because we simply reject it.

    Looking down your noses at us for this says more about you than it does us. It is morally equivalent to the myths that catholics didnt make good engineers and so couldnt work in Shorts or the shipyard and so were inferior to protestants.

  • nmc

    The full article is on newzhound, in case anyone’s interested.

  • kensei

    “It was Unionist and protestant ‘lack of culture’ that allowed them to adapt to new enviroments and integrate effectively in places like the ‘new world’. Instead of singing in bars about the ‘oul sod’ they went out and adapted.”

    Yeah, because the Irish dispora have been staggeringly unsuccessful.

    “You just dont get that we dont want your idea of culture. Not through lack of confidence or becase there is something missing from our lives but because we simply reject it.”

    Fine, but if watching X Factor is culture, shoot me.

  • I agree previously unionism has been the dominant official culture and accepted as such.

    Other traditions within the protestant/dissenter tradition have survived amongst a minority through trade unionism and a small group of intellectuals such as John Hewitt or Louis MacNeice whose Autumn Journals have some of the most scathing criticism of the land he left behind.

    It is also important to remember the strong streak of individualism that runs through the dissenter tradition for example developing an individual relationship with God. This has led to the development of small churches of like minded individuals often led by charismatic individuals who regard the wider world such as cinema, newspapers and television as mainfestations of ‘Mammon’and who look inward and who don’t see the need to have a dialogue with the secular world. For many the world is divided into the ‘saved’ and everyone else. The only dialogue they see is the necessity of is ‘saving’ the individual.

    I think many nationalist/republican commentators ignore the large percentage of the protestant community who don’t vote.

    On a different point I find an irony between Sinn Fein wanting to engage with Unionism yet also seeking to undermine them. A community on the defensive isn’t going to look outwards.

  • mnob

    No irony susan – SF want to destroy unionism while looking reaonable to the outside world.

    I never said the Irish diaspora werent successful but the fact that they still consider themselves the irish diaspora speaks volumes.

  • Fanny

    “I find an irony between Sinn Fein wanting to engage with Unionism yet also seeking to undermine them.”

    Susan, perhaps it’s not so very different from what proselytizers have been doing for centuries: trying through dialogue to show others the “errors of their ways.”

  • kensei

    “I never said the Irish diaspora werent successful but the fact that they still consider themselves the irish diaspora speaks volumes.”

    Yeah. They really like Ireland.

  • eranu

    “As another season of republican festivals, summer schools, workshops, concerts, recitals, readings, exhibitions”

    what exactly is this nationalist culture we hear so much about? can anyone give me a few examples so i can get an idea of what sort of things are nationalist rather than just irish or northern irish culture?
    from my own point of view, i just dont have any interest in workshops or readings and the like. i dont think that means i have no culture, it just means i think the above things are just a bit crap…
    i enjoyed Chicago when i saw it in London. but id have no interest in seeing a ‘nationalist’ play in belfast which i expect would be some drivel about how bad someones life was 200 years ago in Ireland etc.

  • DK

    “Curiously, in Lost, the castaways have reached an uneasy truce with ‘the others’ by agreeing to stay on their side of the island.”

    I am also watching this on C4 and didn’t watch the E4 next episode so Newt has completely spoiled it for me. He can take his culture and shove it up his arse.

  • Crataegus

    Kensei & Circles

    Newt is simply getting on with his life and his normal preoccupations, but what he outlines is the culture of today, for culture is not something you have to think about it is the here and now and our values. It is not the Unionists he is poking fun at but those with pretensions.

    I often wonder if the Nationalist Community is burdened with a preconceived notion of what culture should be and a responsibility to uphold it. A burden forged in times of past insecurity. You are not Irish unless your daughter goes to Irish dancing , son plays the bodhran and you enjoy a pint of Guinness whilst practicing one’s 100 words of Irish round in the GAA club. Much of this is about identity and if you like a right of passage, but if people are happy with that its fine with me and generally I don’t question it. It’s not my business unless someone makes it my business by suggesting I should follow suit or suggesting that what I do is somehow lesser, it’s not it is just different.

    For many of us this construct and perception does not fit the reality of our everyday life and to say that people have no culture, because they don’t buy into a particular value sets is perverse.

    Mick

    “you can’t always blame others for getting it wrong if you don’t take/make opportunities to tell them”.

    Was with you until this line, who says anyone is getting it wrong, if someone has an interest or lack of interest then surely that’s a matter for them. You can try and interest a person in something you thing they may enjoy, but tell them they are getting it wrong, don’t think so.

    Anna Dale

    My cultural identity is a mosaic

    I agree with that.

    I find there are bits of many countries that delight and interest me. I love the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe, the English landscape movement, the engravings of Durer, the sketches of Leonardo and Michelangelo the paintings of Monet, Bosch, Klimt, and many others. I like London with its west end theatres, Paris with its leisurely approach to meals and it is sense of place, the historic towns of Europe, Indian markets, the bustle and colour, India’s beaches and mountains. Then there are the dear old Alps and the west coast of Ireland. The beaches we went to when children, the old romances and associations. There are so many things and for each of us they are personal and individual.

    It is degrading to try to shoe horn us into particular boxes or to suggest there is not a richness in our experience because we don’t crow about them.

    Am I European? But I have many interests and business and family connections beyond that as do we all. Does this narrow definition of identity really matter? Let’s enjoy and respect our diversity and allow it to evolve freely.

  • Mick Fealty

    Crat,

    I just meant in the subjective sense of ‘getting it wrong’.

  • Crataegus

    Mick

    Sorry, stupid me!

    Will go have a strong coffee and waken up. Let’s see, Espresso, Cappuccino, or perhaps Viennese, Turkish or spiced.

  • Peking

    This whole issue isn’t about “culture”, which is virtually indefinable anyway, or the lack of it, but about supremacist tendencies and an attempt to undermine unionist confidence.
    The whole line now is if you don’t buy into Irish nationalist “culture” then you are culturally barren.
    Mick let his own cat out of the bag with his nonsense about unionists “getting it wrong”. Presumably, he thinks if they all start learning gaelic and voting Sinn Fein then they will have entered the culturally enlightened zone.
    No wonder nationalism in general was labelled as the midwife of fascism.
    Or that the German dramatist Hanns Johst said in his 1933 play Schlageter (act 1, scene 1), “Wenn ich Kultur hore…entsichere ich meinen Browning”.
    The same applies to this other crap about the unionist community not producing any intellectuals. In other words if you don’t vote for nationalists you’re stupid.

  • kensei

    “Newt is simply getting on with his life and his normal preoccupations, but what he outlines is the culture of today, for culture is not something you have to think about it is the here and now and our values. It is not the Unionists he is poking fun at but those with pretensions.”

    “Culture” is something talked about in different contexts. This is uninspired and somewhat weak piece by Newt – the obvious spoof, and I think it misses the point somewhat. “Culture” in this sense is the capacity of a community to produce it’s own unique creative output – music, dance, writing. This is one of the things thta define us as communities rather than just a bunch of people. If unionism is lacking that, or lacking places where it can output it, then that is a truly negative thing.

    For a start it is sad for Unionism, because then they are merely a collection of people rather than a community with unique bonds and traits, but also for us all. You don’t have to be from a culture in order to enjoy it, and often it’s more interesting if you’re not.

    “I often wonder if the Nationalist Community is burdened with a preconceived notion of what culture should be and a responsibility to uphold it. A burden forged in times of past insecurity. You are not Irish unless your daughter goes to Irish dancing , son plays the bodhran and you enjoy a pint of Guinness whilst practicing one’s 100 words of Irish round in the GAA club. Much of this is about identity and if you like a right of passage, but if people are happy with that its fine with me and generally I don’t question it. It’s not my business unless someone makes it my business by suggesting I should follow suit or suggesting that what I do is somehow lesser, it’s not it is just different.”

    It isn’t from any of that. It is simply that people are proud of thier history and their language and things flow from that. It also offers people a place to meet, talk and communicate.

    Nationalism doesn’t produce totally homogenuous clones. I hated Gaelic because I was forced to play it school (though I’ve softened a little from a few decent games on TnaG) but I dabbled in the language, like listening to the music and was interested in the history. Other people take differnet subsets and interets, all or none. but it something that is ours, we’re proud of an interested in. You cannot keep these things alive by force.

    “For many of us this construct and perception does not fit the reality of our everyday life and to say that people have no culture, because they don’t buy into a particular value sets is perverse.”

    The question is not about contructs and perception. It is about where are the flowering of this culture – where is it’s outlets? What can I learn about these people, what can they tells us about the world and myself?

  • Fanny

    Peking

    “…unionists “getting it wrong”. Presumably, he thinks if they all start learning gaelic…”

    Speaking of getting it wrong, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that nationalists call this language Irish, not Gaelic.

  • John Maynard

    Kensei might not be feeling inspired, but this article has inspired me to initiate a unionist Seamus Heaney poetry competition.

    As I’ve mentioned before I’m afraid I don’t do poems myself but on this occasion I’m prepared to make time for anyone who can.

    Anyone? Anyone from the Mourne area in particular…?

  • Peking

    “Speaking of getting it wrong, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that nationalists call this language Irish, not Gaelic.”

    I couldn’t care less what “nationalists” call it according to you, it’s a gaelic language.

  • Fanny

    You see, Peking, it’s a question of respect. In other words, you probably should care.

  • kensei

    “I couldn’t care less what “nationalists” call it according to you, it’s a gaelic language.”

    Which is a descriptive term in English for a number of languages. It’s either Irish or An Gaeilge.

  • Peking

    No, in this case it’s a matter of accuracy. If I start referring to cattle as horses will you do the same “out of respect”?
    Grow up and answer the legitimate points being made.

  • Peking

    An Gaeilge translates as “the Gaelic”, you idiot.

  • Fanny

    Peking, calling contributors “you idiot” only serves to highlight your own lack of respect.

    You know full well that nationalists, north and south, invariably refer to the Irish language as “Irish”, just as the British call their language Engish and not for example British.

    Accuracy has nothing to do with it. Do try to be more respectful and people might respect YOU.

  • Alan

    “Sinn Fein’s stated ambition of undermining confidence in the Unionist community”

    And I thought of Unionism’s determined refusal to develop a community in order to make it impossible for SF to undermine it’s confidence.

  • kensei

    “An Gaeilge translates as “the Gaelic”, you idiot.”

    Yeah, like you always translate every word in a different language literally.

  • Greenflag

    I recall when our teacher who was very much pro GAA/Irish/catholic asked us how many boys had been to Croke Park to see an All Ireland semi final between Cork and Meath ? . Two hands went up I suspect because their dads were from those counties . The teacher then asked how many boys had been to Dalymount Park where Bohemians had played Shamrock Rovers . About ten hands were raised . Visibly upset our teacher made the stupid remark that people who went to Dalymount Park instead of Croker were traitors.
    This even to our young minds seemed weird at the time .

    The next day just before the final bell. there was a knock at the classroom door . A large man asked teacher was he the man who said that anyone who went to Dalymount Park was a traitor . Yes said our teacher now looking surprised. I remember (I was sitting in the front row) a right arm stretching out and connecting with the teacher’s jaw and the teacher ending up on his back half under the table . The man who let fly with his right fist had served in the Irish Army and did not appreciate his son hearing from a ‘gobshite ‘teacher that he was a traitor because he went to Dalymount .

    And that was that . Soon after this ‘teacher’ disappeared /was transferred to some other school where I presume he was more careful in his utterances .

  • susan

    Speaking of an interest in the ‘other side’s’ culture. Look how long the thread has stayed on unionist’ culture before it goes back to ‘real’ culture. There are other threads on Irish!

  • mnob

    Susan thats because unionists are being told that the *only* culture they should aspire to is the ‘Irish’ one.

    The fact that we have playwrights, musicians authors, directors etc etc is to be ignored because its not their idea of culture.

    Instead of joining in with the rest of the world we should join hands slap our backs and assert ourselves as different.

  • Crataegus

    Kensei

    “Culture” in this sense is the capacity of a community to produce its own unique creative output – music, dance, writing.

    I think where you and I would differ is that I would say that our culture is the total of our inputs and outputs, our interests, our work and what we consume and not just a subset that we think uniquely ours.

    For me it is overlapping influences. I for example like Irish music, but you could no longer drag me to any of those delightful Irish Plays about a border Policeman in 1920 or whatever. I would happily go to one of the Bard’s plays or a musical in London or an Opera in Milan or Verona (or anywhere provided its not Wagner). I enjoy clever pieces of engineering or a new bridge or building. It can be the simplest things a good design for a card or a well organised website. Or it could be an aspiration to go to Mars. These things are our culture.

    I don’t wish to and am not trying to run down anyone’s perception or interests, all have value. So to say that Unionists have no culture perhaps is simply saying we do this you don’t ‘barbarian’ and illustrates more a lack of knowledge and lack of good will.

    I wouldn’t pretend to be an expert on Unionists, but I think that in many ways they have a very different outlook and different social network. Their values may be subtly different for we should not forget that they identify within a British context. They have the sports they pursue, produce artists and authors, engineers, businessmen and scientists.

    Is Andersonstown any more cultured than Lisburn I doubt it.

  • Dinger

    Re. Prods and ‘Culture’, think Eammon McCann’s introduction to his George Best obituary cast an interesting light on this:

    It was Van Morrison who put George Best into proper context, which was apt. “Too long in exile,” sang the Man on the title track of his hugely underrated 1993 album. “Just like George Best, baby…just like Alex Higgins.” Three of maybe half a dozen authentic geniuses of popular culture to have emerged from Ireland in the last half century and they had this in common, that they were tight wee working-class Protestants from ‘60s Belfast, and never learned to be at ease with celebrity.

    Had they been Catholics, Nationalists, they might have slid into riches and fame as if this were their natural environment and begun talking in celeb like native speakers. But there’s a sometime awkwardness about Prods, particularly Prods from a proletarian background, as they make their way, if they can, in the upper reaches of the wider world, sometimes expressed in drunkenness, grumpiness or uncool outbursts of atavism, perhaps resenting the way their identity isn’t esteemed, perhaps resenting their identity. Or maybe just confused. Northern Protestants have never been any good at guff.

  • kensei

    “Susan thats because unionists are being told that the *only* culture they should aspire to is the ‘Irish’ one.”

    Only in your little seige mentality head.

    “The fact that we have playwrights, musicians authors, directors etc etc is to be ignored because its not their idea of culture.”

    Playwrights, directors and authors etc are my idea of culture. Who are they, and what makes them uniquely Unionist / Ulster Scots / Whatever?

    “I think where you and I would differ is that I would say that our culture is the total of our inputs and outputs, our interests, our work and what we consume and not just a subset that we think uniquely ours.”

    You could define “culture” but it’s not really “our culture” and it’s not really what people are talking about when this topic comes up. What is it taht makes different from the rest of humnanity? What is it we want to say – be it music, buildings, art, whatever.

    “I don’t wish to and am not trying to run down anyone’s perception or interests, all have value. So to say that Unionists have no culture perhaps is simply saying we do this you don’t ‘barbarian’ and illustrates more a lack of knowledge and lack of good will.

    I wouldn’t pretend to be an expert on Unionists, but I think that in many ways they have a very different outlook and different social network. Their values may be subtly different for we should not forget that they identify within a British context. They have the sports they pursue, produce artists and authors, engineers, businessmen and scientists. ”

    I didn’t make a statement on Unionism one way or another – I honestly don’t know enough – I merely stated ifs.

    “Is Andersonstown any more cultured than Lisburn I doubt it.”

    But at the moment it is probably safe to say the Falls is more culturally vibrant than the Shankill. Whyfor?

  • Greenflag

    ‘Northern Protestants have never been any good at guff. ‘

    An admirable trait or would that be patronising ?
    Anyway Newt is not a bad hand at the guff . Maybe he’d make a guff First Minister . I’d even vote for him if I had a vote 🙂 Yiz could do worse

  • John Maynard

    Because the Shankill never really recovered after the IRA blew the shit out of it in 1993, perhaps?

  • John Maynard

    In fact, Kensei, let’s warm to that theme.
    How much of Protestant culture was bound up with the small shopkeeper, the small farmer, the rural artisan and everyone else the IRA spent the 70s and 80s driving out and killing as “economic targets”?

    The last year of the provo bombing campaign, which went on up until a month before the first ceasefire, consisting of blowing the crap out of every Protestant market town in the north. Clearly, this was a deliberate attack on the ‘everyday culture’ of the unionist community.

    Maybe we should be glad that the prods are just laughing off our current cultural pretensions.

  • Borthberet

    “The fact that we have playwrights, musicians authors, directors etc etc is to be ignored because its not their idea of culture. ”

    My point is that the leadership of the Unionist community have not placed as much importance in developing institutional structures in which these playwrights, musicians, authors and directors can work, unlike in the Nationalist community. So instead of Gary Mitchell taking his scripts to a theatre company based within the Unionist community and gaining acclaim there, he is exiled from his Unionist community and works with the Féile instead.

  • parcifal

    Am I missing something?
    Is Newt Emerson a pseudonym for Brian Feeney?

    The problem raised by this thread is simple.
    The catholic church is dying, 8 priests only this year were consecrated, evangelism is on the rise.
    So even though I’m a catholic and have a deep faith, and love of Christ, I realise that all the superstitution of the RC church, Pope, scummy cardinals etc is well exposed, and I’d like to thanks Prods for that.
    However the bane of the Irish is that Union Jack.
    Please make it go away.
    Can we trade the RC Church for the Ujack
    ( ie remove Ireland from the subscription to the RC Church, and the prods could ditch the Union Jack for the tri-colour)
    Maybe we’d both be happy and could get on with watching the X-factor 🙂

  • John Maynard

    It must be admitted that the Shinners are fairly recent converts to Gary Mitchell’s cause.
    When his plays first began touring, republicans campaigned to have them banned in both London and San Francisco.
    Why did it take a loyalist death threat to make Mitchell a “Good Prod” all of a sudden?

  • kensei

    “In fact, Kensei, let’s warm to that theme.
    How much of Protestant culture was bound up with the small shopkeeper, the small farmer, the rural artisan and everyone else the IRA spent the 70s and 80s driving out and killing as “economic targets”?”

    The IRA didn’t kill destroy those things. The last IRA campaig of signifiance was over ten years ago, more than adequate time to recivery, if indeed it could have had such a significant impact.

    Relentless Globalisation is putting paid to that, not the IRA. Though I am all for finding ways of helping local people to compete. It would be terrible if every city and place was the same.

  • kensei

    “When his plays first began touring, republicans campaigned to have them banned in both London and San Francisco.
    Why did it take a loyalist death threat to make Mitchell a “Good Prod” all of a sudden?”

    Because Republicans really still don’t know how to handle Unionism and the approach is evolving, and politicans can spot a good PR oppurtunity from 6 miles off.

  • Dave Smith

    “It is also interesting that there are quite a few people like Newton who mock and mock and mock “Unionism” and its representatives – yet do not switch to Nationalism. And that is a problem for Nationalism.”

    That’s cos we’re happy being ‘British’, ie: getting on with walking the dog, watching crap on the box, going to Budget DIY and sniggering at nationalists accusing us of being insecure while immersing themselves in ever more cringeworthy displays of entirely contrived and irrelevant ‘culture’.
    Obviously the Orange are as absurd, they’re just much less shrill and smug about it. Equally as insecure, clearly.

  • kensei

    “That’s cos we’re happy being ‘British’, ie: getting on with walking the dog, watching crap on the box, going to Budget DIY and sniggering at nationalists accusing us of being insecure while immersing themselves in ever more cringeworthy displays of entirely contrived and irrelevant ‘culture’. ”

    How exactly is Nationalist culture “contrived”? If people are still enjoying it, how is it irrelevant?

  • dave smith

    It’s entirely irrelevant to us normal British folk who just get on with it. None of us are going to stop you indulging – go nuts, like.
    But it’s certainly does nothing but amuse/bemuse us (the clarion naff northern nationalist version, that is). It’s all a bit…well, sickly, often hyterically tribal/sectarian and often more than a little distasteful. Still, knock yourselves out, etc. It matters not to me. I’m more than content to be get on with the mundanity (and security) of being British in the 21st century. You get on with the riverdancing, sure. *shrugs*

  • Fanny

    ‘”How exactly is Nationalist culture “contrived”?’

    Er, isn’t all culture contrived? It doesn’t occur spontaneously does it?

  • Crataegus

    Kensei

    Falls is more culturally vibrant than the Shankill

    Oh come on let’s be fair and compare like with like. The greater Falls has a mixture of people with various incomes and educational attainments. The Shankill is working decidedly class. Its like comparing Newlodge with North Down. Compare the Shankill with say Newlodge and Unity Flats and I see little to inspire in either, but really I don’t know the areas well enough.

    Back to Culture or ‘our’ culture as you prefer. You see yourself as a member of a group that supports some distinct interests. The question is which comes first the sense of identity or the culture that is apportioned to it?

    The Unionists probably see Chaucer, Dickens, Shakespeare, CS Lewis and artists such as the exceptional John Luke etc as their culture, but also people like Swift, Shaw, Yeats and Oscar Wilde. Because their interests are not contained on this island does not mean that interests do not exist. They may be less easy to identify, because they are in part subsumed in the dominant culture of Britain, but also integrated and form part of what is considered as Irish culture. Indeed it is interesting to reflect just how large a portion of Irish plays and writings were by the Anglo Irish or like Synge from those with protestant backgrounds.

    I am not a Unionist and like yourself probably don’t know their interests well enough, but from observations of my own social contacts I would say they very much identify with Britain, not in the overt flag waving sense, but by education, family histories and backgrounds. Paradoxically the contributions they make to culture could be in the context of both Britain and Ireland and thus have not formed a strong identity of their own and perhaps really don’t want to. How do you place people like Harry Ferguson and their inventions? Was he Irish or British or simply brilliant.

    How exactly is Nationalist culture “contrived”? If people are still enjoying it, how is it irrelevant?

    Perhaps because it is selective and narrow.

  • kensei

    “It doesn’t occur spontaneously does it?”

    Surely that the entire point?

    “Perhaps because it is selective and narrow.”

    Disagree with both those statement, but culture to belong to a group has to be in some sense narrower than the totality of everything in the world.

  • Fanny

    Kensei, are we at cross purposes here? I believe we are.

    People are saying that “Nationalist culture” is contrived, presumably to set it apart from “other” cultures which are not.

    My point is that ALL culture must be contrived. A poet or novelist or composer sits down to write a piece, and a painter produces a canvas accordingly to a plan. Culture, no matter how high or low, is assembled over time, with deliberation and not spontaneously.

    One can accuse the makers of Riverdance of creating phony culture but in what respect is it more phony than a work by Carolan, say? Did he create from scratch or produce variations on themes composed by his predecessors? With 7 notes to play with, exactly how original can an “original” composition be?

  • Shuggie McSporran

    Dave Smith

    “That’s cos we’re happy being ‘British’, ie: getting on with walking the dog….You get on with the riverdancing, sure”.

    Are you sure? Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world paid good money to watch riverdancing.

    I’m not so sure there’s gonna be that much interest in watching you walking your dog, even though that was a popular dance back in the 60’s.

  • Crataegus

    Shuggie McSporran

    Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world paid good money to watch riverdancing.

    And millions go to McDonalds or Disney Land so what does that prove?

  • IJP

    Very well made points, Crat.

    If people are prepared to listen to them, they will see them for the useful contribution they are – the kind of thing Slugger should be about.

  • IJP

    Who are they, and what makes them uniquely Unionist / Ulster Scots / Whatever?

    This British Protestant says: who cares?

    And that’s the crux of the difference, I think.

  • dave smith

    “Are you sure? Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world paid good money to watch riverdancing.”

    Shuggy, talk about completely missing the point.
    Riverdance is a manifestation of cultural insecurity and embarrassing anachronism which fans of tat around the world have bought into as they have the Chinese State Circus and Celine Dion concerts. Fair enough, like. I’d be appalled, nay, mortified, to see any of the feeble attempts by British people in Northern Ireland to emulate such (hi, George Jones!) succeed in gaining any sort of global popularity. They’re missing the point as well. What with them being cretins.
    I’d rather both of ‘youse’ got over it and got on with it but if all that bollocks keeps you happy and more importantly stops you in any way engaging in, supporting or justifying murder then…what of it? 😉
    But forgive us if we find what Mr Emerson so astutely parodies: a) hilarious b) somewhat tragic and c) a cause for (mild) pity.