Winning over sceptical Americans?

A few years ago I wrote an analysis piece for one of the US press agencies, which got picked up in a few of the regionals. I was astonished at the small changes they made to the text to render it more comprehensible to a US audience. Most prominent of those changes was to add the adjectives Catholic and Protestant to each of the parties. This piece in the New York Sun does something similar in its approval of Robinson and Donaldson, and the result is often jarring. Though not as jarring as the lurid prose of Andrew Greely.

  • Token Dissent

    I know its an easy target but…

    Not only is this article jarring, it contains numerous factual errors and an ambiguous use of language which leads to misinformation.

    It is just silly to claim that Paisley: “had never agreed to meet with a delegation from the United States.”

    The claim is also made that Paisley – representing “the Protestants”/”the Unionists” – has refused “for decades even to meet in person with his Catholic counterparts.” I know the SDLP and the UUP are on decline but give then a polite mention at least!

    It is nice to be informed about the VITALLY important role O’Dwyer and Quinn have played in getting the Prods to provide tea and biscuits for Irish-America, and talk to those Catholics.

    By the way I think there is a thesis to be done on how the discourse of the Green and White Army has affected unionism. Jeffrey, the Big Man, Robbo and Sir Reg now all talk about “our wee country”. What next – our economy’s not Brazilian its Norn Irish?

  • Cromwell

    I love our wee country but how I wish our beaches were ” its not Tyrella its Ipanema!” Altogether now!

  • “Token Dissent” hits the button.

    We now have, in short order, the NY Sun and the Chicago Sun-Times evidencing naive ignorance about “yer wee country”. This is not just tabloiditis.

    I share the impressions of so-many regular and irregular visitors to the former land of the Braves and continuing Home of the Freebie (which is what the reported trip seems to be):

    1. There is a heck of a lot of Norn Ironers over there. Some are even legal.
    2. It is astounding how anyone can be Oirish. Despite the finding (and for the moment I cannot source it) that half of those claiming to be Irish-Americans are actually descended from Ulster-Scots (and are non-RC), there is the mystery of how so many have lost that root, be in ignorance of their origins, and identify with An Gorta Mór et al. And how being Oirish inevitably amounts to some kind of theme-park mentality.
    3. It is also astonishing how little of the serious scholarship about Ulster-American and Irish-American history gets through this green filter, even among the educated.
    4. I can only assume that all of this (and more) is simply a function of being a large and introverted nation. On an early visit, six weeks across a dozen states, on both coasts, I found myself keeping count of the encountered references to Britain and Ireland. Apart from the routine two-liners about another murder or atrocity (all in Belfast or [‘]Derry), the only time the UK got a look in were jokey pieces about Thomas Hardy or Jane Austen. Scan the standard Sticksville motel fare of “USA today” and CNN to see how far my impression remains correct.

    The questionis is what we can do to raise the general level of debate and understanding (and the evidence of other threads on Slugger, for example the on-going fallout from Greeley suggests the problem starts at home).

  • Greenflag

    Malcolm Redfellow,

    ‘I can only assume that all of this (and more) is simply a function of being a large and introverted nation.’

    Could Northern Ireland possibly be described as a small introverted ‘half nation/nations ‘ with a GDP perhaps half that of Rhode Island ?

    Greeley is a novelist . His ‘analysis’ of ‘Unionism ‘/Unionists in NI was perhaps a bit over the top but in political essentials accurate enough .Describing Unionists as ‘racists’ was however misleading . Unionists are not a race but part of a group of countries/nations known as the UK .

    It’s hard to fault the Americans alone however . Despite the fact that many people in Ireland -North and South don’t particularly like to see the problem in Northern Ireland described in purely Protestant versus Roman Catholic terms (Its so Balkan – Middle Eastern dearie ) – what are Americans going to believe when they see that Northern Ireland’s First Minister elect is a fundamentalist Protestant preacher with advanced degrees in bigotry and mob appeal and his Deputy is a professed Roman Catholic ?

    Her Majesty’s Government has of course played up the Protestant /Catholic NI theme as their way of wiping their hands clean in front of the Americans and saying ‘ It’s not our fault it’s the bloody Irish see! ‘

    Most Irish Americans ?Americans do not ‘understand ‘ the Unionist ‘predicament ‘ in Ireland /Northern Ireland . Perhaps Greeley has done Unionists a favour by default ?

    As Kurt Vonnegut RIP – would say ‘So it goes’

  • jaffa

    Perhaps the reason Irish-Americans of Scots-Irish descent feel greater affinity to Catholic Irish people than we expect has something to do with republicanism and nothing to do with religion.

  • Greenflag

    ‘has something to do with republicanism and nothing to do with religion. ‘

    The USA is a Republic and despite being a ‘religiously’ inclined country -religious denominational differences are insignificant in comparison to what they are within Northern Ireland . Thus you can have Guliani (RC ) in the lead for Republican Presidential nomination over McCain (Protestant -denomnation unknown) and Hilary Clinton (Methodist) in the lead for the Democratic nomination over Obama (denomination unknown .

    Can anyone in NI ever envisage a Catholic leading the DUP or a Protestant leading SF – ( the latter would have at least a slim possibility)?

  • When a Province and an Island, through centuries of emigration, spreads and continues to spread so much of its population across the globe, “introversion” is hardly a characteristic of the local psyche. I challenge anyone to find any family across the eight counties of Ulster without relatives in the US, Canada, Australasia and wherever (and often in all of them). Indeed, my experience of Ulsterfolk’s debate is that (once you get ‘em away from local issues) the knowledge is cosmopolitan and the politics are liberal.

    I equally question why “Greenflag” needs to conflate “unionism” and the wider Scots-Irish tradition. Jaffa’s point is relevant here. I am currently reading Derek Lundy’s “Men that God Made Mad” [http://www.amazon.co.uk/Men-That-God-Made-Mad/dp/022407296X], and have just reached his take on 1775:
    “Remember how many Ulster Presbyterians there were in the Thirteen Colonies. Perhaps 250,000 emigrants left Ulster ports directly for America during the first seventy-five years of the eighteenth century, and large numbers of emigrants to Canada “re-emigrated” by crossing the border into the American colonies. Most of them were Presbyterians, and they constituted between a third and a half of the entire population of Ulster during that period…
    “As with all immigrants, the Ulster Dissenters in America kept in touch with the people back home. They continued to inhabit the same world of ideas and politics. The Presbyterians of Massachusetts were unlikely to submit there to what they considered the same sorts of arbitrary measures that they, or their parents or grandparents, had left Down or Antrim to escape. Because Ulster Presbyterians suffered from almost as much discrimination as Irish Catholics, they got the increasingly strong idea that the American colonists were fighting for their rights, too.”

    And of that trans-Atlantic kinship was born 1798.

    And, I suggest, the tradition persists. Paisley is no unionist in the tradition of Randolph Churchill and the “Big House”. Paisley and his “ism” are the conclusion of a century of growing disaffection between the “unionists” and the Union. Here’s Diarmaid Ferriter making the point of how quickly the disillusion with Churchillian Unionism set in:
    “In his maiden speech in the House of Lords in December 1921, Carson bellowed: ‘What a fool I was! I was only a puppet and so was Ulster and so was Ireland in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into office’. It was on thje idea of unstinting devotion to Empire that much of the political rhetoric of Northern unionism depended.”
    [“The Transformation of Ireland”; http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transformation-Ireland-1900-2000-Diarmaid-Ferriter/dp/1861974434/ref=sr_1_1/026-1662217-3760436?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176397923&sr=1-1%5D

    In that context, it occurs to me to wonder if any Unionist from Craig even down to Trimble could easily refer to Northern Ireland as “our wee country”. I further suggest that the present “solution” (if that is indeed what it is) has been achieved largely by provincialising it: again something abhorrent to the original Unionists of the 1890-1920 formative period.

    Yes … I confess it, even in the cynical vituperation that is Sluggerdom, I am optimistic. If the new Assembly is to work, it will be because a community of interest, a social compact, an egalitarianism perhaps, can evolve. For all the behind-the-hand sneers about water charges (and the other trivia of the recent election), we witnessed something quite remarkable: the discovery of common interest across the divide.

    And one last thought: look at the social background of the nominated ministers. For the first time in Northern Ireland we are getting class distinction out of the equation.

  • Greenflag

    Malcom Redface 🙂

    ‘I challenge anyone to find any family across the eight counties of Ulster without relatives in the US, Canada, Australasia’

    Ahem there are 9 counties in Ulster -6 of which are in Northern Ireland . I’ll name them all if you want 🙂

    ‘I equally question why “Greenflag” needs to conflate “unionism” and the wider Scots-Irish tradition.’

    Is that what I was doing ? I would’nt have guessed it . I’m very much aware of the important Scots Irish role in the the early USA and their republican and democratic opposition to London rule . Believe me it’s so much easier when London is 3,000 miles away across an ocean :).

    ‘“In his maiden speech in the House of Lords in December 1921, Carson bellowed: ‘What a fool I was! I was only a puppet and so was Ulster and so was Ireland in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into office’.’

    Oh dear deja vu time again . When Tory leader David Cameron ousts Labour’s Gordon Brown from Westminster in a couple of years time be prepared for the new Unionist puppets/muppets to replicate Carson’s ‘foolery’. Paisley/Robinson /Empey would just be following in the steps of Molyneux and Trimble

    I can see you are ‘optimistic’ which is all very well but I would not yet declare ‘mission accomplished’

    ‘ For the first time in Northern Ireland we are getting class distinction out of the equation. ‘

    You might think that MR but I believe it was a Mr Eric Blair (a.k.a George Orwell) who made the point that even though all animals were equal on the farm the ‘pigs’ were more equal than the other animals .

    Let’s just hope there’s enough english slops in the ‘trough ‘ to keep the northern snouts happy !

    So it goes 🙁

  • seanzmct

    Greenflaf. What a curious thing to write. What do you mean by “english (sic) slops”? Could you be referring to the billions of pounds subvention from the UK treasury- headed up by that “englisher” Gordon Brown- that fund the health service;social services;education etc.

    And why “northern snouts”; are the people in the south now so affluent that they now oppose government spending on public services?

  • Obscure Reference

    “It is astounding how anyone can be Oirish. Despite the finding (and for the moment I cannot source it) that half of those claiming to be Irish-Americans are actually descended from Ulster-Scots (and are non-RC), there is the mystery of how so many have lost that root”

    The Oirish identity is one you can buy. It’s got products. “Celtic Jewelry.” Ornamental leprechauns. I won’t start with the Oirish identity politics though I’m itching to.

    What product can you buy to be an Ulster-Scot? A Bowler Hat?

    As well as being crap at propaganda, the Ulster Unionist community is bad at marketing and product placement too. Vital elements of surviving as a distinct cultural group in a globalized mass-consumer world.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Not remotely on topic, I admit, but I’d like to propose a thread to mark the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, the greatest writer on planet Earth.

    “We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.”

  • jaffa

    “The USA is a Republic and despite being a ‘religiously’ inclined country -religious denominational differences are insignificant in comparison to what they are within Northern Ireland”

    Yet they’ve had only one Catholic president…and they shot him.

  • exile

    For the benefit of someone who is a bit out of touch, could someone go into a bit of depth about malcolm’s point about the class background of nominated ministers?

  • jaffa

    By the way, according to the US’ newspaper of record (all the news that’s fit to print), Obama attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago – which looks like a sneaky unitarian-lite stitch-up – lot’s of tolerance and diversity. Check out wiki’s religious affiliations of US presidents – they seem to like them committed but liberal.

  • OK, Greenwhatsit, the Alzheimer’s must be setting in early this evening. Its Contae an Chabháin, Contae Dhún na nGall, Contae Mhuineacháin, Antrim, Armagh, [‘]Derry, Down, Tyrone’n’Fermanagh: eight, right? Or something.

    However, to business. Specifically that of Exile.

    Does any one else recall that old social-climber Willie Yeats’s accusation that Maud Gonne “taught to ignorant men most violent ways… [and] hurled the little streets upon the great”? Or MacNeice recalling “smoky Carrick in County Antrim… The Scotch Quarter was a line of residential houses/ But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and halt”? Anyone notice anything yet?

    James Craig was wealthy from whiskey. Andrews was fluid from flax and land. The Brookes were titled and big in Fermanagh. O’Neill was Etonian and also a Chichester. Ditto Chichester-Clark. Faulkner put the shirts on our backs. So far the traditional Tory fellow-travelling of land and big business.

    By then mainland Tories had switched tack: three in a row, grammar-school-going children of small builder, grocer, and circus performer. Thank the Lord Butler for the 1944 Education Act. Similarly the rise of Trimble, academic barrister. Trimble’s opposite number, Hume, was almost a spoiled priest, but recognisably of the same good middle-class cloth: I missed that previously.

    And now? We have Paisley, the son of the small-town Baptist pastor, who attended the local Model (i.e. National Elementary) School, whose first job was on a Tyrone farmstead.

    James Martin Pacelli McGuinness (hmm … didn’t know that Papal thing) has risen from “undistinguished IRA volunteer” to becoming “Esquire” magazine’s nominee for “second most powerful man in the United Kingdom after Rupert Murdoch”, an “enigmatic and intensely private individual” [thanks to Politicos bookshop for those descriptions]. But has he ever had a real job? At least Gerry could run a bar.

    Etc. Etc.

    My point was that Northern Ireland is now, for the first time, headed by the self-made, from Yeats’s “little streets”, who each owe nothing to the “established order”. My hope is that, out of that (shall I be allowed to say?) less-privileged shared background can come a new socio-political approach, an ideology — if one likes to give it that pretentious name. It won’t be Paisleyism or Shinnery, but both had enough expressions of decent conscience in their recent manifestos to indicate some social awareness.

    Nor can this new Executive cop out, the way the ScotNats seem to be attempting. It’s going to be either hard-core Thatcherism-in-your-province or something more humane and socio-capitalist (“New Labour” or “Third Way” anyone?). But it’s unavoidable. Here’s the “Economist” for 30th March, on the issue that Seanzmct mentioned:
    “Over the 40 years of the troubles, [Northern Ireland] has become a subsidy junkie that receives from Westminster £5 billion ($10 billion) more than is raised locally by taxation. More than a third of the 770,000 people in jobs are directly employed by the public sector (which accounts for nearly two-thirds of economic output), while half a million are officially classed as inactive. Part of the problem is the scarcity of private-sector investment, which is crowded out both by the omnipresent state and the large black economy that “peaceful’ paramilitaries on both sides of the religious divide hold sway over.”

  • Tom Strong

    some keep wondering why those of Irish protestant background in US, Canada or Australia identify with the native Irish and not the Ulster Protestants.
    It is easy. For a born in Canada/US/Australia second or third generation-what is there to identify with the Unionists? A Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people? Ian Paisley?
    the attacks on the Civil Rights movement? Job discrimination on religious grounds? Parading ad nauseum ?
    Not in my name.
    Besides our parents or grandparents were subjected to discrimination in those countries because they were Irish.

  • exile

    Thanks for the clarification Malcolm. But I would be concerned about the ability of the new executive to do the real work of reforming the economy. Some hard work needs to be done, which may not be pleasant for their voters, both those who are still at the bottom of the pile, and those who have benefitted from the extended post agreement boom.
    Never underestimate the instinct of the self-made middleclass to pull the ladder up behind them.
    I refer to the electorate rather than politicians, although my opinion of them could be a lot higher.

  • Dewi

    Mr Redfellow – Martin M worked in a butcher’s. “Undistinguished IRA volunteer” !! More like “excellent officer material” as I believe a British General called him (no source sorry).

  • Greenflag

    Malcolm Redfellow,

    The Economist quote below is an excellent summary of the overall NI economc situation.

    The putative New ‘junkie’ Assembly’s first move has been to secure even more public sector ‘junkfood’ which will of course only exacerbate the relative decline of the NI private sector . This is just another one of those inherent ‘contradictions’ brought about by the very existence of the present NI State.

    The Ireland of Yeats and MacNiece is gone in case you haven’t noticed.:)

    ‘Nor can this new Executive cop out’

    They may not have to. There are probably a million ways for this particular combination to implode . They both know that HMG will pick up the tab . Even the ‘dreaded ‘Plan B /more Dublin rule’ would still see the public sector faucet flowing to NI.

    Scotland has less of a problem per capita than NI with it’ s public sector accounting for 50% of the Scottish economy instead of the almost 70% in NI.

  • Greenflag

    Jaffa,

    “The USA is a Republic and despite being a ‘religiously’ inclined country -religious denominational differences are insignificant in comparison to what they are within Northern Ireland”

    Yet they’ve had only one Catholic president…and they shot him.

    True but not the whole truth . The Americans also shot three Protestant Presidents . As RC’s make up 20 to 25% of the USA population I think we can say that there is at least parity in the matter of ‘presidential assassination by denomination ‘

  • Gréagóir O’ Frainclín

    Just a point to note that a proportion of Irish Catholics changed their religion to Protestant in order to get on in the States. The example is Ronald Reagan’s Irish family ancestry.

    Also many of the Irish Presbyterians that left these shores for America had Republican sentiments, hence their contribution to the American War of Independance and the establishment of the USA as one of first great Republics of modern times.

  • Greenflag

    seanzmct,

    My apologies if the metaphor ‘slops/trough/snouts upsets you . It’s the kind of analogy that always comes to mind when ‘politicians ‘ are on the mooch for other peoples money -in the NI case -the English taxpayer’s money. If it’s any consolation NI politicians are not alone in exhibiting this

    ‘And why “northern snouts”; are the people in the south now so affluent that they now oppose government spending on public services? ‘

    No it’s just that people in the Republic understand that they can’t run a financially viable State with public sector spending making up 70% of GDP . The figure in the Republic is about 31% or a little less than what it is in the London/South East Region of England .
    Both SF/DUP have a huge task ahead of them if (and I say IF) they aspire to reducing NI public sector dependency levels to either ROI or SE England levels .

  • Greenflag

    Billy Pilgrim,

    ‘Not remotely on topic, I admit, but I’d like to propose a thread to mark the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, the greatest writer on planet Earth.

    “We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.” ‘

    Indeed Billy 🙂 America’s 20th century Mark Twain . Just recently read his last book ‘A man without a country’ and would recommend it to those who might be interested in ‘truth’ including the warts !

  • jaffa

    I wonder if we could export public admin services to our over-employed Souther Brethren. Would you like to buy a passport service Greenflag? We mostly do call centres and civil servants anyway so we might as well stick to what we’re good at.

  • On the one hand I am experiencing an adrenaline rush because, for the first time, some contributors seem to be agreeing with what I say. On the flip side, others misunderstand me: on the bad workman/tools analogy, I blame this on the size of Slugger’s box into which I am compelled to express myself.

    I don’t want to misrepresent Tom Strong (@ 3.07 a.m.), but I’m questioning “Besides our parents or grandparents were subjected to discrimination in those countries because they were Irish”. If this refers to the destionation countries, I could partly agree. I am old enough to have seen the cards in London newsagents: “Room to rent. No blacks. No dogs. No Irish.”

    However, the earliest emigrants left Ulster because (a) they were Presbyterian and dissenters and/or (b) landless younger sons denied by the Ulster Right of inheritance. These did not see themselves as “Irish”: the “Irish” were the sub-class with whom they did not identify (hence my use of the MacNeice quotation; and I question Greenflag asserting such a mind-set is now mere history).

    On that note, I like this, from Arthur Herman’s pop-history, “How the Scots Invented the Modern World” [http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Scots-Invented-Modern-W/dp/0609809997/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2/026-1662217-3760436?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176476553&sr=8-2]:
    “The first Ulster Scots … were much in demand as Indian fighters and as a tough barrier between the English and the ‘savage wilderness’ beyond. When they tried to build a Presbyterian church, though, their neighbors tore it down. Between 1717 and 1776, perhaps a quarter of a million Ulstermen came to America, 100,000 of them as indentured servants. They did not remain servants for very long, as colonists soon discovered that Ulster Scots were not born to be obedient.”

    For me, that has it all: the quantum of population movement, the element of Tom Strong’s discrimination, and the grit and determination that was critical for the next step. Here’s Herman again:
    “… they had come at the right time. English emigration to America had fallen off; and non-English settlers such as the Germans and Huguenot French had not yet appeared in large numbers. The Scotch-Irish settlements began pushing the frontier farther and deeper into the Appalachians. Unlike many of their English predecessors, they did not expect an easy life for themselves out in the wilderness, taking land from their neighbors or natives when it suited them … Their insatiable desire for land, and the willingness to fight and die to keep it, laid the foundation of the frontier mentality of the American West.”

    Herman prefaces this chapter with a quotation from an “Anonymous Hessian Officer, 1778”:
    “Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.”
    And, of course, after 1775-81, these were the new masters of the colonies. I’m not spending time doing what http://www.ulsterscotsagency.com/didyouknow.asp does far better. Anyway, Slugger has been this way often before.

    And back to my point: where did this Ulster consciousness go? It’s there in Canada, but (to my mind) greatly less so in the US. Gregor Franklin’s point (@ 11.43 a.m.) needs addressing, and seems to turn the assumption on its head. I am not wholly convinced that soup-Proddery happened to any great extent in the US. Evidence, please. As for the Ronnie Reagan thing, I gather that:
    “…his Father was a “Green” Catholic and his Mother an “Orange” Protestant. In America our founding Fathers and Mothers saw the wisdom of separation of Church and State and the right of every citizen to make a free choice. Thus Ronald Reagan was raised a Protestant and his brother a Catholic.” [I can’t be arsed to source such trivia. However, can anyone remind me who said of Reagan, “How can you trust a man who stands in a howling gale. His hair doesn’t move, but his neck does” ?]

    The vogue for rootsweb/ancestry.com/dig-up-your-granddad may change the neglect of Ulster origins; but I accept the thrust of Obscure Reference’s points (@7.49 p.m.). Too much good money has been poured into the international selling of Ulster, to negligible effect. While the images of Ulster have to be processed though the national tourist boards in London and Dublin, not much will change. As for the “bowler hat”, it occurs to me the last time I saw one on display for sale was in Portland, OR. Why do I know I’ll come back to expand this issue some time soon? [And isn’t the Big Mon’s black fedora simply ducky?]

    And finally, as they say in the best comedy programmes, I thank Dewi (@ 10.30 a.m.) for the news about the Deputy First Minister’s previous employment. As my mother said when I made mention of leaving teaching, “It’s always good to have a trade to return to.” Absit omen.