Why are unionists so invisible on the big screen..?

AFTER the premier of Hunger, Protestant playwright Gary Mitchell – whose mind seems uncharacteristically closed to watching the movie about another former Rathcoole resident forced out by the local loyalists – laments the lack of movies telling “the other side of the story”. Mitchell believes that views on Northern Ireland are being skewed in one direction, even though the unionist community is “exciting and interesting – there are plenty of fascinating stories in there”. Unionists often point to a sympathy for Irish nationalism in the film industry, which is viewed with suspicion, and film companies might argue that a movie on the unionist experience is unlikely to make its money back – although I can’t imagine too many in Hollywood or the European film industries feel greatly pushed to redress the ‘balance’. There seems to be a huge gulf between unionism and the movie industry, which has more interest in Northern Ireland as a location with tax breaks than as a place with a story to tell, although there was talk of films on the Siege of Derry and Paisley some time ago. And is the situation really much different on the small screen or stage? Mitchell’s plays show that there is an audience, but is that enough?

  • ane warren

    Sorry, typing error! Please forgive!!

    The key sentence should read:

    What about a TV fiction series/soap opera following a family with mixed marriages (Catholic/Protestant/Jewish)ranging from working class through the business class to intellectuals from the beginning of the 20th Century until its end?

  • congal claen

    Hi Greagoir,

    Good to see you back on form. I wouldn’t take the film to factually. I’d like to have heard Wellington with the Irish accent. Some documentaries I’ve watched about it suggest the weather played a big factor. Apparently, the shells would normally have ripped the British side to shreds. However, the shrapnel was hindered by the mud and this rather fekked big nose’s battle plans.

  • Rory

    THE one biopic, as they now call it, that I would wish to see would be of the life and song of this little young woman from protestant Belfast who dominated the British record charts before The Beatles and who was to popular song for Belfast as George Best was to football. Which goes not near enough explaining her effect.

    Here she is, never lovlier, never better and, may I say, never bettered, the unique and beautiful, Ruby Murray. This is the one she used to sing only for me (Peggy Lee, eatcha heart out) :


    and this which, simply by being played, would kill off Greenflag’s slice and dice option at a breathtaking.


    But finally, the best, anywhere, ever, for which all hear with pride and joy who are from our difficult territory and though Belfast proddies would rightly cheer with most great heart for she was a girl of their own streets, they would only hear the echo of those cheers, and just as hearty from all us taigs. For we loved her too.

    So, after all the waffle, here it is, Ruby Murray sings Softly, softly and blessed are the ears of those who hear.


    I must in all honesty admit to an amount of prejudice on my part in all the above – but I just love Ruby Murray and will not hear a word against her.

  • Driftwood

    I think Ruby Murray is PISH.

  • William

    Some stories that might make good films showing Ulster Protestant / Unionists:

    The expulsion of 18,000 Protestants from the West Bank of Londonderry by Roman Catholic / IRA terrorists

    The murders at Kingsmills – 10 Protestants taken out of a works van and shot dead

    Workmen blown up between Cookstown and Omagh

    Worshippers murdered whilst at their Gospel Hall in Darkley

    The Day a Village Died – IRA killed 9 in Claudy

    The Enniskillen Bombings

    From Gunmen to Government – Adams, McGuinness and Kelly

    Just a few to be going on with !!!

  • Harry Flashman

    OK Greg, but you’ve also left out Sir John Dill and Harold Alexander and if you go to the First World War you’d find Sir Henry Wilson, Hugh Gough (although he got a bit of a rough time of it) and I think Sir John French. Correlli Barnett has described Ulster as the province which provided Britain with its nearest approximation to a [i]Junker[/i] class. Well, moustachioed cavalry generals aren’t really [i]simpatico[/i] in our modern world are they?

    Of course it’s not just in Britain, let’s not forget George Patton and I dare say Omar Bradley’s people took the soup some time back, and let’s not forget the architect of the greatest and most devastating military organisation in the history of mankind, the United States Air Force, step up to the plate Billy Mitchell and tell us all about your ancestry.

  • Slartibuckfast

    “The expulsion of 18,000 Protestants from the West Bank of Londonderry by Roman Catholic / IRA terrorists ”

    Could be a good one, Billy. Great works of fiction are eternally popular as film.

  • OC

    The Epic that epitomizes the Ulster Presbyterian ethos is The Siege Of The Alamo.

    The life and story of Andrew Jackson is another.

  • Charlie

    Harry Flashman “… there’s your problem right away; the lists above only include “artists” or sportsmen, so immediately you restrict yourself to a largely self selecting pool of “nice” people.”

    Think you’re being a bit glib there, Harry … the list isn’t about being “nice” or appealing to Guardian-reading ponces, it’s about the fact that writers/artists/musicians are the product of their environment and every culture I can think of holds up such people as representing the soul and character of their particular environment and background…think Serge Gainsbourg and France, The Kinks’ Ray Davies and London, Woody Allen and New York, Patrick Kavanagh and Monaghan…my point is that we’re forever being told that Ulster prods are dour, conservative, culture-less, bigoted, intransigent etc etc. yet when you look at the exceptional creative people who have sprung from that community, they are absolutely NOTHING like that … is that not an interesting point to ponder??

  • Gupta Singh

    Maybe some reflection of the victims in this wonderful land of ours would be a welcome change to the norm. You know, the folk who didn’t give a fig about the knackered old rhetoric until they were forced to drive a bomb into a police station or were shot for doing their job in the ‘wrong’ area. No end of material there me thinks.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Charlie, what would a film about Van Morrison or Alex Higgins or George Best have to do with Unionist’s political position in Ireland? None of those characters were Unionist politicians or Loyalist gunmen. A lot of the people named like Stephen Rae don’t even agree with partition.

    Hunger, and most films about the ancient troubles in Ireland, are about Irishmen fighting a colonial power for national independence. To make a film about the Unionist/Loyalist equivalents like Gusty Spence, Johnny Adair or Michael Stone might draw a crowd to the cinema in East Belfast or Ballymena but not many other places outside Ireland. Indeed, nationalist Ireland is probably the primary people interested in films about Unionists/Loyalists because they are, geographically at least, Irishmen.

  • Congal Claen

    To reach to an American audience unionism would have to draw parallels with American history. This would be relatively easy. Most Americans would agree with civil and religious liberty. Portray where that comes from, who fought for it and who was against it. Show why the Scotch Irish emigrated to America. That could then lead to the dominance of the Scotch-Irish in the US independence movement. Next, would then be the civil war. Some focus on the New York Draft riots would raise eyebrows – projected forward to Prods still being referred to as “black b*stards” by certain sections here. You could also focus on the 2nd World War. Who fought side by side and who sent sympathies to the furher.

    Then again we could just say “f*ck it, who cares?”

  • Driftwood

    Apart from a few pseuds, very few people on the mainland or USA are going to watch ‘Hunger’. Its primary audience is in parts of Norhern Ireland and Eire. Short of casting Lindsay Lohan as Thatcher, it could offer no real entertainment value. I would estimate its viewing figures in the states as on a par with the recent biopic on Ian Curtis. a person of far more important historical importance.

  • Republic of Connaught

    To reach an American audience Ameicans would have to care about British loyalists in Ireland. They don’t. And more nationalist Irish fought and died in World War II for British and American armies than loyalists, so that lame argument won’t fool many outside NI.

    Trying to win pity for Protestants fleeing a country where historically Protestants were the (mis)ruling class while 1 million catholic Irish arrived starving after relgious and civil persecution from that very same ruling class and their British masters is unlikely to garner much kudos, either.

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    “….where historically Protestants were the (mis)ruling class while 1 million catholic Irish arrived starving after relgious and civil persecution from that very same ruling class and their British masters is unlikely to garner much kudos, either.”

    ….Would some folk disagree with this statement?

  • Rory


    Your offensive remarks about the late Ruby Murray only serve to demonstrate once again, not only your lack of taste, but also your appalling lack of good manners.

  • Rory

    Gupta Singh,

    While I do not know of any fim that addresses that area of the recent conflict I do know of at leat one novel by an accomplished and literary writer that has as its central drama a family held hostage while one of their number is forced to drive a proxy bomb to its target.

    That novel is titled Proxopera and its author is Benedict Kiely. Further details below.


  • Rory

    “fim” should, of course be, “film”. (I would say that I spelt it phonetically but that might be a bit cheeky towards all you “fillum” lovers.)

  • perry

    “….Would some folk disagree with this statement?”

    I’m sure some would Greg but after a while you begin to lose the strength. I’ll have a go though!

    “Trying to win pity for Protestants…”

    Did you ever think that not everyone might be looking for “pity”?

    “fleeing a country”


    “where historically Protestants were the (mis)ruling class”

    Are you mixing up your prods? For what it’s worth the great majority of the RIC’s and the militias before them were Irish Catholics (as were 1 in 8 of the Black and Tan). Maybe we could have a film about those 1 in 8. How about something that shows more clearly how the Free State was secured by the returning Volunteers, in spite of, not because of, the Irregulars.

    Anyway the current protestant settlement patterns in Northern Ireland show the truth. People are where they have been for the last 400 years. They’re on the coasts facing back to Scotland and in settlements along the navigable rivers (the Bann, the shores of Lough Neagh and the Lagan).

    The unionist story is not the story of the English colonisation of Ireland. That story is over. It’s the story of the decline of the O’Neill’s and the settlement of part of their lands by Hamilton and Montgomery (next door neighbours but for a short stretch of water).

    “And more nationalist Irish fought and died in World War II for British and American armies than loyalists, so that lame argument won’t fool many outside NI.”

    Where do you think the names “Patton” or “McArthur” come from? Ulster prods run the American military. Kiefer Sutherland’s character Kendrick in “a few good men” – “the King James bible and the marine corps code…” – clearly an American military archtype and obviously a DUP voter.

    Re; American Republicanism vs British Loyalism, it was geographic separation and a lack of representation that ignited the American war of independence. Americans are actually taught. It’s a simple enough story that after the 1800 Act of Union these drivers no longer applied in the United Kingdom and as the force for nationalism in Ireland lost any trace of progressive Amercian style protestant republicanism and became simply the call of the religious and ethic identity of the catholic gael the enlightened Scots-Irish settler looked east for security. You could have that sorted in the opening credits. America’s still only had one president of catholic Irish descent – plenty of those ulster prods that Roc claims they don’t like though.

    Anyway. Where’s the fun in every plotline being based around sympathetic characters? Cold Mountain for instance? Tactiturn (to the point of rudeness), bloody minded North Carolina appalachian ulster prod fighting on the wrong side of a very non-PC war.

    Just cast Jude Law.

    Come to think of it, soviet snipers (not America’s favourite people except when shooting Nazis), child murdering psychopaths, prostitute robots, philandering abortion procurers. When does Jude Law play someone who is popular?

    I’m pretty sure that an Ian Paisley type character would be well known to the Amercian audience and much more affectionately received than some nationalists on here might accept.

    Re US audience sympathy for nationalism, the biggest grossing movie that I can think of involving the IRA had Harrison Ford shooting them.

  • George

    “Ulster prods run the American military.”

    That may be but they didn’t have an Ulster Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg. They did have an Irish one.

  • susan

    “Ulster prods run the American military.”

    I have to confess I’ve missed most of this conversation — mainly I was curious how a thread on films never made not featuring unionist characters reached 120 posts. But as a point of interest, so many of the head honchos at the Pentagon are Irish Catholic — Chairman of the JOint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, General Patrick O’Reilly, etc. — that is has fueled mad conspiracy theories that the Pentagon is actually under control of Jesuit General Adolfo Nicolas.

    For the record, it is not. But the wingnut conspiracies are pervasive enough that religion may be an unspoken factor in the selection of the next Secretary of Defense.

    That’s my bizarro fact for the day.

  • An Ceilleachaireach Rua

    You might like to think a little bit more deeply about the power dynamics of that one, George. We were the ones doing the bleeding while the more WASPish Ulster Prods sat on horses in the rear. Irish Catholics were crack infantry and respected for that as far as it went but by and large our political capital in America was muck until relatively recently. See Al Smith’s presidential campaign in 1913. It took two world wars worth of service and a fair denting of Anglo-Saxon prejudices for “us” to get a soft power foothold.

    Many of the San Patricios of Mexican Wars fame deserted because of discrimination within the army

  • Terrible Terri

    Ulster prods run the American military? Schwarzkoff, Powell, Petreaus, Tommy Franks…all ulster prods eh?

  • perry

    Schwarzkoff, Powell, Petreaus, Tommy Franks…all ulster prods eh?

    Maybe on their Mums’ side Terri!

    I’m not going to have to start using those smiley/winky things am I?


    I think a good number of the ulster prods were on the other side.

  • OC

    Perhaps there is a fundamental difference between Americans who are identified as “Scotch-Irish” who arrived well before the War of Independance, and the current N Irish identified as “Ulster Scots”: The American “Scotch-Irish” weren’t in Ireland for so many generations, and don’t feel so much “Irish” as “Scotch”; The “Ulster Scot” of NI has lived many more generations on the island of Ireland. As many Border Scots emigrated to the American colonies as well, it is sometimes difficult to seperate the two groups out, and in fact they are rather merged together here in the US. Even Gaeltacht Highlanders kind of merged with the “Scotch-Irish” and “Border Scot” immigrants. I imagine that this is true in Canada, perhaps Australia/New Zealand as well.

    Of course, not all “Ulster Scots” live in Northern Ireland (as opposed to the Republic of Ireland). Not all NI Ulster Scots are Presbyterian; some are CoI, RC, Hindu, even atheist.

    Not all NI unionists are “Ulster Scots”, but they surely have had a tremendous impact on the language, culture and politics in the northeastern quarter of the island.

    And not all NI Ulster Scots are unionists; some are Irish nationalists, or even Irish Republicans.

    Therefore, any media presentation that attempts to show the NI unionist perspective needs to keep the above in mind in order to receive a sympathetic hearing in the US.

  • Republic of Connaught

    A long post, Perry, but not one which in any way explains why the Unionist political position is invisible in worldwide cinema compared to the Irish nationalist struggle.

    As for Patton and McArthur, the point was about catholic men from Ireland fighting for British and American armies during World War II. De Valera’s folly doesn’t besmirch their sacrifice as Irishmen.

    The period spoken about when the Scots-Irish went to the New World is when Protestants still controlled Ireland, which is the relevant point. They didn’t leave a Catholic controlled country in which they were persecuted. Catholics did leave a Protestant controlled country where they were persecuted. It’s amazing alright they might have carried some bitterness with them, on those lovely yachts they left in. Bitter people indeed.

    The black and tan stat merely highlights the old truth that every country has its share of traitors. The Vichy French don’t get too many sympathetic films made about them either. There’s not much to like. But I do like the use of the word “decline” of the O’Neills in Ulster. It’s a nice way to sanitise the colonisation plans of the English. Whether Hamilton and Montgomery were from across the water in Scotland or China wouldn’t have mattered much to the people displaced.

    I agree, however, that an Ian Paisley film would be interesting. Yet for the same reason he will never receive a knighthood from his Queen, I can’t see it being too flattering. Unless Sammy Wilson or his ilk learned to work a camcorder.

  • Congal Claen

    Hi Republic,

    “The period spoken about when the Scots-Irish went to the New World is when Protestants still controlled Ireland, which is the relevant point. They didn’t leave a Catholic controlled country in which they were persecuted.”

    Would it not be more accurate to say they were protestants who were persecuted in a protestant controlled country?

    BTW, when I mentioned drawing parallels between ulster prods and america it was in a totally partisan way – the way films are. I wasn’t trying to be historically accurate in all respects.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Ulster prods run the American military.”

    Not entirely as fanciful as some here believe.

    I’ve cited James Webb’s book [i]Born Fighting[/i] a few times already here but it really is a fascinating read if one wants to understand the often invisible but nonetheless fundamental role played by the Ulster Prods/Scots Irish in creating modern day America.

    Now granted Webb does over egg the pudding at times but even Irish nationalists would find much of interest in the story of how an ornery, self reliant, frequently pig headed people, not too respectful of the niceties of polite society but who could be pretty useful when it came to frontier fighting where transposed from the English/Scottish border where they’d long been a nuisance to the rugged badlands of Ulster where their, erm, talents could come in handy but whose services could be safely dispensed with when the natives (their closest cousins as Webb calls them) were duly subjugated.

    Of course when they went to do the same job in America they found the self same courtiers and Anglophile elites using them to kill the savage redskins but crapping on them when the job was done. Thus a long and bitter story of animosity grew up between the sophisticated elites of the east coast and the much derided red-necks and hill-billys (emphasis on the “Billy”) who would actually do most of the fighting in America’s wars to the present day.

    Contrary to the mythology it is not the blacks or hispanics who are over represented in the US armed forces but southern whites, the sort of people called Merv and Billy and Bob, who have a fondness for guns and hard liquor, think an evening spent studying the workings of a car engine or agricultural equipment is a fun night out, who attend independent protestant churches of a rather fundamentalist tone and who believe in self reliance and have an inveterate dislike of fancy pants liberals in the media and universities who are always trying to betray them and their core beliefs.

    Do such people sound familiar? Will the upcoming US presidential election herald the biggest shift away from their version of the United States since 1776?

    Who knows? But dismiss such people at your peril.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Yes, Clongal, undoubtedly there were many Protestants that suffered like Catholics in that period. No one argues thousands of Protestants around Ireland died in the famine too. (Which many NI Rangers fans should remember). But obviously Catholics were numerically far greater, and the people making the decisions were primarily Protestant so it’s inevitable impoverished Catholics developed distrust towards all Protestants because the religion was directly associated to the (mis)ruling powers.

    As in NI after partition there were many working class Protestants suffering as badly as Catholics under the old Stormont regime. But Protestants were the exclusive rulers so by association all Protestants were to blame.

    In the middle, or at the heel of the rulers, have always logically been many Protestants who didn’t gain anything from Protestant rule except anger towards them from Catholics by virtue of their religion being the same as the rulers. Thus pushing them into a Protestant or Catholic corner and creating inevitable sectarianism.

    Divide and conquer.

  • OC


    When Irish Presbyterians began emigrating to the American colonies, they were an oppressed class in Ireland as well.

    My family came over no later than 1701, which was a bit early for the main wave of Scotch-Irish immigration to colonial America.

    Although fear of Roman Catholicism has earlier roots, it does appear that during several periods of Irish history, that whenever Ulster Scots might have been persuaded to join with Irish RCs against the U.K. gov’t, a general pogram against them continually drove them into the hands of the U.K. in self-defense.