“Political nationality need not attach itself to a mono-culture.”

I remember being at ERSC conference on Devolution at Stormont Hotel, back in February 2003, when a question came up about the question of Unionist culture. I was in the middle of a bunch of research interviews and focus groups in preparation for writing A Long Peace. Even at that stage I’d learned that Unionists in general share few of the cultural obsessions that delineate the sensibilities of Nationalist society. Nationalists generally agree that Unionists have no culture, and pity them… Chekov agrees with first part, but argues that Unionism’s acultural nature constitutes its innate strength… He’s working off the same Patrick Murphy article that inspired this thread yesterday

  • The Spectator

    Mick

    cultural obsessions that delineate the sensibilities of Nationalist society.

    A bit pre-judgemental, no?

  • Mack

    Now, ya see, if Unionism, were really acultural it’s sole focus would be uniting countries politically – would it not?

    I’d expect it to have a more European flavour. I.e. Why British Unionism, not European Unionism? Why antipathy (which is far from universal I agree) to Irish culture – or even to a single unified Irish state? Particularly, if Ireland were to be united with Scotland / England / Britain in a political Union – why would the EU not suffice for this?

    A large part of Unionism is actually nationalism, British nationalism.

  • 6countyprod

    How arrogant, patronising and naïve for anyone from one cultural group to suggest that another group does not have a culture. Every ethnic group in the world has its own set of themes and mores which influence how the group members act as individuals, as families and within the community. The worldview in any given group is determined by many intrinsic and external features and inherited values.

    I’m sure if anthropological studies of ‘unionists’ and ‘nationalists’ were compared there would be quite a lot of overlap in some areas, and in other areas activities and standards, etc would be unique to one or the other group. One group is not necessarily better or more cultured than the other, just different in emphasis, activity, motivation, etc.

    Condescension and holding superior attitudes do nothing to promote harmony and cooperation within two inter-related communities. On the contrary, they only help to perpetuate suspicion, strife and division.

    An acultural culture is an oxymoron.

  • Quagmire

    Unionism is a political doctrine not a culture. Unionists have no culture, unless of course you count speaking in a Ballymena accent and passing it as a language, burning tyres and polluting the environment, painting kirb sones, drinking vast amounts of blue WKD and then urinating it in the street, bullying defenseless Romanians out of their homes and basically treating everything that is different from it with a great deal of disdain, disrespect and suspicion. But hey, that’s “Bratash” culture for ya!

  • The Truth

    Is bending over in front of every englishman a culture?

  • Brian Walker

    I print out in two posts Edna Longley’s brilliant Cultural Traditions piece written in 1999, which still says it all. Some of this thread I suspect, could turn out to be a little scuffle in the “culture war.” Edna urges us to raise our sights and open our minds.
    More attention should be paid to the cultural dimension of the “peace process”. The thirty years war over Northern Ireland cannot be separated from a longer-term Irish Kulturkampf or culture-war. The culture-war has been ugly too. It includes the desire to erase the cultural presence and cultural memory of the perceived “Other” – a desire dramatised by both sides of the parades issue and by violated memorials and holy places, as at Enniskillen, or in attacks on Catholic churches and Orange halls. A true peace process requires the decommissioning of culture throughout the island.

    Shots are fired in the culture-war whenever northern nationalists say that Protestants/unionists “have no culture”; or whenever unionists disparage “Irish” culture and celebrate an abstract “British” cultural realm unmarked by local differences. Neither faction wants to admit the commonalties of their cultural location in Irish, British Isles and European dynamics. Sectarian mindset resist the potentially liberating flow of culture.

    The difference between culture and cultural ideology is that the latter selects, from among the available materials, the cultural flags and emblems that best serve a particular cause. Cultural ideologues have, for instance, singled out the Irish language, Ulster Scots dialect, religious denomination, industrial military, artistic, or scientific achievement. They have highlighted historical moments like the Bony, 1798, the Somme, the shadowy Celtic or Picnic advent. The have boasted successful diaspora – Ulster-America, Irish-America. They have enshrined iconic figures such as Cuchalain, Carson, Pearse, Cathleen Ni Houlihan, the Gael, the Celt, the Ulster Scot, the Ulsterman, the shipyard-worker, the independent farmer etc.

    At the turn of the century there was a struggle within cultural nationalism, and between cultural nationalism and cultural unionism, about the concept of “Ireland”: about which symbols and markers of identity should prevail. The Northern Irish question re-ignited this struggle, though it was never really dominant. In his 1989 lecture “Varieties of Irishness” Roy Foster recalled how “round 1900 [there was] an inclusive, energetic cultural debate between brokers of the different cultural traditions in Ireland”. I have just read several doctoral theses on the Literary Revival. All of them complicated the cultural politics of 1890 to 1920 by showing the range of positions that the debaters took. That so many academics are revisiting this period is itself indicative. We are uncannily repeating themes from the last fin de siecle.

    Ireland is doomed to repeat history because after 1921-22, and because of events since 1912, “energetic debate” ceased. Like players of musical chairs when the music stops, the cultural ideologies that won out froze in that posture, and proceeded to dictate cultural and educational policy in both jurisdictions. Sean Farren’s excellent comparative study The Politics of Irish Education 1920-65 confirms the indoctrinating role of the churches.

    Farren says: “The direct church influence over the schools attended by the overwhelming majority of Irish pupils ? was probably unparalleled elsewhere in the western world.”

    He notes that “church control and influence ? served to sustain and reinforce divisions and antagonisms between Christians in both parts of the country, but especially in the North where religion overlapped so much with politics ? policies were devised and implemented which had the effect of widening existing communal divisions by, on the one hand, the attempted Gaelic ‘cultural revolution’ in the south, and, on the other, the emphasis on Britishness and loyalty to the crown”. Farren adds: “The particular cultural emphases cannot be seemed invalid in the themselves.”

    Here I disagree. I deem them not only invalid but disastrous. They prevented cultural debate and cultural self-understanding. And, by promoting deeply internalised prejudices, they cost lives.

  • Brian Walker

    Edna Longley cont.(edited)/
    Frozen cultural ideology also promoted a Protestant/unionist tendency to opt out of Irish debates even if these had vigorously continued. Yet there is another sense in which the unionist North worked – at a distance – on the concept of “Ireland”. That is, they concentrated on unionist Ireland, British Ireland.
    Gillian McIntosh, in her fine book The Force of Culture: Unionist Identities in Twentieth-Century Ireland concludes: “The unionist political culture and literature which emerged in this period focused on the unique identity of unionists in Ulster, their historic separateness from the rest of Ireland, and their bond with Britain rooted in the plantations and reinforced through two world wars. In the stereotypes which they rehearsed, unionists argued for their separateness and were critical of both the southern state and the British.” McIntosh sums up the underlying problems thus: “Officially Northern Ireland was a united and homogeneous protestant state; unofficially, it was a diverse state, made up of catholics as well as a variety of protestant sects, and full of tension and disharmony.”

    When Stormont fell, it left a cultural as well as a political vacuum. Although this allowed other perspectives to emerge, unionists became bad at explaining themselves to the world – and perhaps equally bad at explaining themselves to themselves. One reason for their confusion is that the wider Britannic context had so radically altered. Ulster Protestants retained, past their sell-by date, ideas that cemented the UK as a whole during the nineteenth century.

    According Lind Colley in “Britons”, “Protestantism meant more in (C18th) society than just bombast, intolerance and chauvinism. It gave the majority of men and women a sense of their place in history and a sense of worth. It allowed them to feel pride in such advantages as they genuinely did enjoy, and helped them endure when danger and hardship threatened. It gave them identity.”
    .. history has made Ulster Protestants more vulnerable. Besides losing former identifications and self-images (unless they shrink back, as Paisleyism does, to the religious base), they have experienced a renewed push to secure what can objectively be seen as a historical retreat of Protestant Ireland to the north-east coast and across the sea.
    Northern nationalists are also attached to outdated nineteenth-century ideas. They usually dislike the lapsing of old identifications in the Republic. Nevertheless, residual traces of pan-cultural-nationalism render them slightly less unfashionable in Dublin than unionists in London. They can live with the Republic’s new “soft” cultural nationalism, its inclinations towards a self-congratulatory Irishness. Southern, like northern, liberals may be a little anxious at the moment. Yet one reason for Sinn Fein’s change of political tack was the sense that they had lost the changing Republic. The latter could be more aware, too, that northern Protestants have cultural opinions about “Ireland”.

    Not only unionists are challenged to renounce old exclusionary habits. Yet it takes time to break down defences in a context where integrated education remains hostage to culture-war. The “cultural traditions” philosophy in the North has done good work – and the work has spread the school curriculum, North and South, is now atoning for past sins. More and more people are conscious of cultural strands excluded form the dominant ideologies. There is a growing movement towards what might be called history-sharing, warts and all. The World Wards are a case in point – and this includes the role of Ulster Catholics therein.

    There is always pain (as in eastern Germany) when obsolete cultural ideologies face changed historical realities or awkward facts. Even pro-Agreement unionism is prone to cultural fear. As for anti-Agreement unionism: DUP politician Gregory Campbell wrote in this newspaper of “a people so vilified and so misrepresented that they must seek a refuge that will not betray them”. Yet such fear, such negative introspection, such escapism, harbours a disquieting cultural death-wish.

    And, without apocalypse, Ulster Protestants may simply get tired, yield to cultural pressures, leave the country.
    Yet there are many ways in which Protestants/unionists can practice positive introspection and energetic debate; many ways in which they can embrace a cultural as well as a political life-wish. For example, they should face into the devolutionary reality that is creating a different kind of Britishness: one with overlapping affiliations rather than unitary imperatives.

    One obstacle to renewed work on the concept of “Ireland”, however, is that the Republic may think itself fully formed already. But perhaps the concept of “Northern Ireland”, and how it might evolve, is where the really interesting prospects lie.

  • The Spectator

    Brian

    With respect, I’m not sure where your argument is going here. It seems to weave through various arguments and dynamics. Perhaps you could attmept to simplify the arguments.

    What, exactly, is the beef?

    The promotion of ‘Gaelic’ cultural forms by the Southern government post 1921?
    Church control of education?
    Competiting nationalisms?

  • Brian Walker

    The Spectator, I should have thought it couldn’t have been more lucid.. however.. Both sides are fighting a culture war on the basis of outdated ideologies. In the past church education made these more pronounced. In themselves, were they valid? Edna says they were disastrous. The metropolitan centres of the respective traditions barely identify with their regional off-shoots. However history sharing is growing which is good. Unionism though is still prone to a death wish. They should be more responsive to different forms of Britishness in devolution. The concept of Irishness may be inhibited if the Republic thinks of itself as fully formed already.”Perhaps the concept of “Northern Ireland”, and how it might evolve, is where the really interesting prospects lie.” You will note that this is not a dogmatic position. And this is only a short summary. So hope against hope, it is worth considering the argument all of a piece, rather than pick holes in it. To do that would be only to re-enact the culture wars Edna describes so vividly in the first extract.

  • tponeill

    Is ulster unionism really an economic philosopy as stated above? Maybe it is, but if so why does it exhibit such hate to the gaelic majority on the island and it’s culture and heritage. In support of the above however, ulster unionism shows little dna solidarity with anyone no longer within its laagar. Why no solidarity with those of its ethnicity the Anglo-Irish in the south, the protestants, or more importantly the mixed ethnicity of such a large amount of southern people? How can the Angles/English be more ‘our people’ when they came to southern England late, and are not the Celtic peoples that are the historic peoples of Scotland and Ireland ? If Ulster unionism is just an intellectual proposal based on a view of the economic benefit of a link between some Irish counties and Britain, then why is Orange culture important, and the Irish language a threat, and the famine a problem, and hurling an inferior sport to tiddlywinks, and Irish music not as good as the the music of the super-race etc. I have over-egged the case of course. We are ‘all here now’ as a someone once said, and one would be stupid not to appreciate the culture and economic suggestions of the settlers as well as that of the gaelic inhabitants of the island. but there seems to be a problem with unionism selling a superior economic/political situation (although the poor counties of Ireland have survived without British rule), and a superior culture that will stamp out the Gaelic culture.

  • The Spectator

    Brian

    Thank you. That’s somewhat clearer.

    Some questions.

    1. Some argue that the “outdated ideologies” were valid. Edna argues they were disasterous.
    – Are these two possibilities mutually exclusive?
    – What makes the ideologies outdated, beside your “say so”?

    2. Do metropolitans anywhere identify with regional or parochial variation? Does Paris really identify with the rural south of France, or Berlin with Western industrial Germany? and if they do, do they do it on any ground other than a shared national ideology?

    3. “Perhaps the concept of “Northern Ireland”, and how it might evolve, is where the really interesting prospects lie.”
    In the end is this not really the same NIO/Alliance-speak that you were challenged on in earlier threads? Is this not then simply an example ‘single transferable Walker speech’ in that sense – the attempt to force a “northern Ireland” identity on those who don’t want it, have never wanted it, and never will want it?

    As an example. I was asked in one of the awful football threads why i would not follow ‘local lads’ from, say, Ballymena, rather than the ‘foreign’ team – sure, hadn’t I more in common with the Ballymena guys, we’re all “Northern Ireland”.

    I replied – I’m from the Newry area, and to me a Dundalk lad like Staunton, for example, is local. Much more local than a Ballymena lad. My loyalties, and my links don’t recognise a border at all. I recognise the shared, the communitarian, and the desire and willingness to share. THe Southerner has it. the Ballymena man doesn’t.

    4. Brian, I would suggest to you that for many nationalists, the concept of “Northern Ireland” is not interesting; not interesting at all. They have no interest in its history, justification, evolution, adaptation or even survival. and I don’t think that attitude can simply be wished away because it such a washing appeals to your sensibilities and views.

    For many, the links to the culture shared with the South, the Games, the language, the music, the gossip, the allegiances, the folklore, the ethical worldview, the allegiances, were and are of great nourishment, not because they made Unionists uncomfortable, but simply becaus they expressed something of what the Irish nation is, and their part in it; they are not viewed as outdated, but vibrant.

    And such people see little reason to turn from that comfort, that welcome, however the border might somewhat dilute it, towards the embrace of a group and a tribe that have always despised their cultural totems, and their artifacts, that has never acted in their interests, and whose entire political project has always about ensuring that they never gained the power to bring about the political and national dispensation that they wanted.

    Can you blame them?

  • Mick Fealty

    6cp,

    Agreed. But what is generally assumed when nationalists look across and don’t see an analogue for their own, largely homogeneous, cultural obsessions is ‘absence’. Thus the ‘smugness’ Murphy references, and which, for good or ill, is a recurring feature on these comment pages.

    Chekov’s (contestable) point is that Unionism is not defined primarily by its resident cultures, but by… well, it’s values, I guess… that residue that Longley identifies historically as Protestantism… or put in a more contemporary way, its ‘Britishness’… For me, Brian’s money quote from Longley is:

    “…the cultural ideologies that won out froze in that posture, and proceeded to dictate cultural and educational policy in both jurisdictions.”

    That calcification is everywhere evident in the current public discourse. It’s why, although I’ve absolutely no doubt it was well intentioned, not to mention well delivered, the dFM’s various statements on the rout of the Romanian families yesterday lacked an essential grasp of the nature of the challenge these incidents pose to Northern Irish society as a whole.

    Our leaders, still gripped by by the inherited cultural power of these frozen postures, lack both the experience and the vocabulary to grasp the problem top and tail and demonstrate to the rest of us that at least they understand what it means, even if they do not possess all the means to tackle it directly.

  • My argument is not that unionists don’t have culture, but that unionism does not attach itself to a particular culture and can span many. Which is not to say that there is nothing which constitutes an overarching British identity. The crux is that embracing whatever Murphy construes as Irishness does not equate to embracing some element of political nationalism, which is what he appears to suggest.

  • Mick Fealty

    Chekov,

    It would be good if Mr Murphy could clarify that for us. Now here’s one to you.

    Brown’s answer to that question seems to be ‘shared values’ (as implied by Longley), to a lesser extent ‘shared tradition’ and ‘shared experience’.

    What’s your view of what constitutes the glue that binds the British nation?

  • dub

    Brian,

    Why should the fact that Unionism has a death wish be regarded as something negative? I live in a part of Dublin where Unionism used to be in the ascendant. It is now dead as a Dodo. Yet there is a vibrant Church of Ireland, and other Protestant denominations and there are no peace walls, Roma being rounded up and threatened with death, no supremacist lynchings. No there is a contented and happy citizenry with a whole ream of traditions who are happy to live in an EU state called Ireland which ia a Republic and not a theocratic feudal monarchy replete with a state church and land laws unrelated to any concept of modernity. Your talk of outdated traditions is just cover for us all having to tolerate the death spasms of a patient who should have died long long ago but is kept alive by liberal apologists like yourself and the power of the british state in this country.

  • “Neither faction wants to admit the commonalties of their cultural location in Irish, British Isles and European dynamics.”

    Has no one noted that these are Nationalist, even Humesque, dynamics – the sort of dynamics that ignored the Unionist aspiration and required a radical change to the draft proposals for constitutional change in the 1990s?

  • Brown’s answer to that question seems to be ‘shared values’ (as implied by Longley), to a lesser extent ‘shared tradition’ and ‘shared experience’.
    What’s your view of what constitutes the glue that binds the British nation?

    Mick – I talk about it in the blogpost when I allude to “an overarching framework of values, language, common institutions and shared history”. All of which contribute to a culture, of course, but none of which are shaped by a definite, prescriptive notion of what that culture consists in. I certainly view Britishness as an identity, but it is an identity built primarily on political and civic characteristics, rather than cultural homogeneity. So embracing Britishness is primarily a political decision, which might have certain associated symbols, but it doesn’t carry with it an implication that you’ll correspondingly embrace a whole set of definite cultural markers.

  • GGN

    Mick,

    When discussing the word ‘culture’ it should be pointed out that we are not using the English word culture but rather the new meaning of the word in Northern Irelandese.

    Culture is what you do.

    Not what you did nor aspire to do.

  • Mack

    Chekov –

    I certainly view Britishness as an identity, but it is an identity built primarily on political and civic characteristics, rather than cultural homogeneity

    I tend view Irishness in the same way, but then I live in a genuinely multicultural part of a genuinely multicultural Irish city – it may be less apparent to Northerners that Irishness does necessarily imply a culturally homogeneous identity.

  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    “I certainly view Britishness as an identity, but it is an identity built primarily on political and civic characteristics, rather than cultural homogeneity. So embracing Britishness is primarily a political decision, which might have certain associated symbols, but it doesn’t carry with it an implication that you’ll correspondingly embrace a whole set of definite cultural markers.”

    Kinda make it sound like just having a membership of a “club” as such. Sure isn’t the EU the same.

  • Brian Walker

    Spectator and others.. As many have said here, Unionists deny their own heritage and hinterland if they cut themselves off officiously from the rest of Ireland. Then spectator says to me: “I would suggest to you that for many nationalists, the concept of “Northern Ireland” is not interesting; not interesting at all.” If you mean a stereotypical unionist NI, sure, I can accept that,(although a complete lack of “interest” as distinct from “identification” is I would say, a bit narrow minded. Many others take a different route.) But if you mean that the community in which you live is “not interesting” then I suggest you are living in a potentially damaging fantasy at worst; or at best, living inside your own head. OK, that’s legal.. but we are talking about is a new cultural construct which is under way but needs new impetus.It cannot derive that impetus if all we do is search the past for nirvana. Why is a new construct important? First for its own sake. Cultural debate has little meaning if conducted as polemic; however rigorous, it must have some reconciling purpose. And second in its degenerate form, cultural bitterness can mean murder, like the witches’ brew in Coleraine. This may seem stark when most people here are only enjoying a little intellectual exercise or identity wrangle. But without overdoing the social responsibility of culture, and while maintaining a vigorous right of choice, we surely have to develop a cultural politics that confronts the worst parts of our traditions and tries to develop the best of them. This can be done not by a neutered, statist version of culture but by rigour, contact, and open mindedness. BTW, some people here argue that this is fringe “liberal” stuff. (Interesting that they use “liberal” as a term abuse like extreme right wingers in the States.) But outside the polemic-sphere, it’s dead -on mainstream. Why not help out?

  • Mack

    it may be less apparent to Northerners that Irishness does necessarily not imply a culturally homogeneous identity.

  • OC

    In his biopic of Joseph R. Walker, Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker, the author gives us the historical/ethnic background to Walker in a chapter entitled, “The Disposable People”, Border Scots who moved to northeastern Ireland as Ulster-Scots, and then to the American colonial frontier as Scotch-Irish. In each case, they were utilized as the buffer between one group and another.

    In The Companion to Gaelic Scotland it is demonstrated through documents how the language in the southwest of modern day Scotland changed within a few hundred years from Welsh, to Irish, to Scots.

    The Book of Ulster Surnames argues that the transplanting of Border Scots into Ulster worked brilliantly (for the UK crown) because being a paramilitaristic society thick on the ground, the Ulster-Scots were able to fend off attacks from the native Irish that overwhelmed the smaller number of Anglo-Irish more prevalent in the rest of Ireland.

    Apples on the Flood: Minority Discourse and Appalachia goes even further, culturally linking Border Scots/Ulster Scots/Scotch-Irish back to Roman Briton, where they first served as a buffer between Civilisation south of Hadrian’s Wall, and barbarism north of the Antoinine Wall. A very scholarly work, the author uses this people’s experiences as a springboard to discuss theories of internal colonisation, whereby any buffer people are despised by the groups that they are separating.

  • Brian Walker

    OC, Being a history buff myself, this is very interesting. How does this selection relate to who and where we are today, if at all? You can’t be saying today’s unionists are what their forebears were, 2000,or 400 years ago, can you?

  • OC

    BW: Thanks for the reply.

    I am not suggesting that Ulster Scots = NI unionism.

    However, it would appear that a significant sub-strata of NI unionism stems from the Ulster Scots.

    The Ulster Scots do have a culture, a culture which language has perhaps almost disappeared, but not less a culture than Cornish, which is trying to resurrect an extinct language.

    Perhaps a remnant of the earliest Ulster Scots that still exists today is the so-called “Siege Mentality”, which also manifested itself, IMO, in the Siege of the Alamo.

    In “Apples On The Flood”, the author contends that the Appalachian Hillbilly experience is just another link in the chain, but one in which the people have finally been freed of being a buffer, and allowed to fully flower.

    Poster Greenflag has called for a re-partition of NI, with NI unionists coralled in what might be considered the old Earldom Of Ulster. It might make more sense if this new fiefdom was part of Scotland, rather than an appanage of England.

  • otto

    “It might make more sense if this new fiefdom was part of Scotland, rather than an appanage of England.”

    Not sure about that (legal changes would be tricky for a start) but what might help is anything that encourages us to see Ireland and Scotland as somehow two halves of a whole and both the image and the photographic negative of each other. Both have English, Scots and Gaelic cultural traditions. One has a c.20% Prod religious minority and the other a 20% Catholic minority and both minorities include a large body of immigration from the other half of the territory.

    A history of Ireland that’s all about horrible Saxons in the south and excludes the history of the Scots/Gaels of the North is less than half the story. The story of the republican tradition in Ireland without the story of the enlightenment in Scottish universities and the story of the United Irishmen without the story of the United Scotsmen are also stories half told.

    Someone needs to write us a new textbook.

  • OC

    Hey Otto, don’t forget Vikings and Normans, too!

  • The Spectator

    Brian

    Thank you for your reply.

    Unfortunately you haven’t really addressed my questions, so I’ll ask them again.

    1. Some argue that the “outdated ideologies” were valid. Edna argues they were disasterous.
    – Are these two possibilities mutually exclusive?
    – What makes the ideologies outdated, beside your “say so”?
    – And why are they disasterous? Cause Edna says so? Who died and made her God?

    2. Do metropolitans anywhere identify with regional or parochial variation? Does Paris really identify with the rural south of France, or Berlin with Western industrial Germany? and if they do, do they do it on any ground other than a shared national ideology?

    But if you mean that the community in which you live is “not interesting” then I suggest you are living in a potentially damaging fantasy at worst; or at best, living inside your own head.

    Some questions.

    1. What has the ‘community in which I live’ got to do with the concept of ‘Northern Ireland’? I live, work and associate with a whole range of people on a cultural level, and the cartographer’s line has nothing much to do with it.

    As I said, to me a Dundalk man is local, and a Ballymena man isn’t.I dare say a Derry man might have ther same views of Donegal and Bangor respectively, or the Belleek man of North Sligo and Ballymoney. You seem to want to ignore this obvious reality becuase it doesn’t fit your world view. That’s a rather shallow position.

    2. You’ll have to enlighten me to this fantasy I’m supposedly living in.

    I think it’s quite obvious that for many nationalists, there is no interest in forming a civic bond based ‘purely’ on “Northern Irishness” that excludes friends and allies beyond that border. To repeat – to me a Dundalk man is local, and a Ballymena man isn’t. Why should I favour the latter over the former? Because it fits your world view? Because the ‘other’ might threaten us harm if we don’t? Seriously?

    3. but we are talking about is a new cultural construct which is under way but needs new impetus.

    But it only needs new impetus if you agree that it deserves impetus. you seem to be arguing from an assumed position that a “shared civic Northern Irishness” is better than what we currently have. I don’t think that premise has been proved at all, or accepted. The whole argument seems to be – Change, because I know what’s good for you – well, no harm to you, but fuck you; you don’t know what’s good for anyone but yourself.

    4. Cultural debate has little meaning if conducted as polemic; however rigorous, it must have some reconciling purpose.

    Says who? What’s your evidence? Culture has no moral imperitive, it just exists. It doesn’t exist to fulfil some utilitarian function, it exists on its on merit as a reflection of the people who own it.

    5. And second in its degenerate form, cultural bitterness can mean murder, like the witches’ brew in Coleraine.

    Now just back up one cotton pickin’ minute. Violence is the fault of those who commit it; and the immediate cause of violence, especially mob violence, is that scummy people are violent. You may get some hombre to accept that sectarian attacks like the one in Coleraine are somehow the victim’s fault, or his community’s fault, for not bending over enough, but I say fuck that for a game of smarties.

    The original thrust of this thread and its predecessor was an argument to Nationalism to ‘stop’ ‘excluding’ unionism from ‘Irish’ culture. Now apparantly we are told the McIlveens, McDaids, Hamills of this world are somehow Nationalism’s fault for not accepting a homogenous or diluted civic Northern Ireland culture? If you really believe that, you need your head read, Brian.

    And let’s be clear. While terrorists on all sides committed countless horrific atrocoties, there is no Protestant equivalent of Robert Hamill that I’m aware of, victims of pure mob blood lust, whereas the other ‘half’ of our society has built up quite the wee list of victims of mob hatred and sectariansm recently, quite seperate from Paramilitary violence.

    Honestly, Brian, I’ve just found on this topic shockingly self-indulgent.

  • Guest

    interesting article.
    Especially this-
    “It is not necessary to assemble a political identity around a ‘specific culture’ (whatever that might consist in). Unionism offers the thesis that the United Kingdom is the best means by which to govern the territory covered by its four component parts.”

    It brought a question to mind.
    Would it be right to say that Unionists believe the best way to govern what they call the British isles is by the union?
    And if so, what is the difference between the Ireland we had before and the northern Ireland we have now that renders the argument now defunct.Or surely,Unionists do not believe that The Republic would be better and therefore should be in the Union?

  • Brian Walker

    Last from me. oc, re ulster Scots, repartition etc., we’re talking about real life not a chess board or a theoretical argument. This is c19 cultural stuff with no reality to it. Spectator, culture is about communication and should be civilising. Maybe that’s a better word than “reconciling.” Unless you think culture is just behaviour, which I admit, is often how the word is abused today. And yes, that’s an assertion. Asking ad reductionem questions doesn’t build a case. Yes too., my approach is not compulsory. Your world is not threatened by me. (If I were French now, it might be different).

  • The Spectator

    Brian

    So, none of my questions addressed at all? What’s the point in engaging, if all you really want to do is rant at us, rather than talk with us?

    Asking ad reductionem questions doesn’t build a case..

    What on earth are you talking about?

  • Chris Donnelly

    “Unionism’s acultural nature…”

    Mick
    What was a threadbare argument fell to the ground at that point.

    Unionism, in an Irish context, has always been- and remains- an expression of British nationalism, articulated by those exclusively from the PUL community (the handy abbreviated collective term unionist politicians have been using for quite a while now to extract financial concessions from the British government for ‘their’ community.)

    It is entirely bogus to pretend unionism in the north has ever been acultural. The history of political unionism’s links with the Loyal Orders clearly illustrates the strength of that cultural attachment.

    It is, of course, entirely valid to present an alternative vision of an acultural political ideology, which supporters would hope to be not reliant upon the crutch of a cultural disposition for allegiance; but to pretend that is Unionism today is nonsensical.

    It is also somewhat misleading to suggest unionists are less interested in cultural matters: the saga that was Drumcree and many other confrontations sparked by the Orders’ cultural desire to trample upon thy neighbour suggest that, for many unionists, ‘culture’ reads as Britishness in a political-plus sense, with an intolerant strand seeking to deny expressions of the political and cultural identity of the ‘Other.’

    This intolerant strand has also been evident for quite some time now in the lengthening list of attacks on minority communities in the working class loyalist districts long abandoned by political leaders, but proper analysis of that in the MSM may have to awaiten further coverage from Jon Snow and others beyond our shore.

    Even for those unionists less comfortable with the outward manifestations of British culture as revealed through the Loyal Orders, there is a strong attachment to ‘their’ culture embodied through British institutions and symbols.

    It takes quite a leap to interpret this as an innate strength, given that there appears to be little ground therewithin to develop the bonds and empathy with the ‘Other’ for the political ideology which remains so inextricably bound within Protestantism in the north.

    Unionism has, after all, been the ‘status quo’ for some 90 years in the north. Contrast its stark failure to use that not inconsiderable position of strength to hammer home its advantage and begin assimilating the minority community with the modern southern Irish state.

    It certainly would suggest that reliance on the superior ‘at least we’re not ethno-nationalists’ narrative isn’t likely to make much ground anytime soon.

  • páid

    High standard of debate here, not moderated by the high temperature.

    The Spectator shows Brian Walker’s two-nationism up for the headcounting trick it really is.

    I hate NI like my father and grandfather hated it – because it was and is a con-trick to minority us in our own land. Every election is a headcount, so we can’t forget, even if we wanted to.

    There is no denying though that Ulster is different. And culturally Dundaaalk, indeed all of Oriel, can slip in.

    The challenge for BW et.al is to throw away the skull-reckoning Norn Iron and unite and trust in Ulster.

    See where that takes us.

    If yous are here to stay , that is….