Who stands for an Irishness that includes the British of Northern Ireland?

Heard about the one about the Catholic priest who watched the Twelfth and thought it wasn’t Protestant enough? Here’s the News Letter reporting on Fr Martin Magill’s piece in the Irish News…

“One of the Orangemen I met told me he had carried a Bible in previous years but didn’t this year because he was afraid it would get wet. For me, this was a parable of what is missing in the Twelfth — people living by the Word of God.”

He could be quoting from Benedict’s Faith and the Future “the church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning”.

There’s an interesting point here beyond any curio value. From the little I saw of the Belfast parade the bands far outnumbered members of the lodges, elsewhere (like Markethill) the proportions were reversed, which implies significant variation in the tradition.

All human traditions are invented. They often change without those involved being aware of the nature or implications of such transformations. Most national traditions are rooted in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Some even argue that they have provided ‘a great healing function’ at times of change.

The Britishness that Chris describes is as much an invention of those times as anything else. County councils were a very late Victorian civic invention, but only in the Republic does this ‘British’ tradition remain almost wholly intact.

Ironically the British part of island has long since moved on. There have been no ‘Counties’ in Northern Ireland for much of the last forty years. [So you’re saying it’s really ‘the Six Shires’ eh? – Ed]. No. But we do get along in our day to day enmity by ignoring such awkward consonances and contradictions.

Writing back in 1921 Roger Chauvire writing in the Revue de Paris and Le Correspondant noted of contemporary Irish revolutionaries that…

“…there is between justice and might, not a harmony to be realised in the long run, but immediate and substantial identity, [they are] millenarians as sure of their triumph as of the rise of to-morrow’s sun.”

Locking down Northern Ireland’s armed conflict is one matter. But evolving beyond the exigencies of war is quite another (and worth greater time and thought than given heretofore). In the Peace Process™ era the annual ‘battle of the Twelfth’ has become just the latest expression of that ‘immediate and substantial identity’.

In the process, we have old institutions grappling with divergence in the way things are. The Orange coming to terms with the fact of its long declining influence with the governing elite and the sheer embarrassment of those compromising bonfire icons.

And republicans who cannot quite bring themselves to love Meagher’s 1848 tricolour (its modern use began as an ‘Easter Week’ flag, when it became a ‘craze’) because of the enervating presence of the Orange in its primary colours.

One unionist friend told me of several conversations he’d had with Republican friends and acquaintances in which he had asked them if their definition of Irishness included him as a British citizen. In both cases they promised to get back to him.

When we last spoke on the matter, neither of them had…


  • faillandia

    he had asked them if their definition of Irishness included him as a British citizen

    That’s really up to him. You can be pro-British, define yourself as British, be British in every sense and still be part of the Irish nation if you accept that right of us all to make the decisions nations are entitled to make. I would be no less Irish if it was my view that Ireland should be become one of the united states. As long as I was willing to accept that I would need to win the support of my people to bring it about.

    The difficulty would arise if my farm became part of the US and a large force of US marines arrived to enforce my preference. Could I thin insist that the defiition of Irishness be stretched to include me as someone who denied the right of the people of Ireland to make the most basic collective decisions as a people. So what does that leave us?

  • Tacapall

    I would imagine republicans would have no problems defining fellow Irishmen who claim a British identity in the same way they define their own identity. No-one born on this island can get away from the fact that they are Irish, they can have a British identity but they still are Irish by the fact that they were born on the island of Ireland.

  • Zeno

    “That’s really up to him.”

    Of course it is, but I think his question was to determine their attitude towards him.

  • mickfealty

    Never had you for a Jesuit Tac?? 😉

  • Tacapall

    Having a laugh Mick.

    Have you seen the exhibit being displayed in the Culturlann lately ? It exposes the vast distance in attitudes between both communities when it comes to defining identity today.

  • Clanky

    It is very difficult for Irishmen and women to perceive an Irish identity which encompasses those in the north who see themselves as British, because for so long they have eschewed all things Irish.

    If / when a united Ireland comes there will be no-one saying that Ulster protestants are not Irish unless they reject all things British and swear allegiance to Molly Malone, the GAA and U2, but by the same standard why should nationalists bend over backwards to create an Irish identity inclusive of those who reject the whole idea of being Irish.

    It is not the Irish who have to accept the Ulster protestants and somehow change what it means to be Irish, but the Ulster protestants who have to see that they can be Irish while at the same time maintaining an Ulster protestant / British identity in the same way that nationalists at present can be British while maintaining an Irish catholic identity.

  • McKinney

    I’m sure many Unionists would agree. But doesn’t that put a lot of
    weight on geographical terminology? By the same token, these are the
    “British” Isles – so would you tell a republican from south Kerry
    that he can’t get away from the fact that he is British as well as
    Irish? Canadians that they are Americans because of being born in North
    America? You can’t pretend that these are neutral rather than loaded terms!

    Telling people what national identity they have seems a wee
    bit aggressive, as well as futile.

  • mickfealty

    Yes and no. Such a broad reply doesn’t address the particular question asked. See Zeno below.

    Would love to hear more on Culturlainn exhibition…

  • Tacapall

    Thanks for the reply MK is it just a coincidence you used two former British colonies as your points of reference. Maybe I should have used native rather than identity to make my point. Are we not dancing on a pinhead over a describing word. I fully accept people can be whatever they want to be but for me personally and Im sure most of the globe, people born on the island of Ireland are Irish.

  • kensei

    I wonder if a commentator had have put up a piece questioning where the true republicans in the North are, would we have gotten a tedious whatabouttery response by Mick. No wait, I don’t, there is 0% chance.

    The conflict here is not over “Irishness” or otherwise. It is an irrelevance. The conflict is over who rules. The fact I think that the orange tradition should be respected in any future UI – 12th as a public holiday, orange matches, whatever current Unionists acceptably negotiate as what they actual want is neither here nor there. London and Dublin can’t rule at the same time. Many anti EU people will happily declare themselves European while proclaiming loudly about voting themselves out. What relevance being “European”? I can respect your Britishness, but if it means being ruled by another country then it is incompatible with sovereign Republican Irishness. That’s the whole point of it.

    Secondly, there is obviously a broader sense of Irishness that includes us all. But this question is a often ;posed as a trap for republicans, because most serious ones take respecting the orange tradition as a difficult question. But it clearly isn’t what Irishness means to me, and I need my own branch of republican nationalist Irishness too, because that’s how me and mine reflect their Irishness. So “Aha!” they say, “You don’t really believe this”, they say. And that was really the whole point of the exercise, reducing tricky and complex questions to a stick.

  • gendjinn

    I must have missed the accommodations the UK has made for Irish Republican identity.

    Why do Unionists repeatedly ask Nationalists to do accommodate them in ways they currently refuse to even countenance accommodating Nationalists?

    Fonzi is jealous.

  • Mister_Joe

    More people need to mind their own business. It’s incredibly ignorant in both senses of the word for one person to tell another what they should consider themselves to be. We’re all humans.

  • Superfluous

    It is indeed very difficult to imagine how we can incorporate a ‘culture’ of Irish flag burning into the Irish sense of identity.

  • Megatron

    “The conflict is over who rules” – nail meet hammer. I personally couldn’t give a toss about what people identify as (easy to say from South Armagh it has to be said) or even how they express it. Just would prefer the people on this small island to govern themselves. End of.

  • George

    One unionist friend told me of several conversations he’d had with Republican friends and acquaintances in which he had asked them if their definition of Irishness included him as a British citizen.

    I really don’t understand this. There is no problem with being British with an Irish identity or Irish with a British identity.

    The millions of people with an Irish identity living across Britain are acutely aware that they are British citizens and have no issue with this. It is their nationality. For them, tt simply isn’t possible to demand that they be considered Irish citizens in the British state.

    Sorry but the base line of any nation state is that it demands the loyalty of its citizens. If unionists feel they cannot swear allegiance to an Irish state as they feel they are in fact British citizens fair enough but if it’s a case of wanting their British identity recognised, respected and cherished in any future Irish state construct then that is a possible topic for discussion.

    It seems that unionists asking these type of questions want the best of both worlds: retaining their place in the UK but still wanting to be able to say they are Irish. Sorry, but if you want to be Irish you have to get into the same boat with the rest of us and take whatever weather comes your way.

    Nationality is like a marriage: for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, till death do us part.

  • tmitch57

    “It seems that unionists asking these type of questions want the best of
    both worlds: retaining their place in the UK but still wanting to be
    able to say they are Irish. Sorry, but if you want to be Irish you have
    to get into the same boat with the rest of us and take whatever weather
    comes your way.”

    Maybe the unionists asking these questions are signalling that they don’t want to be pushed into the same boat. Usually a marriage involves a good handle of accommodation both before and after the marriage takes place. And if its not voluntary, its not a marriage–it’s rape.

  • Red Priest

    Except British isl-ian isn’t a ‘national’ identity of any sort, and neither, for that matter, is ‘continental’ american. Your hanging your hat here on an analogy based on nothing much more than terminological ambiguity – the tendency, in particular, of citizens of the United States of America to be described simply as American.

  • Red Priest

    And presumably was also rape from 1189 to ‘select year as appropriate’ ?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, Mr Joe, while we are “all humans”, any constituted authority tells their citizens “what they should consider themselves to be” all the time. The courts convict murders, rapists, the financially fraudulent and even the ordinary racially prejudiced, and in doing so tell them that they are each of these things with the authority of the community behind these statements. I doubt that you really think that organised representative government and the rule of law, both of which are authorised to tells us who we are in any number of respects, are “ignorant”, although when I think of some of the things that go on on the hill……….

    I’m very much a polyculturalist myself, and think that a true Irish identity should enjoy the interplay of as much diversity as possible! (Multiculturalist= separate cultures, polyculturalism= intermixing of cultures). That’s what encourages any potentially stagnating culture to enjoy the cultural enrichment that comes from creative comparison. But we are all of us members of wider communities and how we define ourselves has implications for other members of those communities. An antagonistic self definition such as flag burning or bombing our fellow citizens is hardly a private matter!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Tacapall, in 1913 the Belfast poet Joseph Campbell brought out a collection of poems that attempted to describe the rich diversity of the varieties of Irishness amongst those born on the island, titled, “Irishry”. He included, as we both seem to do also, “The Orangeman” (p.60) and “the Planter” (p.50) amongst his Irishry. His friend Frank Bigger used to say that a Scots bag of seed potatoes brought over and planted here are Irish potatoes by the time they are finally harvested.

    We all have a great deal to offer each other within the rich diversity of our Irish identities, once the lies of centuries that drive these antagonisms have been honestly faced up to. And I’m pretty sure that the term “British Isles” which McKinney offers you below is a term used historically only by the British themselves, continuing now only as a hangover of colonialism, for I am unable to find it in any early modern Irish source, let alone anything earlier. Perhaps he can unpack its usage more for me?

  • mickfealty


    “…the base line of any nation state is that it demands the loyalty of its citizens”

    Quite. That certainly explains the current dynamic in the status quo. But we’re not here talking about the status quo though, we’re talking about Republican ambitions for the future of life on the island.

    I guess what I am asking here is, what is the policy? because, it seems to me, that there is as yet no policy apparent.

    To paraphrase Liam Lynch from the 20s, it’s more a case of “if we can just strike hardest for some time the question of policy will be easier to settle…”

    PS, it is truly great to have you back with us George!!

  • McKinney

    Hah yes I think coincidence all right, but I’m struggling for any further examples anyway… It does turn on semantics all right (albeit that’s often interesting!) and it’s true enough that most people would share your point of view, especially if you accept it as merely descriptive rather than a badge of identity. And in the context of the position of unionists in any future 32-county Ireland, it’s actually quite comforting that republican thought might be flexible enough to accommodate these nuances – which certainly wasn’t the case for southern Protestants after 1922.

  • babyface finlayson

    Though many ethnic groups in the US reject being simply American and call themselves African American or Irish American or whatever,so in the same way British Irish should be acceptable in terms of identity.
    Any one living in a united Ireland would,I think, have to accept their Irish citizenship, while retaining the British (or Polish or Chinese) part of their identity.

  • Tacapall

    Sorry Mick for the delay in replying.

    As regards the exhibit, it wouldn’t be fair to the artist or to the Culturlaan for me to attempt to describe what statement is being made by the exhibit but from a personal point of view it portrays to me the reality of the ingredients in the primordial soup of colours that make up the identities of the people of Ireland.

    When we imagine a horse we see 4 legs, a mane, a tail, runs fast, but theres lots of different types of horse different sizes different colours different breeds. But theres only one idea of a horse.

  • turquoise_unionist

    I think ‘British’ is seen more of a cultural identity rather than a national one, specifically on the UK mainland. This can be seen by the amount of immigrants who would term themselves British rather than English/Scottish etc.

    I would regard myself as British & Irish even though i am well aware that the Irish identity doesn’t seem to cover me in most of the popular/mainstream depictions of it. My Irishness comes from being an Ulsterman, which is something i can relate to much more and feels to be a more comfortable coat to wear.

    I often see the Irish tricolour (when unofficially flown on lamposts in NI) depicted with various shades of yellow instead of orange, and in songs/poems were it’s described as green, white & gold. Are these deliberate actions to remove the orange from the ‘national’ psyche?

  • Tacapall

    Hi Seaan as usual you bring a dose of reality and a breath of fresh air to a conversation. Liked the potatoes bit its so apt for what we’re talking about and yes once the mistruths of the past few centuries is faced up to I believe we as a people will eventually break the shackles that imprison our mindsets. I couldn’t care less about the identity thing, people can identify with whatever they like but we are subjects of no-one, we are all citizens of Ireland.

  • kensei

    Well you’ll here the association with yellow for the Vatican, but generally that is nonsense. The yellow flags are typically because they are faded, and the “gold” is because, well, gold is shiny and sounds cool.

    The problem is if you divorce yourself from “Irishness”, then you let other people define it. It’s hard to provide some sort of integrated front when you have physically in another country – the Republic can ignore any bnits of the North that don’t suit and is much better at branding. Typically that falls out in a way that Northern Nationalists are fairly happy to identify with.

    But it works both ways. Aside from a very few contexts, “Ulster” brings me out in hives because of how Unionism has hammered it. Though that still pales in comparison to “Our Wee Country” – Irishmen are giants bestriding the Earth.

  • turquoise_unionist

    Surely the potato analogy only works if the meaning of Irishness only comes down to location of birth. If a man buys a Highland Terrier in Belfast and breeds it with other Highland Terriers, at what point will the offspring be regarded as Irish Terriers?

    British Isles is an ancient term first used by the Greeks as the Pretanic Isles after the celtic speaking Prit/Brit-ani (depending of which celtic form used) peoples that inhabited them. The Romans called them the Brittanic Isles.

  • kensei

    What policy? Republicans and nationalists want a United Ireland. IN the event of this, Unionists must at a minimum acquiesce. The worst case scenario here is another round of violence, but it is just a statement of fact to say a state will protect itself and it’s citizens form violence and threats.

    Literally no one wants that. Every major nationalist party on the island would be happy to discuss with Unionists what they want in such an event to recognise their tradition and identity. Something will be acceptable, some won’t but there’ll be a negotiation and I suspect they’d get a lot. But if a Nationalist party comes out and says “You can have X” it comes off as horrifically patronising, and suggests they could be bought. It’s madness. Even laying out principles without a realistic prospect of it happening is madness.

    Now you can start talking about what about in present context, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be areas of conflict. For all the talk, Nationalism by and large could make life exceedingly difficult for Unionism and has plenty of example in the British politic to do so. 99% of parades have no objections – but they still cost money to police and clean up. Scotland has proposed restrictions more severe than any here due to cost. Bonfires are an environmental and health hazard but typically the only objections raised are against racist and sectarian displays rather than paying through taxes. SF could cause an immense amount of trouble for them tomorrow if they wanted. They don’t. The policy SF has is equality or neutrality on flags, and settled for Union Flags designated days in Belfast. MMG shook hands with the Queen (awful, imo) and SF did a WW1 memorial. It remains a fact that it is not Unionist symbols that under represented in NI. With respect, what is that you want exactly?

  • turquoise_unionist

    I’m not sure if Unionists are asking Nationalists to accommodate them in this instance. It seems to be Nationalists who are determined to define Unionists as Irish.

  • Tacapall

    Kensei why do you think the 26 county government wouldn’t buy this piece


    Its a bit like protestants refusing to accept this – http://www.fantompowa.net/Flame/pope_cut_out_of_.htm

  • turquoise_unionist

    I don’t really buy the faded flag theory. I’ve read that the Irish government had issued guidelines that yellow should not be used in place of orange.

  • Annie AuldIrn

    In the context of the current conversation, the harvested crop would almost certainly be identified by others, and not just “The Other”, as Irish. But what term would the spuds use to self-identify? I guess Norn-Irish would be the appellation of choice, the latter part of the label probably being conceded somewhat grudgingly.

  • turquoise_unionist

    Ironically, i believe Ian Paisley Sr. demanded the return of this painting of William & the pope so he could hang it in his own office!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Glad you picked a hound of the Gael, Torquoise_Unionist! Now, this is a wee bit nit-picking, but where was the dog born? If the fellow took it back via Troon, its Scots born but if he were heading back to another part of Belfast to breed….

    Bit of a “Cruthain/Dr Adamson” version you seem to have absorbed from Ptolemy’s map of the isles at the edge of the world! As I remember the facts old Claudius Ptolemy did not speak with any of the locals. He doesn’t seem to have done much more than repeat what he’d discovered elsewhere, and his use of names, especially of tribal names is still much debated as to actual meaning. And although Britannia was a colonial outpost of Rome, Alba and Hibernia certainly were not part of the Empire, so the isles were not in any sense a political unit, as you appear to suggest. So in what meaningful sense can you consider them (even then) as “British”, a modern term that means something entirely different to the Greek and Roman terms in use in the first centuries of the Roman Empire that were derived from long lost texts by the 4th Century BC explorer Pytheas of Massalia?

    Diodorus Sicilus, a much later Hellenistic writer used by Ptolemy, who preserved during the first century BC something (at third hand!) of Pytheas’ work, certainly uses “Brettanikē nēsos”, “the British Island”, in the singular, as I remember it.

    But my real point is that usage in early modern history does not include the islands as one polity. Although Ireland was customarily ruled by the same person as ruled England from the time of Henry II, it remained an entirely separate political entity under the king, with its own parliament (yes, we do have a very long history of independent constitutional rule), as was Scotland. The polities were only finally united with the Act of Union in 1801, something that only took place after a demand by a significant portion of the Irish people (especially the “Scots” planters of Down and Antrim) for the entire separation of the polities had been made in 1798. History does not follow simple rules, and often contradicts the concerns of the present day!

    And you must remember that the correct political usage (at least as I remember it from “The Thick of It”) is “Great Britain and Ireland.”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thanks for your kind words, Tacapall, although I cannot get away from the strange feeling, talking about “an Irishness that includes the British of Northern Ireland” that I am somehow becoming “Monsewer” from Brendan Behan’s “The Hostage” when I’m answering T_U! Perhaps its my Irish kilt……

    I once met a Dublin Guarda who used to run Brendan in for drunkenness, who said he was a great fellow, loved their conversations…..

  • turquoise_unionist

    The terrier may be Irish born but it’s still a Highland Terrier!

    The history & politics behind the term does not negate the fact that these Islands have been refereed to as the British Isles / Pretanic Isles / Isles of Brittaniae by people outside of Britain for a long time and is not just a relatively recent invention. And stating that does not necessarily infer that i believe it has always been a correct or proper term to use but simply that the term has general antiquity.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, Annie, but aren’t we all identified (and our lives and identities) controlled by the authority of others! My self-identity is constantly monkeyed with by our masters in Stormont, Westminister and the Dáil, who can authorise building around “my” cultural “ownership” of the Giants Causeway, sequester my own bank account for tax purposes and effect a compulsory purchase of my very home and land if it amuses them.

    Frank Bigger was very “polycultural” ( see a comment of mine above) in his designation of what is “Irish.” I doubt that he expected the potatoes to be of a regular size and consistency, and I’m certain he hoped they might in some strange way enjoy the cultural benefits of sharing our rich Irish culture, although I cannot imagine them learning Irish. “Champ”, perhaps?

  • Big Yellow Crane

    Product of Northern Ireland. May contain nuts.

  • Big Yellow Crane

    Cross-breeds are healthiest. Selecting for consistency just gets you disease and madness.

  • Clanky

    I don’t think nationalists are determined to define unionists as Irish, but if the ultimate goal of nationalism is a united Ireland then there needs to be a place in that united Ireland for those who presently see themselves as British.

    Of course it would be possible to say that if there is a majority in the north in favour of a united Ireland then the unionists will simply have to accept it and get on with it, but that is simply transferring the issues that nationalists have with the British state of Northern Ireland to the unionist community.

    Nationalists cannot spend 90 years trumpeting the unfairness of their position in Northern Ireland and then simply reverse it because they are now in the majority.

    If a united Ireland is to be successful then it must somehow find a way to be inclusive of the majority of protestants in the north (I think it’s fair to say that there are some who will never accept it), if it is not then it will be as much of a failed and troubled state as Northern Ireland has been.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, T_U, but who actually called them “British” and how many isles does this signify? I expect that you and I use the term freedom to suggest quite different things we wish “freedom” to facilitate for us. These nominal terms do not exist in any meaningful sense outside of who is using them and how they are being used. The Greeks and Romans used the term “British” for entirely different purposes to what any modern person might. But I can still lift the “Tain”, and am in cultural communion with a continual creative tradition that has woven itself across centuries and many minds, its living culture not politics (and their creations) that actually endure. “Professio tolero, politics operor non…..”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, I can only agree, (as a cross breed, including about 5% Jewish), Big Yellow Crane! That’s why its “poly”, not “multi” Cultural that works for me!

  • Mister_Joe

    Seann, You’re cconflating two very different things, sense of identity and refusal to abide by laws designed to protect society from scofflaws. Imagine the outcry if a government in a democratic country told people “You must vote for the Conservative Party or else”.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “The problem is if you divorce yourself from “Irishness”, then you let other people define it”

    Spot on!

    That is one of my chief rants about unionist disengagement; they are annoyed about how (in their eyes) the word ‘Irish’ conjures images of Catholicism, fighting against the Crown, light accents and wooly jumpers.

    Had they kept up the Edward Carson approach they could have influenced many aspects of Irish culture (like they did in the past, go into any Irish bar in the world and what do you usually see on the walls? Jameson’s, Powers, Guinness, Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, craic/crack… feckin’ Protestants or Protestant influences…)

    I think they should get involved.

    I find it so tragically ironic that the late fiddle dances of Co Down’s Orange halls were more faithful to traditional Irish dancing than the invented dances formulated by the Gaelic League during their purges.

    BTW: Tacapall has a point: http://www.fantompowa.net/Flame/pope_cut_out_of_.htm

    Some people can’t stand the idea of their brand of history being Scheiße….

  • turquoise_unionist

    You seem determined to construct a strawman argument here. I haven’t been discussing an idea or Britishness, an idea of Irishness or indeed the idea of the ‘British Isles’, simply that there has existed for quite a while a term that has inferred a British commonality on these group of islands

  • turquoise_unionist

    I agree with what you are saying but it’s not really a discussion that Unionists are having to be honest and probably won’t have until such a situation is almost a certainty. To many unionists that conversation sounds more like a terms of surrender! :-O

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you, T_U, “a British commonality on these group of islands.” But what this actually meant at any time to living imaginations is what is actually important. The existence of a term is simply some dark marks on papyrus! The use of the term is the living thing, so please, do not be so disingenuous as to claim that it is simply information you are pro-offering, and that this is entirely value free! “British commonality” implies to me a homogeneous culture! which is why these things require you to properly unpack them, rather than drop and run……

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Even more ironic if, the way I heard it years back, Nixon (mentioned in Tacapall’s last link) may actually have been a friend of Lord Bannside’s father. But I may be mis-remembering……

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh, but Mister_Joe, they do! Soft pedal I admit, but that’s what expensive marketing led political campaigns are meant to do!

    And the point I’m making is that our (admittedly broadly defined) identity IS defined by others! And how we attempt to define ourselves DOES effect the lives of others.

  • Zeno

    “It seems that unionists asking these type of questions want the best of both worlds: retaining their place in the UK but still wanting to be able to say they are Irish”

    I’m not really with you on that George. The Scots and the Welsh seem to manage it OK.

  • Clanky

    And I believe that that is one of the challenges which face nationalists, unionists need to be convinced that a united Ireland is not a surrender.

    How that can be done I really have no idea, but unless it is then I can’t see any way that any united Ireland would not be resented by a significant proportion of it’s own people.

    The opposite is true that if Unionists can show catholics that they can be part of Northern Irish society on an equal footing then the majority vote for a united Ireland may never come about.

    I saw a marked change in attitudes within the catholic community post GFA where many saw the GFA as strengthening Northern Ireland’s pace within the union, but were happy to concede that in return for what they hoped would be a fairer society, sadly since the nonsense over the flag and the unionist leadership falling over themselves to appease the extreme minority within unionism that attitude has changed.

    Just as the armed campaign of the IRA put back the cause of a united Ireland by many years, the idiocy of a small minority within unionism may hasten it.

  • turquoise_unionist

    I guess when you take it down to it’s basic level it’s simply a reference to the islands themselves. And yeah there weren’t any large nations of people on these islands at the time. The name chosen by the Greeks for the islands is likely based on just one tribe of people that dwelt there during that age but then it was the same for England (angles) Scotland (Scotti) & Ireland (Iverni). All these nations imply a homogeneous culture but that’s not actually the case with any of them and Britishness implies less homogeneity than any of those. The Gaels of the Scottish highlands are as divergent a culture, when compared to the Saxon influenced south east of England as the Irish are but those two cultures are still considered British.

    All the ‘Celtic’ nations are so named after one small tribe in modern day France encountered by the Romans which were completely unrelated to the modern peoples we call Celtic yet we still use that term for art, music, artefacts, histories and genealogies that have nothing to do with the original Celts.

  • Croiteir

    Surely the question has to be answered with a question. Who are the British of Ireland? Are they the Ulster Scots? Are they Dissenters? Are they Catholics? How are these defined? What do they want? do they want anything? Surely without having the British defined we cannot move any further? And of course – why would they be treated any differently from anyone else anyway? May create problems with the Polish in Ireland once you start that lark?

  • turquoise_unionist

    I agree.

  • Mister_Joe

    I did say “government”. You’re talking about political parties.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you kindly, T_U for the unpacking! Of course its all made up (where else does it come from?), but no less real for that! I just think that identity really slides along cultural rails (hense my latin dig at politics), and rather like Renan’s definition of a nation, who “having done great things together in the past, wish to do similar in the future.” Which could also apply to any great “band” who have survived together since the 1960s!

    Me? I prefer sharing rather than keeping the box of chocolates closed and hidden until everyone else is asleep, so as Seán Ó Riada offered Harry White, “Come join with us!” We, most of us, willing or unwilling, have been entirely submerged in an English language, Anglo-American media culture most of the time we have been alive. Its good to get back to the rich earth we are all actually rooted in, too! And to read the “Táin bó Cúailnge” in the original (hard work, early Irish!) as well as Seamus Heaney’s translation of “Beowulf”.

  • turquoise_unionist

    ” go into any Irish bar in the world and what do you usually see on the walls? Jameson’s, Powers, Guinness, Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, craic/crack… feckin’ Protestants or Protestant influences…)”

    Yes protestant, but also Nationalist, and in relation to Guinness , it’s certainly a part of their past they like to keep hidden. They certainly don’t promote their pro-British or anglo-irish history.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh, once a “party” member enters “government” the interests of his party are put to one side…..

    I repeat, the point I’m making is that our (admittedly broadly defined) identity IS defined by others! And how we attempt to define ourselves DOES effect the lives of others. While I’d be very happy for people to mind their own business, having an organised society is all about other people defining who we are and what this means, and our self definition can only stand entirely alone if we elect to live on one of those desert islands ten feet wide with a palm tree that used to appear in old cartoons…..

    Ignorant it may be for others to tell us who we are, but its still a pretty universal ignorance, starting with our families.

  • Biftergreenthumb

    “The conflict here is not over “Irishness” or otherwise. It is an irrelevance. The conflict is over who rules.”

    It may be the case that the conflict has become simply about whether we
    are ruled from London or Dublin but to say that issues of identity are irrelevant is surely mistaken. In the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s Catholics were
    treated as second class citizens. The need for a united ireland had an
    urgency and moral foundation that is no longer present under the current
    political and social arrangements. There are no strong moral or pragmatic considerations which necessitates the end of partition. The dispute over partition is now driven exclusively by identity issues. The vast majority of people are unonists or republicans not because of rational, pragmatic or ethical concerns but because of non-rational identity issues. Unionists feel British. Republicans feel Irish. The fact that you refer to Northern Ireland’s place in the UK as “being ruled by another country” shows that your identity determines how you frame the issue and your consequent prefered solution to the conflict.

    An irish identity that wasn’t so closely intertwined with militant republicanism would soften the inherently antagonistic sectarian identities that currently predominate here. I think the Northern Irish identity is a step towards an inclusive Irish identity that would help people from unionist/protestant backgrounds to reclaim some kind irishness. The development an inclusive irishness that isn’t so linked to a hostile republicanism can only help soften protestant attitudes to a united ireland.

  • Spike

    don’t see much “Britishness” on display by the Other, are we expected to embrace the vulgar?

  • mickfealty


    “What policy?”

    The fact you ask the question only underlines the apparent intractability of the problem…

  • Spike

    this isn’t a policy, but it might be what happens: Scotland leaves Union 1914; Tories get back in 1915 + get out of EU, eh mr hammond!, SF in power North and South, 1916, England ( Tories) demand English parliament (Home Rule) . which leaves dear Norn Iron alone and unloved ( no change there then ) – Union over – United Ireland by virtue of Ulster Unionists being left behind, not willing to adapt.. all quite plausible..

  • kensei

    Think you’ve done me somewhat short there, Mick.
    What possible good policy actually exists about the identity of other people. That’s for them. Specific issues might come out of that, and they can be dealt with on that basis. As it is there doesn’t appear to be much to have a policy on.

    Perhaps you could frame “the problem” as you see it, because I’m lost as to what you want.

  • kensei

    I fundamentally disagree. I think that in the long run everyone here would do better in a United Ireland within the EU, as opposed to within the UK quite possibly out of the EU. The moral imperatives around discrimination may have diminished but the desire to have decisions made by people that live here remains a moral argument.

    Every man, woman and child here could vote against a policy, and we’d be overruled by England. Such is the arithmetic of the Union. Last time I checked, everyone agreed that the constituent parts of the UK were in actual fact different countries, ergo we are ruled from elsewhere. You might be comfortable with it, and believe it a better bet. But the governance of this places reflects the policy preferences of England rather than Northern Ireland. To an extent, a watered down version of this argument remains true in a UI, but the numbers are much more acute within the Union, and I suspect we’d integrate better within a UI.

    Politics is often an accident of birth, yes. But it doesn’t mean that’s what is at the core of the argument.

  • gendjinn


    sauce for the goose. More than happy to compromise with Unionism but that compromise has to start today and the way they treat Nationalists from here until the border poll victory will inform exactly how flexible we will be.

    Listen, we did this in 1922 and from that experience we know that the hardcore Unionists will never be satisfied and there is absolutely doing anything for them. Hopefully they will have dwindled into a tiny minority by then. There will be a section of Unionism that is truly interested in compromise and those are the ones whose concerns we should address.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I think I made a blunder with Wilde, more Catholic influence that I was led to believe.
    Even if they were nationalists at the time, to be a constitutional nationalist and proud Irishmen then was quite different to the form of nationalism that followed with the Gaelic League.
    If I understand correctly it was the combination of nationalism and ‘the confessional state’ that forced some of them into exile.
    As for Guinness, well, given how ‘Britishness’ is portrayed on the island, we can’t really blame them for keeping it on the QT, can we?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    That’s a good question.
    I find the lines a bit blurry meself.
    For example, a mate of mine is a Catholic from West Belfast, he/she has a Scottish surname and is an enthusiast of Irish (and some Scottish) culture but pragmatically speaking he/she would vote for the status quo (i.e. union).
    He/she likes the tricolour and I prefer a different fleg.
    I don’t see how they are any more Irish than me or how I am any more British than him/her*.
    (*He/she’s not a transsexual, just don’t want to specify too much)

  • mickfealty

    I take it those dates are +100? You’re right, it’s an outsourced campaign in which no action takes place in Northern Ireland at all…

  • mickfealty

    I suppose what I’d like is a conversation about what a constitutional republican project (anyone’s constitutional republican project) might look like, in say 10, 15, or 20 years time.

    That way we might stand a chance of moving away from the intensely personal, unhook ourselves from the inconvenient aspects of the past, and perhaps begin to think about something other than the next impending catastrophe, or injustice perpetrated ‘themuns’.

    It might also help us to think about ‘policy’, as opposed to ‘standing orders’ (which are a necessary part of the condition of a soldiers life in war).

    In truth it is almost an historic accident at the emblem of the Irish Republic contains the colour orange. Its origins in the Young Irelander rebellion of 1848, was within living memory of the 1798 rebellion, ie much closer to Tone’s concept of unifying the people, than the defender tradition of Ulster.

    In that sense, it is both an artefact of an earlier time and an aspiration towards some of those earlier values. Every Republican party on the island feels compelled to pay lip service to these pluralist values, yet there is very little evidence of policy (other than ‘winging it’) intended to help shape a broad “harmony to be realised in the long run”.

    The distinguishing feature of policy is that it implies a commitment to the enactment of political values, of whichever kind. Waiting for the next collapse, may be the way we Nordies have done it before but there is nothing intrinsically Irish or republican about doing so…

  • turquoise_unionist

    Right, so as long as i keep any Britishness out of my Irishness i’ll be fine? You say “if they kept up the Edward Carson approach”… How many Irish narratives present Edward Carson as an Irish hero? How many present him as the proud Irish patriot that he was? How many Irish pubs in which you’ll see him adorn the walls?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Right, so as long as i keep any Britishness out of my Irishness i’ll be fine?”

    I never said nor implied that.

    “You say “if they kept up the Edward Carson approach”… How many Irish narratives present Edward Carson as an Irish hero? How many present him as the proud Irish patriot that he was? How many Irish pubs in which you’ll see him adorn the walls?

    Are you deliberately taking everything the wrong way?

    Was Edward Carson proud to be Irish and British? Yes

    Are the harder line elements of modern unionism? No

    Did Edward Carson get involved with hurling? Yes

    Do modern unionists? No

    Did Edward Carson speak Irish? Yes

    Do many modern unionists? No (and as a consequence the Shankill Gaeltacht has died out and along with it their brand of Gaelic and no one remembers the Gaels in the Ulster 36th anymore)

    During Carson’s watch did they employ Irish imagery, icons and language? Yes

    Do modern unionists? In general, no, apart from the Irish symbols that Carson et al employed such as the red hand.

    Was fiddling, dancing, uillean pipes etc once part of traditional Protestant and unionist culture? Yes,

    Is it as strong today? No. A lot of unionists have a strong dislike/phobia of ‘fiddle-dee-dee’ music.

    The point is, if unionism didn’t surrender it’s part and brand of Irish culture then ‘Irish’ culture up north might be different.

    Ergo, I use Carson as the example as he was a staunch unionist and a keen advocate of certain aspects of Irish culture.

    I don’t know how many Irish narratives present him as a hero but it is worth mentioning that the GAA do/did have a trophy named after him: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/northern_ireland/gaelic_games/8835899.stm
    (though if they want to sell it to unionists Gerry Adams is a poor choice of salesman)

  • Zeno

    “…..the way they treat Nationalists from here until the border poll victory will inform exactly how flexible we will be.”

    If you think that is going to happen, you must have some reason for believing it. I’d like to hear it.

  • kensei

    I thin that’s a pretty unfair assessment of republicanism. Constitutional nationalism linked Catholicism with Nationalism, and it’s the republican strand that’s always kept that alive – the 1916 Proclamation spells it out, and that conflict had enough support for non-Ulster Protestants to suggest it had a wider appeal.

    There was a point where Nationalist Ireland would endure any hardship for independence. That time is gone. The most critical policy involving a future UI is the economic success of the Republic and the economic success of the North to the extent it can actually unify (I think given the inherent problems with the North, it’ll be impossible to catch it unless the South is a basket case).

    The rest is fluff. Nationalism can’t suggest things to Unionism without being patronising and Unionism won’t negotiate until it’s a foregone conclusion. SF have already done a huge checklist of “Unionist friendly” stuff, in a way Unionism simply hasn’t matched. What else do you want? You can’t just let the OO down road X because it makes they happy if it conflicts with general principles and the wishes of your base. You can’t just give away stuff without reciprocation, either.

    Some of the issues will need addressed to cope with increased immigration. Which i think is a sounder strategy than attempting to tackle things head on. Some of it will be dealt with with the Troubles generation retires. Sometimes inaction is the best course. I’m not sold it isn’t here.

  • Gizzard Puke

    As an Englishman and unionist I see no reason why a protestant/Unionist shouldn’t call himself an Irishman as well.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    On the “British Isles” point, where a few doubted it was much of a used term, rugby fans may note that the Lions team – now the British and Irish Lions, adjusted rightly to take account of the sensibilities of people from the Republic – was until recent decades noted on scoreboards etc as “The British Isles” (for example, when you watch old videos of the 74 Lions). But senior people in Irish rugby from the Republic I guess must have objected to the geographic term being used to cover them because it suggested they were British. It seems to me a very similar indeed to the issue many British people in Northern Ireland have with the term “Ireland” and “Irish” being used casually to include them. So if we’re being consistent …

    Mick has a good point. Irish nationalism, not just republicanism, has long been pleased with itself for going on about how Protestants, planters and even Orangemen are part of their projected “Irish nation” (whether they actually want to be or not) – but never British people. And this is where Irish nationalism as an idea is surely simply incoherent. It will only accept us if we stop calling ourselves British. So in the meantime, is it saying the Irish nation doesn’t include us? It seems to be saying it does include us, but then we have a situation where the nation is not the “Irish people” but “the Irish people plus some other people the Irish people wants to rule over and make Irish.” The other, perhaps final, nail in the coffin of Irish nationalism today is that it signed up en masse in 1998 to recognising the right of British people on the island to identify themselves as British and not Irish if they choose – and to accepting that choice as the equal of their own choice to be Irish. So it can’t tell people they aren’t British any more; and it has accepted it can’t impose Irishness on the unwilling. Yet nationalist ideology requires it to do just that. It’s snookered.

  • Barneyt

    Its call a highland terrier due to its physical traits as well as its lineage…and the lineage determines the way it looks. Can you tell whether someone is British Irish or Irish by the way they look? I promise not to mention Kilkeel.

  • Barneyt

    Don’t get me started in kilts. Scottish tartan is an English invention is it not, bestowed on the Scots? I believe we have county based tartans over here….which I assume entered latterly. Could this mean that the very attractive Armagh tartan is perhaps more Scots than any traditional name aligned Scots tartan?

    Identity is what you make of it, and hopefully its based on something exchangeable, and not derived to provoke or aggressively differ.

    The great irony with the collective “us” over here is that we do have an identity, and largely they would align with being Irish or Ulster Scots (which for me is Scottish). The poor Englanders however do not have the same cultural or identity basis, as they are permanently British. Englishness by implication of their position on the British union and hard push for collective Britishness (globally at times) is forever dissolved. England is not a nation, or indeed a nationality. They are the identify losers in my view

  • SeaanUiNeill

    KInd of finding that I think I agree with you about most everything but the kilts! Identity needs to be pretty interesting to be “based on something exchangeable,” (please note my comments on Polyculturalism above) and if its not then the “other” will have no attraction to it! That’s where the ancient Irish stuff wins out, for do I not see (Dr Adamson’s version of) Cú Chullainn when I occasionally drive down the Newtownards Road?

    But if you hate the Scots Kilt then it’s even worse with the Irish Kilt. Frank Bigger “invented” it about 1902 in a flurry of attempts to create a national costume. It had pleats all round before the afficionados turned to “real” kilt makers who insisted on putting in the flat front, like the Scots Kilt. Me? I think its great. When I do illustrated talks I show a guy in Soho with a black kilt and tee shirt, and Dr Martins! That’s exactly how transgressive the old Irish Ireland version looked in the 1900s! What serious Englishman would ever want to be seen in public with a skirt on? Losers…..yeah!

  • Mister_Joe

    Well, here’s the thing – I can say I’m Irish, or I can say I’m British, or I can say I’m Canadian. If anyone else tries to tell me who I really am, I’ll tell them that it’s none of their business.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, Barneyt, the dog is back! Well, a lot of people think I’m English by the way I talk! Not that any people over the water are ever fooled, (I get a lot of “Paddy” from even the well intentioned over there) but my passport tells me I’m Irish! The way I see it is “Place, not Race”, so as we all look generally the same, that’d be the factor I’d go for. But in the end I’d say that it’s elective (how does one compell the heart?) but, as I found out, even from my rather priviledged perch, the British seem to know that I’m Irish and I have no desire to force my attentions on them. The level of rebuff eevn fifty years ago was enough for me!

    And about the “look” of people, Punch seemed to know exactly what “the Irish” looked like about a 150 years back, but, as a people, our looks may have changed since then.

    Hey, I just noticed this is an old posting, but after taking all that trouble…….

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You seem to think British identity is more problematic than “Irish” … Really?! Have a think about that …
    British identity in Northern Ireland isn’t a thing of huge mystery these days I’m afraid – at least, no more than any other national identity. In any case, this was all put to bed in the GFA in 1998, which a lot of people read and voted on. I’m not sure why you “cannot move any further”. Not sure how long we should wait for you to catch up though 😉

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, Mr Joe, I think you must be confusing the issue of “Irish”, “British” or “Canadian” citizenship with membership of an elective club! Citizenship is never a private matter. It involves benefits conferred by and responsibilities to a state. Sometimes these states are in conflict, and Tebbit’s cricket test becomes really serious.

    For me its a matter of not just how I want to describe myself to another person at a party (not a political party) but what I love and would be willing to die to defend. That’s the acid test. Its not what I may see as my flavour, its what my cultural essence is! Everything I see around me, everything that has fed into the long evolution of my identity has been the creation of others in the past, and I inherit my Irish (or British, or Canadian) culture from them via the input on me of my family and the broader community I grew up within.

    I mentioned “polycultural” above (or below). I do not see this relationship with a state or community as monolithic, rather as a blending of all our individualities, and, willing or unwilling, we are all deeply dyed by the Anglo-American English language culture of Globalisation we have all lived most of our lives within. As for being “told” who we are, those of us who have grown up in families were “told” the language we use and those attitudes our adult selves have re-negotiated by “others” (our family). So the notion of an all powerful, all self-knowledgeable self who is “Master of my ship/Captain of my soul” is simply a version of reality I cannot subscribe to. But you may be wiser and more entirely able to create a world entirely of your own where no one else has had any influence of any sort (“told you”) on your attitudes and opinions. If so, your ability to live without an inherited language and cultures input on the reality you live within is something I cannot even begin to imagine.