Time for Republicans to write Northern Ireland into a United Ireland vision

The article below by myself first appeared in this month’s edition of An Phoblacht as part of the Uncomfortable Conversations series.

The decision by the British electorate to plump for Brexit has provided a renewed lease of life for Scottish Nationalists, whilst it has also encouraged many Irish republicans to outline the case for a border poll in the near future. Even the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, have made public pronouncements where they’ve spoken of the prospect of an Irish unity referendum at some point in the future.

At this historical juncture, I believe republicans, and all Irish unity advocates, are obliged to give serious consideration to what form Irish unity can and must take.

The primary objective in the short term must remain to reorient politics onto a north-south axis. This has been an over-arching focus for Sinn Fein leaders as they set about developing the proto-type all-Ireland political party, with considerable success to date. By their nature, all-Ireland parties will devise, articulate and seek to implement policies and initiatives which are to the betterment of the people of Ireland as a whole, bringing together north and south and pro-actively highlighting the benefits of politics beyond the border. Sinn Fein stands alone as the only all-Ireland party today, and it is the success of republicans in building a nationwide party and political movement that is likely to compel political opponents to seek to emulate that approach by organising and seeking to represent people across all 32 counties. Whilst this may provide unprecedented electoral challenges for republicans, it would be a most welcome development as it would mean a plurality of all-Ireland voices would exist to articulate the case for unity through political ideas and actions.

Developing and fostering all-Ireland politics is one thing, but if republicans are serious about mounting a winnable campaign in the forthcoming generation to secure Irish unity, then the time has long since past for a credible and tangible vision of what form unity would take to be outlined.

The Good Friday Agreement represented a historic compromise for Irish republicans and unionists, providing a political and constitutional framework within which National rights would be respected and power-sharing structures worked to reflect the reality of the divided society in the north.

Yet what was implicit and explicit in republican acceptance of the GFA and in the conduct of its ministers and elected reps in the 18 years since is that republicans now see making the north of Ireland into a viable and economically successful political entity as a prerequisite to securing Irish unity. That statement might appear to stand traditional republican rhetoric on its head, but in reality it has been the logical assumption driving mainstream republican strategy since Sinn Fein signed up to a Good Friday Agreement incorporating a Stormont assembly and power-sharing Executive.

Accepting that means recognising that the time has come for republicans to find a place within the United Ireland narrative for the perpetually contested entity that is Northern Ireland. Another sacred cow for some, but for thinking republicans one thing is clear: winning a united Ireland referendum will not be possible unless the vision of what Irish unity might look like moves from the abstract into the concrete. This includes dealing with how to address the reality of the rights and entitlements of the British and unionist people of the north.

To that end, I would contend that the answer is already with us.

The north is now, and will continue into perpetuity to be, a contested entity, a hybrid state peopled by stoutly and proudly Irish and British communities whose identities may overlap but may also continue to remain completely separate.

In order to address that reality and allow for the rights and entitlements of the Irish nationalist and republican people to be respected in a UK-context, the Good Friday Agreement provided for constitutional and political architecture to respect all three strands of identities that pertain in this society: British, Irish and Northern Irish. Winning a united Ireland referendum will involve demonstrating in a comprehensive manner how we aim to provide for the same safeguards for the British and Unionist people.

The continued existence in a jurisdictional sense of the northern state, with some regional powers, in an all-Ireland framework would allow for the minority rights currently existing for nationalists to be provided for unionists, removing the ‘fear’ of the unknown which always plagues those articulating the cause of constitutional change, but also providing an effective means of ensuring that those more comfortable with a northern Irish identity, multi-layered or stand alone, would feel respected and attracted to a united Ireland model.

For republicans, recognising ‘Northern Ireland’ was once an anathema, akin to betraying the vision of the Republic, conceding the legitimacy of partition and surrendering our entitlement to be viewed as an integral part of the Irish Nation.

In this post-Good Friday Agreement era, in which our all-Ireland identity has been and continues to be affirmed and strengthened, the time has come for republicans to find a place for Northern Ireland as part of the plan to finally deliver on the cause of unity.


  • Am Ghobsmacht

    The first two – yes.

    Commonwealth – really? Who cares.
    And as for the royal family – I like them but that would probably be a deal breaker that would just scupper any leverage unionism MIGHT find itself with.

    A big gamble.

    Why not settle for BBC NI instead?

  • billypilgrim1

    “no tricolour, no Amhrán na bhFiann,”

    Both would be difficult, but it would seem rather short-sighted to regard either as more important than the reunification of the country itself.

    “…possible need to join commonwealth

    Seems like a waste of time, but I suppose if it made unionists happy, and as long as we were joining as a republic, then it seems a relatively harmless waste of time.

    “…or some position for British royalty in Irish polity.”

    How about a seat in the Seanad?

    As for BBCNI – who the hell would want it?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Yes, and my mother in law’s car (with an English licence plate) was scratched when she tried to use it when living part of the year in West Cork. For my positive take on the southern protestant experience, I was referring primarily to cousins originally from a southern Unionist background, and their mileau. Their interpretation of things has been very influential on a lot of what I’m saying here.

    A comparison of the experience of Catholics in the north with protestants in the south would be an interesting, if time consuming, study, but my impression is that across the partition period, certainly after the end of hostilities in the south, the northern experience would have been far worse. It is of interest that a most objective commentator, Helen Waddell, writing in 1916, describes the north as the only part of Ireland where sectarianism was active, and that protestant led. The house attacks and boycotts in the south historically followed similar actions in the north. Now, this should not be seen as some sort of contest, but it was an island wide phenomena, and I sincerely believe it would not have been an aspect of a Home Rule Ireland had the UUC not opted for violent resistance in 1912. My own relatives in the south spoke of a definite sense of state protection during the burnings of the Civil War, (and thereafter) but I doubt if many Catholics in the north could make similar claims for the old RUC at that time (although its predecessor’s record in objective policing during the Belfast riots of the nineteenth century was excellent).

    Regarding the churches issue, as an Anglican (pretty lapsed) I was interested to find just how many C of I churches were still very active. I was invited to (and attended) Anglican events in Durrus in West Cork, where there is a thriving community, also some very active communities in south Dublin, now growing with the defection of middle class Catholics to a similar church, but one not tainted (in their eyes) by political involvement and abuse issues.

    But thank you for a fine response! My own experience is that I have little trouble getting on with my northern Catholic fellow citizens, even before and during the Troubles, any more than I would have with people in Dublin (whom I’d never characterise by religion). In the light of long years of state oppression, which my very accent must flag for many, this has always proved a pleasant surprise for me. But perhaps they took me for “Monsewer” out of “The Hostage”!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    T.E. please see my comments below on the past experiences of my Irish Unionist cousins in the south since partition.

    “We have nothing to fear except fear itself……”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Heraclitus has long ago pointed out that I, as Creator, can have no direct involvement in the affairs of my creation. I have found in Slugger a perfect medium through which I can at last point out the terrible flaws within “Ulster” Unionism to mortals. With the occasional swipe at their twin, SF, thrown in for luck.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    This would have been interesting for us: https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/adult-and-community-education/events/silenced-stories-protestant-experience-1916-and-after
    Might follow up on some of the speakers’ work.

    Kevin Meyers – a controversial fellow I know but a good journalist, wrote in the following terms about what went on in Cork: http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/kevin-myers/kevin-myers-the-ira-campaign-in-cork-against-protestants-and-nonrepublicans-was-on-a-truly-vast-scale-26698803.html

    You will probably know of the late Peter Hart’s work on this too, and the mass Protestant exodus between 1920 and 1922. In his essay “The Protestant Experience of Revolution in Southern Ireland” (1996) [http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9780230509849_5], he concludes:
    “All of the nightmare images of ethnic conflict in the twentieth century are here: the massacres and anonymous death squads, the burning homes and churches, the mass expulsions and trains filled with refugees, the transformation of lifelong neighbours into enemies, the conspiracy theories and the terminology of hatred. Munster, Leinster and Connaught can take their place with fellow imperial provinces Silesia, Galicia and Bosnia as part of the postwar ‘unmixing of peoples’ in Europe. We must not exaggerate. The Free State government had no part in persecution. Cork was not Smyrna, not Belfast. Nevertheless, sectarianism was embedded in the Irish revolution, north and south …”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Yes, indeed, MU. I’m sorry to say that I missed the Maynooth conference, but yes, the work looks most interesting. I will check it out, I’m used to contacting academics I’ve not yet met and asking for copies of conference papers not yet published. Few refuse.

    It is interesting that you link next to Kevin Myers. I’d have left him out myself, the other links are strong enough, and he weakens your case, for like Tim Pat Coogan, he is notorious for selectivity of evidence and a “mode of presentation was marked by rhetorical extravagance and hyperbole which used the failings of some to stigmatise whole societies, employing a level of generalisation that was distorting and seriously insulting”, to Africa, in this case, but equally a characteristic of his other work, in my opinion.

    This cannot be said of your final link. I knew the late Peter Hart personally, he was a friend (and colleague) of my daughter. I’ve defended his work and his academic integrity a few times on Slugger and at conferences. You’ll note “Cork was…not Belfast”, which if Peter was here he’d be the very first to say set the bar for vicious sectarian murder and aggression, and as he says the “Free State government had no part in persecution” unlike the new Unionist administration in the north which did nothing whatsoever to stop Specials murder squads, whose commanders were later given honours. Peter gets a name as a critic of the IRA first and foremost but in my experience he was a critic primarily of a culture of lies and evasions and his work in many ways compliments my own efforts to dispel the encoded evasions and lies which pervade the Public histories which is all that most of our community in the north know. Regarding the Protestant exodus, it was a two way street, even for protestants. While I’d personally met men and women who had turned village and church halls in the north into shelters for refugees (southern protestants and Catholics both, but all under threat by the IRA) I had protestant family contacts who were compelled by threats sanctioned by the New Order in the north to live either in the south or over the water after partition. As I say, this was an island wide phenomena, but all to my mind set in motion by the creation of the UVF. And as I’ve said many times, had the UUC been “good losers” in 1911, and not resorted to force, this culture of violence and sectarianism would almost certainly not have been a feature of a Home Rule Ireland.

    The price of a “Britishness” for the north, which would have been fully enshrined within the very limited Home Rule on offer anyway, was this culture of violence and the disruption of lives and the collapse of the strong all Ireland economy which was developing pre-1914. To me this was far too great a price to pay for something which was simply not going to be a problem anyway. Home Rule was actually just a mild form of devolution, not the full blown independence which Unionist actions have ensured!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    BP1, “…or some position for British royalty in Irish polity.”

    How about our own boy instead:

    “Hugo José Jorge O’Neill (7 June 1874 in Lisbon, Santos-o-Velho – 30 March 1940 in Palmela) was the head of the Clanaboy O’Neill dynasty, whose family has been in Portugal since the 18th century.”

    He’s been a long enough time away from home.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I thought this all went pack to the Plantations? Lots of instances of sectarian violence from both sides way before 1912 and it seems odd to start there. But we have had this conversation before.

    I wasn’t citing Myers as an authority or doing anything so grand as ‘making a case’ – if I were I wouldn’t have cited him – just linking to his piece as something interesting on this topic, take it or leave it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But after 1916, Home Rule was about more than mild devolution; and unionists may well have felt prescient about that. Nor do I think the change in nationalist sentiment post-1916 can be put down to unionists; rather it seems nationalists in the south ignored them and pressed ahead in their own direction. So a stretch to say unionist actions ensured it. Would nationalism really have stopped at Home Rule, had it been granted? Maybe for a bit but I tend to think independence would have come anyway as the next logical step for nationalists – and the nettle of the North-East loyalty to the UK would then have to be grasped. Partition, just delayed a bit.

  • billypilgrim1

    Link didn’t open, I’m afraid.

    But I’m sure the reference was brilliant, erudite etc.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Yes, but Easter 1916 was very much the product of the formation of the UVF. It is important to source these things and not succumb to the the temptation of engaging with events as stand alone happenings when they are expressions of a developing trend. Even after 1916, the possibility of a pre-empt by constitutionalism of Sinn Féin’s 1919 electoral victory had the northern Unionists followed the lead offered by their most pragmatic negotiator at the Irish Convention of 1917/18, Sir Alexander McDowell was far from impossible. McDowell’s death and the default of Unionism to “not an Inch” ensured

    “So a stretch to say unionist actions ensured it”, only for those unfamiliar with the detailed historical record. The all important thing too is that “the nettle of the North-East loyalty to the UK would then have to be grasped” pre-supposes a particular “loyalty” developed under partition and confessional dominance in the NI post 1920 can be inferred backwards to an earlier and far more fluid situation. We can never know what would have occurred, but a close reading of the whole range of evidence, and respect for the pattern of the history developing tells against what you are suggesting.

    The big unspoken thing for both Unionist and separatist nationalists is that Home Rule would almost certainly have created a situation such as that of the white Dominion governments, but considerably more circumscribed and “British” in form. Of course over a century I would imagine that a shift to independence would have developed but at the speed of Australia and Canada, as W.S Armour’s 1935 book “Facing the Irish Question” suggested would have been the case with all Ireland Home Rule, but this would not have been cursed with the public rancour between Ireland and Britain that a slowly contested and very messy devolution of powers created. The (still very) “Irish” Unionists of the north of that period would have probably settled quite readily into the new situation when it quickly became clear that there was a complete absence of the clerical dominance and seftarian pogroms they were being told were inevitable, and with the kind of relationship between Westminster and a devolved Irish parliament which we are all too familiar with today, what actual constraint on northern “Britishness” would have existed? John Redmond’s own desire for Irish self government was entirely linked with a continuing loyalty of Ireland to the British Crown and the Westminster parliament he admired and took as his model. (Alvin Jackson’s essay “British Ireland”, 1997).

    We cannot know, but the likelihood tells against northern fears, even as late as early 1918. To my mind the unfortunate death of Sir Alexander McDowell mentioned above was the single most influential event in constitutional failure even at this late date, so wafer thin are the chances on which real history hinges. As Alvin Jackson says “Irish republicanism almost certainly achieved a majority following only at the time of the war of independence.” It is important not to infer this back before actual events, in some spurious invocation of a “prescient” Unionism, the very thing which itself created the circumstances!!!!!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Can’t make the Wikipedia link work at all, but I’ve quoted instead and if you go to Wikipedia and search for the name…………

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Your ‘misunderstanding’ arises from the fact that I have never said I was not Irish. However as ‘The One Who Pronounces On Things’ I expect you merely stereotyped me.

    I’m not sure what “nationality is simply a function of where you’re from” actually means as you use it. If it does “simply” mean it’s merely where an individual is born I take no issue with that.

    Yet if it is only that why extrapolate from that simple point to, for example as you have done, to talk of “pride” in individuals to whom your only connection is that you share a birth place with?

    Is it not more honest to admit that the nationalism you are talking about is more than a mere accident of geography?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    While it all went back to woeful effects of the intentionally benign “Surrender and Re-Grant” policy of the early sixteenth century, with the conquest that followed, 1911/12 marks what every thinking person in Ireland noted at the time as the return of violence to what had by that time become an entirely constitutionalist argument. You have raised the issue of earlier republic violence, but this had been so entirely marginalised by 1911 that the IRB was, I quote from an earlier posting of mine:

    “Owen McGee’s excellent 2005 book on “The IRB. The Irish Republican Brotherhood From the Land League to Sinn Féin”……. says on page 353:

    “By April 1912, when a home rule bill was introduced ….the IRB in Ireland was essentially nothing more than the “Irish Freedom” newspaper, three small circles led by Denis McCullough in Belfast and Hobson’s following [in Dublin].”

    That and the small circle around Arthur Griffith’s “Sinn Féin” was the entire focused demand for separatism, while great masses of the rising new Catholic professional and working classes were voting for the IPP and Constitutionalism.”

    I think I’d posted both that and my next comment to you originally:

    “Of course separatist nationalism has its own culpabilities, but these do not cancel out Unionism’s inceptive role in the descent into violence:

    “Helen Waddell (hardly a supporter of SF) said in 1916 in the wake of the Easter Rising “What Sir Edward Carson did was to break down the hold that constitutional Government had at last sown in Ireland. He proved that a threat of physical force could paralyse ‘Government by the will of the majority’. ” (Corregin, d.F., “Helen Waddell, a Biography”, 1986, p. 184, for the whole letter). She also notes that “Ulster never feared religious persecution for itself.” and in an earlier letter said that Carson (and by inference the UUC) “practically created Sinn Fein”. ”

    Its not simply myself “sticking to the unionists ‘invoking the gun’ in 1912 as the fons et origo of political violence in Ireland “, its a well attested perception by local liberals writing at the time.”

    Is it so very “odd to start there”? Surely not if the creation of the UVF and the resort to the threat of violence was viewed as the inceptive move by those alive at the time!

  • john millar

    “The communities here are not and never have been “completely separate”. Different? Yes. Mutually antagonistic? Yes. But separate? (Let alone “completely separate”?)”

    Separate education system, close association/ embrace (at least) with a separate language, separate sports living ( largely) in separate areas Areas of separation in employment

    ” Yes. But separate? ” I would have thought so

  • billypilgrim1

    When did I misunderstand whether you are Irish, or stereotype you?

    I’m constantly getting into trouble with unionists for insisting that they ARE Irish, and in the same breath they’ll accuse me of having some narrow definition of what that means, when actually I’m being as inclusive as it’s possible to be. The confusion is not mine.

    “I’m not sure what “nationality is simply a function of where you’re from” actually means as you use it. If it does “simply” mean it’s merely where an individual is born I take no issue with that.”

    I honestly don’t know how to put it any more clearly and straightforwardly than that. It’s just a matter of where you’re from. Someone born and raised in, say, Oslo, might absolutely hate Norway, but they’re still Norwegian.

    Of course there are complexities that arise when someone makes their life in another country. Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course, is American, after almost 50 years of living there. But he didn’t become American the moment he arrived in LA. It was a process that took many years. And he has never stopped being Austrian.

    “(why) talk of “pride” in individuals to whom your only connection is that you share a birth place with?”

    The same reason I take pride in members of my family. The fact that we come from the same country matters.

    “Is it not more honest to admit that the nationalism you are talking about is more than a mere accident of geography?”

    Of course it’s more than an accident of geography / birth. There’s an ancient cultural tradition behind it too. But don’t be so quick to dismiss accidents of geography or birth. These are tremendously important things. History turns – and yes, nations are built – on such accidents.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Ok I’ll let it pass that it took to the last paragraph for you to admit that for you it is more than geography. The point I was making.

    I’ll leave you equating family members with others that you have most probably never met, or ever will meet. I imaging you’re a big fan of ‘Hello’ magazine.

    So, back to the nub of things; what do you suppose are the elements of the “ancient cultural tradition” you cite that we share as individual Irish people?

  • billypilgrim1

    No, the nub of this particular point is that accidents of geography and birth matter, and are crucial in the makeup of nations.

    I simply don’t go along with your rejection of these things – a school of thought that originates in the Eurocommunist tradition, as you may or may not be aware.

    (And I was using the family as a metaphor for nationality. It wasn’t supposed to be interpreted literally.)

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Yeah I have seen your comments Seaan and enjoyed yours and MU debate. Both of you are very good posters and debaters. It would be interesting to see how such an event above would go down in Dublin ? “The Dublin Tattoo” Now there is an idea for a few Promoters ?

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Captain MacMorris “what ish my nation?”

    The Covey “there’s no such thing as an Irishman……..”

    Positions I’ve some sympathy with.

    Accidents of geography and birth may matter. But certainly not as much as you seem to think they do.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you for your endorsement T.E. MU evades some of my points and brings up the same arguement I’ve already questioned sucessfully (as I understand) over and over, but he seriously tries to argue points, and I really value that. I’d still like to see someone argue strongly for the Union itself (not too hard, there are good arguements I can readily see) but without carrying all the historical baggage of political Unionism over into what could be a strong argement on entirely modern political grounds. It’s this apparent need to justify the old Unionism and its resort to violence which I simply cannot understand.

  • billypilgrim1

    “there’s no such thing as an Irishman……..” / Positions I’ve some sympathy with.

    No kidding.

    I get why this appeals to you. You’re perhaps a little confused about your own Irishness and how you feel about it, but then, if there’s no such THING as Irishness anyway, you’re off the hook.

    Nobody really knows anything, nobody can really define anything, nothing really means anything, move along, nothing to see here etc.

    Seriously though, don’t you realise how absolutely, certifiably insane it is to say there’s no such thing as an Irishman?

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    I’m “confused” about my own “Irishness”. Odin! Preserve us!

    I seem to have upset you somewhat by failing to keen along with your ‘Blood and Soil’ 19th century mawkish romanticism. Let me be clear on this. You’re perfectly at liberty to raise a lump in your throat each and every time the ‘Oul Sod’ comes to mind. You don’t need my approval. I don’t care.

    “don’t you realise how absolutely, certifiably insane it is to say there’s no such thing as an Irishman?”

    That’s not what Sean O’Casey was trying to say when he had ‘The Covey’ speak those words. I have neither the time, or inclination to explain it to you.

    No one, least alone me, is trying to sway your notions of nation and nationality. Go ahead and cry into your Guinness every time you hear a keening Irish voice, or look out over any one of the ‘Four Green Fields’. As I may have mentioned before I’m not interested in refashioning how others feel about who or what they are.

  • Mega Kensei

    Threat of violence never cowed Unionism – nor should it have. Shouldn’t cow nationalism, either.

  • billypilgrim1

    “I’m not interested in refashioning how others FEEL (my emphasis) about who or what they are.”

    This, I think, is our fundamental point of disagreement. I simply don’t believe that feelings, however strong, take precedence over objective reality.

    What the rest of your anti-patriotic commie (!) rant has to do with anything, I have no idea. But if we’d been playing stupid-caricatures-of-Irish-nationalism bingo, I’d be shouting House right now.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Your entire argument is based on emotion trumping “objective reality”!

    You started off from the position that ‘Irishness’ was simply about place of birth. Remember? When I probed on this, your references to local ‘heroes’ and “ancient cultural traditions”, your Irishness was revealed as more than mere birthplace.

    You then come back and make a point that I’m “confused” about my own Irishness. Confirming, again, that for you nationality is indeed more than place of birth – unless I’m “confused” because you suspect me of being unable to read a birth certificate.

    And finally I’m “unpatriotic”; more emotionalism!

    Be honest with yourself. I over-egged the caricature of nationalism to allow you an opportunity for some personal development. Embrace your real feelings and ditch the bogus premise that your nationalism begins and ends with a pin on a map.

  • mac tire

    McGee’s book is excellent, Seaan. I’m currently reading The Making of Ireland, due to the link you very kindly provided a few days ago. Interesting and quite eye opening. Thank you.

  • billypilgrim1

    The heroes and traditions I referred to are some of the things that make me proud to be Irish – they aren’t the things that make me Irish in the first place. Please tell me you at least understand this distinction?

    If you’re from Ireland, you’re Irish. It’s really not complicated.

    But I will accept your offer of a learning experience. I have a question for you.

    You’re Irish, just like I am. I not only agree with you on this, I insist upon it. But WHY, from your perspective, are you Irish?

    “Confirming, again, that for you nationality is indeed more than place of birth…”

    No, it doesn’t confirm anything of the sort. My nationality derives from where I’m from. It would still be my nationality even if I hated my country, as some do.

    You are confusing my patriotic pride with my nationality – how I FEEL about my country, rather than what my country is. The latter is simply an objective reality, the former is much more subjective.

    “…bogus premise that your nationalism begins and ends with a pin on a map.”

    It’s not a “pin on the map”. It’s where I’m from. I didn’t grow up in a “pin on a map”. I grew up in a town and a county in Ireland. This is why I’m Irish. Again, you are confusing nationalism and nationality.

    Now, of course, nationalism and nationality typically go together. It’s a natural fit – one ordinarily expects that anyone’s patriotism will be to their own country. The exceptions tend to be really weird, and with some exceptions, are usually dishonourable.

    Unionists in the north of Ireland, of course, generally give their national allegiance to Britain rather than the country of their birth. Perhaps this is why they’re always complaining like plaintive teenagers about how no-one understands them.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    McGee’s book is first rate, mac tire. I always read the sources in a book early, and these show just how much serious work he put into this. I was surprised when I read how small the IRB was in 1910/11, but when a fellow historian sent me the tiny membership list present in the 1905 minutes for the northern Dungannon clubs, well, it all really fell into place.

    “The Making of Ireland and its Undoing” was the first book to successfully challenge the Anglo-centric version of Irish history. It has faults, but I still find it a powerful and inspirational work, and a most compelling read. The interesting thing is that even Unionism was keen to identify with their rich Irish cultural heritage before 1911. That year is the watershed of quite a few things here.

  • Mike the First

    I think the Crossmaglen thing is an important facet of the point though – I could learn to live with NI losing a border village of 1.5k people (hence my analogy with Tende/Tenda) but most definitely not South Down, West Tyrone, Derry-Londonderry city, etc. Take chunks out of NI like this and it starts ceasing to be NI.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Another suggestion, read McGee’s book alongside Dr Matthew Kelly’s excellent “The Fenian Ideal and Irish Nationalism, 1882-1916”, especially for Chapter 6, “Fenian orthodoxies and volunteering, 1910-14” which, in regard to some of the points I’m making interestingly compliments what McGee writes. It’s an excellent read anyway, and comes up under £10 “used” if still a little pricy new:


  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    I will try to clear things up for you (this is my final attempt at doing so).

    Way back when, you said “nationality is simply a function of where you’re from”. I replied, “if it does “simply mean it’s merely where an individual is born I take no issue with that.”

    So, to answer your question, I am Irish because I was born in Ireland. Simple geography, accident of birth.

    You came back with accidents of birth being “crucial” in the formation of “nations”. A nation, a body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language inhabiting a particular state or territory. My Shakespeare quote teased on this, what ‘unites’ unionist and nationalist in Ireland? Of course there are cultural and historical convergences, but united? I think not.

    I then probed your argument as you had layered the simple accident of birth with “pride” and “ancient cultural traditions” and made the point that for you your ‘Irishness’ is more than birthplace.

    You returned accusing me of confusing ‘nationality’ with ‘nationalism’. Although you later posted that “of course, nationalism and nationality typically go together. It’s a natural fit…”.

    You also talked about “patriotism”. Being patriotic about your birth is a nonsense. You played no part in where you were born. Your patriotism is thought out process, a learned response.

    Finally you introduce the old canard about unionists and their “allegiance” to Britain “rather than the country of their birth”. Illustrating your flip-flopping and confusing between geography and political states. Something you have been doing throughout this exchange.

    The landmass of Ireland does not demand allegiance, patriotism or nationhood from those born on it. It can’t because it’s simply dirt and rocks and stuff. It is not sentient. The same approach can be applied to the sea. It doesn’t understand itself as a border, it’s only water.

    That’s where your tangling begins, with that misconception of what Ireland is. That’s why you moved about between place of birth and nation, between geography and human political dispensations.

    We began by agreeing that ‘Irishess’ was simply being born in Ireland. You then indicated by everything else you said that for you Irishness is actually much more than that (“I grew up in a town and a county in Ireland. THAT’S WHY I’M IRISH.”). That’s all I was pointing out to you.

  • billypilgrim1

    No need to clear anything up. I understand what you’re saying. I just think you’re wrong. I don’t mind a disagreement. It’s why I come here!

    On the subject of nationhood: Are we united by common descent? To all intents and purposes, yes. (Unionists need to forgive themselves for the plantation.) History? Certainly. Culture? To a great extent, yes. Language? We all speak English. And Protestant alienation from Irish is recent, ahistorical, and hopefully temporary. Inhabiting a particular state or territory? Unquestionably.

    You are exaggerating distinctions and calling them fundamental incompatibilities, but in truth, our distinctions are relatively trivial, and well within the diverse range of experiences you’ll find in any nation.

    There is only one difference which is really significant – and it’s not religion. (We’re increasingly in line with most western countries in 2016, where the argument is between belief and unbelief.) Our real dispute is patriotic. A section of the Irish people gives their national allegiance not to Ireland, where they live, but to another country. That’s the nub of our disagreement.

    “Being patriotic about your birth is a nonsense. / Your patriotism is thought out process, a learned response.”

    Which is it? A thought-out process or a learned response? Am I an informed, sentient person making a positive choice, or a Pavlov dog?

    My patriotism is a positive, active choice. It’s rooted in where I’m from, my upbringing etc, but I don’t claim it occurs within me without any agency on my part. I CHOOSE to be patriotic, to be proud of my country and countrymen. I could choose otherwise. Some do. I’m Irish because I’m from Ireland – but I give my allegiance because I choose to, and because I believe I owe it.

    “We began by agreeing that ‘Irishess’ was simply being born in Ireland. You then indicated by everything else you said that for you Irishness is actually much more than that.”

    We agree that if you’re from Ireland, you’re Irish. We’re arguing about whether that should mean anything. Whether being Irish implies any obligation to Ireland.

    You think not. Ireland is just a landmass, nothing more, you owe nothing to its people, its culture, its national integrity. It’s just as legitimate to give your patriotic allegiance to another country as your own.

    I disagree. We DO inherit an obligation to our country, and it’s wrong to give patriotic allegiance to any country but your own. As well as being wrong, it’s bad for you – the intellectual and moral decline of Ulster’s Protestants in the century since they made their fateful choice for unionism bears that out.

    You say that “the landmass of Ireland does not demand allegiance, patriotism or nationhood from those born on it.”

    But look to the perpetual instability and recurrent violence that results from 1/6 of the population refusing this allegiance. (This is not blame. This is predictable cause-and-effect.) Look at the progress in the south of Ireland, as opposed to the stagnation and decline of the refusenik north. Look at the sectarianism that blights every aspect of our lives. Look how palpably unhappy and culturally bereft unionists are.

    This is the universe’s way of telling us that it’s better to do your duty to your country.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    You continue to jump between geography and politics.

    ‘Country’ can refer to both geography and statehood, as can ‘nation’. The U.K. is a state, NI is a region within that state. Ireland is a state, yet one that does not encompass the entire geography of the island of Ireland.

    We are not “united” by history and culture (more so history, although cultural schisms exist) we are divided by them.

    The rest of your post is romantic nationalist rhetoric rooted in the 19th Century – where it should have been left. The unionist ‘blood crime’ of ‘failing Mother Ireland’ is both tiresome and insulting.

    Reading back over this exchange I don’t know what would serve best: to laugh or cry? One thing I’m confirmed in though: you can always tell a nationalist, but not much.

  • mac tire

    Go raibh míle maith agat, a Sheaan.

  • billypilgrim1

    If you’re going to accuse me of any kind of “rhetoric” you really shouldn’t make up quotes and put them in my mouth.

    It’s undeniably true that we’re talking here about Irish people who do not give their patriotic allegiance to Ireland. I think that’s a mistake, and a costly one. Ulster’s Protestants did not commit a ‘blood crime’ by adopting unionism, but they did take the wrong path. In the circumstances of the time, it was not a necessarily unreasonable or wicked choice, but it has proven to be the wrong one. They continue to pay a heavy price for it.

    I’m grateful that you situate my principles in the 19th century. The 20th century was a catastrophe – in terms of Irish politics, and in terms of western thought. When you’re really screwed up and don’t know which was is up, it’s always a good idea to go back to first principles.

    “…laugh or cry?”

    If I were you, I would cry.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Tá mé ag onóir, mac tire!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I was asked what unionists would want within a united Ireland and I answered it honestly, for what I would want personally. If it seems ridiculous, perhaps it is – as it’s so hypothetical and in any case Ireland is not capable of granting what I would want. And even if it did, it wouldn’t satisfy me as a unionist.

    The endeavour of breaking us away from our country in order for nationalists to have a better version of theirs is not a noble endeavour and it is not one designed to appeal to us. I hope my list flagged up how far away the nationalist conception of a new Ireland is from the kind of features that would make these future hypothetical out-voted unionists feel like they had a stake in the new endeavour.

  • grumpy oul man

    Sorry for the late reply,
    Your list is really a demand for unconditional surrender and your claim that it would represent the views of unionists is sad really.
    Do you honestly think it would be a good idea for unionist to take your “not a inch” stand in the vain hope that it would stop a UI.
    Remember the days when unionists brought wide scale violence to the streets every time things didst go there way are over, the paper tiger is dead and we have all seen it die.
    When a UI approach surely instead of shouting “NO SURRENDER” and being left out of the discussions, Sensible unionists will enter talks with a reasonable position.
    Your list is about as reasonable as the TUV manifesto and has about as much chance of been taken seriously as the TUV manifesto , Compromise will be the name of the game, the new UI will not be a nationalist mirror image of the old NI, there will be no government organized and supported sectarianism ,it will be a different beast, the days if unionist or republican mobs on the streets is over.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Unconditional surrender? A reminder, in this scenario *there is a united Ireland*

  • grumpy oul man

    So you cannot envisige comprimise,in your worldview a UI is unconditional surrender which of course is covered by no surrender.
    So when things change instead of the civillised responce of adult compromise you will insist in all or nothing.
    Perhaps another covenant or raise a army is that how you will stop from unconditionally surrendering.
    Very sad, very very sad.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Eh? I think you must have misread.

  • grumpy oul man

    “Unconditional surrender? A reminder, in this scenario *there is a united Ireland*
    Care to explain this or you list .
    for someone who claims to have a masters in law you would think you would be more concise in your language!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    This is getting really confused, with respect. A reminder of how we got here – I was pointing out the error in your statement: “Your list is really a demand for unconditional surrender”. The error being that my list was one I supplied upon the request of an Irish nationalist contributor to paint a picture of what a unionist would want if there were a united Ireland. I am left wondering whether you maybe just got the wrong end of the stick? Because of course it looks unionist, how else would it look?

    Further, it’s hardly seeking the unconditional surrender of Irish nationalism if the whole context of the wishlist is a future united Ireland. Some other posters on here of a nationalist persuasion have thanked me for entertaining that scenario and giving them food for thought.

    The list was in any case deliberately provocative, though still an honest view, as the purpose was to make really one key point about what kind of future united Ireland nationalists ought to be aiming for. That was, if Irish nationalists want a new 32-county state to genuinely unite our two peoples, nationalists too will have to be prepared to make big changes to their cultural identity and in particular embrace the British side of Ireland. That might seem counter-intuitive but it’s actually kind of obvious: the new state will be absorbing a big blob of British people and hoping to provide an ‘Irish’ identity capable of including them on an equal status with the nationalist Irish. The current Irish nationalist conception of Irish identity and its telling of “the national story”, in which we are to a large degree demonised, would obviously have to change. Sorry I thought nationalists realised that. But if they’re not up for it, fine with me.

    Oh and on a factual point, I don’t claim to have a masters in law.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    I’ve an LL.M. I hope no one is critiquing my “language!”. 😉

  • grumpy oul man

    Yes your list is what a victorious occupying army would demand of those they had conquered.
    Your flag comes down mine goes up,
    Your parliament is disbanded mine isn’t,
    You rejoin the UK,(or something that looks very like it)
    You apologize for all you done (i wont)
    whereas there are no circumstances (outside Irish surrender) in which you would join a UI,
    so if the majority wish it you will oppose those wish’s and must be forced into it.
    On the last point you did indeed tell me that you had a law degree from cambridge
    Your own words sir,


    grumpy oul man

    a month ago

    I studied law at Oxford and practised for several years. I know what libel is.


    grumpy oul man

    a month ago

    I’m entitled to a Masters off the back of my degree, but never claimed it 🙂

    So even through you have a masters degree (perhaps unclaimed but still yours) you don’t have a masters degree.
    A interesting fact here , even if a poster removes something he posted it remains on the profile of anyone who replied.