“…it should never be forgotten that a genuinely united Ireland must be based on a free union of those living in Ireland”

The strength of positive feeling towards the economist TK Whitaker in the Irish press was extraordinary. I want to come back to that later in the week, since there may still be important lessons to draw on from the manner in which he approached matters.

But, in the context of this election to nowhere we’re enduring right now, this snippet from Eoghan Harris on Whitaker’s background role with the Irish government at the outbreak of the Troubles is worth putting into the Slugger record:

One of the most dramatic episodes was in the aftermath of Lynch’s ‘Stand By’ speech of August 1969. Its inflammatory tone was dictated by Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney at the Cabinet table and merely led to an intensification of the riots in Derry.

Desperate for help, Lynch couldn’t contact Whitaker, who was on holidays in Carna in Connemara, and got the gardai to track him down with an urgent message to call him.

The gardai found Whitaker and whisked him to a phone in the nearby barracks where he gave Lynch the verbal briefing that became the famous conciliatory Tralee speech of September 1969.

Lynch’s prophetically pluralist speech contained such lines as: “The Protestants of the North need have no fear of any interference with their religious freedom or civil liberties and rights.”

Whitaker followed up with a letter to Lynch that anticipates tropes we now take for granted:

“There is a terrible temptation to be opportunist – to cash in on political emotionalism – at a time like this; but it should never be forgotten that a genuinely united Ireland must be based on a free union of those living in Ireland, on mutual tolerance and on belief that ultimate government authority will be equitable and unprejudiced.”

As we head into another Big Billy v Big Mickey election, it has a certain familiar ring to it…

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  • mickfealty

    Go on, I’m intrigued?

  • Croiteir

    What I mean is that the resistance to change is there. Unionists by definition do not want to reunite the country. So the greater force applied to change then the greater force is used to resist. This will happen until the force exerted overcomes the forces of inertia, then we get movement. To suggest that if no force for change is exerted the forces of inertia will dissipate, which is implied by those who say that no force should be applied is false.

  • mickfealty

    Yes, but I’m not one of them. That’s certainly what some unionists thought the Belfast Agreement implied, but it didn’t and couldn’t of itself.

  • J D

    Shove it.

  • mickfealty

    White flag?

  • Alan N/Ards

    As far as I’m aware Arlene Foster is member of the COI, Simon Hamilton is a Methodist and Johnathon Bell is a Congregationalist. Leave us Presbyterians out of it. 🙂

  • Alan N/Ards

    Any unionist that I know really doesn’t care that much about the Commonwealth (apart from the sporting side of it). It wouldn’t entice them into a UI. Saying that, there are other things that they consider important which could make them view a UI as an option.

  • mac tire

    Fair point, Alan. It was just an example that came to mind to illustrate that there are some (moderately influential) people in the south who would make common cause with Unionism even in a UI.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Knocked down or felled.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Violence doesn’t pay

  • J D


  • ted hagan

    I was responding to the original remark ‘let’s make unionists irrelevant’, which helps no one. I think the SDLP/UU liaison is promising, but will it get anywhere? It’ll be long slow road to unity but, in my view, it is enevitable, especially with the UK creaking at the seams.

  • Katyusha

    That’s interesting, AG. Mind if I ask?
    Is this synonymous with Ulster separatism, or standing up for Ulster’s interests and distinct culture in one or more larger structures? I could get behind the latter.

    (Can’t we take back Louth and become ten counties once again, while we’re at it?)

  • Neilo

    Hands off the Wee County: I can’t even get a seat at the bar in Fitzpatrick’s at the weekend as ye have pulled a Robinson In Clontibret manoeuvre on us!

  • 05OCT68

    Hotdogx view is not my own. I agree none voters have to be engaged but without persuading Unionism on the merits of unification it will be a long slow road. Nationalism also has a job of defining “Unionism” post unification what will it be? This election should be an exercise by Nationalism showing Unionists what post unification looks like for them. I’m confident that that form of election strategy would also light a fire under those that have disengaged from politics in the North.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Standing up for Ulster’s interests and culture.

    I’ll give you an example;

    I know a married couple, she’s from a nationalist part of ‘Irish Dalriada’ and he’s from ‘Scottish Dalriada’.

    She has no Gaels in her family and he has a few native speakers (at least).

    She has a Scottish highland surname and lived in Scotland for years.

    Yet with regards to naming and shaping the children there is little middle ground, it’s ‘either’ Scottish or Irish when I see the simple middle ground as being ‘Ulster’ or ‘Dalriadan’.

    E.g. why ‘hurling vs shinty’ whenever we had our own version (of sorts)?

    Why Irish or Scottish names whenever there’s a few crossover names?

    Why learn ‘southern’ Irish when Antrim Irish provides the perfect interface between the two?

    Why learn ‘southern’ Irish forms of music & dancing or Scottish forms when Ulster folk culture was a blend of the two? Now we have Irish fiddle-dee-dee for themuns and ‘ulster Scots’ for Ursuns.

    Over 100 years ago in Antrim or Down there would have been NO conflict in playing in a Shinny/hurling game in the afternoon and then going to an Orange parade in the evening but if you did such a thing now you’d be looked at as a complete oddity by either crowd.

    Plus I hate the way this Ulster Scots thing is being presented as ‘proddy’ thing, there’s no way Glensmen aren’t ‘Ulster Scots’ in terms of ‘spake’.

    (PS I’m not interfering in a parents right to decide just at the bizarre circumstances that they have to overcome in that what should be two almost identical cultures have instead become two distinct cultures with certain connotations just because nationalists want to be more Irish than Irish and the unionists want to be more British than British)

  • Katyusha

    Thanks AG. You never struck me as a separatist!

    Agree totally with what you say. In my view, Ireland and Scotland are twin sides of the same cultural coin. It makes little sense to try and split the two into completely separate entities. Especially when you compare it to other cultures! And like you said, Ulster was always closer to the Scottish shade compared to the rest of the Ireland, both in Gaelic culture and Scots. But to achieve this would require a seismic change in the outlook and attitude of political unionism – I can’t see the DUP transforming into a champion of anything remotely connected with Gaelic culture, even if the Scots they so claim to have cultural links with have no such scizophrenia with their culture and history. You might gain a lot of favour among nationalists though – I know of nobody who thinks, pretends or would ever even want Ireland to be homogenous, and Ulster was a place apart even in ancient times. Still is, to an extent. There are important things here (cultural and socioeconomic) that we need to stand up for, no matter what state we send delegates to. You’ve got my vote, AG.

    In practical terms, the damage that has been done over the last hundreds of years (not necessarily from malice!) might be difficult to repair. For example, with shinty, while we may have played a game closer to shinty, the GAA had to standardise the rules of hurling so that teams could play each other throughout Ireland. Perhaps there would be no issue reintroducing it on a local level, but it would need to be accepted it would probably remain a minority and localised pursuit in the GAA, a bit like handball. Although I’ve gotten curious now – is the reason hurling in Ulster is only strong in Antrim, and to a lesser extent Down, because they played shinty?

    I thought Antrim Irish, along with the other variations of Ulster Irish (Tyrone Irish in my case) had been lost? As much as it would be great to revive and preserve these dialects, I was under the impression it was impossible, and the only surviving strain of Ulster Irish left was Donegal Irish.

    The standardisation problem raises its head with the Irish language as well. This is a big question of mine around an Irish Language Act – would such an act in NI use Standard Irish or Ulster Irish? And I think that if we do not use whatever measures we can to preserve the last strand of Ulster Irish, it might actually die out. We’re in a great place in NI to enshrine and protect our own unique version of the Gaelic language, and preserving it should be an easy sell – you would think. Apparently not. In their mindless belligerence and opposition to the language, the DUP risk condemning one of the real, tangible marks of Ulster’s unique history and one of the oldest signs of our connection with the Scots to history.

    Plus I hate the way this Ulster Scots thing is being presented as ‘proddy’ thing, there’s no way Glensmen aren’t ‘Ulster Scots’ in terms of ‘spake’.

    Of course they do. As far as the dialect is concerned, like all dialects, it’s associated with a certain area. The language itself is blind, and it transitions away from Ulster-Scots into Mid-Ulster English and other varieties as you go further south. But that’s a debate for linguists, not politicians.

    It’s really very damaging the way this parody Ulster-Scots “language” (which needs to be divorced entirely from both the genuine Ulster-Scots dialect and music/dance, as well as the treasure trove of Scots literature) has been constructed to be some kind of cultural demarcation to mark people as having their own distinct version of that weird tongue the taigs learn in school. In a sensible world we could have agreed on some effective measures to preserve our own unique strain of the Irish language, and agreed to promote and mark the colourful and playful way we use English in NI. I take pride in how we don’t all speak in RP. But no, everything has had to be divided up in some bizarre mutual acknowledgement of tribal allegiances and markers. It’s absurd.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    From a pragmatic point of view I suppose the practical thing to do is stick with Donegal Irish as it’s still alive, unless we can somehow achieve a Hebrew-esque revival of Antrim Gaelic.

    On that note, reviving/preserving gaelic should be easy; dual language nurseries, then dual language primary schools then high schools.

    And, easiest of all; subtitles on TV. Everything. From the news to movies. Volunteers could translate. Save a packet and no need for spunking millions on wasteful court translations.

    Off course it’ll be difficult what with the current mind set of a/ the DUP and their hibernophobia/scotophobia (yes classicists, I broke the golden rule!!!) and with SF’s insistence of pasting Gerry Adam’s mug besides Irish text and then defending such actions by saying it’s the unionists wot-dunnit…

    Regarding hurling in Down and Antrim – THAT is my theory, but I don’t know how to prove it. I believe Dunloy hurling club was set up as either a shinty club or had a shinty player as a founder (I think a Protestant from Donegal if memory serves).

    There’s a great book called Camanachd! by Roger Hutchison, it’s full of Irish shinty tit-bits.

    It’s also frustrating as we could have such a rich culture that takes on the best of Scottish and Irish culture, but no, we have to divvy it up and make a hash of the whole thing for the sake of not wanting to mistaken for people who we are almost identical to…

  • Fear Éireannach

    A lack of foresight is not uncommon in some political circles.

  • Jollyraj


    We could have had exactly the same exchange in 2005, 1994, 1986, 1977, 1961, 1950…..

    Perhaps we will have exactly the same one in 2029…