Why Include Ulster Protestants in a New Ireland?

This week, we’re featuring submissions from readers on the theme of ‘Future Ireland: Alternative Conversations about Unity and the Union’. Competition winners will be published on Saturday.

By Dilcy, a nationalist living in Belfast.

Why Include Ulster Protestants in a New Ireland?

Answer 1 They’re here already and may as well stay.

Answer 2 We say stay, but we really hope they will eventually leave.

Answer 3 They are really Irish anyway.

Answer 4 We really need their help to make a New Ireland work.

If you are a traditional nationalist or republican, you may have opted for 1, 2 or 3. Congratulations – you win a free trip to Specsavers with a diagnosis of being unbelievably shortsighted.

It may also be helpful for you to reflect on what Ulster Protestants, whether defined by religion or culture, have contributed to Ireland North and South.

If you google famous people from Northern Ireland, you will probably find a range of famous musicians, movie stars and literary giants. The selection will include quite a number of artists from the Catholic community, and surprisingly few from the Protestant community. This does not indicate they do not exist, simply that they may not be as well known.

However, if you google a list of Ulster inventors and industrialists, you will notice the opposite effect. Most of the names such as Harry Ferguson, maker of iconic tractors, Dunlop, inventor of the pneumatic tyre, and Professor Pantridge inventor of the defibrillator, which saves lives around the world every minute of every day, are very prominent and very Protestant.

Prior to partition in 1922, the industrial heartbeat of Ireland was already in and around Belfast, which was arguably also at that time the wealthiest part of Ireland.

There contribution that these same Protestant industrialists made to society is also rarely recognised. The first air conditioning system in the world in 1903 was developed for the Royal Hospital in Belfast, and it was conceived by the world’s leading minds in steam engines, turbines and rope making. It still exists today as a legacy to the contribution of Ulster Protestants to the welfare of society in Belfast and beyond.

If it is true to say that Irish Catholic culture inclines towards the Arts, it is just as true to say that invention and industry have been a marked feature of Ulster Protestant culture.

Ulster Protestants are rightly proud of that heritage and the cultural values, which underpin it. Protestant culture includes and cherishes values such as hard work, honesty, creativity, industriousness, logic and problem-solving – all of which are key drivers of industry and engineering. 

If there is to be a New Ireland, wouldn’t it be great to have poets, musicians and performers, inventors, engineers and industrialists all working towards the same goal?

There is no doubt that the border has been an unsettling influence on Ireland North and South. It is equally obvious that the North of Ireland will require a lot of investment and development to realise its full potential. Some may say that the Republic’s economy has done remarkably well on its own in the past 30 years by transforming from a rural economy into a new digital and information economy.  This is true. But how much stronger would a New Ireland be with a diverse range of economies all making a similarly valuable contribution to society?

The potential to build new industries which improve the prosperity and economic resilience of the whole country must not be overlooked. The remarkable and privileged position for a New Ireland is that such talent and experience is already here and currently untapped.

Imagine if a New Ireland were able to create a Green Engineering economy in the same way it has already created a digital information economy.  The potential is enormous and Ireland could forge a new place in the world in a blossoming industry.

Ulster Protestants are proud of their culture and heritage, they particularly cherish those values which underpin it, and rightly so. Perhaps its time the rest of us began to cherish them also. And while we’re at it, why not tell them?

If all we ever proclaim is our grievances, how can we expect others to hear our hopes, dreams and ambitions. Let’s use the combined skills of writing on the one hand, and problem solving on the other, to find a way of communicating more fully and articulately, what each part of our society values in the other.

Why should a New Ireland, not be the land of Saints, Scholars and Inventors?