British Nationalism in Ireland - no place for the "natives"
British Nationalism in Ireland – no place for the “natives”

Today the Irish Times newspaper carries an opinion piece from the academic Richard Irvine analysing the restrictions on the flying of the British national flag over Belfast City Hall, arguing that they are perceived as an attack on the British identity of the Unionist community in the north-east of the country. In the article there is no real acknowledgement of the Nationalist community’s right to express its Irish identity nor any call for the establishment of genuine equality between both traditions. Instead we are regaled with the historical reasons as to why the descendants of British “settlers” on the island nation of Ireland must, perforce, be allowed to fly their “battle” flag over a city that is still culturally divided between “settler” and “native”.

“In Dervock and Ballybogey, Bushmills and Ballymoney, and all across north Antrim the Union flag still flies. Four hundred years after a Scottish king authorised the plantation of Ulster the descendants of those settlers still mark out their territory, assert their difference and signal their defiance.

For the citizens of most nations, a flag, if thought of at all, is a taken-for-granted source of pride. Travelling through Britain or the Republic one rarely notices the flag, and when one does it is usually in a happy context, a symbol of inclusiveness, of welcome, of openness. Here in the Black North it is all quite different.

The tattered flag lashed to a lamppost in Rathcoole, or flying proudly over Ahoghill Orange Hall, does not speak welcome but survival. Outsiders trying to understand why the Haass talks were necessary and why, of all the issues it encountered, the flag proved so intractable, need to understand this: the Union flag for many in the North is not just a symbol of political sovereignty, it retains the original purpose of a flag – it is a battle flag.

Four hundred years is a long time to fight a war. All our politicians grew up in it, were formed by it – many even participated directly in it. To bring down the flag then, to restrict its flying to designated days or places, to have to apply for a licence to fly it, speaks not of success or even acceptance but of defeat and humiliation.”

Or perhaps reducing the flying of that divisive flag speaks of a desire for equality and peace in a contested region? Or does this report from the Belfast Telegraph display the true roots of British nationalist ideology in Ireland, as an officer with the PSNI paramilitary police force faces a disciplinary review for wishing a happy new year to the people he serves in a language other than that of the long-ago settlers:

“Writing on the PSNI Newry and Mourne social media feeds, the officer wished residents a happy, healthy and safe New Year from their local police.

The post also included a New Year’s message in Irish, Lithuanian, Polish and Russian…

The greeting received 95 ‘likes’, with many commending the officer for effort.

However, the officer ended up apologising after some voiced anger over use of the Irish language…

One Facebook user posted: “Why can’t you just speak in English? once again trying 2 make it a cold house 4 loyalist’s (sic)”.

Meanwhile, over on Twitter there was also a swell of criticism, including: “PSNI are a one sided force bowing to their Sinn Fein masters” and, “to get respect you must first earn it, the RUC earned it long ago, these cowboys can’t compete, useless!”

P_U_L_Views wrote: ‘…hardly any need for the foreign language. What about the Ulster scots tradition? A police service for all?’

Among the critics on Twitter was Manya Dickinson, a victims’ campaigner whose father Kenneth Graham was killed by the IRA for supplying building materials to the security forces.

She queried the New Year post, asking: “why the irish?? I dont think u serve in the south???”

The officer said the languages used reflected the languages officers had heard in the area that year, and stressed there had been no political motives.

“I included these languages as there is such a diverse community in Newry & Mourne. I used languages that I personally have come across folk that have spoken to me in those languages.””

In other words people in the local area where the officer works speak in English, Irish and other languages while none use the regional dialect of English known as Irish-Scots. So what is the type of British Unionism shown here but the culture of colonial settlers hating all that they perceive as indigenous maintained across four hundred years into 21st century Europe?

21 comments on “Europe’s Shame, The Last Colony

  1. an lorcánach

    this is why, sionnach, there is a connection between Ian Paisley Jnr questioning (on channel4 news last night) the viability of what some call the “Belfast Agreement” and a ‘Yes’ result in Scotland’s referendum, along with the sectarian state (and mindset) of northern Irish loyalists unwilling to adapt to change, as well as the inevitable economic consequences for northern businesses when the majority of UK voters choose to leave the EU — the six counties’ loyalist population will have no one to blame except themselves


    • Unfortunately true. Until “Unionism” as a political belief system shakes off its colonial roots (racist and supremacist) it will never prosper. We saw that with the setting up of the Alliance Party attempt. For a while it prospered before scurrying back to more familiar politics of British supremacism, albeit in liberal dress.


  2. Russian?? What are they doing in NI and whose side are they on?


  3. I think Richard Irvine needs to read a bit more history : the places which he mentions in his piece, viz Ahoghill, Dervock, Ballybogey, Ballymoney, Bushmills are all in Co Antrim, which was not part of the Plantation of Ulster. There was migration from Scotland to these areas, in bursts, throughout the 17th Century, with the migrants coming for very similar reasons to those which impelled later Irish (mainly Catholic) migration to Scotland, i.e. changes in Scottish land tenure, over-population, famine, religious persecution. It should also be noted that one of the chief encouragers of migration to the Route (that part of Antrim which includes the last four places listed above) was a MacDonnell Earl of Antrim, a Catholic, who seemed to be quite happy to fill the rent-roll of his extensive possessions with Presbyterians from Western Scotland. Indeed, given the history of migration and counter-migration across the the narrow sea over millenia, it would have been almost surprising if such a movement hadn’t taken place.
    Other than that, just the usual cliched stereotyping from Seamas.


    • an lorcánach

      sionnach: set the record straight for this guy and give him/her a polite chin-correction! :*) — has s/he not heard of the gallowglass/na gallóglaigh?! @


    • In fairness, Ginger, it was Richard Irvine who chose to make his argument in the historical framework of British colonial history in Ireland and I analysed it in that context. I also tried my best to specify that it was a certain type of British Unionism that was unable to let go of its colonial past, with all the racist baggage that comes with that. I did not nor do I believe all members of the British Unionist community in the north-east of the country hold such views. In fact I would argue that they are the views of a small if vocal and influential minority. Most ordinary Unionists I’m sure were perfectly at ease with greetings on the New Year in English and Irish while still firm in their political and cultural beliefs.

      If the post did not make that clear you can put that down to tiredness on my part when writing and I apologise.


  4. Fíor-Ghael

    I would respectfully suggest that it is “Ginger” who needs to read a little more history on the plantation of Ulster. It is indeed correct to assert that neither Co. Antrim nor Co. Down were part of the “official” plantation of Ulster ( 1609-1613) – the reason for that was simple, namely those counties were already being colonised by British brought in by Sir Hugh Montgomery, Sir James Hamilton, Sir Randal MacDonnell and Sir Arthur Chichester. To somehow suggest that the very substantial number of Scottish settlers in those two particular counties arrived there through some natural/ predictable demographic process or ongoing organic migrational corollary amounts to a complete disregard of the historical facts at best and a simple exercise in historical revisionism at worst. Of course, “Ginger” has also conveniently ignored earlier unsuccessful attempts at plantation in those two counties prior to 1609. These Scottish settlers were given parcels of freehold land on their arrival land taken from the native Irish Gaelic population. What land, status or power were Irish given in Scotland? Did the Irish forced to seek refuge in Scotland (and other countries) arrive as part of an official government policy of dispossession and plantation of the native population?


  5. So what does Fior-Ghael suggest. Perhaps compulsory deportation. Did these people make no positive contribution to life in Ireland, apart from inventing Irish Republicanism, of course? The story of the human race is one of migration and counter-migration ; as Ireland was uninhabited and uninhabitable until the end of the last ice age, everyone currently living on this Island is descended from people who migrated from elsewhere. As to the Scots dispossessing the “Native Irish,” I think in many cases they were quite happy to inter-mingle with those who were there before ; if I go into my local Presbyterian churchyard there are, of course, Davidsons, Hamiltons, Wallaces, McCulloughs, McCurdys, McClintocks, Kennedys, etc, but there are also Hamills, Kellys, O’Neills, O’Mulvennas, Murphys, Dornans, Boyles, which would suggest that the Gaelic Irish population didn’t disappear, but some inter-married with, and were assimilated to, the religious tradition of the Scots. Others were not and the latter surnames predominate in the local Catholic churchyard, along with a few Scots surnames who were assimilated to that religious tradition. The large number of Mac surnames among the 17th Century Galloway migrants would suggest that they had originally migrated to there from Ireland. As with everywhere else here in the Black North religion, not ethnicity, determines your political affiliation : the Presbyterian McNeill will be a Unionist, the Catholic McNeill a Nationalist.
    Nevertheless, I would like to sincerely apologise to Fior-Ghael and everyone else for being here and promise, as soon as the wind dies down, to get out my wee rowing boat and try to make it the short distance to the Scottish coast.


    • Without “those” people, Ginger, I wouldn’t exist as my grandmother came from a Scots-Irish Ulster Protestant background! 😉

      However when these questions are (understandably) framed in a historical context the colonial nature of the British presence in Ireland cannot be escaped. Which is what Richard Irvine at least acknowledges in his original newspaper article albeit dodging the wider implications of that.


  6. Ceannaire

    You took that well, Ginger.


  7. KKK and Orange Order. Spot the difference? That’s right. None.


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