Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Malcolm discovers relative values

Cousinly thoughts
Some time ago, one of Malcolm's inanities prompted a comment from yourcousin. This came as something of a surprise to our Malc, who is rather precious about his relatives. However, yourcousin is going to be an on-going thread of Malcolm's future bloggery, so we had all better get used to him.

Our American Cousin is a goodish mid-19th century farce with tragic overtones: it was famously the play at Abraham Lincoln was attending on 14th April, 1865. To commemorate that, Malcolm proposes to refer to this source in future, not just as yourcousin, but to Our American Cousin (who, under moments of tension, when fingers fail to keep up with brain, will find himself abbreviated to OAC).

Since that initial comment, a small exchange has continued between Our American Cousin and Malcolm. Malcolm is in debt to Our American Cousin's insights into Northern Irish politics and country music; and if any reader doubts that these will be recycled here, be reassured they will be.

A week ago Our American Cousin's peroration threw in a googly or slurve (notice how Malcolm strives to be bilingual):
I want to note that you and I keep using different labels to deal with the same topic. While I refer to "Ulster-Scots" you refer to"Ulster-prods".
This instantly brought Malcolm to full attention, because it had been his meditation in the sleepless early hours: the identity of those whom Ruth Dudley-Edwards calls The Faithful Tribe and Patrick Griffin as The People With No Name. The topic has been appearing serially in Malcolm's pronouncements here and on Slugger.

Ulsterdom revisited
Once upon a time it was easy. The emigré Lowland Scots who transported and planted themselves (note: it was largely voluntary — they were not passively transported and "planted") across Jacobean Ulster knew themselves as Northern Dissenters. This adequately described their Presbyterian faith, which distinguished them from the "Churchmen" (the Ascendancy class who followed orthodox Anglicanism) and the despised Roman Catholic Irish. They were different in class, too: the Churchmen were the landowners; the Northern Dissenters were largely tenants. What Malcolm had not appreciated, until he started dipping into Griffin, is that originally the Ulster confessional arrangements were also quite distinct:
In 1642, when a Scottish army arrived in Ulster to quash the Irish Catholic rebellion, chaplains and officers encountered Scottish migrants with few Presbyterian institutions. To be sure, settlers had assembled themselves into congregations by erecting meetinghouses at convenient sites throughout the countryside, as they had created sessions in which lay elders resolved disputes within the community, scrutinized church attendance, and dispensed charity and justice. But they had little else.
Only after 1690 was the full Presbyterian structure established across Ulster.

"Ulster Scotch"
The term "Ulster-Scotch" is useful, but suffers from being anachronistic and displaced. It refers specifically to the average 3,500 to 5,000 who emigrated each year from Ulster to the American colonies between 1717 and 1775. These figures are not capable of exact audit. Arthur Young, in his Tour of Ireland [1779] provides an estimate that a quarter of Ulster's manufacturing population went between 1729 and 1750. The other source is to log the departures and arrivals of ships. Leyburn quotes the Gentleman's Magazine of 1774 [XLIV, page 332]:
... asserting that 6,222 immigrants from Ireland had come to America between August 3 and November 29, 1773; while in five years between 1769 and 1774 152 ships with passengers from Londonderry, Belfast, Newry, Larne and Portrush, with a total tonnage of 43,720. The note is added: "the number of emigrants is supposed fully to equal the number of tons of shipping."
Whichever way one totals, it amounts to somewhere each side of a quarter of a million in total. So, sorry OAC, "Ulster-Scotch" or "Scotch-Irish" applies only in America, and mainly to Pennsylvania (the immediate destination of most Ulster emigrants): re-exporting the word to modern Northern Ireland is not appropriate.

The word is also anachronistic. After 1775 it has little relevance. Again Leyburn makes the point. George III's proclamation of 7 October 1763 forbade general settlement west of the Appalachians. That was soon a dead letter:
After 1782, however, it seemed as if a considerable part of America was determined to go west; and in the vanguard of the pioneers were the restless Scotch-Irish ...
Across the mountains began a new phase for American history, for here people of many national backgrounds met and merged as they had never done in the east. From the Appalachians west to the Pacific Ocean the pioneer was simply an American ...
That was then, this is now
That, of course, is not the "end of history" (on which Liam Clarke commented to some effect, in the Sunday Times a couple of Sundays back), any more than yesterday's doings at Stormont were.

So, Malcolm continues to reflect on both.

Despite yourcousin/OAC cited above, Malcolm maintains there is a distinct Ulster Protestant type. And, he concedes, OAC is also right in so far as it is not a homogenised, one-size-fits-all personality.

The main differences are class (see above) and location. Attitudes harden with accent; and none come harder (with some good reasons) than the small farmer from west-of-the-Bann, though his (or her) personality crops up across the whole province: "Not an inch", indeed. The urban warrior, though, seems on the way out — though, in Portadown (which is just over the Bann) on his latest visit, Malcolm noticed the "ours" and "yours" differentiation was still applicable even in choice or adoption of shopping centres.

As for class, the distinction is visible in voting preferences: UUP versus DUP may be a shorthand. If, as seems at least possible, the UUP is in terminal decline, that begs the question of where the bourgeois Unionist vote goes. The NITories offered a desperate and pathetic option, but are not going to make it without some heavy input from London. Notice how Trimble is lost to view already. There is, of course, the Alliance to soak up tender consciences. A third, perhaps more realistic, option is a Peter Robinson-led DUP, with suitable mood-muzac and soft furnishings; though, that will invite another split with hard-line DUPers (led by Donaldson, for example).

An Ulster future?
Where does this take us? Perhaps we should be looking for the future of the "Ulster consciousness" (which is as near as Malcolm has yet reached in defining the state-of-mind that is at the centre of his rumination). To that extent, history has barely reached a comma, despite the apostles and critics alike of Fukuyama:
The other major "contradiction" potentially unresolvable by liberalism is the
one posed by nationalism and other forms of racial and ethic consciousness... Nationalism has been a threat to liberalism historically in Germany, and continues to be one in isolated parts of
"post-historical" Europe life [such as] Northern Ireland.
Hence the edginess common to all the broadsheet editorials today, in reflecting yesterday's events at Stormont. The Times opines:
While sectarianism remains a harsh reality in sections of Belfast and Londonderry, it has been ameliorated elsewhere. The real test for devolution in ten years time therefore, is whether the terms "Unionist" and "nationalist" are less consequential than today.
While one can see where that is going, to Malcolm it reads more E98 1TA than anywhere between BT70 and BT82. And what is the logic for differential capitalisation for "Unionist" and nationalist?

The Guardian is, to put it mildly, guarded:
The peace process is over. The political one is just about to begin...
The task facing Northern Ireland's new rulers is to use yesterday's spirit to better the lives of its people. Their work has only just begun.
Much to Malcolm's disquiet, he finds the Telegraph ["Tha's gotta know wha' t'enemy's thinkin'!" © Cousin Ralph Copley] most closely approaching his own feelings:
The blizzard of back-slapping platitudes that greeted yesterday's re-establishment of a power-sharing government in Stormont could not disguise a profound sense of unease...

If yesterday does mark an end to the vicious tribalism that has disfigured Northern Ireland's politics for decades (and that has to mean an end to the gangsterism into which the paramilitaries have diversified), there will be a big vacuum to fill. We have noted before that the Province has been ill-served by its political classes, not least because they have such little experience of governing. This will be the real test of the new Stormont Assembly. It must resist the temptation to keep glancing over its shoulder at the murderous nihilism of the past.

That has always been the seductive, soft option. The altogether tougher challenge facing the power-sharing administration will be to provide the good governance for which the people of Northern Ireland are crying out. We can only hope they will not be disappointed.

Forward to single-mindedness!
The bottom line, surely, is that the re-occupation of Stormont's limestone halls gives us a breathing space, at best that Six County history can pick up again from the 1890s where it has been stuck. With any degree of luck the "Northern Dissenters" are going to rediscover that lines of communication rather than of demarcation exist between Lurgan and Dundalk, that there are more shared values and interests than divisions. Even the died-in-the-linen Northerner may come to appreciate that Dublin has been rapidly evolving into a post-confessional multi-ethnic community (something that Fianne Fáil may have to learn the hard way soon).

In Malcolm's days as a student, returning to Archbishop McQuaid's Dublin was (as the joke had it about New Zealand): "We are about to land. Turn your watches back thirty years." Today Dublin is cosmopolitan, and more resembles Barcelona or Berlin than it does Belfast: the sooner all Belfast catches the zeitgeist the better.

Cliché alert! "It all comes down to economics"
When Malcolm reads:
There have already been several hints from Martin McGuinness that he expects to see America pitching in with Britain, Ireland, Europe and everyone else to help subsidise our brave new world with its 10 ministries and jobs for everyone
he hears echoes from opinion columns in the Belfast Telegraph, specifically Eric Waugh:
the new state would require bolstering for up to 20 years by the UK, the EU - and possibly the US and even the Republic.
To McGuinness and Waugh alike, will say the various purse-holders (and as Malcolm has recited previously "little chance":
Northern Ireland’s quest for normality should focus on more mundane concerns. Chief among these should be the state of its economy, where development has not matched political progress. Northern Ireland depends too heavily on the public sector. On any measure, it is evident that the private sector is too small, and that the province is less productive than it could be. The government directly employs about one-third of the workforce, and accounts for almost two-thirds of economic output. The proportion of people of working age who are economically inactive is 27.7 per cent – the highest percentage of the 12 UK regions, and well above the UK average of 21.4 per cent.
Whatever the Ulsterman calls himself, pride precludes adopting the tone of poor provincial relative. Whether the model for the Six Counties lies in Dublin or Docklands, it implies a tougher future, with fewer dole-queues (if only because there will be fewer handouts).

Else, for Dissenter or Catholic alike, the only alternative is, once again, that cruel emigrant passage. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

yourcousin said...

I'm not sure about how best to respond. I don't want to clutter up the comments unless it's actually relevant. So I'm left with either opting for a dualing blog (or maybe I should it be a dueling blog) or sending more emails. We'll see what happens.

Malcolm when you say "Ulster-Scotch" I think of Bushmills not an ethnic/political grouping. I do not propose that the title given to early American emigres is suitable to NI today, but what I think hardly matters.

I brought the point up to highlight the linguistic sensitivity of the subject. Think about it here we are, two relatively intelligent people with no real vested interest in the subject not able to agree on the terms to discuss the issue. Though I must admit I have a passion for language and tend to get linguistically compulsive at times.

I use the Ulster-scot moniker due to the fact that that is how it is usually presented in the mainstream media today.

I still take issue with the Ulster-Prod label due to the theological implications. It implies that Ulster (or at least six counties) has spawned a unique version of protestanism which is ludicrous. Protestant evangelicist beliefs matched with reactionary local politics are fairly common. Examples are numerous, but I don't want to go down that route and so will leave well enough alone (unless pressed of course). It also gives the implication that it all comes down to religion in the end when it comes down to politics. Indeed at the basest scale it is ethnic politics, not religious politics. Though I feels it's political (as if those were all seperate issues). Though I am quite willling to concede that you are probably using the religious moniker secularisque sense (if that makes sense).

Okay I have to throw in the towel for now and acknowledge there's too much here to deal with in one sitting.

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