Defenders of the Union: A Survey of British and Irish Unionism Since 1801

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Those from the unionist community who have attempted to explain their background through prose, poetry and plays have been utterly ignored by the unionist community in a way that is in stark contrast to the place of, for example, W. Yeats in nationalist culture. It is therefore by default that rigorous historical analysis has questioned the contemporary image of unionism, an image forged by 50 years of Stormont and another 30 of the Troubles. Defenders of the Union is a milestone on the way towards a better understanding of unionism and unionists.

George Boyce opens the collection by addressing a theme echoed throughout the book, the misunderstanding at the heart of relations between Irish unionists and the British. Brian Jenkins examines the role of the Irish chief secretary, a surprisingly neglected topic given the power and prestige of the office. Joseph Spence and Carla King respectively examine Isaac Butt and Horace Plunkett, two men who, to differing degrees, moved away from mainstream unionism towards a pro-Home Rule stance. But, as Jackson and Gailey remind us elsewhere in the volume, modifying the definition of unionism to include patriotism does not necessarily mean an acceptance of the separatist agenda.

Fur-Coat Unionism: Dame Dehra Parker (1882–1963)

Patrick Buckland and Gordon Gillespie cover unionism in Northern Ireland, the former with a neat summary of his original work on the inter-war Ulster Unionist government, and Gillespie with a survey of Loyalist paramilitary groups since the s. Four chapters deal with sorely neglected areas.


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Alan Megahey examines the role within unionism of the Protestant churches to reveal how they differed to some extent in style and motivation depending on the denomination. Froude and Emily Lawless. Far from being anti-Irish, this brand of unionism was patriotic, but viewed the link with Britain as necessary if Ireland was to enjoy progressive development free from the forces of reactionary politics.

Grant, William McKinley who had an ancestor executed after the rebellion and Woodrow Wilson - could claim Ulster descent. More notably still, Count Cavour's critique of Irish Nationalism - he doubted if separation was the best course for the advancement of Ireland - also struck a chord among Unionists. The first few decades of the Union coincided with a changing role for Britain on the Continent.

Defenders of the Union: A Survey of British and Irish Unionism Since - CRC Press Book

This fed into the emergence of a romantic Unionist attachment to Empire, centred on the universal notions of Enlightenment, liberty, and rights. In the area of Britain where ethnic and religious divisions were most pronounced, many preferred to look to what has been called the 'civilizational perspective' of the British identity. These ideas were best exemplified in the approach of Sir James Emerson Tennent MP for Belfast, , a friend of both Byron and Dickens, who acquired European-wide literary acclaim for his espousal of international intervention on behalf of the Greeks in the s.

In replying to Daniel O'Connell in the Commons debate on Repeal of the Union, Tennent's lasting achievement was to articulate a brand of Unionism - drawing on Burke and Grotius - completely detached from the 'siege motif', Protestant sectionalism and fear of Catholicism, often assumed to constitute the central elements of Unionist thought. If it had any precedent it was not or but These are the triumphs beyond the reach of a 'Local Legislature' Initially, again, it was often the Tory or Orange journals that were much more uneasy about Britain's increasingly active role in the global political stage, especially as the harbinger of these ostensibly 'Jacobin' ideas.

In fact, James Bryce, a prominent Liberal and later ambassador to the United States, was the more logical heir of this Ulster-born liberal Imperial tradition. When examining the basis for a British identity among Irishmen, we are of course discussing a period in which there was little concern for the modern theme of post-colonial guilt. Just as Drennan believed he had nothing to be guilty of in coming from planter stock, only the Empire and the Imperial Parliament could satisfy Emerson Tennent's 'senatorial ambition' to be involved in the 'noblest fields of legislation'.

This was the power, as Edmund Burke had described it in his theory of representation, of 'doing good and resisting evil'. Being attached to Britain was not to 'lose aught in individual dignity' but to actively contribute to 'the most enlightened and commanding nation of modern times Such notions still retain some currency, albeit in a very different context. The valuable contributions of both Unionist and Nationalist MPs to the Parliamentary debate over the Iraq question demonstrates that involvement in a political world that operates outside the barriers of the Irish question is still a highly valued facet of the British connection.

Perhaps the recent, and long-awaited, decision of the British Labour party finally to organise in Northern Ireland will further facilitate the attempts of those who have always tried to restructure Ulster politics around wider issues and more secular concerns. After all, since the s one of the strongest arguments for the Union in what is a run-down, economically weak area of the United Kingdom, has been the strength of the British welfare state.

Sinn Fein have bolstered their ideology by formulating an active approach to all-Ireland policy over the last decade, rather than just the conflict in the north. No one expects Ulster Unionists to make a similar electoral breakthrough in mainstream British politics. Nevertheless, it would be a logical, and indeed healthy, step to introduce further discussion and engagement with the contemporary issues in British politics, particularly the contentious question of Britain's future role on the world stage.

And in tightening the East-West connection between Westminster, and the devolved assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland secured in the Good Friday Agreement, there is nothing to be lost in further North-South engagement. Whatever the outcome of the current political crisis in Northern Ireland the principle of consent, enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, ensures that the Union between Britain and Northern Ireland is safe for decades to come.

The recent census figures for Northern Ireland further demonstrate that predictions of seismic demographic changes - leading to a nationalist majority - have been much overstated. The Unionist response to such predictions had been to deride the 'sectarian head-count politics' that had invested so much in these changes. Therefore, it is perhaps more incumbent than ever upon Unionists to justify their support of the Union on more substantial grounds than simple majoritarianism or ethnic preference.

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The past era, to borrow from the words of former IRA prisoner Antony Macintyre, was one in which Unionism, to a certain extent, won by 'sitting on its hands'; now it is faced with 'the dirty business of rolling up its sleeves and defending its position'. Tactical differences and policy disputes are inevitable among the exponents of any political creed and to be expected within any democratic society. On the other hand, others have questioned precisely what is 'Unionist' about the 'little Ulsterism' of some of the more extreme elements. That members of Ulster's militant vanguard movement in the early s advocated an independent Northern Irish state, denouncing the 'London Lundies' who would dare to cross it, is a fascinating insight into seemingly 'un-British' preconceptions among some of those who walk under the Unionist banner.

As David Trimble recently pointed out, 'ourselves alone' is, after all, the motto of Sinn Fein. Neither a resentful detachment from mainland Britain or the image of an inflexible dependency sits comfortably with the wider perspective of Unionism offered here. Unionism has always been at its weakest when allowing others to define it: something broadly amounting to 'siege mentality', sectional interests and ethnic politics. It is at its strongest when it periodically strives to justify itself by recourse to something other than the fundamental democratic right of self-determination.

Irish political life has a much more intimate relationship with history than its British counterpart. The discourse of local political parties is saturated with historical reference. The case made here is that history does have something to contribute to a more sophisticated and subtle understanding of the current context. Irish Nationalism has been largely accepted as a legitimate and natural abstract idea, in historical and contemporary terms. At the same time, it has been argued that there should be no automatic de-legitimisation of any alternative political idea in Ireland as inferior, illogical or 'unnatural'.

Ironically, it became real in , when, in addition to the creation of the Irish Free State, Home Rule was put into place in the six counties of Northern Ireland with the establishment of a Parliament in Stormont. Not only were there three Government bills introduced in favour of Irish self-government in , and These were preceded by three attempts by Isaac Butt to obtain the establishment of a parliamentary committee charged with examining the question of the Anglo-Irish Union and the possibility of legislative autonomy for Ireland — in March , June-July , and on 30 June While Welsh MPs were primarily concerned by other Welsh issues than self-government, they did second some of the motions presented by their Scottish colleagues in or for instance and one of them, E.

By the years a striking number of Home Rule Bills had followed their parliamentary course to second reading in the House of Commons, though few of them actually passed committee stage and onto third reading.

What is Unionism?

It had an unquestionable institutional dimension — and we should always remember that institutions are not merely theoretical constructs. They are, properly speaking, historical objects, whose rules and composition were profoundly transformed throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Its electoral basis had changed. MPs were returned by more and more men, lower and lower down the social scale. The number of adult males enjoying the franchise increased as follows throughout the nineteenth century:. Figure 1 - Proportion of adult male voters in the four provinces of the United Kingdom 6.

Ultimately, the traditional balance of power between the two Houses of Parliament was modified, leading to a major institutional crisis. The resolution of the tensions was operated through a reform of the House of Lords. The Upper House was left with two-year suspensive powers — the balance of power had clearly shifted towards the lower House. If the Queen had stomached disestablishment in , she opposed the setting up of a Royal Residence in Dublin, and the establishment of the vice-royalty as a ceremonial position to the Prince of Wales, which Gladstone had intended as part of his policy of pacification.

His father, Edward VII, had told Asquith privately that in the absence of consent of the Lords to a reform of their House, he was willing to create enough new peers to outvote them — but only after another election was held. A new election was held, a Reform Bill was brought in, to which the Lords eventually gave reluctant agreement — some of the argument rested on the constitutional future of Ireland.

The Parliament Act brought an end to the conflict between the two houses of Parliament, and acknowledged that the ultimate source of authority lay in the Commons, as the House springing from democratic power. Such opposition meant business, and it was clear that the calls to armed resistance to Home Rule were no idle talk.

How then, to avert the prospect of immediate civil war upon the passing of the Irish Home Rule Bill? Partition had been aired in Parliament, and discussed behind the scene.

Week 10, Lecture 46 - Ulster Unionism

Such was the object of the Buckingham Conference, an all-party conference convened by George V and held at Buckingham palace between 21 st th July , in order to determine upon the area to be partitioned. Let there be no suspense: all options were put on the table: county divisions, constituency divisions, but no agreement was reached. In History Ireland , Kieran J.

We have in the past endeavoured to act as a civilising example to the world, and to me it is unthinkable, and it must be to you, that we should be brought to the brink of fratricidal strife upon issues apparently so capable of adjustment as those you are now asked to consider, if handled in a spirit of generous compromise. Should counties be considered, or constituencies?


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Could maps of religious affiliation provide a sure guide as to the location of Unionism? This definition is to be rejected, as it would definitely obscure several major points. First, identity is not marmoreal. At that stage, the political significance of religion must be borne in mind. Any one familiar with the Catholic tradition will feel fairly at home in an Anglican service, and quite perplexed at a Quaker or Presbyterian worship.

Policy was at stake, rather than doctrine.


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In the case of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, religious specificity unquestionably played a part in the construction of identity. But making an absolute link between identity and Home Rule would somehow establish a hierarchy: the Irish identity defined as native, Catholic and nationalist, which is a questionable definition would thus appear stronger than the Scottish, or Welsh identities. This makes no sense; and if we take the prevalence of the regional language as an indicator, Welsh seems to have fared better than the Irish language.

In the case of Ireland, support of the Catholic hierarchy for Home Rule should not be construed as identity nationalism. Plus, making Catholicism an element of definition Irishness excludes Protestants — not only individual Protestants too hastily written off as exceptions Butt, Parnell , but Ulster Protestants. Welshness, Englishness or Scottishness. Nor did it imply that empire was necessarily synonymous with oppression.