This week, Sean Brennan (Queen’s University Belfast) asks where Ulster Loyalism fits into a Four Nations framework.
The Four Nations History Network creates a positive contribution to the promotion of reconciliation within and between the people’s of WISE (Wales Ireland Scotland England). Here, reconciliation is understood beyond the often contested, paradoxical, and rhetorical question,[i] of what is reconciliation, to reflect the post-ceasefire meaning pertaining to “a shared vision of an interdependent and fair society.” That is, “acknowledging and dealing with the past” through the “building of positive relations” in order to create the “significant cultural and attitudinal change” [ii] required to build a positive peace within and between the people of these islands.
And yet, while acknowledging its positive contribution, in using the term Four Nations, a challenge arises when prompted to consider where the concept of Loyalism fits into this reconciliatory framework? Here, Loyalism should be understood as referring to the loyalist concept in Ireland, which has been a historical reality since 1169: and more so from the seventeenth century’s Plantation of Ulster. In this regard, Loyalism predates Unionism and should be considered the senior service in the defence and promulgation of the loyalist identity in Ireland. However, with the growth of nationalism in the nineteenth century Loyalism has increasingly failed to find a home within the national identities of the four nations.
While the Act of Union (1801) was viewed as a positive outcome for Loyalism the subsequent partition of the island, in the twentieth century, and moves towards a new conception of Union between the people of WISE, in the twenty-first century, now creates a number of challenges for loyalists in Ireland. The most obvious challenge arises in asking where do loyalists fit into a WISE Nations reconciliation framework when they neither self-identify with, nor relate to, such indigenous Four Nations identities? Ironically, as the WISE process of post-ceasefire reconciliation evolves beyond the ever increasingly moribund sense of British nationalism the solution to this challenge may lie in Loyalism’s re-examination of its historical roots in Ireland.
In his study of State transformation Michel Foucault demonstrated, in Society Must Be Defended, how the State uses fear, through a “rationality of calculations, strategies and ruses” to “preserve or invert the relationship of force,” to generate and legitimise a conduct of conduct for government.[iii] As Foucault reveals, in refuting the idea of the “historico-political discourse,” and its “power/war relationships” or “power/relations of force” emerging from the works of Machiavelli and Hobbes, he shows these new ideas emerged “roughly in the 1630s” from the “discourse” of English Puritans and Levellers.[iv] Yet, in Ireland the power/war relationship can be observed in the actions of the Lord Deputy Thomas Wentworth, whose arrival in Ireland in July 1633 “established a pattern of balancing party against party in the interests of the crown.” As Wentworth expressed it: “The truth is, we must there bow and govern the native by the planter, and the planter by the native.”[v]
In contrast to Foucault’s claims, Fergus Whelan shows this social warfare discourse ultimately led to a rejection of the Wentworthian dictum by many of the loyalist descendants of the Puritans and Levellers. [vi] Instead, Whelan demonstrates how the remnants of the Puritans and Levellers, that is, “Cromwellian soldiers, king-killers, and Unitarians,” affected a new ideal for a republican form of government that avoided the politics of fear. This ideal was designed to build positive relations within and between the diverse political, religious, and national identities, to create the significant cultural and attitudinal change required for reconciliation to emerge between natives and planters.
One of the progenitors of this nascent republican philosophy, promoting “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” was the County Down philosopher Francis Hutcheson. [vii] Philip Orr avers Hutcheson’s teachings would not only influence David Hume and Adam Smith but also thousands of “new light” Presbyterians, Scottish Enlightenment, and the founding fathers of the American Republic.[viii] Orr reveals that through his “moral discourse” Hutcheson promoted “a vision of an often-thwarted human instinct to care for one another and to seek each other’s welfare” through a “secret chain between each person and mankind.”[ix] However, Whelan shows with the defeat of the dissenting loyalist’s republican ideal, in 1798, many supporters of Hutcheson, such as Archibald Hamilton Rowan and William Drennan, viewed the Act of Union as the more promising route to end despotic rule in Ireland and secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number.[x]
In many regards the radical dissenting loyalist politics of this period have been “understudied, overlooked and under-valued.”[xi] Therefore, as “parliamentary loyalism”[xii] transformed into Ulster Unionism at the end of the nineteenth century Hutcheson’s teachings were increasingly obfuscated and ignored. In keeping loyalists “bound in darkness and idolatry”[xiii] throughout the twentieth century Ulster Unionist hegemonic elites reduced the impact and influence of dissenting Loyalism. Now, many loyalists are “viewed as a ‘dysfunctional’ and ethno-sectarian abnormality dispossessed of meaningful value and positive intent.”[xiv] This abnormal reading of a dissenting loyalist in Ireland then leads to the current malaise of not locating Loyalism in a Four Nations methodology for reconciliation.
Therefore, to overcome such a malaise a new form of radical Loyalism now needs to emerge. It could reflect a view, as Norman Porter describes, “that hangs on the realisation of inclusive citizenship belonging.”[xv] Yet, if such radical Loyalism is to succeed it needs to, once again rattle Hutcheson’s secret chain, to promote “a vision of an often-thwarted human instinct to care for one another and to seek each other’s welfare,” to build a positive peace within and between the WISE inhabitants of these islands. To support the growth of radical Loyalism both Ulster Unionism and the people of WISE would do well to once again muse on Hutcheson’s moral discourse and find room for loyalist dissenters in their reconciling methodologies.
[i] Eric Doxtader, “Reconciliation—a rhetorical concept/ion,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 89, no. 4 (2003).
[ii] Brandon Hamber and Grainne Kelly, “Reconciliation: rhetoric or relevant?” Democratic Dialogue. Report no. 17 (Belfast, 2005), 27.
[iii] Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, Lectures At The Collège De France 1975-76 (New York: Picador, 2010), 54-55.
[iv] Foucault, Society Must Be Defended (2010), 59.
[v] James C. Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923 (London: Faber and Faber, 1971), 65.
[vi] Fergus Whelan, Dissent into Treason, Unitarians, King-killers and the Society of United Irishmen (Dingle: Brandon, 2010).
[vii] Anthony T. Q. Stewart, A Deeper Silence, The Hidden Origins of the United Irishmen (Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 1998), 160.
[viii] Philip Orr, “The Secret Chain: Francis Hutcheson and Irish Dissent – A Political Legacy,” in Towards a Flourishing Society, Fergus O’Ferrall, ed, (Dublin: TASC, 2012). Accessed February, 20, 2016, http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/sites/all/modules/filemanager/files/TASC-FSoc_FINAL_web.pdf
[ix] Orr, The Secret Chain (2012), 34.
[x] Fergus Whelan, God-Provoking Democrat, The Remarkable Life of Archibald Hamilton Rowan (Stillorgan: New Island Books, 2015), 270.
[xi] John Bew, “introduction,” in William Bruce and Henry Joy, Belfast Politics, Thoughts on the Constitution (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2005), 7.
[xii] Alvin Jackson, The Ulster Party: Irish Unionists in the House of Commons 1884-1911 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 309.
[xiii] Cathal McManus, “Bound in Darkness and Idolatry? Protestant working-class underachievement and Unionist hegemony.” Irish Studies Review 23, no. 1 (2015): 48-57.
[xiv] Peter Shirlow, The End of Ulster Loyalism? (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), 1.
[xv] Norman Porter, The Elusive Quest, Reconciliation in Northern Ireland (Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 2003), 255.
Seán Brennan is a PhD candidate in the School of Politics International Studies and Philosophy, Queen’s University, Belfast, studying the challenges of reintegrating loyalist paramilitary ex-combatants into a post-ceasefire polity. You can find him on twitter @