• Email
  • Print

Are Ulstermen English?

In response to:

The Morose Revolution from the May 4, 1978 issue

To the Editors:

I found Neal Ascherson’s review [NYR, May 4] of Alistair Horne’s new book on Algeria absorbing, not least in the parallels he draws between Algeria and Ulster. May I remind your reviewer of some of the enormities involved, such as, in the case of Algeria, a difference of color over and against, as in Ulster, a question of religion, thus making the whole process of decolonization a much more complex mosaic than Mr. Ascherson suspects; indeed, he is on immeasurably safer grounds in his comparisons between Algeria and Rhodesia or Algeria and South Africa than with Ulster, if only because such parallels make very little sense outside the Third World.

In this unfortunate excursus your reviewer writes:

In fact, they [the pieds noirs] were both in origin and customs un-French, closer to southern Spain or Sicily, just as Ulstermen are culturally more Irish than British [my italics].

Just as!

Believe me, if Ulstermen were really only Southern republicans qui s’ignorent, then there would be no problem in Ulster at all—any more than there would have been in Algeria had the pieds noirs somehow been able to jettison their essential “un-Frenchness” and make common cause both with the Arabs and the FLN. It is, of course, the analogy which is crazy!

Tommy Murtagh

University of Dublin

Dublin, Ireland

Neal Ascherson replies:

This spirited comment is built around the most Irish of howlers:—that to be Irish is to be Catholic and Republican. Only if that were true would it be crazy to suggest that Ulstermen were Irish. Luckily for the future—I think—the cultural condition of Irishness is larger than the political territory of those who wish a united Irish republic.

Mr. Murtagh, I ask you: are the Ulster Protestants English? I can assure you, from here in Edinburgh where I sit and write, that they are no longer culturally Scots. The point of that analogy was to compare the craziness of the pied noir claim to be Frencher than French with the craziness of the northern Irish Loyalist claim to be the most British of the Brits.

Now, there is a respectable argument that there is such a thing as the “Protestant nation of northern Ireland.” Possibly so. My point was that these people (let’s leave the Catholic minority out of it, and I recognize the terror of respectable Dubliners at the prospect of sharing a polity with the Catholic revolutionaries of the Bogside in Derry) are culturally more Irish than British. And I stick to that.

  • Email
  • Print