Monday, 30 December 2019

Ulster at the Crossroads - yet again. Part Three.

Ulster Crossroads
By Willie Drennan

 Considering options at the Crossroads.

Very soon the people of Northern Ireland will have to decide which road to take: the one connected to the UK and the world beyond, or the one that remains within the EU.

A Border Poll just now however would be the same thing as a 2nd EU Referendum for the people of Northern Ireland: the notion of a Dublin-controlled united Ireland is currently not an option. Ireland is currently part and parcel of the EU Project and is essentially governed from Brussels.

A 2nd EU Referendum only makes sense once the whole of the UK has left the EU for a number of years. In the 2016 referendum the British people collectively instructed government and parliament to deliver a UK exit from the EU. If that result cannot be respected and implemented, for the whole of the UK, then democracy as we know it is denied to part of the UK.

The 2016 referendum was about deciding if the UK should Leave or Remain in the EU. It was not about deciding if parts of the UK should leave or remain in the UK.

Provision in the NI Protocol for a vote in Stormont, 5 years after Brexit for the rest of the UK, is not the same thing as a Border Poll/ 2nd Referendum. It does not provide a clear mechanism for Northern Ireland exiting the EU and being fully integrated in the UK once again.

In such circumstances where democracy has obviously failed the people of Northern Ireland it is hard to comprehend what will happen – extreme reactions to extreme actions of the ruling classes have been the norm throughout history. Notions of independence for Northern Ireland, or parts of Northern Ireland, are already being discussed in certain circles. But with no strong leadership to pull something like that off, such a doomsday scenario does not seem credible for now.

The restoration of the Stormont Assembly is hardly going to help in any way. With its unique system of mandatory coalition it has been proven to be totally dysfunctional to date. Until the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement gets revisited and Stormont goes through root and branch reform it is difficult to imagine how it could ever agree on anything. The politicians and media in Northern Ireland have been enthusiastic to get Stormont up and running again but there is little or no such enthusiasm from anyone else.

Other more positive and innovative options need to be explored. Alternative roads: different roads, need to be created and developed at the crossroads. Alternative roads leading towards economic revival and self-reliance for Northern Ireland.   

Free Ports, Free Zones and Enterprise Zones.

Ulster At The Crossroads – yet again. Part Two


 We Are Where We Are. – How did we get to the crossroads?

We need to understand our history in order to plan for our future. In the same way we need to understand how we arrived at the crossroads in order to figure out the best road to take at the crossroads.

Here are some factors not necessarily in order of importance. These are the relevant facts as I understand them.

In the 2016 EU Referendum the UK voted Leave and only 44% of Northern I Ireland voted Leave. Under the Withdrawal Agreement this now means that NI remains under EU laws and regulation while the rest of the UK endeavours to Leave. 

Due to the size of the majority Leave vote, if Northern Ireland had voted 100% to Remain, the result would be the same as above.

The Irish Border was weaponised by the EU even during the referendum campaign. Since the result the EU and Irish nationalists have constantly stated that the wishes of Northern Ireland must be respected and so must remain in the EU. Elements of the establishment in Britain now seem to accept this as well. Allowing part of the UK to remain under EU control seems to be considered by some politicos as a price worth paying.

Ulster At The Crossroads – yet again. Part One

    By Willie Drennan.
Ulster Crossroads

  Arrival at the Crossroads.

Terence O'Neill may have coined the phrase, ''Ulster is at the Crossroads” but Ulster has been at the crossroads on many occasions throughout history. It at least goes back to the time of Cuchulain, Macha and Finn McCool. But I suspect they weren't the first to have had to make decisions around their territory and how to deal with invaders. In more recent times the Gaels,Vikings, Anglo-Normans and Nazis have all had a go at captivating the territory of Ulster.

The most recent invader from beyond is of course the almighty European Union regime with its central authorities in Brussels Strasbourg and Berlin. The difference this time round is the sophistication of the invader. They have been long been strategising the taking over of territory by stealth: by manufacturing a complex system of dependency where the obedient and the devoted get suitably rewarded and the dissenters get silenced, obstructed and ridiculed. Their sophisticated scheme has been designed to take control so subtly that the native peasants don't even realise it's happening.

They have taken the time-tested strategy of divide and conquer to a whole new level. No need for even a single shot to be fired across the bow any more. And there's no place easier to divide and conquer than Northern Ireland with its already well established historic division.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Ulster-Scots Imagination.

Book of the Year goes to Tracing the Ulster-Scots Imagination by Wesley Hutchinson.

Review by Willie Drennan

The key word is imagination. Yes, Ulster-Scots do have an imagination. This is Ulster-Scots warts and all and it gets edgy enough at times. You won't find such content in the Ulster-Scots Agency pamphlets or website.

Nothing quite like this has ever been written before about this distinct, often derided and misunderstood cultural identity. The fact that author, Wesley Hutchinson, is Professor emeritus in Irish Studies at the Paris university of Sorbonne Nouvelle, suggests a heavily academic piece of work. And indeed it is to a certain extent but Hutchinson writes with a unique quirky poetic flair for a master scholar which makes it an easy and pleasing read.

His family roots are also in the Ulster-Scots culture so he writes from a vast personal knowledge on the subject to add to his highly acclaimed credentials on research and academic delivery.

By “tracing the imagination” this allows for much colourful imagery and insight. Some of the extracts from Ulster-Scots authors will pleasantly surprise those readers who have no direct experience or understanding of Ulster-Scots. Hutchinson masterfully caters for such readers and no doubt will keep them on board right to page 438 and leave them wanting more.

It's not just a recommended read for Ulster-Scots but for anyone with interest in history, cultures of the world and sociology. With cross references to other cultures Hutchinson will keep the interest of such readers.

The book provides insight into the Ulster-Scots in Ireland, Scotland and North America . This includes in-depth insight to ancient history which is rare. Narrators on Ulster-Scots usually begin with 17th Century migrations from Scotland to Ulster but Hutchinson deliberately explores in great detail the works of historians of such note as Dr Ian Adamson. Hutchinson deals extensively with the concepts of Ulster's common identity and shared space as explained in the works of Adamson: such as The Cruithin, The Ulster People and Dalaradia.

It was very sad that Ian Adamson passed away just a few days before the launch of Tracing the Ulster-Scots Imagination in Belfast in January of 2019. At the Launch there were folk from just about every social sphere and background in Northern Ireland. This Ulster-Scots event was held in the Irish Secretariat Building in Belfast. Now there's an example of imagination for you. The choice of venue would have been unexpected but demonstrates the spirit of shared space as expressed in the book.

The delving into the ancient Ulster-Scots history is only one of the important aspects of this book. To understand the distinct aspects of Ulster-Scots psyche it explores literature relating to the historic Ulster work place: from farm to factory, schools and churches, community and fraternity groups, to music and dance. It later relates all this to the Scotch Irish settlements in North America: from presidents to hillbillys.

The section on “marginal spaces” is one of my favourites. Here, the lore and mystique around the moss and the mountain is profoundly examined: where imagination for centuries has gone off into other realms. It is in the heart of the moss where the inner self has been explored and from the mountain: the wider world viewed and imagined.

The impressive aspect of Hutchinson's work is his ability to fully understand the mindsets of the writers and poets that he references. He even fully understands material I have written in the past. In particular he quotes at length from my book of 2008: Big Lang Danner, where I explored the historical and cultural links between Ulster and south-west Scotland. I am not an academic but a creative writer. No academic has previously acknowledged or paid much attention to my writings in the past. They tend to not understand me. But Hutchinson is a unique scholar in that he does understand even quirky folk like myself.

The one thing that this books perhaps glosses over, and wisely so, is the impact of the Ulster-Scots imagination on the contemporary politics. In its historic references to the Covenanters, Siege of Derry, The United Irishmen, the American Revolution and the Signing of the Ulster Covenant, lies explanation of the Ulster-Scots independent spirit, or Ulster-Scotch thranness. It has been a constant throughout history that loyalty to family, community, church, school and state has always been conditional: to allow for a healthy questioning and challenging of authority whenever deemed necessary.

To me this explains why the main Ulster-Scots areas of Northern Ireland voted to reject the EU establishment in the referendum of 2016: against all the odds. In my opinion the independent spirit or thranness of the Ulster-Scot is still very much alive: for better or for worse.

As this book is not owned or endorsed by the establishment in Northern Ireland it probably falls between the cracks and doesn't get the attention it most certainly deserves. It is for the academics, folklorists, and just about anyone else who enjoys a good read that sparks their imagination.

This is one of those books that you not only get to read through once but you can keep occasionally picking it up to read sections you know will stimulate your imagination.

It is available in Northern Ireland in any decent book shop, that is still left standing, or through Amazon.