TOM ACTON reviews The Identity of Ulster, written by Ian Adamson
WHAT happens when someone with deeply nationalistic political instincts writes about Ulster, if he is imbued with a blind acceptance of liberal political values and attitudes?
The answer is that he writes a book like The Identity of Ulster ― three quarters good to excellent, yet one quarter confused and contradictory. This well produced and excellently illustrated volume is as interesting for its bad points as its good, since they illustrate both the best and worst aspects of much of contemporary Loyalist opinion.
The first eight chapters consist of Ulster's history from the early years of the Christian era to the present day. Concisely and fairly Ian Adamson chronicles the facts of Ulster's past ― facts that destroy the historical myths disseminated by 'United Ireland' propagandists in the Irish Republican movement, and indeed in the British Establishment.
All too often one hears the view that "Ireland was once an independent, united nation ― although they're violent the IRA do have a just cause". Frequently such sentiments are voiced ― not by Republican extremists ― but by ordinary British people on the mainland whose understanding of the historical development of Ulster has been provided by the likes of the Daily 'Troops out of Ireland' Mirror. Consequently this book can be commended to all British Nationalists as it provides many of the hard facts that will enable them to effectively argue the Loyalist case on the mainland.
One wonders for instance how many people are aware that from the days of the Uluti, one of the ethnically Cruthinic peoples who inhabited much of Ulster and Northern Britain in ancient times, despite many population movements, including those caused by the Gaelic invasion of Southern Ireland, Ulster has always constituted a distinctive political, cultural and ethnic entity, separate from Ireland. Although Ulster's borders have varied greatly at no time was it ever part of a homogenous 'United Irish' nation.
Ulster however has always had close links with mainland Britain. Indeed Ulster and Southwest Scotland once formed the single nation of Dalriada, and there has been frequent movement of peoples between Ulster and Scotland ever since. As Adamson points out, during the 17th century Ulster Plantations, most settlers were Lowland Scots, merely returning to the land of their ancestors.
Adamson is generally fair and enlightening when dealing with the religious differences that shaped Ulster's development from the 17th century onwards, and shows how simplistic is the conventional view that Ulster's history is simply a permanent battle between Protestants and Catholics.
Unfortunately though whenever Adamson departs from Ulster's history and dwells on contemporary political issues he becomes horribly confused. Passages abound where Adamson makes sound nationalist statements, coupled with liberal clichés condemning nationalism. For example he describes Nationality as “the type of civilisation which a people had developed which had become that people's tradition and is distinctive of their people's”, adding that the world does not suffer from the diversity of national civilisations. Yet instead of commending nationalism as the political creed which seeks to maintain distinctive national civilisations he condemns it for representing 'localised statism', and then makes obscure references to Nazi Germany.
Although the author's treatment of history is implicitly, and probably unconsciously, nationalistic many of his political comments are explicitly anti-nationalist. One of the book's principal conclusions is that as Ulster and Ireland have differing histories, cultures, social patterns and ethnological roots they can never form a single homogenous people, yet it claims that Asian and West Indian immigration constitutes cultural enrichement - which is simply inane. Whatever the difference between Ulster and Irish folk they are negligible compared with those between Ulster people and Non-Europeans.
Adamson's failure to appreciate that Non-European immigration inevitably leads to the growth of disaffected minority communities is surprising considering that his comments about the Republican minority in Ulster are so obviously also applicable to the mainland's immigrant communities. Answering Republican claims that they are treated as second-class citizens he quotes the view that "much of the blame must fall on those who have behaved as if they were not citizens at all and conspired against institutions cherished by the vast majority".
Adamson's views on certain social policies are however to be commended. On the subject of industrial ownership he quotes the example ― well known to many NF members ― of Swedish and Basque co-operatives, and his views on the importance of developing workers' co-operatives are very similar to those of the National Front.
Nonetheless the overall impression that one gets from this book is that, although it successfully answers those who would have Ulster absorbed into an 'All-Ireland' state, it is flawed' by the author's lack of a consistent and coherent political standpoint, and also his acceptance of 'liberal-consensus' solutions to most political problems, other than those specific to Ulster ― a fault common perhaps to many Ulster Loyalists.
One consequence of this is that both Adamson and a substantial number of Loyalists now favour the creation of a separate Ulster state, for what seem to be very debatable reasons. Adamson argues that Ulster's identity is being crushed between rival Irish and (mainland) British Nationalisms, citing the decline in Ulster Lallans and Ulster Gaelic as evidence of the destruction of a distinctive Ulster culture. He also points out, rightly, that successive British Governments have been indifferent to Ulster's needs.
These arguments have much validity ― but they are far from conclusive.
First: Although British Governments have discriminated against Ulster, they have been almost as indifferent to the needs of British people on the mainland. Try telling a jobless Consett steelworker that Parliament is full of 'British Nationalist' M.P.'s as his employment prospects disappear into oblivion, thanks to the Government's treacherous acceptance of EEC 'rationalisation' schemes. If a genuine British Nationalist Government were to be elected it would care equally for the people of all parts of the United Kingdom.
Secondly: Ulster's linguistic and cultural problems are symptomatic of those of all distinctive national cultures currently under attack by materialist international capitalism. A Stormont Government would be of no help to Ulster if it adopted the conventional liberal internationalist policies, practised at present by all Western European governments. Radical Nationalists are however committed to the preservation and development of indigenous local languages, customs and cultures, recognising that the destruction of local identities by state centralism is as evil as the destruction of national identities by internationalism.
Adamson has written at length of Ulster's centuries-old bonds with mainland Britain. These bonds are themselves an integral part of Ulster's traditions. The peoples of Ulster and mainland Britain have so much in common it would be tragic if Ulster broke the Union between us as a result of the treacherous and stupid policies of successive British Governments.