Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Splits and Conflations

The Blether Region's suspicions that the Orange Order is deeply split on the issue of Irish appear to have been confirmed, with the media now reporting that David Hume, its director of services, has offered his support to the embattled Belfast County Grand Master, George Chittick.

Dr. Hume is also one of those Orangemen involved in entryism into Ulster-Scots cultural initiatives, and recently made the "absurd demand" that "Ulster-Scots" be allowed to participate in the Scottish independence referendum (correctly surmising that a "Yes" vote would make a united Ireland hugely more likely but seriously misjudging the effect of his intervention on voters). He typifies the cultural preferences of the more intellectual evangelicals in Northern Ireland: they only do history, and even that seems more about projecting present-day conflicts back into the past, regardless of the complexities of the actual situation now or then.

Naturally enough, the involvement of such deeply sectarian individuals in Ulster Scots has been a disaster — in terms of its community profile as one might expect, but also linguistically. Put simply, for the sake of doing a little damage to Irish, they have been willing to do a great deal more damage to Scots.

Back in the late 1990s when the Ulster-Scots Agency was set up, members of the Foras na Gaeilge board suggested that the two sides of the Language Body learn each other's speech varieties in order to hold joint board meetings. The idea was scrapped when it emerged that the politicians and Orangemen on the Ulster-Scots side couldn't even speak the dialect whose written form they claimed the right to vajazzle.

Part of the reason that people such as Dr. Hume can refer to a culture war is that Northern Ireland is facing a bonfire of what were, for much of the twentieth century, absolute verities. That bonfire is encapsulated in the parallel normalisation of the Irish language and the de-normalisation of Orange triumphalism. The Order is forced to link the two phenomena: partly to act on the primarily political imperatives that define it; partly to make itself seem vaguely cultural.

As for the historical work, well, much of what is given the "Ulster-Scots" tag appears instead to be about random Protestants, including the recent television documentary on Lord Castlereagh, an English-speaker educated in Armagh, albeit in his case a Presbyterian. Dr. Hume's comments in the press, on the other hand, appear to confirm the view that the modern Ulster-Scots movement is founded on a series of conflations — "Ulster-Scot" with "Orangeman", "Presbyterian" with "Protestant", "religion" with "politics", and "Catholic" with "other":
"Whenever I [hear] her say that I say 'Hooray to Linda' — it doesn't belong to Sinn Fein, it belongs to all of us. And of course the Presbyterian tradition is a very proud tradition within Irish republicanism and their involvement with the Irish language through Douglas Hyde and many others is legendary."
Douglas Hyde was in fact an Anglican, the son of a clergyman, no less, and a man who, on his death, had a funeral held in Saint Patrick's, Dublin's Church of Ireland Cathedral.

Yes, they do history, but not that well.

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