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Who on earth is he talking about? October 23, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics.

Eoghan Harris argues that ‘tribal prejudices have become more pronounced among young people since the peace process’. He bases his claim on ‘Outside the Glow: Protestants and Irishness in Independent Ireland’ by Dr. Heather Crawford.

I haven’t read her research, though it sounds very interesting indeed. But a sense of it is given by this review here on the late lamented Pues Occurrences which raises some important questions about the area – not least the question of what is Irishness?

In any event Harris asks:

Why have tribal prejudices become more pronounced among young people since the peace process? In the absence of any alternative answer, it seems clear to me that one of the main causes is the manipulation of the internet by the agents of atavistic nationalism.

Increasingly, internet political sites are infiltrated by a band of anonymous fanatical nationalists. They are inadvertently helped by our current political culture which wrongly believes the best way to beat the tribalists is to brush over the past and pretend we are all pluralists now. Actually, the best way is to tell the truth.

I don’t know. I’ve got to be honest, I can’t speak for or against the idea of rising sectarianism against Protestants – my own sense of it as someone from a partially mixed background is that that might be something of an overstatement but I don’t want to negate the experience of others, but as regards ‘a band of anonymous fanatical nationalists’ that’s distinctly not my experience. Perhaps others feel differently? And if so who and where is this manifested?


1. Roger Cole - October 23, 2013

Harris was a great supporter of the US conquest and invasion of Iraq, the sectarian consequences of which are clear to see, so supporting sectarianism and imperialist wars has been his stock in trade for well over a decade.


2. Passing through - October 23, 2013

I would have thought that it was better for “anonymous fanatical nationalists” – and others, to leave nasty comments on websites rather than kill people.


3. deiseach - October 23, 2013

“In the absence of any alternative answer…”

If someone were to provide him with an alternative answer, he’d still come to the same conclusion. as John A Murphy said, here are the conclusions, the research will follow.

How can one be ‘partially mixed’? 😉


WorldbyStorm - October 23, 2013

A lot of people in the house I grew up in which meant I went to both mass and service on a regular basis… though brung up mostly in the former…


4. Eamonncork - October 23, 2013

Anyone who says the internet is full of fanatical nationalists is a West Brit who should be taken out and beaten to death with copies of Guerilla Days in Ireland.


5. fergal - October 23, 2013

What planet is Harris living on? For what it’s worth the only thing that has become more pronounced since the peace process is the intensification of the class war, which know goes by the name of austerity.


6. Jim Monaghan - October 23, 2013

It is just an update of Conor Cruise O’Brien. He figured that nationalist were far more manipulative than unionists. He sacked Mary Holland for not seeing this.


7. Joe - October 23, 2013

So many questions.
What is Irishness?
What are tribal prejudices?
What is sectarianism?
Where on the internet can we find this ‘band of anonymous fanatical nationalists’?
And not only ‘Is there a God?’ but have you ever tried to get a plumber on a weekend?


8. Admin - October 23, 2013

He is a parody of himself.


9. Séamas Ó Sionnaigh - October 23, 2013

I think by “tribal prejudices” Eoghan Harris means the refusal of the vast majority of the Irish people to accept the “true” history of Ireland as promulgated by him and other British-apologists. If we reject the Neo-Unionist claim that Britain’s invasion, occupation, annexation and colonisation of our island-nation was not, ultimately, a “good thing” then we are instantly relegated to the category of “fanatical nationalists”. If we reject the Neo-Unionist claim that the War of Independence was a crypto-fascist, anti-democratic, sectarian and racist terrorist insurrection then we are instantly relegated to the category of “fanatical nationalists”.

The great irony of course being that it is Harris and co. who are the unrepresentative political zealots, the ones who have “infiltrated” our national news media since the 1970s to act as the subversive “agents” of British nationalism in Ireland by constantly seeking to delegitimize and undermine the very nation-state they reside in.

They are simply the Irish equivalent of the old Neo-Confederate movement in the United States and other apologists for the “Lost Cause”. Or in this case, instead of the defending the memory and legacy of the inhabitants of the Plantation House it is the inhabitants of the Big House.


WorldbyStorm - October 23, 2013

It had never struck me as being like the neo-confederates, but there’s definitely something in what you say there.


10. rockroots - October 23, 2013

I’ve heard Graham Norton make that statement before, and as someone who grew up as a Protestant in the rural midlands I have to say it certainly struck a chord with me – I’ve never to this day felt comfortable talking about my background with new work colleagues, for example, as I imagine that it might change their opinion of me. I think a big part of that was the segregated nature of Irish education, that I was sent very far out of the way to Protestant schools and as an inadvertent result had very little interaction with the neighbouring kids.

That said, I can count on one hand the instances where my family’s religion has provoked comments towards me, and I’ve been around for quite a while (and incidentally all those times were from well educated middle-management types). As I’m still friendly with a lot of school friends, a couple of things occur to me from personal experience: although I have no great love for the Irish language or for any sport at all, all of my Protestant friends are every bit as patriotic as the next citizen and wouldn’t remotely associate themselves with British identity; all of them have partners from Catholic backgrounds, and all of them have had Catholic weddings and Catholic baptisms for their kids, just out of lip service but also so that the kids ‘won’t feel left out’ when the time comes for their friends to have their first communion. From my experience the Church of Ireland is slowly dying out in the Republic – not great for diversity perhaps, but then the country is infinitely more multicultural than when I was growing up. My point is that I find it extremely hard to imagine either that there’s an increase in Catholic/Protestant prejudice in the Republic (unless it’s in border ares), or that the vast majority of Protestants in the Republic could summon enough anger to be offended today about any injustices from 1922. It’s bound to be very far down the list of gripes whilst there’s much more tangible and urgent reasons to be pissed off.


Logan - October 24, 2013

Rockroots I must say that your comment surprises me, in my experience most of the inter-faith marriage I am aware of has resulted in the children being brought up as Protestants, and I would imagine that this decision more common than the reverse for the last 20 years or so in mixed marriages

And looking at Census figures there is no evidence that the Church or Ireland is dying out (although whether all those people are actively involved in a CofI parish and attend services is another thing).

It is particularly ironic that you made the comment this week when the Irish Times is giving so much attention to the firestorm Michael Jackson, (the CofI Archbishop of Dublin) kicked up with his “Polyester Protestants “ speech – presumably the “Polyester Protestant” phenomenon would not exist if the CofI was not experiencing a reasonable number of converts.


EamonnCork - October 24, 2013

In my experience, and this includes in my own family, it would be the other way round Logan. So I suppose we’d need statistics on this one if there are any.


rockroots - October 24, 2013

Logan, I’m only speaking from personal experience. I know the church my mother still attends in the midlands has no more than 5 worshipers on a weekly basis and is just counting down to the day they have to close permanently (a shame as it’s a very old building that will quickly fall apart without without maintenance), and all of the surrounding churches have similar experiences. The church might be healthier in urban areas, and certainly non-attendance plays a big part aswell.

I have to admit the Polyester Protestant thing had completely passed me by, but it makes interesting reading. As far as mixed marriages are concerned, I’m looking at a group of maybe 15 people I’ve stayed in touch with, most of whom live in cities and all of whom are religious in name only. I know my parents’ generation would have had enormous pressure not to marry outside the faith, but there would be very few instances of that beyond the 1980s, in my experience. As Eamonn says, statistics would be very welcome. On the flipside I know of a couple from a solidly Catholic background who had their kids baptised in the Church of Ireland in order to get the kids into the school nearest to their home (and this was a suggestion from the principal of the school, which seemed pretty cynical to me). That’s perhaps another issue altogether but I wonder if it has anything to do with the ‘polyester’ phenomenon.


Logan - October 24, 2013

Not to be cynical about it, I think it has a part of it. An English ( nominal COfE) friend of mine, when I asked them why he and his Catholic wife had went to the CofI for baptism said: “it was her decision – she thinks there are less chavs in the Protestant schools around here”. ( they live in inchicore).


Logan - October 24, 2013

As regards statistics, the CofI percentage went up from 2.3 percent in 1991 to 2.8 percent in 2011, while the Catholic percentage dropped from 91 to 84 percent. Obviously that could just mean that loads of irish born CofI people are marrying out, and being more than replaced demographically by new immigrants into the state, but in overall terms the CofI has been besting the RC church on recruitment and retention in the last two decades.


11. Brian Hanley - October 23, 2013

‘If we reject the Neo-Unionist claim that the War of Independence was a crypto-fascist, anti-democratic, sectarian and racist terrorist insurrection then we are instantly relegated to the category of “fanatical nationalists”.

Who actually argues this?

‘The great irony of course being that it is Harris and co. who are the unrepresentative political zealots, the ones who have “infiltrated” our national news media since the 1970s to act as the subversive “agents” of British nationalism in Ireland by constantly seeking to delegitimize and undermine the very nation-state they reside in.’

That may all sound great to you but it explains absolutely nothing about why people embraced ‘revisionism’ or variants of it, or why it became particularly popular at certain times and among a cross-section of people, including working class activists.
Harris is a caricature of himself, and like all caricatures taking his current pronouncements as evidence of what he was actually saying
back in the 1970s would be very wrong. Talking about ‘agents’ fails to explain why some of the most strident ‘revisionist’ arguments were being made by the likes of Con Houlihan in The Kerryman as early as 1972, when Harris was still a socialist republican.


EamonnCork - October 24, 2013

I have serious problems with the Revisionist historians, the problem with Foster, for example, is that he doesn’t subject the self-image of Unionism or the English to the same scrutiny he subjects republicanism to. This point, oddly enough, was most tellingly made by Colm Toibin in an LRB article entitled, “We are all revisionists now,” which I’ve seen people claim is an uncomplicated endorsement of Foster’s worldview. I suspect they never read the article because it’s far from that and it takes Foster to task for caricaturing the post-independence generation in the Republic. Well worth a read.
But having said that the fact remains that throwing around ‘Revisionist’ or indeed ‘Unionist’ as pejorative terms in themselves isn’t much of an argument. They’re ideological positions, not forms of treachery. The fact, or the problem depending on your position, is that opinion poll after opinion poll in the seventies showed a big majority down here were against the IRA campaign in the North. Brian is right about the time frame as well. In the mid seventies Harris was being disciplined in RTE for making a documentary about police brutality in the North.
This was around the same time the vans of the Kerryman were going around under police guard because of threats made after an anti-hunger strike editorial was published. And around the same time that Fr. Michael McGreil’s survey on prejudices showed that Provisional IRA members enjoyed the same level of acceptability among the public as drug addicts, homosexuals and Africans. Which was not a very high level. I wouldn’t have felt like that myself but I can’t pretend that the majority of the population were republicans who were being duped into unionism by some cadre of British agents.
I don’t find Foster’s view of Irish history at all convincing but it’s well worth reading him to find out whether you agree or not.


Starkadder - October 24, 2013

I think this is the Toibin essay you mentioned:



EamonnCork - October 24, 2013

You’re right and I got the name of it wrong. But it’s well worth a read and far from hagiographical.


Séamas Ó Sionnaigh (An Sionnach Fionn) - October 24, 2013

Hi Brian,
The likes of Eoghan Harris make these arguments for a start, not to mention several other journalists and writers in positions of influence in our national newspapers as well as those in editorial roles in both the print and electronic media. Attacks on the foundations of Irish democracy and nationhood in the earlier part of the 20th century are part of a wider (and revived) “culture war” against that which is perceived as “Nationalist” or “Republican” in Ireland while defending or excusing that which is “Unionist” or “British”. It is a modern form of the ideological underpinnings of the belief that one can be both Irish and British and that to argue otherwise or to claim exclusivity on either side is to be “tribal”. Hence why I call those who espouse such views “Neo-Unionists” for such is their adopted political roots.

Take the opinions of Colm Toibin as expressed in a British newspaper interview where he claimed that the Irish people were embarrassed by the Garden of Remembrance and those it commemorates, those he characterizes as “people of violence”. Thus spake the Irish intelligentsia.

All history should be revisionist, constantly interrogating and reinterpreting the past in the light of new knowledge or new understandings. The Old and Middle Irish texts that make up our mythological tradition haven’t changed in the last 150 years but our knowledge of linguistics and historiography has changed which means that the interpretations offered 150 years ago by studied men (and women) are no longer valid or as valid as they once were. So new studies and new translations are published.

All historical study is or should be the same.

But what began as an academic movement in Ireland in the aftermath of the 1966 commemorations has long since evolved into an ideological movement, one to serve a set political purpose. It would simply be disingenuous to argue otherwise when week after week Harris and others blithely claim, as a matter of fact, that Irish Protestants were “ethnically cleansed” for the south-west of Ireland or that the bodies of “hundreds” of Irish Protestants lie buried in graves and fields all over the counties of Munster. Would you argue that these knowingly false or exaggerated allegations are made for any other reasons than ones of ideological motivation? That there is something other than a political purpose to them?

I defend revised histories. But I object to false histories.


12. Brian Hanley - October 24, 2013

Séamas, no academic historian agrees with what Harris argues in his newspaper column. Even the historians he quotes never said half the things he attributes to them. Of course its ideological. But so is a lot of the criticism of academic history.
Most southern Irish historians are constitutional nationalists, not unionists. The John A. Murphys, Michael Laffans, Ronan Fannings etc all agree with the independence struggle…until 1921. They contest the right of the modern republican movement to claim any continuity from 1916-21. It doesn’t make them neo-unionists. See the essay by Tom Garvin in the 1991 book ‘Revising the Rising’ for an example of this.
We know far more about the War of Independence now than we did even 20 years ago. We may soon know how many people were killed between 1916-23 (a not unimportant fact). We know a huge amount about local experiences of the revolution. That’s because of historians, many of whom are denounced by nationalists for being revisionists. A lot of nationalists don’t like discussion of class or gender or sectarianism because they think it undermines the whole independence project. Their more comfortable with what I’d see as often very simplistic histories.
Final point: I’ve thought in a few different universities. I’ve never met an 18-year old revisionist. Most young people in the south are broadly nationalist, Michael Collins is far and away their most popular hero. But mature students, people in their 40s or 50s, are in my experience, far more cynical about traditional Irish history and often embrace views like that you quote from Toibin. To figure out why that is the case, you need to go beyond the revisionist culture wars. And it isn’t because of people like Harris and their newspaper columns.


Joe - October 25, 2013

“I’ve thought in a few different universities. I’ve never met an 18-year old revisionist. Most young people in the south are broadly nationalist, Michael Collins is far and away their most popular hero. But mature students, people in their 40s or 50s, are in my experience, far more cynical about traditional Irish history and often embrace views like that you quote from Toibin. To figure out why that is the case, you need to go beyond the revisionist culture wars. And it isn’t because of people like Harris and their newspaper columns.”

You’ve cheered me up immensely with that knowledge based on your experience Brian. I’m 53 and I am that sceptic.
A Shéamais Uí Shionnaigh, níl mé ach ag spocadh asat anois beagáinín … ach cén aois tú féin? Tagann ciall le haois, tá’s agat! 🙂


Séamas Ó Sionnaigh (An Sionnach Fionn) - October 25, 2013

Yet Eoghan Harris is representative of a certain class of Irish people in the higher cultural and socio-economic echelons of our society who are promulgating a profoundly subversive ideology that disputes Ireland’s right to a separate political nationhood. Those who have claimed for themselves the populist title of “revisionist” use it as a Trojan Horse to question the very definition of Irishness as distinct from a sort of amorphous “Britishness” that they claim or suggest is common to what they term the “British Isles”.

This can be seen in the media-driven veneration of the Big House, of the former “Irish” regiments of the British Army, of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British royal family, and the “legacy” of British colonial rule in Ireland in all its forms. In can be seen in the disparaging of any and all manifestations of an indigenous Irish identity or culture, from language to history. It asks the rhetorical question “What have the Romans ever done for us?” and claims the answer is everything.

To dismiss Harris and co. as knaves or fools is to yield the battlefield of ideas to them. They may be knaves but they are certainly not fools, rather a groupthink with an influence far beyond their numbers. To ignore their words and actions is as foolish as those who in the United States laughed at or pandered to the evangelical right in the 1980s – until those extreme conservative roots gave forth the populist flower that is the Tea Party movement of the 2000s.

I don’t know of any intellectual republican who is not profoundly interested in the issues of class, gender, religion and identity as they shaped and effected the Irish Revolution, both before, during and afterwards. They very stereotyping that others accuse us of in the case of revisionists is freely applied to our philosophical underpinnings. Being a Republican is about more than signing off Facebook posts with “TÁL!” 😉

The political outlook of Tóibín and others of similar mien can be readily found through the process of post-colonial studies, amongst other things. Our nation is not exactly unique in this respect nor are our differing generational responses. I belong to a far younger generation than Harris or Tóibín or Dudley-Edwards, or even the Declan Lynchs of this word. To me their Ireland and their view of Ireland is utterly alien.



Joe - October 25, 2013

You’ve gone too far this time a Shéamais. I am on record here stating that Declan Lynch is my favourite journalist. His column last Sunday on our fundamental need for the Premier League on the telly (I know, again) was another classic. I should add that Maeve Higgins in the IT on Saturday often makes me laugh too.


13. ivorthorne - October 24, 2013

It’s Harris. He doesn’t live on this planet anymore so why even bother treating his weekly rants as though they are worthy of consideration?

He’s a confused and silly man who is paid to talk shite.


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