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Britishness and direct rule September 13, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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For once a thought-provoking piece by Newton Emerson which makes some pretty pertinent points about how – for some, a certain sense of Britishness developed due to direct rule. And he has some thoughts about television which while overstated – and perhaps rather narrow – aren’t entirely I think wide the mark.

Oddly enough I was discussing something about the manner in which the conflict impacted on people in the 1980s (particularly in the South) with a friend recently and suggested that it was quite strange how despite the reality of that conflict, with events a near nightly occurrence reported on television news, yet other issues, life itself, music, whatever loomed as large or larger still. And that was for two people who would both, in different ways, have been heavily politicised. And both of us, I think, were in and out of the North on a regular basis in the late 1980s. Perhaps that was understandable. Neither of us was directly at the hard end of it. Or perhaps it was our age at the time or whatever. It wasn’t that it was unimportant, anything but, but my focus was on political activity in Dublin more than outside it, obviously because that was where I was active.

Anyhow he points to how that particularly sense of Britishness may have ended since the GFA. Or rather for many who are younger than he it isn’t an issue. Interesting.

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1. benmadigan - September 13, 2016

newton may be talking about his generation (born 1969). But there’s nothing special here. Though i suppose he thinks there is.

Before mass-media TV, with God save the Queen played at the end of the day’s programmes, the same sense of “Britishness” i.e. faux Englishness was encouraged in older generations in NI by means of newspapers, the radio, cinema with God Save the Queen played at the end of the film, WWII, various annual celebrations (not orange), collecting only for british charities (oxfam, RSPCC,RSPCA etc), scouts, brownies, Girl Guides etc.

Since partition “britishness” has been fostered by all means of communication in all generations and people were encouraged to “pretend/copy” Englishness in all aspects of their daily lives – even down to assuming certain strangulated “English”accents and pseudo attitudes. Which you still hear/see among a certain type of NI people

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Joe - September 13, 2016

“faux Englishness was encouraged in older generations in NI by means of … WWII…”.

“Why this heroic defence of Stalingrad, comrade Krushchev?”
“To encourage faux Englishness in NI, you imbecile. Why else?”

“Mr President, do you not think that dropping these atom bombs on Japan might kill an awful lot of non-combatant civilians.”
“I suppose it might but think how much it will encourage faux Englishness in NI.”

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benmadigan - September 13, 2016

by WWII – I meant the patriotic sentiments of those people who lived through it and constant replays of british propaganda films celebrating the glory of the british heroism and victory which were shown regularly (at least weekly) on BBC and ITV up to the late 1960s

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2. Brian Hanley - September 13, 2016

Quite apart from Newton’s musings, British popular culture, including TV, music, sport etc was a profound influence on most young people south of the border in the 1970s/80s. It could exist alongside intense interest in the North or complete disinterest in anything to do with the issue.

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3. roddy - September 13, 2016

As someone who was / is a fan of the Beatles, Man Utd, old British cars, and many British TV programmes,this does not equate with accepting Britains imperialistic past and present or wanting to be ruled by them.

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benmadigan - September 14, 2016

agreed Roddy for maybe 46% of today’s NI population.
Nationalists/republicans never wanted NI and so were less influenced by decades of “Imperial brainwashing”

Unionists (today approximately 48% of population, formerly 60+%) did want NI, wanted to be part of the UK and took the “brainwashing” on board wholeheartedly, to the extent of even becoming faux “English”

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4. Dr. X - September 14, 2016

“Since partition “britishness” has been fostered by all means of communication in all generations and people were encouraged to “pretend/copy” Englishness in all aspects of their daily lives – even down to assuming certain strangulated “English”accents and pseudo attitudes. ”

This was true of all the white settler colonies, though, wasn’t it?

Eventually they all had to go it alone, sometimes peacefully (Canada, New Zealand), sometimes in bloody fashion (Rhodesia). And they all evolved towards something new where their national identity was concerned.

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5. deiseach - September 14, 2016

It’s thought provoking all right, although that’s not necessarily a compliment. Once upon a time I would have bought into the idea that the gogglebox had the effect of turning mass culture into a GB&I pudding. Then I moved back here with my wife and before long she was quite insistent that, as far as she was concerned, Ireland was a very foreign place. No amount of Corrie and the Premier League had changed that. I think it is typical of Newton’s mindset that, when it comes to discussing complex topics like national identity, he can’t look past lowest common denominator stuff like television. Oh, and speaking of things not necessarily being a compliment, what does this mean: “It would be trite to say this amounted to British nationalist propaganda – its effect was much subtler than that”? I get the feeling he thinks that if propaganda is subtle then it isn’t really propaganda. This isn’t trite. It’s plain bonkers.

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6. rockroots - September 14, 2016

Not quite the main point he was making, but I’d have to question whether devolved government in 1921 “was intended to make everyone feel less British and ultimately to ease us out of the United Kingdom altogether”. My understanding is that Irish Unionists saw themselves as just that – Irish people wanting a continued union with Britain, rather than as British. Wasn’t Carson a hurley-playing anti-partitionist (whose cousin came up with the name ‘Sinn Fein’)? IIRC, even Paisley considered himself an Irishman. The ‘Britishness’ of some Northern Irish people seems like a very recent (and very artificial) phenomenon.

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WorldbyStorm - September 14, 2016

That’s an interesting thought. Carson distinctly regarded himself as having an Irish aspect and a very significant one at that to his identity.

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gendjinn - September 14, 2016

Well, it was a qualified and limited type of Irishness. More along the lines of “we’re all Irish abroad”, came out of comments he made to Irish diplomats/civil servants in the EU when they were surprised he was willing to work with them on an issue.

In Britain or Northern Ireland, the British identity came to the fore.

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rockroots - September 14, 2016

I have a recollection of Paisley visiting the National Library in Dublin while I worked there, where he was presented with his family pedigree by the genealogical office and seemed very happy about it.

All this talk of Britishness reminds me one of Ali G’s razor-sharp interviews:
Ali G: “So is you Irish?”
Sammy Wilson: “No, I’m British.”
Ali G: “So, is you here on holiday then?”

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gendjinn - September 15, 2016

That exchange always is in the back of my mind when this topic comes up.

Given how we knew Paisley, the bigot on the street inciting riots, the fact he was not a foaming at the mouth anti-Irish bigot in the EU was a surprise. In relative terms an improvement, in absolute terms still a problem. Since his death I’ve noticed this aspect of his story getting burnished repeatedly.

But yes, he was surprisingly gracious at times, the time his daughter interviewed him on Pat Kenny’s TV show (lo these many decades ago now) for example.

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benmadigan - September 15, 2016

“The ‘Britishness’ of some Northern Irish people seems like a very recent (and very artificial) phenomenon”

It’s not you know. It’s very deep rooted, particularly among middle and upper-middle class people in NI, particularly as family members often serve(d) in the RUC, BA, RN and RAF. They’d celebrate Guy fawkes rather than hallowe’en if they could. Maybe some even do.

perception of the “new artificial phenomenon” appears to be due to the Loyalist fleg protests of a couple of years ago “They took our flag – they’re chipping away at our britishness!!”

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7. gendjinn - September 14, 2016

If you’ve got to reject the land of your birth aren’t you just continually punching yourself in your identity?

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ivorthorne - September 15, 2016

Identity is a funny thing. People have confirmation biases and it makes holding a national identity much easier.

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8. CL - September 15, 2016

Chaim Herzog, a president of Israel, recalls in his autobiography that growing up in Dublin he was very much aware that he was Jewish in a Catholic country. When the family moved to England he then realized that he was an Irish person in England.

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