Daily Archives: July 12, 2007

Our north-western nook of Europe

Malcolm’s two-hundredth entry is his first draft at defining what is right and wrong with the weighted names for our home nations, as we relocate ourselves into discrete and smaller “nationalities”, within a wider European framework.

In it he uses quotations from Henry Reed’s 1942 poem, Naming of Parts.

A day or two ago, Mark Devenport was commenting on the (long overdue) first British Irish Council meeting. Devenport, the BBC’s Northern Ireland political editor is usually reliable, witty and precise. He is also well-used to navigating the minefields of local politics.

Then the politico-linguistics caught him out:

I have just talked on Radio Ulster’s Talkback about the summit bringing together all parts of the “British Isles”. But I have since been reminded that the Irish government doesn’t like this term. So is it the “Council of the Isles”? This gets around nationalist sensibilities, but doesn’t help much if you are trying top explain things to someone who lives in the Canaries or another archipelago.

Which brings me to “the Atlantic Archipelago” — a term coined by some geographers. It avoids all political controversy, but would provoke blank looks so far as most people are concerned.

Blame it on Davies?

Norman Davies was a forerunner of this in 1999, when he published The Isles: A History. Remarkably for a heavy history book, it adapted to audiobook, narrated by Andrew Sachs. Davies consciously has two contexts and a view-point: Europe reunited since the Iron Curtain, and Britain after the Union, but seen always from the peripheries. There is a telling interview by Czech-born, Cambridge-educated John Tusa of Welsh-born, Oxford-educated Davies:

Tusa: … I suppose the essential part of this discussion is that there’s now a tendency to say, well, the Irish know who they are, the Scots seem to know who they are, and at least half the Welsh know who they are. But the English don’t, or the English are saying that they don’t. Why do you think the English are finding it so hard to define themselves, outside of all the other contexts in which they have existed politically and nationally for the X hundred years?

Davies: The English as the domination nation within the British mix have been schooled for longer than living memory certainly, to confuse their own identify, their own Englishness with general Britishness and of course with the imperial family. If you read Rudyard Kipling, he talks about the English garden; but what he means is all the little boys and girls right round the world, whether they’re in Australia or India or Gibraltar or wherever or in these isles, who are part of what you would call the English family. One of the characteristics if you like of the imperial mission of the English, which goes right back before the British empire , the English empire within the Isles, was this sense of this special divine calling of the English, as opposed to the other lesser nations. This reached its height, of course, during the Empire where, as it were, the god-given right of the British among whom the English were — they’re usually called English in those days, even if you were Scots — the divine mission of the English was accepted as part of the natural order. And because of this special position of the English as the dominant element within the imperial family they somehow lost the awareness of who they were, other than the rulers of this great Empire. So, now it’s gone, of course they’re extremely confused; and it’s the depth of the confusion which I still can’t understand… One meets, you know, highly educated people who don’t know the difference between what is English and what is British.

Slugging it out:

Inevitably, Devenport’s dysphemism cropped up in the world-famous Slugger O’Toole’s Pugilistics Parlour and Flyting Academy. Two contenders raised the old, familiar topic of national awareness in Ireland: that venn-diagram where 32 and 26 counties never overlap, and where any reference to who, what, where and when soon becomes close combat.

Today we have naming of parts.

“Ireland” as a term should be, and generally is universally acceptable. Malcolm was in a pub in the deepest-dyed Co. Down Unionist heartland, watching the 43-13 Six Nations game at Croke Park. There were no doubts there: once the embarrassments of national anthems were overcome, Kermit was proved wrong and it was easy to be green.

Daniel Corkery, way back in 1931, reckoned the three characteristics of nationalism, land and religion distinguished the Irish “national being” from those of England (and Malcolm believes he used that name, rather than any other). Corkery was Corkonian, a committed Fianna Fáil man, and fervid for a celtic-twilight rustic simplicity: today we might dismiss that as parochialism.

… what to do after firing

So, when the 1937 Constitution came about, it reflected the views of Corkery and his like. De Valera’s gloss in the preamble proclaims the laudable aims:

that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured; true social order attained and the unity of our country restored and concord established with other nations.

It was, Malcolm acknowledges, remarkably liberal-democratic for that historic moment, when totalitarianism and worse were dominant across Europe. However, the Constitution meant that “Éire” as a term produces serious problems.

… silent, eloquent gestures, which in our case we have not got.

Connotations mean we do not have a value-free translation between two languages. Problems stem from de Valera’s inclusion of partisan, political and illiberal elements.

Articles 2 and 3, defining a 32-county republic, were de Valera nodding to the national ideal of a United Ireland: he could do no less. Yet, they played massively for the bone-headed Craigavon clique, who eagerly disseminated and amplified them to the Unionist masses.

Article 44 affirmed the “special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith”. This was a compromise: it may have angered the ultras (notably Fr Fahey’s theocratic Maria Duce) but was markedly different from the secular 1922 settlement. The result was continued emigration among religious minorities, who were disproportionately merchants and professionals.

“Éire” had its first President in Douglas Hyde, son of the Church of Ireland rector of Kilmactranny. Before independence, 10% of the 26-counties’ population were Protestant: by 1990 it was barely 3%. Cork once had Gerald Goldberg as its Lord Mayor. In the 1920s, there were 400+ members of the Jewish community in Cork. When Dick Hogan interviewed Goldberg (for the Irish Times, 17 Feb 1998), there were only eight practising Jews left in the city.

… assaulting and fumbling the flowers

And then there was Article 41:

… the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

This has to be read alongside Article 45, setting out “the general guidance of Parliament”, including:

The State pledges itself to safeguard with especial care the economic interests of the weaker sections of the community, and, where necessary, to contribute to the support of the infirm, the widow, the orphan, and the aged.
The State shall endeavor to ensure that the strength and health of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children shall not be abused and that citizens shall not be forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their sex, age or strength.

… the point of balance, which in our case we have not got

All of which seems, as Peter Berresford Ellis has maintained, radical departures from the 1916 Declaration of Independence:

The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for allits citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally …

It certainly alienated the support of many feminists, not least of all Dorothy Macardle, de Valera’s hagiographer in The Irish Republic, and provoking her to write him a letter (21 May 1937):

as the constitution stands, I do not see how anyone holding advanced views on the rights of women can support it, and that is a tragic dilemma for those who have been loyal and ardent workers in the national cause.

… please do not let me see anyone using his finger

Britain is a name wished on us by the Romans. They were borrowing from the Greeks, who could be borrowing from the Phoenicians, who may well have got it from the Cornish. Even Imperial Rome had problems with the definition.

Julius Solinus (about 260) and Martial (in the first century) seem to think it’s the whole lot, while Cicero, Caesar and Pliny distinguish Britannia from Hibernia. Even the Roman province of Britannia was a bit elastic. Then, in the Arthurian period, the Britons are definitely not the Saxons, Scots or Irish, but do include the Bretons, the Welsh and all the way up through Lancashire and Cumbria. Later still, after the Union under the Stuarts, upper-class Edinburgh Scots are quite flattered to become North British (and the North British Railway linked Edinburgh to Berwick). And so we come to 1801, when for a brief while we are the “British Isles”, while the North Sea is the “German Ocean”, but for 90 years Heligoland is “British”.

So “Britain” is a very slippery concept—which has caught out more than just Devenport.
“… soldiered not without glory”

Malcolm sees the [British] National Theatre revival of Shaw’s Saint Joan (four stars in today’s Guardian and Times reviews) as significant. That play and Shaw’s Preface, written in 1923-4, address nationalism.

Shaw gives Cauchon (the Bishop who sends Joan to the stake) a key speech:

… as a priest I have gained a knowledge of the minds of the common people; and there you will find yet another most dangerous idea. I can express it only by such phrases as France for the French, England for the English, Italy for the Italians, Spain for the Spanish, and so forth. It is sometimes so narrow and bitter in country folk that it surprises me that this country girl can rise above the idea of her village for its villagers. But she can. She does. When she threatens to drive the English from the soil of France she is undoubtedly thinking of the whole extent of country in which French is spoken. To her the French-speaking people are what the Holy Scriptures describe as a nation. Call this side of her heresy Nationalism if you will: I can find you no better name for it. I can only tell you that it is essentially anti-Catholic and anti-Christian; for the Catholic Church knows only one realm, and that is the realm of Christ’s kingdom. Divide that kingdom into nations, and you dethrone Christ. Dethrone Christ, and who will stand between our throats and the sword? The world will perish in a welter of war.

One can read that in the context of 1914-18 or the Irish Civil War, or as a general observation. It follows from a pamphlet Shaw wrote for the Labour Party in 1920: Irish Nationalism and Labour Internationalism. The title in itself tells where GBS was coming from.

This all resonates with Malcolm, but particularly because he was tidying a shelf yesterday, and flicked the last chapter of Jeremy Paxman’s The English. Of which this is the concluding paragraph:

The English are simultaneously rediscovering the past that was buried when ‘Britain’ was created, and inventing a new future. The red-white-and-blue is no longer relevant and they are returning to the green of England. The new nationalism is less likely to be based on flags and anthems. It is modest, individualistic, ironic, solipsistic, concerned as much with cities and regions as with counties and countries. It is based on values that are so deeply embedded in the culture as to be almost unconscious. In an age of decaying nation states it might be the nationalism of the future.

For all these reasons, Malcolm finds much sympathy for linguistic sloppiness like Devenport’s, and squirms when banner-waving mobs, armed with prejudices, catch-cries or shibboleths, take to the barricades.

… all of the neighbouring gardens …

Today is the Twelfth: Orangeman’s Day, which is where the root and branch of the problem lies.

For all of the snot-green spouting that it is “British-occupied Ulster”, the Westminster government has always been leery of the Northern Irish connection. Or, to look at that from the other end of the telescope, the Ulster Unionists have good reason to fear a sell-out.

Malcolm has been back into Brian Girvin’s The Emergency: Neutral Ireland 1939-45. He finds the account of the wheeling-and-dealing of June 1940, Girvin’s chapter on “An Offer that Could Be Refused” particularly telling.

Sir John Maffey (the UK representative in Dublin) seems to have spent the weeks after Dunkirk hammering at de Valera’s office door. Maffey was reporting back to London that there could be leverage on de Valera’s neutrality if concessions were made on the Six Counties. Back in London Ernie Bevin was urging Churchill to look to a post-war reunification in exchange for present co-operation. Chamberlain was on his side. The Chiefs of Staff were pressing for an understanding and access to the 26 counties. Smuts was demanding occupation of the treaty ports, using force. Malcolm Macdonald (by then Minister for Health, but with a track-record dealing with Irish affairs as Dominions Secretary) was twice in Dublin for face-to-face negotiation. Even Churchill is writing a note:

I certainly sh’d welcome any approach to Irish unity; but I have forty years experience of its difficulties. I c’d never be a party to the coertion of Ulster to join the Southern counties; but I am in favour of their being persuaded. The key to this is de Valera showing some loyalty to Crown and Empire.

That was then: there is little to suggest that the view from behind the Westminster arras has not greatly altered over the subsequent years.

The obstructions to reunification, therefore, were (and are) in Dublin and Stormont. And in a mindset that finds it impossible to agree a formula of words to describe the small corner of Europe which we are obliged to share.

Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards

The 26 Counties emerged from the “Emergency” reasonably prosperous: eighth in the world for per capita income, comparable with the Benelux countries and Denmark, ahead of devastated Austria, Finland, France and (of course) the Germanies.

All of the baggage that de Valera had loaded in his 1937 Constitution, and defended with the policy of neutrality, subsequently became burdensome. Nationalism had become protectionism.

Emigration completed the work begun by the Famine: but this time the majority being exiled were women. The proportion of women in work and the marriage rate were the lowest in Europe. The rural communities, Corkery’s ideal of Irish society, and de Valera’s heartland, were sick to death. In Girvin’s conclusion:

For those who continued to live in Ireland, there were attractions. It was safe, stable and conservative, emphasizing traditional Catholic-nationalist values. It was a society largely unconcerned about the outide orld, but perhaps irritated that the outside world did not take notice of it.

Until Harold Macmillan discovered Europe, and Dublin had no alternative but follow…

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