The following is an abridgement of a worthwhile column in Belfast Telegraph, 10 Dec 2008.
The author is a professor of Irish Studies in the school of politics at Queen's University Belfast.
Bertie Ahern once declared that one of the "saddest developments" in recent decades has been "the reduction in the number of people in the North from a Protestant unionist and loyalist background who regard themselves as Irish, or as both Irish and British".
One hundred years ago most unionists in Ireland, north and south, regarded themselves as both Irish and British. Post-1921, we can see the development of a heightened sense of British identity, embracing Ulster, or Northern Ireland, which denied increasingly any sense of Irishness. At the same time, the new Irish Free State experienced the growth of its own heightened form of Irish/Gaelic identity.
The movement in the northern unionist community away from an Irish identity, however, did not take place overnight and in fact many unionists retained a strong Irish dimension for decades. For example in 1929, in a debate in the Northern Ireland parliament, a unionist MP stated: "We are Irishmen ... I always hold that Ulstermen are Irishmen and the best of Irishmen." The speaker was none other than the unionist leader, Lord Craigavon. In 1936, he would repeat this point: "While we are Ulstermen, we are also Irishmen." When Craigavon died in 1940, John M Andrews, his successor, paid tribute to him as a "great Ulsterman, a great Irishman and a great Imperialist".
<Mod> Please do not post copyright-protected material to the site. A short extract and a link are generally sufficient. </Mod>