'Northern Ireland: 1921-1998', in, Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland by John D. Brewer
[Key_Events] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
The following chapter has been contributed by the author John D. Brewer, with the permission of the publishers Macmillan Press Ltd. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland, 1600-1998
This publication is copyright John D. Brewer 1998 and is included on
the CAIN site by permission of Macmillan Press Ltd and the author. You may not edit, adapt,
or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use
without express written permission. Redistribution for commercial purposes
is not permitted.
Northern Ireland was not the invention of a cartographer who quickly scrambled together an inchoate border in a situation of rapid and violent decolonisation; it had roots, it had cultural and political coherence, and an economic base (cf. the claim of Bowyer Bell (1996: 223) that Ulster had no history or heritage). Protestants did not have to artificially construct a sense of nationhood, for they had long defined their identity around two antinomies or opposites; the one religious, the other national. Northern Ireland defined itself by its Protestantism against Catholicism and by its Britishness against Irishness; Protestantism and Britishness were its core values and they had been established as symbols of Ulster centuries before. This also meant, however, that anti-Catholicism and anti-Irishness continued as central defining tenets of the new state.
However, partition of the island of Ireland solved nothing for Protestants. It may have kept from them a Catholic Ireland, but the old problems were transported with them into the new territory. The same dimensions of differentiation occurred, and around them the same conflicts. The same zero-sum framework was applied to Protestant-Catholic relations in Northern Ireland, by the perpetuation of traditional anti-Catholicism and anti-Irishness, in order to achieve the same ends - protecting die security of Protestants, which simultaneously meant the domination of Catholics. Supporters of partition were aware of this, for they argued at the time that a smaller area with as large a Protestant majority as possible was preferable to the whole of die ancient province of Ulster, with its unsafe Protestant majority (Farrell, 1976: 24). So Unionist leaders deliberately decided, if reluctantly, to jettison Protestants in Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal in order to protect their dominance in the six counties and Ulster's religious, economic and national-identity interests (Ruane and Todd, 1996: 50). The historian A.T.Q. Stewart explains that the rationale was the 'simple determination of Protestants in north-east Ulster not to become a minority in a Catholic Ireland' (Stewart, 1977: 162); ensuring they had majority status in the new territory was the main point. The Unionist Belfast Telegraph reassured readers, should they feel guilty, that it was better for two-thirds of passengers to save themselves than for all to drown. Had the newspaper made an elision back to the Titanic, it would have been prophetic for the development of the new state.
The Catholics who remained in the North felt as abandoned as Protestants in the South. It is forgotten by Unionists in Northern Ireland, who bemoaned the position of Protestants in the South at having to confront, as they portrayed it, a social structure which excluded them and a cultural value system to which they felt outsiders, that this was precisely how Catholics felt in the North at the time of partition. They lacked a separate cultural identity as Northern Catholics, they had no secure national identity, no long local roots in Ulster, nor any political coherence, and they were defined as outsiders by the state's core values of Protestantism and Britishness. They were offered citizenship in the new state but on terms which made their Catholicism and Irishness problematic, and their position in the social structure made them second-class citizens. Accordingly, they mostly withheld legitimacy from the state, adding yet more tensions to Protestant-Catholic relations in Northern Ireland. This made the stakes even higher in the long-standing zero-sum conflict, for the losses and gains for either side now included the very existence of the state. The history of Catholic progress in Northern Ireland, however, shows their transition from a fragmented and subjugated community to a position of growing self-confidence, cultural self-awareness and cohesiveness, and political assertiveness. This may or may not have occurred more rapidly without terrorism, but the sustained period of civil unrest since 1968, known colloquially as 'the troubles', has polarised Protestant-Catholic relations and reinforced the zero-sum framework within which group interests are constructed by both communities in Northern Ireland. The violence has made traditional hatreds worse.
Developments in Northern Ireland have also confirmed Protestants in their mind-set. Political domination by Protestants proved to he weak and insecure; the economic base of Ulster similarly so. The re-emergence of terrorism confirmed many Protestants in their opposition to a united Ireland and fed their negative attitudes toward Catholics. Terrorism, in this sense, enabled anti-Catholicism to be disguised by elevating it into an issue of law and order. Violence has also disguised anti-Catholicism by allowing Protestants to claim that they are objects of a process of anti-Protestant ethnic cleansing. The tendency has been reinforced for Protestants to be insular and incestuous, to see themselves as beleaguered and threatened, perpetually insecure and undermined, unable to rely on anyone but themselves. The only security comes from the old shibboleths, 'No Popery', 'No Surrender', 'not an inch', even if such shell defensive posturing', as Akenson (1992: 184) calls it, excludes them from Catholic neighbours, people in the Irish Republic. from Britain and the international community. Insecurity has been reinforced by British-In relations as well. From the beginning of Northern Ireland, the Unionists let it known that Britain should let them get on with running the province, and Britain seemed content to let them away with it until the wide-scale unrest provoked in 1 by the demand for Catholic civil rights. Direct rule in 1972 transformed relationship with Britain, and increased Protestant suspicions of Britain's innate untrustworthiness and duplicity in Irish matters, especially since the British government has begun to allow the Irish Republic more influence in Ulster's affairs - the very circumstance partition was supposed to avoid and which Protestants have struggled to resist since the seventeenth century. If Britain seems prepared so easily, as Unionists see it, to sacrifice this historical struggle for expediency in British-Irish relations, the burden of the history is a greater weight on Unionists who cannot, or will not, transcend the past. They cannot transcend history because these past struggles to defend their Protestantism and Britishness have helped shape who they are, and who they are not: they are not Catholic, they are not Irish.
Anti-Catholicism is therefore not just a feature of Protestant
historical traditions, it determines the views many have of the
options for the future. That the future goes backwards - back
to the plantation society, back to the old anti-Catholic ideas,
back to sixteenth-century definitions of group interests - does
not seem to bother many Protestants in Northern Ireland. Many
find security in their history, comfort in the old shibboleths,
and reassurance in past victories. Many ordinary Protestants also
lack the foresight and the courage to move on because they receive
no encouragement to do so from Unionist politicians and Orange
organisations, which fail to offer new options for the future.
In fact, the tragedy of Northern Ireland is that most people.
irrespective of political and religious hue, only want more of
Protestant Insecurity and the New State
Insecurity was built into the very foundations of the Northern Irish state. Although Protestants saw Northern Ireland as a sacred entity, watched over by God, the template was Old Testament Israel, which was continually embattled from external threats and internal disaffection. Northern Ireland's first prime minister is reputed to have said, after a meeting in London to discuss the terms of partition, that a verse in Scripture shows Ulster 'to be born to trouble as the sparks fly upward' (see Bardon, 1992: 495). Leaving aside the licence necessary to see Scripture as in any way referring to Northern Ireland, it does indicate the tenor of prophetic theology amongst Protestants, who were not triumphalist with partition but mindful of the struggle ahead implied for them in the Old Testament.
The insecurity came from several sources. The first was external threat, either from the Boundary Commission which was left to finally determine Northern Ireland's territorial borders, or the new government in the South, whom they feared still had designs on Ulster. The first was rapidly dispensed with in 1924-5 by ignoring the Commission's recommendations, but the second was a persistent fear, even if never real. The Southern government gave some early financial assistance to Northern Catholics to undermine partition, and it later claimed jurisdiction over Northern Ireland in its constitution, but its support for Northern Catholics was mostly symbolic. It initially hoped that the Irish Free State would set a model Which would encourage Protestants to voluntarily cede themselves to a united Ireland, but this misunderstood Unionists and, as Southern politicians themselves realised, the civil war in the Free State over the terms of the Anglo-Irish treaty made faint hope of it. As Kevin O'Higgins said, when making reference to Ulster Protestants during a speech in the Dail: 'we had an opportunity of building up a Worthy state that would attract and, in time absorb and assimilate those elements. We preferred to burn our houses, blow up our bridges, rob our own banks ... We Preferred to practise upon ourselves worse indignities than Cromwell and now we Wonder why Orangemen are not hopping like so many fleas across the border in their anxiety to come within our fold' (quoted in Kee, 1995: 204-5). The Free State remained an object of fear and loathing, but the only occasion when the South seriously reopened the issue of partition was during the Second World War, when de Valera made it a condition for Irish assistance during the war. At one time it looked as if the British would accept, but it was de Valera who withdrew the suggestion on realising the opposition of the Cabinet in Northern Ireland (Bardon, 1992: 558).
The major source of threat to the new state was internal. It came, however, in various guises. Protestants feared the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland, which opposed partition, although it eventually accommodated itself to it. In the early years of the state, Cardinal Logue was often stopped and searched by the police, and on one occasion had a rifle poked into his ribs. The homes of other leading bishops were also raided (Rafferty, 1994: 216-17). This did not endear the Catholic Church to partition, and the Catholic Church underwent a process of radicalisation in the North. Cardinal MacRory even once denied that Protestantism was Christian, and the Catholic hierarchy steadfastly refused to excommunicate IRA members, although the Bishop of Waterford came near to it when he said that it was a mortal sin to be a member of the IRA; other bishops described the IRA as not serving the interests of Ireland and of making the situation of Catholics in the North worse. The Church persistently attacked the use of violence by Republicans. Political violence was described once as the gravest of sins against the laws of God, pastoral letters were issued against radical groups, which were described as being banned by the Church, and moderate Church-controlled nationalist organisations were supported. On occasions the bishops even took to persuading nationalists in the Ulster Parliament to take their seats. But the Catholic Church remained opposed to partition, despite the accommodation to it. Partition was described in 1938 by Bishop Mageean as having been introduced for the sole purpose of keeping alive 'those religious animosities that have so long disgraced the north-east corner of Ireland in the eyes of the civilised world' (quoted in Rafferty, 1994: 239).
It only needed the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland to show even tacit support for the Irish Free State and the Unionist press would attack their duplicity. The beatification of Oliver Plunkett, for example, in 1920, at which 'archbishops, bishops and priests' supposedly sang rebel songs, was presented by the Belfast Newsletter as intended to give encouragement to rebellion. After all, Plunkett was himself 'an Irish rebel hanged for treason'. Indeed, the Catholic Church was frequently blamed for outbreaks of Catholic violence against the state: sometimes for not controlling the mobs; sometimes because it was thought to be behind it. Thus, the Belfast Newsletter said once that 'the bigotry of the Church and its constant efforts, open and secret, to increase its powers, [has] brought a large part of Ireland to lawlessness'. In 1929, when the Vatican appointed a papal nuncio Dublin, and the Dublin government a minister at the Vatican, the fear of Rome, the papacy and rampant Catholicism was given full vent. The claim in 1931 by Cardinal MacRory that Protestants were not even Christian was met with equal insult. It was claimed that Catholicism was a tyranny that menaced mankind, a delusion, and a corruption of true faith. MacRory's anti-Protestantism, however, was not representative of the Catholic hierarchy, and some bishops came out in public support of the view that Protestants are part of the Church of Christ. Protestants none the less perceived that the Catholic Church showed them little generosity (for example see Dunlop, 1995: 113).
The education issue shows the extent of Protestant fears of Catholicism in the first years of the new state. Lord Londonderry was a noted liberal, and as Minister in charge of Education in 1923 he introduced integrated education at primary school level and abolished religious instruction in an attempt to introduce non-denominationalism. To encourage the Catholic Church to end its separate system, which it had earlier refused to do, and to participate in the new structure, the grants they received were to be abolished. Protestant Church leaders and Orangemen criticised the legislation and the United Education Committee of the Protestant Churches was formed to pressure the government to change it. The Catholic Church disliked it too because it diluted the Catholic ethos of schooling; some Catholic teachers refused grants and salaries under the new structures for political reasons. Protestants wanted religious instruction reinstated and, disliking the idea of Catholic teachers being able to work in state-funded schools, they demanded the power to appoint only Protestants. and to have Protestant clergy on appointment boards. 'Protestant teachers for Protestant schools' was the theme at protest rallies. People were told that the Act threw 'the door open for a Roman Catholic to become a teacher in a Protestant school', and when the Orange Order complained and a general election loomed, the Act was amended in 1925. Lord Londonderry resigned. With the departure of the liberal Londonderry, the education system was subsequently reformed again in a more sectarian direction. The 1930 Education Act was described by the Prime Minister as making the state-funded schools 'safe for Protestant children', for it established a completely separated system, with the Catholic Church agreeing to partly fund its own schools. Pupils in the state system were to receive Bible instruction in the manner of the 'fundamental principles of Protestantism', as the Catholic Bishop Mageean put, by which he meant that 'sacred scripture could be interpreted by private judgement' rather than Church tradition, Protestant clergy assisted in appointments, and the religion of candidates was allowed to be taken into account. A subsequent attempt to abolish Bible instruction was also defeated on the strength of opposition from Orangemen and Protestant clergy.
Protestants also felt that there were internal threats posed to their political dominance. Protestant citadels were sometimes breached by the ballot box. The first loss of power by Unionists in the Londonderry Corporation in the 1920s, with Derry city appointing its first Catholic mayor, provoked wide-scale rioting. The pro-Catholic Derry Journal set Protestant fears raging when it announced that the "'No Surrender" citadel had been conquered after centuries of oppression', quoting the new mayor as saying that 'Ireland's right to determine her own destiny will come about whether Protestants in Ulster liked it or not'. Having ensured a Protestant majority by manipulating the border, Protestants were fearful of being undermined by population changes within Northern Ireland. The fear of being outbred by Catholics made their dominance always seem fragile. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland once said that one had to 'watch' the Catholic population because 'they breed like bloody rabbits'. 'Infiltration' by Southern Catholics was also recognised as a danger, and letters to Protestant newspapers like the Belfast Newsletter in the 1920s expressed fears that Southern Catholics were infiltrating Ulster, taking the jobs of loyal men, and changing the population dynamics of neighbourhoods. William Hungerford, of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, later denounced the invasion of rural districts by Catholic 'farm boys' from the South, who could become voters after only a few days working in the constituency. 'They have no stake whatever, not owning a blade of grass. Their power in the ballot box, however, is great.' Fears of being outbred made the Prime Minister later express the thought that Ulster could be voted into the Free State, and it influenced the Grand Master of the Orange Order to urge Protestant employers to employ only Protestants because 'whenever a Roman Catholic is brought into employment it means one Protestant vote less'. The spectre was not just being voted into the Free State, but the voting in of Catholicism. Major McCormick told Orangemen: 'thousands of Roman Catholics have been added to the population. In many places Protestant majorities are now minorities and at that rate of increase twenty years would see the Church of Rome in power' (quoted in Devlin, 1981: 139).
Seasonal economic migrants from the South were also suspected
of contributing to violence, for, above all internal threats,
Protestants were made insecure by the constant fear that violence
would be used to undermine the state. Catholics were 'the enemy
within', irrespective of whether they came from the North or South;
Catholics were seen as posing a security problem. The violence
surrounding the war of independence, which gave birth to the new
state, continued after the Treaty. The IRA announced in the spring
of 1922 that it intended to continue the struggle, and, in its
own words, consign 'to the flames the manufactories and businesses
of the powers behind the new state. Massive damage was caused
in Northern Ireland in a series of forty-one major fires. A number
of atrocities were carried out by the IRA in the early 1920s against
Protestants who had given information to the police about IRA
activity, which made them 'legitimate targets' as far as Republicans
were concerned but which were seen by Protestants as examples
of anti-Protestant sectarianism. The IRA thereby played into the
hands of insecure and frightened Protestants and fed their anti-Catholic
ideas about the umbilical connection between Catholicism and violent
Enacting the Ascendancy
Anti-Catholicism in the new state of Northern Ireland existed in its pure form, operating at the levels of ideas, behaviour and the social structure, as it came to shape the society whose state Protestants now controlled. The new Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir James Craig, later Lord Craigavon, was later to describe Northern Ireland as having a Protestant government for a Protestant people, in much the same way as the Irish government boasted of its Catholic character, although the size of the respective minority communities was entirely different in the two countries and there was no systematic campaign of violence and harassment against the minority community in the Irish Free State. The remark describes, however, the extent of the Protestant ascendancy in Northern Ireland.
The ascendancy in the North was effected immediately by means of the Protestantisation of the administration and personnel of the state. The civil service, police, judiciary, public services and government positions were dominated by Protestants. The civil service first operated a quota by which Catholics employed in Dublin Castle could transfer North, but this could not be filled and the proportion of Catholics even declined in the 1920s. The Ulster Protestant Voters' Defence Association sent a deputation to Craig in 1924 complaining that Catholics were receiving preferential treatment in public appointments, but such fears were outlandish fantasies, and the Catholics who did find public appointments were sometimes persecuted and harassed. The Protestantisation of the police was critical to the ascendancy. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) had a quota of one-third of its membership from Catholic members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, but it never met the quota (see Brewer et al., 1988: 48). The membership came overwhelmingly from Protestants in the old force, and the Ulster Special Constabulary, which had a reputation for anti-Catholic violence. The RUC thus absorbed remnants of the old UVF and the Specials, which made the occupational culture very Protestant and Unionist, and the new police force quickly established its own Orange lodge. Recollections by Catholic policemen who transferred to the RUC, show their awareness of prejudice against them within the new force, and the sharp contrast it made with the Royal Irish Constabulary (see Brewer, 1990). The administration of justice was also subject to Protestantisation, both in personnel and in its anti-Catholic application. According to the remark of B.J. Vorster, even South Africans envied the powers Unionists gave themselves in the Northern Ireland Special Powers Act to protect the state (on the provisions of the Act, see Farrell, 1976: 93-4) and they had police forces which were similar in their ruthless pursuit of the minority community (on the South African Police, see Brewer, 1994).
The ascendancy was also enacted by means of the Protestantisation of political power. The country's borders were drawn in order to provide an inbuilt Protestant majority, and the electoral process was managed to the same effect. Proportional representation was abolished, against the terms of the Treaty, and electoral boundaries ensured that the old divisions between Unionism and nationalism continued in unequal portion. The Ulster Unionists dominated the Northern Ireland Parliament and within a few elections the bulk of seats became uncontested, such was the moribund state of politics under Unionist Party domination. Foster describes this as statis: a permanently weighted and largely uncontested Unionist majority was regularly returned, enforcing a stultifying continuity (Foster, 1988: 555). This process involved ghettoisation for Catholics, keeping them within geographical confines where overall Unionist political dominance was not threatened, ensuring that housing and population relocation became seen by many Protestants as constitutional issues. Catholic politics by constitutional nationalists was trapped in these ghettos, and elected representatives only erratically took their seats in Stormont. After 1922, campaigns by the IRA, which symbolically tried to break out from the ghetto, were few, short-lived and mostly rural-based (see Smith, 1995). Local elections were more keenly fought, but gerrymandering of ward boundaries occurred in some councils to ensure perpetual Unionist majorities. Derry city, for example, had its ward boundaries redrawn several times to contain the growing Catholic population, and by 1930,9,961 nationalist voters returned 8 councillors while 7,444 Unionists returned 12 (Foster, 1988: 557).
Because of the Protestantisation of political power, the political
myths and symbols of Northern Ireland which served the ascendancy
were Protestant. Electoral politics within the Protestant community
were always rendered into one issue - the defence of the Union
(for an example of newspaper headlines from the Belfast Newsletter
for five successive general elections which show this, see
Akenson, 1992: 194). Electoral mobilisation, time after time,
was effected by the sole clarion-call of Union. Unionists electors
were mobilised, in other words, in terms of two categories which
bore directly on the constitution - their Protestantism and their
Britishness. Irrespective of whether or not the Union was under
threat, it was presented to Protestants as if it was, and their
mobilisation was by means of anti-Catholic notions like 'No Popery,
'No Surrender', and 'not an inch', making reference to the pantheon
of Protestant history, the sacrifices of Protestant forefathers,
the glory of past struggles, and the reassuring providence of
a God that was supposedly Protestant and Unionist. In short, the
political symbols and myths of the nation were anti-Catholic.
Thus, the hegemony of the Ulster Unionists based around these
myths and symbols could only be challenged by parties which claimed
to better represent them. Liberal Unionists were left with little
political space. When the Progressive Unionist Party was formed
in the 1930s around the liberal economic and political ideas of
a local millionaire, it challenged what it saw as the traditional
sectarianism of the government and its anti-Catholic tone. The
Prime Minister described them as wreckers and fought the 1938
election on the usual issue of the Union, uttering the familiar
shibboleths of 'No Surrender', 'No Popery', and 'not an inch'.
The new Constitution had come into operation in the Free State
in 1937, later called the Irish Republic, which laid claim to
Northern Ireland, feeding the fantasy that the Union was under
threat, and not a single member of the Progressive Unionists was
elected. The 12 candidates mustered less than 4,000 votes each,
and the party quickly disappeared from the political scene.
Anti-Catholic Violence in the 1920s and 1930s
The violent events which led up to partition in 1921 left a legacy of insecurity amongst Protestants and a determination from 1922 to protect the state. Catholic alienation was unimportant, and this was demonstrated very quickly. During the First World War, Catholics had moved into industries formerly dominated by Protestants, and while there were attempts to dislodge them in riots in 1920, with the expulsion of over 2,000 Catholics from the shipyards, the orgy of violence worsened in 1922 once Protestants took control of the state. In the 1920 riots, Craig told the Protestant workers who were ousting Catholic competitors that he agreed with the actions 'you boys have taken in the past'; another 6,000 Catholics were driven from work by the end of 1920. Protestant workers thus felt morally sanctioned to violence during 1922. It was alleged by some members of the Protestant clergy that the workers expelled in 1922 were Sinn Fein supporters, but the Catholic bishops noted in a statement that Belfast was notorious for 'savage riots and murder of Catholics in the name of religion' long before Sinn Fein was heard of. Moreover, victims of the expulsion reported that Protestant workers were tearing at their shirts to see if men were wearing Catholic emblems around their neck, 'and then woe betide the man who was'.
At the level of behaviour, anti-Catholicism was expressed in violence and intimidation which was appalling in its brutality. Members of whole families were murdered while sitting peacefully at home simply because they were Catholic. It became an offence, the Manchester Guardian realised, simply to be born Catholic. They were 'the enemy within', supposedly all involved in insurrection; so in killing a Catholic one had, without doubt, killed a terrorist. What made the anti-Catholic violence worse was that it was occasionally done by policemen, there supposedly to protect impartially law and order. Attacks on the security forces by the IRA were often met with bloody reprisals on innocent Catholics by the RUC. In one police raid, searching for Sinn Fein members, the police killed five innocent members of one family sleeping in their beds, including a seventy-year-old man and his seven-year-old grandson lying asleep beside each other. One man in the family was bludgeoned with the sledgehammer the police used to force their way through the front door. In another raid, B Specials (a sectarian police force abolished by the British government in 1969) took a Catholic publican, his five sons, and a barman, lined them against a wall and shot five of them dead (Farrell, 1976: 51). Craig later introduced legislation which indemnified all officers of the Crown against legal action resulting from activities in the defence of Northern Ireland, another tactic which the South Africans later copied. Indiscriminate violence was equalled by Protestant mobs, co-ordinated under the paramilitary Ulster Protestant Association, formed in 1920. In 1923 even the police described the Association as dominated by 'the Protestant hooligan element [whose] whole aim and object was simply the extermination of Catholics by any and every means' (quoted in ibid.: 63). A bomb was thrown into a group of Catholic children playing outside their home; six were killed, resulting in a similar outrage against Protestant children. A group of Catholics watching the fire brigade race to a hoax call were injured when someone threw a bomb into the crowd. A bomb was thrown at people leaving mass; an elderly women died. A mob poured petrol over the housekeeper of a Catholic doctor in the staunchly Protestant Donegall Pass area and set fire to her. Bombs were thrown on to crowded trains in Catholic areas. More people died in Belfast during three months of violence in 1922 than in the whole two years preceding the formation of the state (ibid.: 50). Virtually all the 232 victims were Catholic, and 11,000 were made jobless and 23,000 homeless as Protestants protected their access to socio-economic resources. Over 4 500 Catholic-owned shops and businesses were burned, looted or wrecked. Property worth £3 million was destroyed.
The violence leading up to partition was as much against Protestants as Catholics; 157 Protestants died in the two years up to July 1922, and 37 members of the security forces, compared to 257 Catholics. But the orgy of violence in 1922 once Protestants controlled the state saw Catholics alone as victims (at least, this was the case after the first month, for in May, the number of deaths across the two communities was very similar, see Buckland, 1981: 46); it was illegal for Catholics to possess weapons, while Protestant mobs engaged in massacre. The paradox was not lost on the English press. The Manchester Guardian commented in March 1922: 'whilst envenomed politicians in the Ulster parliament are voting themselves powers to use torture and capital punishment against citizens whom they forbid to defend themselves, whilst they scarcely attempt to protect them from massacre, some of their own partisans in Belfast carry wholesale murder to refinements of barbarity'. Anti-Catholic passions aroused by politicians during the campaign for partition reaped a whirlwind in 1922. The English Daily Herald observed what it called 'the blood harvest of Carsonism', as gangs who resisted Home Rule on grounds that it would lead to persecution, persecuted and denied liberty to Catholics. Liberal Protestants were appalled. Southern Protestants had earlier disassociated themselves from such activities and through the Irish Protestant Convention called for attacks on Catholics to stop. Leading Protestant churchmen had earlier condemned the violence and a joint statement specifically stated that nothing could justify the extent of violence against Catholics. Liberal Unionists in the Northern Ireland government also criticised the violence, with Lord Londonderry describing the acts in 1922 as reprehensible. The MP for Queen's University criticised men who were deliberately plotting 'the murder of unoffending Roman Catholics', and called on the Northern Ireland government to stop them. A group of Protestant and Catholic businessmen pleaded with Craig to try to end the attacks. So did the Catholic Church, which had earlier set up the Catholic Protection Committee to collect money for the families of victims and for Catholics forced out of homes and jobs. At one of these meetings, Bishop MacRory noted that the Protestants who talked 'glibly of civil and religious liberty', 'appear by their actions not to have even the most elementary idea of what either means' (quoted in Rafferty, 1994: 213). The Northern Ireland government responded by interning Protestants, two of whom were police reservists in the B Specials, both later re-engaged by the police - but the internment worked and the anti-Catholic violence stopped, temporarily.
Violence erupted again during the 1930s, when the economic depression intensified competition for employment and placed strain on outdoor relief programmes. The weakness of the Northern Ireland economy became apparent in the 1930s, with its reliance on traditional industries which went into decline during the decade. Economic decline, halted only by the Second World War, put strain on Northern Ireland's social structure, which was already unstable because of sectarian divisions. The outdoor relief riots of 1932, however, were remarkable for the absence of sectarian division. The grants paid to the unemployed, both Catholic and Protestant, were deemed inadequate. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland had declared the grants incapable of meeting the barest necessities of life, and Farrell (1978) and Devlin (1981) show that the relief paid in Belfast was lower than in any other British city. A non-sectarian Unemployed Workers' Committee organised a public campaign in protest. The outdoor relief workers went on strike in protest at the grant paid, the government banned all marches, and the police responded to the dense crowds of strikers with violence, Protestant and Catholic alike, although it was noticeable that they only used guns when faced with strikers in the Catholic Falls Road area. Some Protestant strikers responded by firing on the police. Police fired upon looters in Belfast city centre. Sporadic outbreaks continued until October, when the government relented by increasing the rates. Other forms of economic protest, however, took sectarian form. The Ulster Unionist Labour Association, solidly Protestant and Unionist, passed motions during the depression saying repeatedly that it 'was the duty of our government to find employment for our people'. Complaints were made that there were too many Catholic gravediggers in Protestant cemeteries, too many Catholic nurses in hospitals, and so on. Not surprisingly therefore, sectarian riots broke out in the 1930s to defend Protestant jobs. The cross-class alliance within Unionism persisted as employers and industrialists were urged to prefer Protestant labour. A well-known Loyalist, with former links with the UDA, recalls today that he knew men who were paid 50 shillings a week - 'a king's ransom' he described it as - in order to shoot at Catholics during the poor law relief riots to provoke sectarian unrest; money he claimed was paid by people in the Unionist Party at the time.
The Ulster Protestant League was formed in 1931 in the context of rising unemployment and it set its object to 'safeguard the employment of Protestants'. Amidst other activity to defend Protestantism, such as mobilising opposition to Belfast City Corporation when it had planned to allow the Catholic Church the use of the Ulster Hall for missionary work, and campaigns to hound defrocked priests, it supported the employment of Protestants. It had been influential in organising attacks on Catholics returning from Dublin in 1932 after attending an international gathering of Catholics, and the Orange Order that summer defended the attacks because Orange anger had been inflamed by the 'unchanging bigotry of Rome' and the 'arrogant, intolerant and unChristian pretensions' of Catholics. Campaigns were undertaken to ensure that Protestants employed only other Protestants. The Grand Master of the Orange Order made the call explicit: 'When will the Protestant employers of Northern Ireland recognise their duty to their Protestant brothers and sisters and employ them to the exclusion of Roman Catholics? I suggest the slogan should be: Protestants employ Protestants' (quoted in Farrell, 1976: 137). Sir Basil Brooke, at a speech in Newtownbutler in 1933, told his audience, as reported by the Fermanagh Times:
There were a great number of Protestants and Orangemen who employed Roman Catholics. He felt he could speak freely on this subject as he had not a Roman Catholic about his place ... He would point out that the Roman Catholics were endeavouring to get in everywhere and were out with all their force and might to destroy the power and constitution of Ulster. There was a definite plot to overpower the vote of Unionists in the north. He would appeal to Loyalists, therefore, to employ Protestant lads and lassies.
Protestant clergymen from County Cavan complained that Protestants from the South felt repelled by his remarks (Bardon, 1992: 538), but Brooke repeated his views later in the year, saying that he was concerned that Catholics were becoming so numerous that they could vote Ulster into the Free State. When Prime Minister, Brooke was famous, as his successor complained, for never having crossed the border, never visiting a Catholic school, and never attending a civic reception in a Catholic town (O'Neill, 1972: 47). Criticism of Brooke from more tolerant Protestants led Lord Craigavon to himself affirm: 'I have always said, I am an Orangeman first and a politician afterwards. I boast we are a Protestant parliament and a Protestant state.' He had earlier said, 'ours is a Protestant government and I am an Orangeman'. Other government ministers repeated the sentiments. The Minister for Labour reassured Protestants that labour in Stormont was overwhelmingly Protestant. After scurrilous rumours to the contrary, he told the Northern Irish Parliament that only one porter out of 31 in Stormont was Catholic, and he only employed temporarily. During 1935, the Orange Order began an official boycott of Catholic pubs, supplementing the boycott of Catholic shops and businesses that had been in operation for a long time. The Ulster Protestant League urged Protestants to support the boycott in order to ensure Protestants alone benefited from Protestant consumer power. The boycott policy of Catholics was, it announced, 'neither to talk with, nor walk with, neither to buy nor sell, borrow nor lend, take nor give, or to have any dealings at all with them, nor for employers to employ them, nor employees to work with them' (quoted in Farrell, 1976: 140). Bishop Magecan noted that the boycott of Catholic business and trade was advocated and supported 'even by men holding high executive office' in the state.
During one employment rally in 1934 members of the Ulster Protestant
League had told the audience to 'get training in firing' and made
such outrageous remarks that two leaders - one of whom was Rev.
Samuel Hanna, a Presbyterian minister - were later convicted of
incitement to disorder after a mob returning from the meeting
attacked Catholic homes (ibid.: 137). Shots were fired into Catholic
areas, and the first sectarian killing occurred since 1922. Other
outbreaks of violence took place. A kerbstone was thrown through
the window of one Catholic home, killing a disabled child inside.
Violence in 1935 was more widespread, since it was infused by
Loyalist and Orange celebrations of the silver jubilee of King
George V. Shots were fired into Catholic streets, a fifteen-year-old
girl was shot on her way from mass, Catholics were beaten up on
their way home from work (one so badly that he died), homes were
wrecked, and one Catholic publican killed by gunfire. The province's
attorney general and chief law officer remarked during the trial
of the men accused of the publican's killing that the victim was
'a Roman Catholic and therefore liable to assassination'. Catholics
were also expelled from the shipyards and from the linen mills.
Calls for peace went unheeded. After the Church of Ireland Bishop
of Down asked Orangemen to forget the old feuds, the old triumphs
and humiliations, the Orange Grand Master retorted, 'are we to
forget that the aim of these people is to establish an all-Ireland
Roman Catholic state, in which Protestantism will be crushed out
of existence ... are we to forget the heroic achievements of our
forefathers?' (quoted in Bardon, 1992: 540). Some of the worst
nights of disorder since 1922 followed after this invocation of
the past, leading the city coroner to urge leaders of public opinion
to remember that 'bigotry is the curse of goodwill and peace'
and that 'the poor people who commit these riots are easily led
and influenced'. 'It is not good Protestantism', he said, 'to
preach a gospel of hate and enmity towards those who differ from
us in religion and politics' (quoted in Devlin, 1981:144). The
funeral of one of the Protestant victims of the riots, however,
saw widespread anti-Catholic violence after further inflammatory
The Ideological Construction of Difference
Protestants were a majority, but not a confident one. A sense that their ascendancy was fragile and persistently under threat led to a paranoia about Catholics, showing itself in outrageous anti-Catholic violence, unrestrained rhetoric and blatant discrimination, which gave only the illusion of strength. In this respect it was still important to maintain the dimensions of difference between Protestant and Catholic, ensuring that religion coincided with patterns of differentiation in education, housing, the economy and politics. With no compunction, for example, advertisements for jobs in the Belfast Telegraph stated religious preference, and most requested Protestants. In 1926, for example, it was common to see advertisements like the following: 'wanted, strong country girl for housework, must be able to milk; Protestant preferred'; 'respectable Protestant little girl wanted to mind young baby': it is not apocryphal that someone once advertised Protestant puppies for sale. The debate in the academic literature over how much discrimination there was against Catholics at the level of social structure (see, for example, Hewitt, 1981; O' Hearn, 1983; Whyte, 1983) suggests there is disagreement only on the extent, not its fact. Equally important, however, is the ideological construction of difference, the process by which Catholics were presented as second-class citizens irrespective of the discrimination they experienced in the allocation of resources. Victorian 'scientific racism was rarely drawn on by this time to present Catholics as racially different, although ideas like this survived in some people (see Brewer, 1992: 356). The ideological construction of difference drew primarily on traditional anti-Catholicism, reproducing themes long established since the sixteenth century, but which were refashioned to reflect the new circumstances in Ulster.
At the level of ideas, Catholics were constructed as different by means of traditional anti-Catholic stereotypes which imputed to them familiar negative behavioural traits. They were dirty, for example. Government ministers reproduced this old but widespread notion when one said that an Orange hall needed to be fumigated after American Catholic servicemen had used it for mass (the Spirit of Drumcree group of Orangemen had the Ulster Hall fumigated in 1997 after its use by Sinn Fein), and another minister said that Catholic slum-dwellers had 'sub-human' habits. Similarly old fashioned but popular notions included the belief that Catholics were lazy, slothful and feckless. The Belfast Board of Guardians, for example, responsible for determining outdoor relief for the unemployed in the city, record in their minutes that it was their obligation 'faced with such sloth, fecklessness and iniquity', 'to discourage idleness and create a spirit of independence'. They were fearful of large Catholic families being a burden on the ratepayers, who were disproportionately Protestant under regulations designed to protect local election majorities. The Catholic poor were all too willing to beg instead of work but showed no poverty under the blankets', as a Chair of the Board once said. Some Protestant clergy criticised poor Catholics who were a 'wastrel class' and asked the Board to cut grants 'to parasites' (see Bardon, 1992: 525). Goldring (1991: 48) argues that the Board were Calvinists who believed that poverty was a judgement from God and that after partition the Board saw themselves as in the front line of a war to maintain a Protestant majority. They were thus intent on preventing Catholics from getting relief. Protestants were unemployed because they confronted unfortunate circumstances, Catholics because they wasted money on gambling and drink, and made no effort to find work (ibid.). Objections to other 'habits' led some government ministers to try to restrict British welfare dispensations, with one proposing to abolish family allowance payments for the fourth and any subsequent children. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church supported the views of Professor Corkey, a Presbyterian theology teacher and a former Minister of Education in the Northern Ireland government, who said that parents of large families ought to be fined for having so many children (see Rafferty, 1994: 247).
Catholics were also presented as disloyal, an idea that is as ancient as anti-Catholicism itself (on this idea, see Clayton, 1996: 124; McEvoy and White, forthcoming). The chairperson of the Commission on Education, set up in 1922 to determine the education system for the new state, set out his principles: 'there are two peoples in Ireland, one industrious, law abiding and God fearing, the other slothful, murderous and disloyal' (quoted in Kennedy, 1988: 97). The 1923 Promissory Oaths Act required all civil servants and teachers in Northern Ireland to swear an oath of allegiance to the British Crown and to the government of Northern Ireland. Notions of Catholic disloyalty resonated well with Ulster's uncertain ascendancy: Catholics were disloyal to the British Crown and to the Northern Irish state, and could not be trusted. Catholics employed in public and government service, for example, were always suspect. The Catholic-Police Liaison Committee, set up under the Anglo-Irish Treaty to try to establish rapport between Catholics and the new RUC, was undermined immediately when the Catholics on the committee were considered security risks and two were arrested by the new police force. The safety of government offices appeared paramount. After the public came to know of the fact in 1926, two Southern Catholics employed in the ministry of labour after transferring from Dublin Castle, were forced to leave by the minister, John Andrews. A Catholic gardener, with testimonials from Royalty, was still hounded out when it became known he was employed on the Stormont estate. Hunting out Catholics became press sport. The Home Affairs minister, Dawson Bates, at perhaps the most sensitive department in terms of national security, had a young typist sacked when it was revealed in the press that she was Catholic. He declared afterwards that he did not want even his most junior employee to be a Papist. Bardon notes that Bates openly regarded Catholics as enemies to be kept in check - and this a man in charge of the police and judiciary - and that he showed blatant disregard for impartial procedures (Bardon, 1992: 498). Sir Basil Brooke, then Minister of Agriculture, told the Londonderry Unionist Association in 1934 that he 'recommended those people who are loyalists not to employ Roman Catholics, ninety-nine percent of whom are disloyal. I want you to remember one point in regard to the employment of people who are disloyal, you are disenfranchising yourselves.' He said that Catholics were 'out to destroy Ulster with all their might and power'. He reassured them that the Prime Minister was behind him in such views, for Lord Craigavon had earlier said that 'the appointments made by the government are made, as far as we can possibly manage it, of loyal men and women'. It was not just politicians who argued thus. The Rev. Tolland, a senior chaplain in the Orange Order, said in 1936 that: 'Popery is the key to the problem of peace in Ireland. Popery in the past has been the curse of Ireland and there will never be peace while Popery reigns.' The Second World War, therefore, caused some people to suspect disloyalty amongst Catholics. Rumours circulated in working-class Protestant districts that Catholics were guiding in German bombers by torchlight.
It was in this sort of context that after the war, the only Belfast
Victoria Cross won in the Second World War was not commemorated
because the person concerned was Catholic and he found himself
snubbed by the city council and ex-servicemen organisations (see
Fleming, forthcoming). Allegations of disloyalty continued after
the war, which shows that the idea had become part of an anti-Catholic
popular culture not tied to specific instances of conflict which
might provoke the claim. Thus, speaking in 1957, when community
tensions had eased considerably from the first years of partition,
a government minister told his audience of Orangemen in Portadown
that 'all the minority are traitors and have always been traitors
to the government of Northern Ireland'. As late as 1959, well
before the Catholic civil rights campaign and civil unrest, the
Prime Minister, now Lord Brookeborough, said that Catholics should
not be allowed to join the Ulster Unionist Party or stand as candidates
because they were disloyal. It would be difficult, he said, for
Catholics 'to discard the political conceptions' acquired from
Catholicism, 'whose aims are openly declared to be an all-Ireland
republic'. The Grand Master of the Orange Order also remarked
that the 'vast difference in our religious outlook' meant that
Catholics could not unconditionally support Northern Ireland,
although some ministers and members of the Young Unionists felt
that the time was opportune for Unionists to shed their anti-Catholicism.
Brookeborough, however, was locked in the past, and he regarded
all Catholics as likely traitors. Some of the partition generation
survived into the 1960s, similarly moribund by old controversies
and fears, and content merely to repeat the old shibboleths, Robert
Babington, for example, urged in 1961 that employment registers
should be kept of loyalists by the Ulster Unionist Party, which
employers should consult to give them first choice in jobs, but
a new generation was also emerging in Ulster Unionism which would
try to move Protestants into the future. Their prospects would
test the extent to which Protestants could transcend anti-Catholicism
under the modernisation occurring in the 1960s.
The Rise and Fall of O'Neillism
Captain Terence O'Neill was a liberal Unionist, representative of the enlightened Protestant tradition, progressive in religion and politics, and someone who wanted to transcend the old style in both. He assumed the post of Prime Minister in 1963 at a time when other progressive Unionists were calling for modernisation in religion and politics. Leading Protestant churchmen, for example, were opening up to dialogue with Catholicism and conscious of the past errors they had made in their relationship with Catholics. The 1965 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, for example, passed a resolution which urged upon 'our people humbly and frankly to acknowledge, and to ask forgiveness for, any attitudes and actions towards our Roman Catholic fellow countrymen which have been unworthy of our calling as followers of Jesus Christ'. Presbyterians were told to structure relations with Catholics 'always in the spirit of charity rather than suspicion and intolerance, and in accordance with scripture' (quoted in Dunlop, 1995: 55). The Church's committee on national and international problems produced a report the same year which recognised the extent of discrimination against Catholics in the North in the workplace, housing allocation and in electoral boundaries, and condemned it. The Church also gave its support to involvement by leading Presbyterians in ecumenical initiatives. By the mid-I 960s, there were some joint ventures between all the main churches in Northern Ireland, and meetings had occurred. It was reciprocated by the Catholic Church, which, following Vatican II, was more open to Protestantism. Cardinal Conway made speeches which were gracious; he had earlier paid Protestants in Ireland a glowing tribute when appointed as Archbishop of Armagh. Catholic bishops began meeting with government ministers and other Unionists. They met with Belfast's lord mayor for the first time since partition in 1962; in Enniskillen the bishop met the town's Unionist mayor to restore 'friendliness and co-operation' with Protestant neighbours, and the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland supported the wider move to ecumenism following the second Vatican Council, which had highlighted the good qualities in the other Christian churches. Conway spoke of the need for unity amongst all Christians and for people in Northern Ireland to change their attitude toward each other, and an annual ecumenical conference was inaugurated in 1966. Conway was later to say that during the 1960s, the bishops gave every mark of recognition and acceptance of the Northern Ireland state, and that they met as much with government ministers in Ulster as the Irish Republic (see Rafferty, 1994: 260).
Corners of the Unionist Party were advocating similar change in politics. Younger Unionists demanded change. In 1962 Bob Cooper, then involved with the Young Unionist Council, was critical of the 'ageing tired men' who dominated Ulster politics, who were embedded in the past, 'men who cannot look forward with hope and who are forced to look back with nostalgia'. Lord Brookeborough resigned the following year and O'Neill, as his successor, reflected a new approach, bemoaning the lost opportunities and wasted time of Brookeborough's premiership. It was a tragedy, O'Neill later wrote, that Brookeborough did not try to persuade his 'devoted followers to accept some reforms' (quoted in Bardon, 1992: 621). He once referred to 'small minded men' who had removed rights from Catholics 'during the first years of Northern Ireland's existence', and who did nothing to make Catholics 'feel wanted or even appreciated'. Reform was O'Neill's watchword: on taking office he said that his task was 'literally to transform Ulster' by bold and imaginative measures. He wished to transform Ulster economically, and introduced economic planning; and politically, by building 'bridges between the two traditions in our community'. Reconciliation was declared policy and Catholics were now part of the one community, not alien outsiders to it. The old rhetoric and shibboleths were jettisoned in favour of an inclusive style, which opened up the promise of better Protestant-Catholic relations.
The climate, as far as the government could permit it, changed immediately and dramatically. Union Jacks on public buildings in Ulster were flown at half mast on the death of Pope John XXIII, and while Rafferty dismisses this as mere procedure since it was an instruction from the Queen (Rafferty, 1994: 257), O'Neill spoke generously about the Pope, announcing on his death that he had 'won widespread acclaim for his qualities of kindness and humanity'; the Governor of Northern Ireland represented the government at his funeral. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland stood in silence for a minute in his honour. More significantly, contacts were established with the South. Young Unionists visited Dublin to meet Fine Gael, some Unionist politicians regularly went hunting with Southern politicians, and O'Neill followed with meetings in Dublin and Belfast between himself and Sean Lemass, the Irish Prime Minister and a former internee and participant in the Easter Rising. Unthinkable before for an Ulster Prime Minister, O'Neill said the meeting had been held because the North and South shared the same rivers, the same mountains and some of the same problems. Lemass's successor, Jack Lynch, also made a visit to Stormont. Rubicon after rubicon was crossed: O'Neill won a measure of Catholic support for the Unionist Party, saw the nationalists in the Stormont Parliament won over to recognising the Parliament, urged the ending of segregated education, met with Catholic bishops, attended Catholic schools and hospitals, and successfully shifted government rhetoric to include Catholics in citizenship and into partnership for the future. In 1966, the year in which the Labour government in Britain commended O'Neill for his modernisation, he said: 'let us be united in working together - in a Christian spirit - to create better opportunities for our children, whether they come from the Falls Road [Catholic West Belfast] or Finaghy [Protestant South Belfast]' (quoted in Bardon, 1992: 633).
The practical reforms did not, unfortunately, match the change in government rhetoric, but even the change in discourse went too far for some Protestants who wanted to hear the old anti-Catholic and Orange shibboleths, and to keep the traditional power and ascendancy they reflected. Ecumenism was abused by some Protestants and Orangemen. The Protestant churches were accused of going papist, of following a 'Romeward trend'. The government received equal wrath. O'Neill was accused of being a traitor, of 'committing spiritual fornication and adultery with the anti-Christ', and the RUC discovered that the UVF were plotting to assassinate him. Leading members of the UVF have admitted with hindsight that the resurrection of the organisation in the 1960s was in order to oppose O'Neill rather than the IRA: 'his overthrow was to take the shape of violent incidents in Belfast and Northern Ireland to hype up communal and political tension' (see Gusty Spence, in Garland, 1997: 7). O'Neill was vilified unmercilessly by the Rev. Ian Paisley, whose anti-Catholicism led him to form his own political party in opposition to liberal O'Neillism and his own church in opposition to the liberal Protestantism, since both 'supped with the anti-Christ'. Liberals in politics and religion were allies of Rome, Lundys [sell-outs], and traitors. O'Neill wrote later in his autobiography that his 'selfstyled loyalist' critics were 'Protestant extremists, yearning for the days of the Protestant ascendancy' who threatened to light 'the fuse which blew us up' (O'Neill, 1972: 80). He had right-wing critics in his Cabinet in mind, as well as the street politicians-cum-preachers like Paisley, Foster and Porter. The old sectarian and anti-Catholic forces within Protestantism and Unionism ruled the day, leaving O'Neill to lament on his resignation in 1969: 'I have tried to break the chains of ancient hatreds. I have been unable to realise [what] I had sought to achieve ... but one day these things will and must be achieved' (O'Neill, 1969: 200). This proved to be wishful thinking because the anti-Catholic forces within Protestantism were rampant.
The fall of O'Neill shows the resilience of sectarian forms of
politics in Unionism and the survival of anti-Catholic ideas in
Protestantism. Both traditions were too strong to be jettisoned
and the 1 960s was not an opportune decade for change. The Protestant
working class felt threatened in the 1960s, for it was experiencing
economic insecurity arising from deindustrialisation and the decline
of the traditional industries, the rise of less sectarianised
forms of employment linked to multinational companies, and rising
unemployment. The Catholic community was advancing economically,
educationally, culturally and politically. They were unsatisfied
by the pace of change, articulate and tenacious in the defence
of Catholic civil rights, and their protests were about to provoke
a level of violence which destablised the state. If the Protestant
working class remained sectarian because of this, the Protestant
middle classes were unsettled by it; the old shibboleths gave
security and identity to both in a changing and insecure world.
And when terrorism emerged in 1969-70, polarisation developed
along with it. The extremes consumed the middle ground once violence
fed ancient prejudices and fears; the extremists feasted voraciously
on the violence, projecting to a high profile the fanaticisms
and fears of men who otherwise might have remained on the lunatic
fringe. As it was, Northern Ireland remained locked in ancient
hatreds, giving a powerful voice to those people who represented
the past. Paisley's rise to influence acts as a template for the
failure of Northern Ireland in the I960s to transcend anti-Catholicism.
The Rev. Ian Paisley, founder of Free Presbyterianism, is often portrayed as the Henry Cooke of his century: florid in rhetoric, evangelical, covenantal and rabidly, shamelessly anti-Catholic in theology; and conservative, pro-Union and relentlessly Loyalist in politics; a Christian minister who believes it an obligation to be involved in politics, and one who sees no contradiction between his Christianity and fomenting anti-Catholic hatreds and enmities. The comparison should not be over-extended, however, for Cooke was an 'insider' to mainstream conservative Protestantism, while Paisley is very much an 'outsider'. The success of Paisley has been to use traditional anti-Catholicism as a power base which resonated in the political polarisation that occurred after terrorist violence, enabling him to broaden his appeal to an extent that the conservative and traditional forces he represents shape the agenda within Unionism - but he does so from the outside.
It is popular to portray Paisley as an aberration, a throwback to earlier times (see Moloney and Pollack, 1986; Ruane and Todd, 1996), but he represents the dominant tradition in Northern Irish Protestantism, which is evangelical conservativism expressing itself theologically in anti-Catholicism and politically in militant Unionism (studies which recognise this include Taylor, 1983; Bruce, 1986; Wallis et al., 1986; MacIver, 1987; Cooke, 1996). This tradition was challenged in the 1960s by the constructive Unionism of O'Neill, itself more like a throwback to the beginning of the century. Paisley was on the fringe while pragmatists dominated Unionism, but this only occurred briefly with the premiership of O'Neill. Paisley and O'Neill represented two directions for Northern Protestants; the one forward to new arrangements and new relationships; the other backward to the old long-standing traditions and shibboleths. They fought for the soul of Unionism, and they were implacable enemies. Through his organisation Ulster Protestant Action (UPA), Paisley abused and heckled liberals in theology and politics, and worked hard to advance the claims of 'Protestant and loyal workers in preference to their Catholic fellow workers', as the UPA put it. He attacked O'Neill unceasingly for his overtures to Catholics. Paisley's newspaper, the Protestant Telegraph (founded in 1966), once described O'Neillism as a policy of betraying Ulster by appeasing rebels and showing weakness to Romanism. In fact, this was amongst the least invective of the slanders: O'Neill was a Lundy, a Judas, a dupe; selling out birthright, land, hopes and the future.
Paisley also attacked the ecumenical trend in Protestantism during the 1960s. Ulster's Church leaders were selling their Protestant heritage lock stock and barrel ... This is not the time for a velvet tongue. It is a day of war and war to the death. The enemy we fear is the enemy within ... If they want to go to Rome. then let them go, but they are not taking Ulster with them' (quoted in Taylor, 1983: 15). They were the Iscariots of Ulster for expressing condolences on the death of Pope John XXIII, that 'Romish man of sin [who] is now in Hell'. Paisley's analysis of Protestant denominations, with the exception of his own Free Presbyterians, was they were becoming de-Protestantised (see Cooke, 1996: 69) because of their ecumenism, which is something 'blackened with the blackness of Popery', something hating, fighting, defaming, and rejecting Christ on the wickedness of Baal, something representing the machinations of the Devil (see Cooke, 1996: 70). Ecumenical activity was condemned because it involved association with Catholicism: 'there's no agreement between Protestantism and Popery, no agreement between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the trash of the Anti-Christ, [you] can't make them agree (quoted in ibid.: 76). Accordingly, Protestants who were ecumenical were apostate, they had abandoned their faith; they had joined Catholics as the new 'enemy within'.
Paisley, however, was not the sole representative of the conservative evangelical, anti-Catholic and militantly Unionist tradition, and there were people like Norman Porter, with his National Union of Protestants, who competed to represent the heart and soul of traditional Protestantism. William McGrath organised the Christian Fellowship and Irish Emancipation Crusade, warning of the onslaught threatening Ulster Protestantism - variously identified as communism, Catholicism and later, ironically, the UVF itself (on conflicts within the UVF and the dispute with McGrath, see Garland, 1997). McGrath feared a 'national crisis of faith', and urged resolute action: 'this crisis will eventually break into armed conflict between those who fight the "battles of the Lord against the mighty" and those who know nothing of "the glorious liberty of the children of God". Blood has ever been the price of liberty. Oliver Cromwell once said, "choose ye out Godly men to be captains and Godly men will follow them". We must do the same' (quoted in ibid.: 7). O'Neill also had his right wing in the Ulster Unionist Party, with people like Craig. But Paisley successfully associated himself in the public mind with militant Unionism by rallies, protests, stunts and florid language, and later subsumed all competitors. Instances in 1966 illustrate the early attempts he made to commandeer the high place in militant Loyalism. He shamelessly played on the mythology of Carson by dragging his son over to review the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (soon to become the new UVF) when a new bridge in Belfast was not named after the Ulster hero. He marched members of his congregation through Catholic areas on the way to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in protest at their alleged Catholic tendencies, provoking a riot amongst Catholic residents, shouting 'Popehead', 'Lundy', and 'Romanists' at members of the assembly as they emerged on the street. Paisley decided to go to prison during the year rather than pay a fine for breaching public order, whipping up frenzied feelings by claiming, on the Sunday before imprisonment, that it might be his last religious service since the government had declared war on Protestantism, making it clear that he was prepared for martyrdom like other Protestant martyrs. If his life 'has to go', he announced, 'it will go in that cause'. It was a sacrifice he was willing to make (quoted in Taylor, 1983: 18). There was serious rioting outside the prison on the day Paisley went inside and a group of supporters marched into Belfast city centre rampaging and burning Catholic-owned shops (Farrell, 1976: 235). It was not just Free Presbyterians who were whipped up by Paisley's rhetoric. When the UVF that year started killing Catholics again - although they also killed an elderly Protestant woman into whose house they threw a petrol bomb by mistake - one of the convicted men told the police that he 'felt terribly sorry I ever heard of that man Paisley or decided to follow him'. Paisley denied knowing the man (although Farrell (ibid.: 236) shows the connections between Paisley and the early UVF; see also Cooke, 1996: 183-4), but the man's point was that Paisley had created in him frenzy and hate as a result of Paisley's attempt to dominate militant Loyalism. Garland looks at the links between Paisley and McGrath, who later transformed his Fellowship into the terrorist group called Tara (1997). However, Paisley was also assisted in his rise to prominence by civil rights marches and IRA activity, which he exploited as posing a threat to Protestantism and Unionism. He convinced many people of the threat and O'Neill resigned in 1969. O'Neill complained of 'self-appointed and self-styled loyalists who see moderation as treason and decency as weakness'; the tradition of conservative evangelicalism, anti-Catholic and militantly Unionist, represented this time by Paisleyism, had commandeered the high place again.
The appeal of Paisleyism is three-fold (see Bruce, 1986, 1994). The class interests of working-class Protestants in the cross-class alliance are protected to ensure that 'big Unionists' and the 'fur coated brigade' within Unionism, as Paisley puts it, do not sell out working-class Protestants. Paisley's first political organisation was the UPA, which was established at a time of rising unemployment for the Protestant working class, and his latest expression, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has an urban base in the Protestant working class (but also amongst conservative evangelicals in the rural areas, which is more middle class - see Bruce, 1986). But economic interests are not overt because Paisleyism's primary appeal plays on political and ethnic-national interests based around the antinomies of Britishness (against Irishness) and Protestantism (against Catholicism). The former predisposes it to militant Unionism, the latter to militant anti-Catholicism, which together comprise the motifs of Paisleyism.
Free Presbyterianism is the most extreme expression of anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland (ibid.: 224) For Paisleyites Catholicism is not only totally evil, it is very effective and powerful. A theological case is made against the Catholic Church, supposedly grounded in Scripture itself, and also a political argument in terms of its malevolence. Theologically, Catholicism is unscriptural, baptised paganism and unChristian. 'Make no mistake', Paisley once wrote in The Revivalist, his church magazine, 'Romanism is as far removed from Christianity as Hell is from Heaven. Anyone who denies that, is either ignorant of the Bible, or of Rome, or of both.' The problems lie in its claims to universality, the infallibility of the Pope, the place of tradition compared to the Bible, the role of the priest, the use of icons and rituals, and the adoration of the Saints and the Virgin Mary, none of which Paisley sees as scriptural. Thus during one of his sermons, Paisley said: 'if the Church of Rome is right, Protestantism is wrong. If the Church of Rome is a Christian church, that Bible is not true. The Roman Catholic Church is not a Christian church. It has insulted the doctrine of divine redemption. It has rejected the Lord of the Book. It has elevated Mary. It has rejected the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. A false system. It's the system of anti-Christianity' (quoted in Taylor, 1983: 99-100). The Catholic Church is believed to be the Whore and the Harlot described in Scripture, and the Papacy the anti-Christ. Relevant Scripture passages in the Book of Revelation and Old Testament prophecies are taken to be covert references to Catholicism. Even the hymns purposely written for Free Presbyterians reproduce anti-Catholicism, with lines referring to Catholicism as the 'mystery of wickedness', and 'the harlot in the bride's attire' (for example, see hymn number 757 reprinted in Cooke, 1996: 42-3). As Bruce argues (1986: 224), this certainty that anti-Catholicism is scriptural fills the gap left by the absence of evidence for the malevolent conspiracies which the Catholic Church is alleged to instigate. The conservative Protestant knows that Rome is the Mystery Babylon, the Whore and Deceiver because they believe the Bible says so. If there is no evidence to show its malevolence it is because Rome is subtle and has lulled the rest of the world into complacency. Thus, the conspiracies are real, even though they appear fanciful.
It is therefore confidently believed that the Catholic Church is, for example, behind the European Union (see ibid.: 227). It is a Papal conspiracy, supposedly foreseen in Daniel and Revelation, by which Catholicism can succeed in its ambition for world domination. The Beast with ten heads in Revelation is claimed to symbolise the flag of the European Union. The Ulster Defence Association's Ulster in February 1979 suggested that the entire structure had been designed to imperil and subvert Protestant, Loyalist Ulster. Of Paisley's own position in the European Parliament he says: 'I'm going to get all I can for Ulster, every grant we can possibly get our hands on. Then when we have milked the cow dry, we are going to shoot the cow' (quoted in Taylor, 1983: 32). He has also defended his position there as ensuring that Britain, which, he claims, is the last Protestant country in the European Union, is represented by a conservative Protestant. Fascism, communism and other evils have alleged to be the products of Catholicism; most things Free Presbyterians dislike can be lodged at the door of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was responsible for the Falklands War, which The Revivalist said in May 1982 was a curse on the Church of England because it has gone 'a-whoring after Rome'. It was behind the break-up of the marriage between the Prince and Princess of Wales, since Mrs Parker-Bowles's former husband is supposedly a devout Catholic (see Cooke, 1996: 78). Catholics have infiltrated the media - the BBC in Northern Ireland and the Belfast Telegraph are described as Catholic-dominated. The IRA even inform the media before they let off a bomb to ensure their Catholic cohorts are there first (see Taylor, 1983: 114). Local political events are all rendered into the malevolent influence of the Catholic Church. The IRA, civil unrest, civil rights, even disputes over parades are all plots by the Catholic Church to advance its claims to universality; Drumcree was a problem caused by the Pope's emissary who went to Portadown only to stir up conflict, for wherever there is a Jesuit 'there is trouble' (see Cooke, 1996: 208). The policies of the Northern Ireland Office have at times been explained away by reflecting the interests of the Catholics who are said to run it: it wants to take Ulster back down the Romeward road.
Conspiracy theory offers Paisleyites their explanation for 'the troubles': civil unrest is a plot by the Catholic Church to annihilate Protestantism, the IRA merely the dupes of the Pope and his bishops. The Catholic Church, it is argued, has been the instigator of persecution and revolution throughout the world, and violence in Northern Ireland is but one manifestation. The IRA are thus tools in the hands of bishops. At the beginning of 'the troubles' the IRA was described as the murder gang of the Roman Catholic Church, 'the armed wing of the Roman Catholic Church whose real aim was to annihilate Protestantism'. Bishops are described as Sinn Feiners, and murders by the IRA are portrayed as at the behest of the Catholic Church which 'still claims the right to kill Protestants'. No amount of public condemnation of terrorism by the Catholic Church alters the perception that Irish Republicanism and Irish Catholicism are indissoluble. Interviews Taylor has undertaken with Free Presbyterians show they believe Paisley's conspiracies implicitly. IRA members have been socialised into Catholicism, it is claimed, and the Church offers moral, spiritual and material support to terrorists (see Taylor, 1983: 111). Projecting the blame for civil unrest on to Catholicism in this way also ensures that they have no need to compromise in order to establish peace, since it would be compromise with the Devil. The old shibboleths, 'No Surrender', 'No Compromise', 'No Popery', 'not an inch', thus suit the time very well.
The second motif of Paisleyism is militant Unionism: Paisley puts Protestantism at the service of the Union, as this tradition has always done. A united Ireland is criticised because it would be Catholic, in the grip of priests, and devoid of civil and political liberties. Warning the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic during a speech in Omagh in 1981, Paisley described him as 'this guardian of murderers, this godfather of intended destruction, this green aggressor and conspirator', and Went on to say: 'you will never get your thieving murderous hands on the Protestants of Northern Ireland because every drop of Ulster blood will be willing to be shed before we entered into your priest-ridden banana republic'. Dogs may return to their vomit, washed sows to the mire, Paisley wrote vividly in 1982 in No Pope Here, 'but we shall not be guiled ... By God's grace we will never return to Popery.' The defence of the Union is a defence of Protestantism because the Catholic Church would extirpate Protestants in a united Ireland. An article in the Protestant Telegraph described the 'jackboot system' of Rome which rules in Southern Ireland and warned Northern Protestants that any reform or compromise, any appeasement of Catholic neighbours in Ulster, was folly because 'Rome carries out an unrelenting war for the achievement of her aims. She is a past master in hypocrisy, duplicity, deceit and falsehood ... her actionists [are] preparing for the greatest onslaught ever to be launched against the forces of the Crown' (quoted in Cooke, 1996:163).
Protestantism serves the Union in another way by defining part of the symbolic meaning of 'Britishness' which the Union is intended to preserve. The Union is valorised in part because it is a union of Protestants within Protestant Britain, representing the civil and political liberties associated with Britishness. Protestantism and Britishness are the same Janus face: thus, an attack on one is an attack on the other. Republicans who challenge the legitimacy of the British state in Northern Ireland are, in this view, really attacking Protestants. This is seen most clearly in the fabricated 'Sinn Fein oath,, first appearing in the Protestant Telegraph in May 1966, which represents the conflict as one against Protestantism.
These Protestant robbers and brutes, these unbelievers of our faith, will be driven like the swine they are into the sea ... until we of the Catholic faith and avowed supporters of all Sinn Fein actions and principles clear these heretics from our land ... We must work towards the destruction of Protestants and the advancement of the priesthood and the Catholic faith until the Pope is complete ruler of the world (quoted in Cooke, 1996: 149; for another fabricated Sinn Fein oath along the same lines, see the Ulster Defence Association journal Ulster, 15 June 1985).
The oath reveals the mind-set of the perpetrators of the fabrication: the real problem in Northern Ireland is Catholicism. 'The Roman Catholic Church lies at the heart of the problem in Northern Ireland', Paisley once said, because 'she has indoctrinated her people against everything that is Protestant' (quoted in Cooke, 1996: 60). Protestantism does not just service the Union, therefore, it defines the outsider or stranger who threatens it.
Paisleyism is characterised by the belief that Protestantism and Britishness are under constant threat. The campaign for civil rights for Catholics, Republican terrorism, direct rule, the Hunger Strikes, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration, the ceasefires, and the post-ceasefire talks have all in their time been used to mobilise Protestants on the basis of the perpetual anxiety about the undermining of their Britishness and Protestantism (with respect to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, see Aughey, 1989). Unionists have historically always seen the Union as under threat, but these events were not, as in Brookeborough's time, fanciful fears, but real indices of how Britain's relationship with Ulster Protestants since 1969 has, in Unionist eyes, been compromised by Anglo-Irish relations, undermining their position within the United Kingdom. And as the attacks have purportedly increased in severity, so has the vociferousness of the defence mounted by Paisley. Hence the attractiveness in the academic literature of the idea of Protestant insecurity as an explanation of Paisley's support (for examples of such explanations, see Nelson, 1984; Bruce, 1986, 1994; Wallis et al., 1986; Akenson, 1992). In a situation where Protestants see (or think) their world is collapsing around them, every plank which supported their social structure being dismantled, and where their identity as British Protestants is undermined, Paisleyism offers security by aggressively defending their identity, values and way of life, and by repeating, time and time again, the familiar and comforting shibboleths from the past. Paisleyism offers continuity with tradition; and it is a history which shows that tenacity and perseverance always led to victory. Hence the perpetual cataloguing of past battles and victory cries - 'Remember 1690', 'No Surrender', 'No Popery', and 'not an inch'. It is, in short, a tradition of glorious victory that resolves the ontological anxiety of Protestants who see the Janus connection between their Britishness and Protestantism being prised apart by Irishness and Catholicism.
The past is thus a powerful resource in Paisley's political armoury (on this point, see especially Maclver, 1987). This goes beyond offering particular interpretations of history, which are on many occasions factually inaccurate, but reflects, more deeply, his conscious and deliberate attempt to associate Paisleyism with historical tradition. His Free Presbyterian sect, as Taylor (1983: 3) calls it, comprises no more than 20,000 people, but Paisley has broad appeal outside his own church (and political party) because he has successfully identified Paisleyism with the conservative evangelical tradition, dating from Henry Cooke, and the even more ancient tradition of covenanting theology, which runs back to the sixteenth century. This reflects in two ways. First, he portrays himself as the latest in a proud lineage of Protestant martyrs and preachers, beginning with Luther and including Calvin, Knox, Wesley, Cooke, Spurgeon and Whitefield. Knox is a particular favourite - both spent time in prison, both were persecuted for their proclamation of biblical truth, both felt a conditional loyalty to the state because of what they saw as an overriding loyalty to God, and both were anti-Catholic (on the similarities between Paisley and Knox, see Maclver, 1987: 374-6). Paisley frequently alludes back to Knox. In a special issue of The Revivalist on Knox in 1972, Paisley wrote: 'oh for men in our land today, fearless men, God anointed men, Spirit-filled men, fire baptised men, to cry out as Knox cried out against Popery and against the curse that has blighted twentieth-century Protestantism, this curse of ecumenism'. As Denis Cooke (1996: 45ff.) has shown, however, the pantheon which Paisley frequently invokes as part of the same tradition of anti-Catholicism, often differed from him in its openness to Catholics and in considering the Catholic Church as part of the Christian tradition (for Cooke on Wesley, see 1996: 49-51; on Calvin, see p. 48; on Spurgeon, see pp. 96-7; on Luther, see p. 47), something Paisley ignores by means of selective quotation.
Second, and perhaps more significant, historical tradition is used as a representation of the present. The future goes backwards in Paisleyism because the present is also understood in terms of the past. The same conflicts, battles and enemies exist now as then: they are historical universals, the unchanging unfolding of the age-old clash between biblical truth and error. An article in the Protestant Telegraph on 15 June 1974 expressed this succinctly: 'the Ulster situation is Protestantism versus popery. The war in Ulster is a war of survival between the opposing forces of truth and error, and the principles of the Reformation are as relevant today as they were in the sixteenth century.' In contrast to those who would forget the past, Paisley resoundly asserts its relevance for today. Wallis et al. (1986: 19-20) quote from one of Paisley's sermons in the 1960s:
There are voices raised in our province which advocate forgetfulness. They tell us that the sooner we forget the great epochs of history, the sooner that we forget about Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen and the Boyne, the better for us as people. There are leaders in church and state who are apostles of this doctrine of forgetfulness. Where Rome is there is no liberty. If Rome had her way in Ulster there would be no liberty. Are we going back to darkness, back to Romanism, back to the tyranny and superstition of the Dark Ages? As Protestants we must remember the past. What happened when Rome ruled supreme? Was there peace? Was there light?
Nothing is new. Ulster is enabled rather than imprisoned by its past because the old historical universals persist. Thus, Paisley offers backward-looking politics, because the age-old challenge to Union continues; and he offers backward-looking theology, because the sixteenth-century disputes grounded in the Reformation still have not seen the victory over the Whore of Babylon and the antiChrist. Thus, to him there is no shame in looking backwards because the present is a reproduction of the past.
There is a view of the relationship between theology and politics contained in this approach to history which is drawn from sixteenth-century covenantal theology. For Paisley as for the covenanters like Knox, politics must be shaped by theology. The conditional loyalty implied in covenants which commentators emphasise as a feature of Paisleyism (Miller, 1978a; Akenson, 1992: 287), adheres only because theological commitments are primary to political ones. Paisley has said that he will remain British only so long as the Queen remains Protestant, because the exercise of political liberty is subordinate to his conception of theology (Taylor, 1983: 8). Covenantal theology best summarises this position. The greater loyalty is to God, who is seen as having underwritten a set of social and political arrangements which it is one's Christian duty to uphold while God's contract or covenant remains. Defence of the Union and vilification of Catholicism are part of the covenantal obligations. Ulster is God's gift to Protestants in Northern Ireland, so defence of the Union is part of his commitment to God, and since Catholicism is unscriptural and unChristian, in attacking it he is demonstrating higher loyalty to God. This makes him feel immune to criticism and attack; he is certain that in defending the Union and in attacking Catholicism he is fighting the Lord's battle.
Biblical examples are drawn on frequently to dismiss criticism, for when attacked Paisley takes comfort in the self-appellation that he is a persecuted prophet. Over time he has drawn parallels between himself and the stoning of King David, the condemnation of Jesus, and the rejection of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Elijah. The favourite role models are the Old Testament denunciation prophets - Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Elijah - who were warrior prophets warning of imminent danger to the faithful remnant from the mortal enemies which were within and around them. These prophets used strong language, were constantly vilified by the Godless enemies without and the faithless 'enemies within' and, except for a 'holy remnant', they were mostly ignored; yet they remained true to the message God had given them to preach. Paisley once wrote to Cardinal O'Fiaich, who complained about his intemperate language: 'as Elias [Elijah] stood on Carmel and cried out against the priests of Baal. so would I. I count no words too severe. If my every speech would be a thunderbolt. and every word a lightening flash, it would not be too strong to protest against the accursed system' (quoted in Cooke, 1996: 53-4). As for criticism, it merely reflects the great commission God had given him to defend the Union and preach against the antiChrist.
Show me a man of whom is said every evil and wicked slander. Show me a man who becomes the recipient of wave after wave of condemnation, who is condemned out of hand, who is accused of the most outrageous of crimes, and I will show you a man whom God has commissioned, whom God has called, whom God has sent to be a prophet to his generation (quoted in Taylor, 1983: 34).
With such a view of himself, every defeat can be reinterpreted to prove that he and his followers are right, every set-back explained away, and every means of resistance permissible. 'We refuse to allow a foreign priesthood to be forced upon us', wrote the Protestant Telegraph on 7 March 1970, 'like the covenanters of old, we shall resist this, even to prison and to death, and God shall defend the right'.
This raises the issue of Paisley's involvement in violence. His covenantal theology permits resistance against secular forces and circumstances which breach the covenant with God. History is full of role models of Protestant Reformers who resisted in order to reinstate the civil and political circumstances that God was believed to have ordained - Knox, Cromwell, Cameron - and Scripture is not short of examples of people who resisted kings and rulers at God's command; Jesus being the least obvious, however. Paisley's sermons and writings draw these historical parallels, but he has been careful to avoid direct participation in, or encouragement of, acts of violent resistance. He threatens it, he has relationships with people and organisations who commit it, many leading Loyalist paramilitaries worship with him at his church, he has organised large rallies and protests after which acts of violence have been committed by others, he was involved with the protests surrounding the Ulster Workers Strike and the Anglo-Irish Agreement which were often bloody and disorderly, but Paisley himself has been arrested only for unlawful assembly and imprisoned for failing to keep the peace by not promising to desist from leading more demonstrations. Much as critics might regret it, acts of violent resistance cannot be attributed to him, nor is there evidence of his direct encouragement of it.
However, Paisley is culpable by contributing to a culture of violence. This culture of violence is assisted in two ways: by the oblique remarks Paisley makes about violence, and by the manner in which he uses violent imagery. In his remarks about violence he implies in vague terms that violent resistance is sanctioned, and it is regularly threatened by means of florid language and provocative acts which hint at possible violence. Paisley's 'Third Force' in 1981 is a good example. At the time of meetings between the British and Irish Prime Ministers, Paisley organised, on a hill-top near Ballymena, a military-style parade of men wearing combat jackets and brandishing gun licences in a gesture to emulate Carson's UVF threats in 1912. He even organised a similar 'Carson trail' around Ulster with an equivalent to the 1912 Ulster Covenant which was more or less identical in content. His language was florid and frenzied. He accused his opponents in the Official Unionist Party of trying to assassinate him, he said that the Southern government had a noose specially prepared for the Protestants of Ulster' and that their hands were dripping with blood, and he described Irish Catholics in abhorrent terms. 'Our ancestors cut a civilisation out of the bogs and meadows while Mr Haughey's ancestors were wearing pig skins and living in caves. When our forefathers donned the British uniform and fought for their King and Country, Mr Haughey's fellow countrymen used their lights to guide enemy bombers to their targets in Northern Ireland' (quoted in Moloney and Pollack, 1986: 382). At the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the mid-1980s civil disobedience towards the RUC was threatened and given some vague sort of sanction because the police had, according to Paisley, 'reaped what they sowed'. In October 1997, in yet another Carson trail around Northern Ireland trying to drum up mass support against the peace talks, but on this occasion with Robert McCartney in tow, Paisley said that Ulster was about to be slaughtered by a fascist-loving government that conducts love-ins with the IRA. For participating in negotiations about peace, the Unionist Party was accused of the same treason that led to the abandonment of Protestants in Southern Ireland in 1921, and he made warnings of resistance which would set the winds of fire alight in Ulster. The paradox of the man is that when he has brought the mobs on to the streets or hilltops, worked them to a frenzy, threatened of violent consequences and vaguely sanctioned action in some form or other, he criticises them when they go too far He has at times condemned Loyalists who carry out acts of terrorism, while he contributes himself to the very culture which causes it.
This culture of violence is not only reproduced in his elisions
to violence but in the manner in which Paisley speaks. The main
offence that critics can levy against Paisley is the use of violent
metaphors and images in his rhetoric, which the mindless or militant
can take as exhortations to violence, although Paisley's covenantal
theology legitimises his manner of speaking. Even Presbyterians
outside covenanting tradition, let alone more liberal Christians,
argue that, in the words of the government and church committee
of the Presbyterian Church, 'those who initiate actions in volatile
situations cannot evade total responsibility for the consequences
of what they begin'. But according to Paisley, God defends the
right and he is simply using the vocabulary of the Incarnate
Son of God, who hated evil. But it is impossible to contemplate
Jesus saying the following. 'Blood has ever been the price of
liberty. Historically the blood of Ulster's youth has run till
Boyne rivers flow blood red ... Today the battle is not yet won
and sacrifices will have to be made
Now is the time for
Ulster to prepare for the final conflict ... Ulster arise and
acknowledge your God. No surrender. No compromise' (Protestant
Telegraph, quoted in Cooke, 1996: 159). This violent discourse
is reproduced in the language of his supporters. Taylor quotes
a young Free Presbyterian woman: 'I would just as soon as line
my four children up against the wall and shoot them dead before
I'd see them into the Church of Rome' (Taylor, 1983: 94). An elderly
woman from his church used the same discourse: 'we will fight
if we have to. We are sick of the prevailing evil in our midst.
We have a cause to live for and we are prepared to die' (ibid.:
Civil Unrest and 'The Troubles'
The outbreak of civil unrest in 1968, which has continued more or less non-stop since then, had roots much further back than partition. It reaches back to plantation when inequality between Catholics and Protestants was made government policy; inequality effortlessly reproduced itself in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries once it became embedded in the social structure and affected politics, the economy, education, housing and employment. It worsened in the twentieth century with partition only because discrimination was enhanced by Protestant control of the state. The 'physical force' tradition of Irish Republicanism fed off these circumstances and had a measure of cultural (rather than political) legitimacy. Yet, strangely, by the 1960s, the majority of Northern Catholics would have been content with civil rights within Northern Ireland rather than the ending of partition. The demand for Catholic civil rights, however, contributed in part to the resumption of the hegemony of the anti-Catholic conservative evangelical tradition, represented by Paisleyism, over the constructive Unionism of O'Neill, ensuring that demands for civil rights were given an anti-Catholic spin. Amidst television coverage of police batoning unarmed civil rights marchers, unreconstructed Unionists like Craig abused civil rights supporters as Republicans, Paisleyites harassed them on marches with shouts of the big man's name and 'one Taig [derogatory term for Catholic], no vote', and the police went wild rampaging the Bogside in Derry because Catholics had the effrontery to march through a Protestant area, which local Protestants saw as an 'invasion' (Bardon, 1992: 661). A spate of bombings were attributed to the IRA but have been shown to be the responsibility of Loyalists in order to undermine O'Neill (Farell, 1976:256; Bardon, 1992: 664). Mrs Paisley, speaking on behalf of her husband while he was in prison, announced that the bombs were the whirlwind reaped by O'Neill for his concessions to Catholics, despite the fact that the Catholic Church withdrew enthusiasm for Catholic civil rights once it saw the violence that the demand Provoked (Rafferty, 1994: 261).
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland was, however, still in its ecumenical phase at the outbreak of 'the troubles'. The Annual Report of the General Assembly in 1969 expressed grave concern at the violent response which the demand for Catholic civil rights had caused. Religious loyalties, it argued, should not be used to foster social enmity, and it was critical of politicians who used religion for party interests. Reflecting the liberal trend, the report argued that religious loyalties should instead inspire 'concern for human need, for truth and justice and reconciliation'. 'We declare ourselves ready', the report ran, 'to meet with our Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen to explore in Christian charity our mutual needs and grievances. We call upon all citizens, and all who lead public opinion, to exercise the greatest restraint in speech and action, and to make new endeavour to understand those with whom they may be in political disagreement' (Presbyterian Church in Ireland, 1969: 4). It explained the violence as the harvest of past mistrust, suspicion and non-co-operation, and it described those who attacked the civil rights marches as dishonouring the cause they profess to defend: 'a grievous betrayal of the Protestant and Presbyterian principles of civil and religious liberty and respect for conscience. Avowed enemies of Christianity could not have done more damage to the faith than the things that [they] have said and done in the name of religion' (ibid.: 6). It acknowledged the 'blood brotherhood of enmity' in the Protestant heritage in Ulster, which it compared unfavourably with the way Catholics in the South had dealt 'fairly and even generously with the members of the Protestant minority'. A ministry of reconciliation was needed, discrimination should be abolished, and the churches should not seek to impose their own convictions and principles on others. Finally, it recorded that the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism were but those between brethren belonging together to the one Church of Jesus Christ.
The polarisation that occurred with 'the troubles' saw the Presbyterian Church in Ireland undergo a conversion toward conservative evangelicalism, with a drift away from ecumenism in the direction of anti-Catholicism. The Presbyterians pulled out of the ecumenical World Council of Churches in 1980, although six ministers, including John Dunlop, Ken Newell and John Morrow, had argued since 1978 against withdrawal (the Church also withdrew from the British Council Churches in 1989); Paisley referred to the six ministers opposing isolation from ecumenism as agents of Satan. By 1986, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland was describing a concession to Catholics like the Anglo-Irish Agreement as unjust and the cause of a breakdown in the government's relationship with Protestants (ibid., 1986a: 2-3). After expressing the same wish as in 1969 for all to seek to love their neighbour and to do all that is in their power to effect reconciliation, it argued, contrary to 1969, that religious loyalties sometimes have to become politicised. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was a matter of such national importance and so unjust that 'to remain silent is to deny the prophetic nature of the church'. It gave the Irish government a say in Northern Irish affairs which would consolidate fear and apprehension, and was a 'denial of fundamental democratic rights' for Protestants. This was tame compared to what Free Presbyterians like Paisley said, but it reflects the hardening of attitudes amongst liberal churchmen arising from the changes in Protestant-Catholic relations because of terrorism and developments in Anglo-Irish relations. Involvement by the Irish Republic in Ulster's affairs raised constitutional issues and threatened the Union, while terrorism allowed an elision between anti-Catholicism and law and order issues, and it gave substance to the fear that a process of anti-Protestant ethnic cleansing was taking place.
This was inevitable given the conceptual framework through which Protestants have the world packaged and presented for them by conservative evangelicals, militant Loyalists, and Unionists. The change in Anglo-Irish relations and events during a quarter-century and more of civil unrest and terrorism were seen in terms of the images of the past. As Ruane and Todd explain it (1996: 95), Protestants were, in their world view, being pushed out of their traditional areas, even out of Ulster itself. they were under siege, beleaguered, embattled, subject to genocidal attack and ethnic cleansing (for a study of one Loyalist community where these views were widespread, see McAuley, 1994:129-36; see also interviews in Bruce, 1994j. The claim by conservative Protestants that this represents crude anti-Protestantism resonates in this climate. As Clifford Smyth expressed it in 1996, 'horror is being inflicted on war weary Ulster Protestants': 'nearly thirty years of terrorism from the mainly Roman Catholic Provisional IRA [is] aimed at forcing Ulster's Protestants into a united Ireland, where their religion, culture, language, history, traditions and sense of place - in fact everything that makes them a distinct people - will he suppressed and extinguished' (C. Smyth, 1996: 3). Letters in the columns of the Belfast Telegraph in recent years give voice to the same mind-set: 'the success of sectarian intimidation and the ethnic cleansing policies of successive Dublin governments [are] to extend to Northern Ireland'; 'the Ulster people will never accept being united with those whose hands are red with the blood of our kinsmen': 'Protestants are being culturally cleansed'; 'the campaign to suppress Protestantism increases'; 'the IRA are all devout Catholics'; 'the Pope is the anti-Christ, he believes in a united Ireland'; 'oh people of Ulster, you are God's Israel, chosen seed, God gave your forefathers this land to be a light in darkest Ireland'; 'most of the world's terrorism is committed in Roman Catholic countries'; 'our liberty, dearly bought, is being thrown away'; 'let [us] obtain an apology from the Roman Catholic Church for its involvement in the horrific massacre throughout Ulster in 1641 when at least 30,000 settlers were brutally murdered in a single day by Irish nationalists'.
Terrorism by the IRA is thus also interpreted through the lens of the past: it represents simply the latest attempt by the Catholic Church to extirpate Protestants, a continuation of a strategy begun with the 1641 massacre. Lulls in their violence or even ceasefires are illusory and not to be trusted because IRA actions are but one strategy in a universal and ongoing battle by the Catholic Church against Protestantism. Terrorism has, however, given anti-Catholicism a new twist by disguising it as an issue of law and order. It is possible to claim that it is now Catholics who are confrontational and sectarian, with Protestants as innocent, unsuspecting and bemused victims. This is a view propounded by Clifford Smyth, for example, who wrote in a letter to Cardinal Daly in 1996: 'the challenge facing the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church is to lead the Roman Catholic people out of a spirit of confrontation and aggression against their neighbours on this island, and into a spirit of acceptance' (reproduced in C. Smyth, 1996: 58). It is also now possible to claim that Catholics and the Catholic Church lack respect for law and order; indeed, that they advocate terrorism. A defence of law and order thus involves a justifiable attack on Catholicism.
There are three claims involved in this elision between anti-Catholicism and law and order. First is that the IRA is a Catholic organisation in ethos, membership, ambition and control. It is said to be run from the Vatican, works to the behest of the bishops, and intends to realise an all-Ireland Catholic state. Second, the violence and terrorism is yet more confirmation of the lawlessness, disloyalty and untrustworthiness of Catholic people because of their faith, either because Catholicism lacks moral discipline or their church uses lawlessness to fulfil its ambitions for universality. The final claim is that the Catholic Church has done little or nothing to condemn or stop the terrorism. The first two claims bear no credence, but the third is worth addressing because it is not so immediately crackpot. Its very plausibility, however, illustrates the level of deception involved in the elision between anti-Catholicism and law and order concerns.
There are two clauses to the claim: the Catholic Church has neither stopped nor condemned terrorism. An anti-Catholic caricature lies behind these beliefs, in that it is assumed that Catholics do precisely what the bishops tell them. However, the Catholic Church is not in reality the all-powerful and omnipotent organisation it is believed to be and it has been unable to stop terrorism or stem support for radical Republicanism, like Sinn Fein, despite trying. Sinn Fein's agenda for a secularised and socialist Ireland is as unattractive to the Catholic Church as Ulster Protestants, but the Catholic Church lost control of politics in the Catholic community from the I 950s onwards. The Catholic hierarchy have given their utmost support to constitutional nationalists but voters began to turn to Sinn Fein in increasing numbers from the 1956 by-election in mid-Ulster onwards. Although it was widely believed at the outbreak of civil unrest in 1968 that the Catholic Church could control nationalist politics - and the British Army sought the assistance of priests in having barricades in 'no go' areas lifted (Rafferty, 1994: 262-3) - people do not do what priests tell them. The failure of the Catholic Church to control nationalist politics is nowhere better demonstrated than during the Hunger Strikes in 1981 when even the intervention of the Pope did not prevent ten men dying, nor prevent a massive flow of electoral support to Sian Fein afterwards. Even the constitutional nationalists, like the Social and Democratic Labour Party, have distanced themselves from the Catholic Church, and Sinn Fein is heavily critical of the Catholic Church.
The main criticism of Catholicism in terms of law and order issues is the supposed failure of the Church to condemn terrorism rather than its failure to stop it. Historically, however, the Catholic Church has always distanced itself from the 'physical force' tradition and has never encouraged violence, save for odd remarks in the seventeenth century during plantation (although even then, it was not behind the 1641 massacre). Consistently since the eighteenth century it has broadly supported Irish nationalism but never Republican organisations and never violence. Partition did not alter this. The IRA was resoundly condemned during the war of independence and the 1922 campaign. In October 1931, the bishops repeated their pastoral warning against Republican groups, mentioning the IRA and Saor Eire specifically. It was a theme Cardinal MacRory frequently returned to throughout the decade (see Rafferty, 1994: 231). Political violence was described by one bishop as the 'very gravest of sins against the law of God'; the army council of the IRA wrote to MacRory complaining of such pronouncements. The IRA's 1950s campaign, coinciding with an electoral breakthrough of Sinn Fein, alarmed the Catholic Church. Bishops D'Alton and Farren said that the violence only achieved bitterness, and a statement read at all masses in January 1956 solemnly denounced violence: indeed, the Catholic Church outlined in this statement a position on the use of force that was similar to Northern Protestants. Their covenantal theology legitimated resistance when against the evil men who were disowning the social and political arrangements supposedly ordained by God, while the Catholic Church argued that 'sacred Scripture gives the right to bear the sword and to use it against evil doers to the supreme authority, and to it alone' (quoted in ibid.: 251). It also declared in January 1956 that, 'it is a mortal sin for a Catholic to become or remain a member of an organisation which arrogates to itself the right to bear arms; it is sinful for a Catholic to co-operate with, express approval of, or otherwise assist any such organisation' (quoted in Cooke, 1996: 62-3). Lord Brookeborough welcomed the statement but added churlishly (and inaccurately) that he regretted it had not been made before. It came a few months before Paisley used vivid and violent imagery in The Revivalist: 'action speaks louder than words, and it is action - aggressive, militant, uncompromising action - which alone can save us. Oh for the sword of Gideon to slay the apostates and rid the land of tyrants': and this in response to education reform proposals which he felt sold 'Ulster Protestants down the river'.
The denunciations of violence by Catholic bishops have increased with the prolonged and violent IRA campaign since 1968, to a point where the bishops declared, in 1975, that 'our vocabulary of moral condemnation has been virtually exhausted'; no more stronger words were available to say 'unequivocally that it is utterly immoral' (quoted in Rafferty, 1994: 272). But the early years of 'the troubles' were problematic for the Northern hierarchy. Their flock had become politicised, widening the gulf between the Catholic Church and Catholic communities in the North, and the deterioration in law and order affected the partisanship of some priests. On an occasion early in 'the troubles', when one bishop preached against the IRA and told Catholics to stop supporting them, his house was surrounded by an angry crowd. The bishops refused to denounce internment and the Catholic Church on many occasions risked Republican anger. But in as much as the bishops lacked the Power over ordinary Catholics that is ascribed to them, they also occasionally failed to influence the clergy, and in the early period of 'the troubles' there were demands from some priests for stronger statements in favour of Irish nationalism and weaker ones condemning violence. The Ulster Branch of the Association of Irish Priests, for example. wanted the hierarchy to condemn internment as immoral and a violation of basic human rights, although Paisley also criticised it when it meant the internment of Protestants (Cooke, 1996: 171). The official position of the bishops remained, but the actions of the priests have imprinted on the memory of critics of the Catholic Church. Actions by a few pro-IRA priests feature prominently in anti-Catholicism, but this loses sight of the small proportion they comprise and that it mostly occurred at the beginning, when violence by Loyalist paramilitaries and the British Army made it appear that the Catholic community was under siege. Two monks, for example, tried to assist escaping internees (see Rafferty, 1994: 267), and were fined £600. There was a general politicisation of the lower clergy in the first years of the civil unrest, and forty announced in April 1971 that they intended to boycott the 1971 census. Four months later the first priest was shot dead by the British Army while giving the last rites to another of their victims; a Church of Ireland bishop was condemned by the vestry of his diocese for attending the funeral since it was 'incompatible with the teaching of the church' to attend a Catholic mass. In December the Association of Irish Priests issued a statement supporting a united Ireland, and the following month a group of sixty priests disputed the view of the bishops that armed resistance could never be justified. Coogan's study of the IRA records that one priest went to the army council asking them to assassinate Paisley (Coogan, 1995: xiii). Rafferty reports that some lower clergy were disgruntled at the moderate stance taken by their bishops (Rafferty, 1994: 268), although greater numbers denounced violence and called upon Catholics, for example, to support the security forces. An interview with veteran Republican Jimmy Drumm, the most interned man in the British Isles, who has been interned in every decade from the 1930s to the 1970s, revealed that in his estimate, the IRA received most opposition from the Catholic Church. Priests refused them the sacraments, bishops influenced priests to be hostile, and he claimed that no priest was ever a member of the IRA.
The lower clergy began to be depoliticised with direct rule in 1972, which the Catholic Church welcomed, and the escalation in the barbarism during the early 1970s, with the arrival of no-warning civilian attacks by both sets of paramilitaries. The scenes of devastation on days like 'Black Friday', when the IRA let off twenty-two no-warning bombs on civilian targets, appalled priests. and there were ecumenical services held on the sites, although Paisley abused them in the Protestant Telegraph as 'ecumenical stunts' and reminded readers that 'Rome is behind the troubles that is an indisputable fact'. But the violence ended any romantic notions priests had about the IRA. Later in 1972, for example, groups of clergy in Belfast and Derry called on the IRA to stop the violence, and bishops took to visiting internees and prisoners in the hope of persuading them to use their experience to encourage colleagues on the outside to desist (Rafferty, 1994: 271), although writing in Protestant Telegraph Paisley asserted that this merely confirmed that the 'Provisional IRA is in reality the armed wing of the Roman Catholic Church. Its real aim is to annihilate Protestantism'. The Catholic Church signed up to a joint declaration by all the main churches in 1976 which stated that Christians had a prima facie moral obligation to support the authorities in Ireland, North and South, against paramilitary forces; Free Presbyterians did not attend the meetings to draw up the declaration. Some priests refused burial services to dead terrorists, others agreed only if there were no Republican emblems. 'Paramilitary funerals' have thus been rare, and in 1975 Edward Daly, Bishop of Derry, warned the IRA that there would be a total ban on funerals unless Republican paraphernalia was removed from the coffin before being brought into church (ibid.: 272). However, the Catholic Church was sending out conflicting messages by the end of the decade. On the one hand Tomas O'Fiaich, as the new Cardinal, called in 1979 for British withdrawal, while during his visit to Ireland the same year, the new Pope issued a passioned plea for peace:
[violence] is unacceptable as a solution to problems. Violence is a lie [It] destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings. Peace cannot be established by violence, peace can never flourish in a climate of terror. Nobody may ever call murder by another name than murder. I appeal to you in language of passionate pleading. On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and return to the ways of peace. Violence only delays the days of justice.
This was said despite the claim of the Orange Order that the Pope acquiesced in the rape of Ulster and in the murder of its citizens, and some Northern Presbyterians refused to meet him because of 'theological differences'. The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland reminded people that Catholicism 'is the negation of the gospel of Christ'. Paisley also criticised the visit and took another opportunity to proclaim the Pope as the antiChrist, 'the man of sin in the Church'. On this occasion he added, inaccurately, that the papacy had been behind the 1916 Easter Rising.
Cardinal O'Fiaich's stance was a minority position, however. Cabal Daly, later himself to replace O'Fiaich as leader of Irish Catholicism, took a strong line against the IRA. At the time at which the Cardinal was urging British withdrawal, meeting with Sinn Fein, and comparing the conditions in Long Kesh to that of the homeless in Calcutta, Daly took his lead from the Pope and told the IRA and Sinn Fein that the Catholic Church would not support the right to political status for terrorist prisoners. The IRA's was an 'immoral and anti-national campaign which respected no one's rights' (see Rafferty, 1994: 278). Both Daly and O'Fiaich, however, urged the hunger strikers, protesting at the removal of political status, to relent; so did the Pope, and all were ignored. The death of the first hunger striker was not marked by a public mass for him in his diocese. It was a Catholic priest who eventually negotiated an end to the protest (see Beresford, 1987), and Daly later issued the following pastoral letter: 'no end, however good, can ever justify means which are evil ... when the means are evil, the ends they achieve will be evil also. This is nothing to do with politics. This is a question of morality' (reproduced in Daly, 1983: 14-15). In short, violence is sinful. This became hegemonic when Cahal Daly assumed the position of Cardinal on O'Fiaich's death in 1990. In 1991 he wrote categorically of Republican paramilitary organisations: 'no faithful Catholic can claim that there is moral justification for the violence of these organisations' (Daly, 1991: 52-3). He said this at a time when Paisley was writing about what he called 'the Roman Catholic Irish Republican Army'. But perhaps the final remark to quell the idea that the Catholic Church has not condemned IRA terrorism could be left to Edward Daly, Bishop of Derry, speaking in 1986, when some Protestant clergymen and preachers, amongst others, were threatening, advocating and, in some cases, participating in violence in protest against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Daly wrote in the Irish Voice that men of violence and their supporters lived totally contrary to the teachings of Jesus, and he warned them in words which were also relevant to the Protestant churchmen who were associating with acts of violence at the time:
If you wish to choose the devil rather than Christ, be honest
with yourselves and declare yourselves to be no longer Christians
because your lives and your actions are utterly inconsistent.
If you cannot accept Christ's words and teachings or utterly reject
him, then leave Him, leave Christ.
Anti-Catholicism in the Late 1990s
Direct rule has limited the extent to which anti-Catholicism permeates Northern Ireland's social structure because Protestants no longer control the local state, but it continues at the levels of ideas and behaviour. It also exists outside the ideas and behaviour of the prominent leaders of Northern Irish Protestantism and Unionism, and can be found in the comments and conduct of ordinary people who do not feature in historical narratives. Here I will demonstrate some of the more mundane reproductions of anti-Catholic ideas and behaviour in the last decade of the second millennium, nearly five centuries after the Reformation.
Anti-Catholicism has political and theological expressions in the comments of ordinary people today, but is primarily oriented to local political concerns. However, the formulaic phrases grounded in theology are reproduced in interviews. A middle-aged male Free Presbyterian said of the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, 'it is a false church based on a lot of tradition ... the Church of Rome will head for the judgement of God, as it says in Revelation 17'. An interviewee with the same background said much the same: 'I don't believe in the Church of Rome, their doctrines and what they teach, yet I do believe there are Christians in it, but they should come out of it ... I believe the Roman Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon, a system which is contrary to the word of God.' A trainee minister in the Presbyterian Church expressed only a slightly more liberal view: 'I see the Roman Church as a Christian church in error. I believe there are people who are saved or born again within that Church, but the church itself isn't in standing with the Christian community as such, and would need reform.' Another Presbyterian ministry student said that 'evangelical Catholics need to withdraw from that Church'.
Ecumenism is anathema to these sorts of respondents. A Free Presbyterian said: 'I could not sacrifice biblical doctrine because of unity. A man would have to believe in the doctrines I love in order to truly have fellowship.' Another said 'I honestly have no time for the ecumenical movement ... To me there can be no reconciliation between what Rome teaches and the Scriptures. I don't believe light can have any fellowship with darkness.' Ecumenism was to blame, according to one Free Presbyterian, for all the ills of Northern Ireland: 'the ecumenical movement is set for a one-world Church. There'd be no leader but the Pope. That's why the country's in the state it's in. People are confused, all these ecumenical services where it doesn't matter what you believe, anything goes.' A trainee minister for the Presbyterian Church was in favour of ecumenism so long as it was restricted to Protestant churches: 'I have no problem with ecumenism within Protestant denominations, but I would see areas where the Protestant churches should not be working with the Catholic Church ... In the Protestant churches the word of God would be central to our worship, I'm not sure that's central to the Roman Catholic tradition.' However, a middle-aged Baptist woman said of such attitudes: 'I'd love to see one Church, we could all be Christians together. I think ecumenism is frowned upon because they don't know exactly what is involved in it. I'd love to see all denominations worshipping together, I would include the Catholic Church.'
The letters pages of local newspapers often give vent to theological disputes, especially at critical junctures in wider Protestant-Catholic relations. Following a high-profile ecumenical event in 1995, readers were reminded by one letter-writer that, 'the Roman Catholic system is not only imperfect it is unreformable. Its very foundation is built on erroneous revelation ... Catholicism is not Christian.' Another correspondent argued, following the same event, 'Bible-believing Christians should not be sitting down in fellowship with Roman Catholics'. Any shift away from biblical truth amongst conservative evangelicals pours forth people pointing out the error. The attendance at an ecumenical event of a particular Presbyterian minister who had strong connections with the Orange Order, provoked much advice about the risk to his salvation. By his attendance he had been sinful, and contravened the Orange Order oath: 'he should strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome and scrupulously avoid countenancing any act or ceremony of popish worship'. The furore provoked by the Irish Republic's President, Mary McAleese, receiving Communion, as a Catholic, in a Protestant church in December 1997, led to a spate of letters. It put some conservative evangelical correspondents in a difficult position. The criticism of President McAleese by the Catholic hierarchy, for trying, as Monsignor Denis Faul put it, to impossibly serve two churches, two brides and two loyalties at the same time, only confirmed them in their suspicion that the Catholic Church is imperialist and unreformed in believing itself the one true church, even though only 12 per cent of ordinary Catholics supported the hierarchy's criticism in a public opinion poll, while also confirming for them that ecumenism is a 'Romeward trend' from which nothing good can come.
Mostly, however, articulations of anti-Catholicism by ordinary people link it to various political conspiracies and events. In interviews conducted during 1997, many respondents felt Catholicism to be a political phenomenon not a religion. As one Free Presbyterian said: 'the Roman Catholic Church is a political organisation. The Vatican is a political state.' Another member of the same denomination said: 'the Church of Rome is involved in politics ... I think Rome has a big say in the back room.' An elderly Presbyterian businessman described Catholicism as fascist, which he compared to the 'tremendous amount of free thought' in Presbyterianism, commenting, without seeing any irony, 'we tolerate people with diverse views'. While Catholicism was inclined to fascism, for another interviewee Protestantism inclined to Unionism: 'Unionism is based around the historic fact of Great Britain's system of government being based around Christianity. The Irish Republic is anti-English, anti-Protestant, which is why I believe Unionism is right.' This is why one Free Presbyterian said charmingly, 'I would have no problem with a united Ireland if it was under British rule ... [but] I believe it would be a Roman Catholic dominated hing, the British way of life would be what I would favour.' However, other respondents did not feel that Unionism was anointed by God, 'I don't think it's a case of "For God and Ulster".' Interviews undertaken by Duncan Morrow amongst Protestants in the Portadown area following the stand-off at Drumcree in 1996, which saw widespread disorder before the Orange Order was permitted to walk the Garvaghy Road, show the fears ordinary Protestants have of Catholicism's alleged political activity (Morrow, 1997). 'It's a land thing', one said, 'the Protestants here are afraid of being taken over. They see the border creeping down and there's no place to run' (ibid.: 14). 'I just feel the Protestants are losing their foothold. I feel that the government is always trying to woo Sinn Fein' (ibid.); 'there's a suspicion here. They don't trust the Roman Catholics. They've all lost relations. They tend to equate Roman Catholicism with republicanism' (ibid.: 19); 'there's a real fear of Roman Catholicism and its imperialist methods. They're seen as wanting to dominate' (ibid.: 31). Thus it was that 'King Rat', a Loyalist in Portadown who was connected with the Loyalist Volunteer Force before his assassination, allegedly killed a Queen's graduate, Michael McGoldrick, in response to Drumcree because he was the nearest available Catholic.
Such is the commode-like quality of anti-Catholicism, that all issues can be interpreted as evidence of the political malevolence of the Catholic Church. Writing in the letters column of the Belfast Telegraph on 31 July 1996, one correspondent from Portadown said that the Drumcree stand-off between the RUC and the Orange Order proved that Roman Catholicism is the 'supreme embodiment of fascism The Roman Church seeks to regain its spiritual and social ascendancy in Europe.' Although it was the Orange Order who did battle with the police, and Loyalists who rampaged throughout Northern Ireland when the Orange Order was initially refused permission to march, Drumcree supposedly saw Catholicism at its worst, secretly, surreptitiously working in the background to defeat Protestantism and Unionism. Thus, one of Morrow's interviewees said that the 1996 stand-off was necessary because it was a zero-sum conflict between 'them or us': 'in Drumcree, if we lost we'd lose everything. We've given and given and given and we've nothing in return. The whole problem was the Roman Catholic Church; their church backs them' (Morrow, 1997: 46). In 1997, when the Orange Order was allowed to march down Garvaghy Road for the third year in succession and this time Catholics went on the rampage, the Catholic Church was blamed again for orchestrating the disorder. 'Fascism, the child of Romanism is not dead', said a speaker to the Independent Orange Order in Ballycastle on 12 July 1997. The IRA was described as 'the Beast of Roman fascism', and the speaker went on to say that eight out of ten Protestants in the South had been eliminated - 'shades of Hitler' - and Protestants in the North could expect the same from residents groups who challenged the right of Orangemen to march.
The high level of fancy involved in this historical fiction shows how the issue of Orange marches in the late 1 990s touches something more important than space and territory, for it is being interpreted by Protestants in terms of the age-old elision between space, territory and identity. A denial of the right to march by residents groups is seen as a denial of Protestant identity and heritage; the defence of the right to march is a defence both of Union and Protestantism. The right to march is thus understood in terms of the same two antinomies that have governed Protestant identity since plantation, for marching is an expression of Britishness (against Irishness) and Protestantism (against Catholicism). Hence, anti-Catholicism is an inevitable byproduct of the marching issue. The defence of the right to march is given an anti-Catholic spin, and attacks on residents groups which deny this right feature abusive anti-Catholicism.
This is illustrated well by demonstrations like those at Harryville, in Ballymena, where a Catholic church had been surrounded by Loyalists and Orangemen and women for nearly two years, with worshippers harassed, intimidated and abused at the church, in protest at the denial of the right to march. The protest is presented as a response to the actions of the residents in Dunloy, assisted by the RUC, who successfully challenged the right of Orangemen to march through the Catholic village, a few miles from Ballymena. But the fact that the protest focuses on a Catholic church in nearby Ballymena, the heart of the fundamentalist 'Bible belt' in Ulster, reveals the anti-Catholicism wrapped up in it. During a sermon in Ballymena, a visiting pastor, Alan Campbell, argued that what is really going on in Hanyville is the ancient battle between the true Church, Protestantism, and the Whore, the Beast, and the Baal worshippers within Catholicism He told listeners that this had to be a battle to the finish, and one which the Harryville worshippers had to lose to avoid Protestantism suffering a major defeat and Romanism and ecumenism a triumph. In Campbell's mind-set the marching issue represents an 'orchestrated campaign by Romanism to face Protestantism down', an example of 'bigoted Romanist sectarianism'. The defence of space and territory in Dunloy thus becomes translated as an issue of identity fought out in Harryville. The protesters supposedly were representatives of the true Church, with an illustrious heritage of ancestors burned alive because they would not worship the wafer God; they were Protestant, loyalist, Unionist and British. The Catholic church subject to the protest was referred to continually as a 'Romish mass house', and worshippers abused by being called 'Ballymena Papists', 'Romanists', 'Baal worshippers', 'Republicans', and 'worshippers of a wafer God'. The police who protected the worshippers from the baying crowds were 'guardians of the wafer God', and Protestants who joined the worshippers in a show of support were ecumenists 'kissing and hugging papists', who had 'allied themselves to God's enemies', 'playing footsie with the Beast, Scarlet Woman, Mother of Harlots and Baal worshippers'.
The absorption of space and territory into identity is reflected in other incidents in the late 1990s where Protestants have defended a locality against what is seen as encroaching Irishness and Catholicism, the antinomies against which Protestants define their identity. Thus, in June 1997, residents in a working-class Protestant area drew on such themes to understand the social changes affecting their area as a result of the operation of the housing market. The area is near to Queen's University and two hospitals and has become a popular location for students and young professionals. House prices have risen, properties have been converted to flats, outsiders are moving in, and local families feel squeezed. However, these processes were presented to residents in terms of the identity concerns of Britishness and Protestantism. Posters were displayed in the area saying that Loyalist people have 'tolerated long enough the nationalist scum that have flooded into the area due to the unscrupulous behaviour of greedy landlords'. The detrimental effects this had on the Loyalist community were understood as increasing the risk to them from Republican terrorists. 'Do you know who lives next door to you', the poster asked, and it went on to warn that it is 'unwise to have a nationalist as a neighbour and even worse to befriend them'. 'As from 12 noon on the 1 July 1997,' the poster read, 'the Loyalist people will no longer be able to guarantee the safety of any nationalist who chooses to remain within the area, nor can they guarantee the safety of any property where nationalists are dwelling.' It was perceived by others as a Catholic witch-hunt.
Because identity is treated as equivalent to space and territory, the boycott issue 2 has also become an expression of anti-Catholicism (and anti-Irishness). The boycott strategy was employed in Northern Ireland in the twentieth century first by Protestants who sought to advantage Protestant unemployed during the 1 930s, although it goes back to the nineteenth century when Catholics used it first in the dispute over evictions. However, it was used effectively in some local areas after the 1996 Drumcree stand-off, when some Catholics boycotted the businesses of Orangemen who had been allowed by force to march in Catholics areas. To someone like Clifford Smyth, however, boycotts represented an attack on Protestant space and territory by denying Protestants their livelihood, forcing them from areas where they had long been, which was an attack on their identity. In his pamphlet on the boycott in 1996, Smyth claims that the strategy is prophesied in Scripture as a feature of the 'beast system' and the antiChrist, understood to be Catholicism and the Pope, which are using the strategy to suppress and extinguish Protestantism in Ulster (C. Smyth, 1996: 3). It is, he says, 'silent ethnic cleansing' by pushing Protestants from areas formerly their own, and represents the latest example of the Roman Catholic community's persecution of Protestants: it is 'terrorism without the sound of exploding bombs', and represents an attack on the Britishness and Protestantism of Ulster. Amongst the claims made in advancing the argument are that the IRA is Catholic (ibid.: 3) and supported by the Catholic hierarchy and priests (ibid: 27), that Catholicism is the antiChrist (ibid.: 2, 30), that it is linked to international conspiracies like the rise of Nazism (ibid.: 12-13), that it predisposes believers to violence (ibid.: 25), that it dupes and intoxicates the unsuspecting (ibid.: 30), and that Catholics are always whining and complaining, never being satisfied (ibid.: 62). An attack was made also on Irishness, with the Republic supposedly ignoring the 'sufferings of those who refuse to embrace' an Irish identity (ibid.: 17), there was a process of Hibernicisation of culture in Ulster (ibid.: 26), and that it was only with plantation that a Christian culture was introduced in Ireland (ibid.: 34). He ended his analysis by predicting civil war in Ulster (ibid.: 36) unless people embraced Protestant, Christ-centred religion.
One of the saddest manifestations of the elision between space,
territory and identity was the murder of Bernadette Martin in
July 1997. She was a young Catholic who had a Protestant boyfriend,
at whose house in an overwhelmingly Protestant village she occasionally
slept. Bernadette was invading space and territory, and thus this
harmless teenager, whose father said at her funeral that she did
not even know who the Provisional IRA were, was killed in the
dead of night, with four bullets pumped into the back of her head,
simply because she threatened the Protestantness of the village.
Five days later an IRA ceasefire was announced, although her murderers
were Loyalists supposedly already under a ceasefire. The IRA ceasefire
was ridiculed by the leading churchmen and politicians of the
conservative evangelical and militantly Unionist tradition on
grounds that it imperilled the Union and threatened Protestantism.
A Baptist woman could have spoken to the churchmen who said thus,
when in one of our interviews in 1997 she remarked: 'if political
parties want to call themselves "Christian", they need
to take their Bibles a bit more seriously and love one another
instead of always looking to the past'.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
Last modified :