Anthony  D  Buckley

'"We're trying to find our identity": uses of history among Ulster Protestants.’

By Anthony D Buckley

In Elizabeth Tonkin, Maryon McDonald and Malcolm Chapman (eds) History and ethnicity, 1989, ASA Monographs 27 Routledge, London, 183-191.


It is old but it is beautiful.

Its colours they are fine.

It was worn at Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen and the Boyne.

My father wore it as a youth

As in bygone days of yore.

On the Twelfth of July I long to wear

The Sash my father wore.

(traditional song)


 . . We Ulster people have an identity of our own, separate from the so-called Irish identity that everybody's trying to foist upon us against our will. . . . We just drifted on. We were neither English or Irish or anything, and we lost our own identity, and our own culture, our own folk-heritage. . . . And we've a part to play . . . by showing them their origins.

(Alan Campbell, leader of the Covenant People's Fellowship, UFTM R86-224)


In Ulster there are to be found several specifically 'Protestant' versions of history explicitly related to the present conflict between Catholics and Protestants, nationalists and unionists. One such tradition is associated with the various 'Orange' brotherhoods. Another is a prophetic tradition found chiefly among fundamentalists. Among this group are the 'British Israelites' who claim to be descended from Abraham and Jacob. And there are also people who claim that Ulster Protestants are descended from the Pictish `Cruthin' who inhabited prehistoric Ireland. All of these groups and individuals (and my list is not exhaustive) are competing to achieve a degree of political or intellectual leadership in specific segments of Ulster Protestant society.

This article will examine something of the breadth of Ulster Protestant attitudes to history. My suggestion is that when this history is directly related to ethnicity it is used in at least three differentiable ways: as a rhetorical commentary that either justifies or condemns; as a 'charter' for action; and as a focus for allegiance. Not all popular history in Ulster is directly intended to uphold the interests of one ethnic group against another (Buckley, 1982; 1983a) and in concrete situations, a supposedly sectarian history can often be used for quite a variety of diverse purposes (Buckley, 1986). Nevertheless, there are to be found in Ulster widely known versions of history identified with specific ethnic groups, and it is these that will be considered here.

When history is used as a political rhetoric, the accounts of the past implicitly (or explicitly) generate 'descriptive models' (Caws, 1974) of the present. Such histories typically uphold the claims of one's own 'side' to power, prestige, and influence in the present while stigmatizing one's opponents. Rhetoric of this kind seems usually to have one of two forms, both depending upon principles of reciprocity. The first consists of a list of the past grievances of the social group awaiting redress. The second makes an assertion of the superiority of one's own group. Here the impli¬cation may be that because one's group is superior (in talents, divine favour, culture, etc.), it makes a greater contribution to the general wel¬fare, and it is therefore entitled to greater rewards. Van den Berghe (1981:9ff.) dismisses such ideology as 'deceit'. Sometimes, indeed, there may be dishonesty, and criteria of truth employed by one faction are not always acceptable to another. Often, however, such historical discussion takes place within earshot of rivals or possible allies who demand some degree of plausibility according to the locally universal standards.

History's second major use is as a 'charter' (Malinowski, 1963; Bohan¬nan, 1952). Here, a set of archetypical situations provides rules or guide¬lines for acting in the present. It is sometimes proper to regard such `operational models' (Caws, 1974) as having also a rhetorical function for they can 'bridge the gap between the "sacred" rhetorical world of legit¬imated and unquestioned values and the mundane world of questionable behaviour and problematic experience' (Cohen, 1975:14). Here, however, the history is less of a commentary upon the present, and more of a practical pattern that may be imitated.

In the third of these uses of history, commemorations of historical events in, for example, processions or rituals can provide a focus for ethnic allegiance. They thus form part of the interactive process whereby ethnic boundaries are daily defined and recreated (Barth, 1969). The definition of Ulster's ethnicities is complex, but it includes both descent and religious `belief '. Of these, the first is the more important (Jenkins, 1986; see also Horowitz, 1985:53ff; Van den Berghe, 1981:19ff) and depends largely upon endogamy. Endogamy effectively defines the two groups in Ulster practically and intellectually. Practically, it restricts important kinship-based activities to one's own 'side' (Donnan and McFarlane, 1986:26). Intellectually, it gives substance to the idea that modern Protestants and Catholics are lineal descendants of the seventeenth-century 'planters' and

`Gaels'. Definition by 'belief ', however, identifies Ulster's ethnic groin with such categories of person as British or continental co-religionists pa and present, and indeed with others such as Old Testament figures, wit whom there is not necessarily any alleged or real biological kinship.

Versions of history that are explicitly 'Protestant' reflect the interests of the sometimes divergent Protestant factions that propound or might be interested in them. The views examined here reflect one of the more important (but not always clearly defined) disagreements among Ulster Protestants, that between fundamentalists, and those people whom fundamentalists disparage as merely 'religious'. This distinction is reflected (though again not precisely) in the active membership of the two main unionist political parties. The sectional claims of these and other groups, however, are made by propounding justifications for the goals of the Protestant ethnic group considered as a whole.


Irish history: seventeenth century and beyond.

The nationalist background

As Ulster Protestant ethnicity is irredeemably linked to Catholic ethnicity, so is loyalist history related to nationalist history. Nationalist history classically portrays an opposition between Britain and Ireland, planter and Gael as one between oppressor and oppressed. Scholarly nationalist histories have appeared throughout this century, whence their ideas have passed into school text books and the general consciousness. Modern historians (e.g. Bowen, 1970; Connell, 1968; Connolly, 1982; Stewart, 1977) still think them important enough to be worth systematic 'revision'.

The central events of this nationalist history (see for example Biggar, 1910; Green, 1908; O'Brian, 1918; O'Hegarty, 1949) arise out of successive invasions of Ireland, the most important of which was byBritain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These invasions were undertaken with great ferocity (Green, 1908:114), replacing Irish landownership with British. The British removed the rights of tenants (Biggar, 1910:5-6; Green, 1908:118ff). They systematically disrupte industry and trade (Green, 1908:123ff; O'Brian, 1918:383ff). Legal d Irish  restrictions were imposed upon Catholics. And England is popularly blamed for the 'decline' of the Irish 'culture' found in the Irish language, in ancient texts and in folklore (Foster, 1982; Delargy 1945187; Kennedy, 1891; O'Sullivan, 1966). Injustices continued into the nineteenth century. Independence was the solution, but even this was spoiled by the partition of Ireland and by the discriminatory laws and practices of the artificially created 'majority' in the north. The extent of this discrimination is still hotly debated (Hewitt, 1981; 1983; 1985; O'Hearn, 1983; 1985).

Irish nationalist history, therefore, contains a catalogue of grievances whose rhetorical force lies in the reciprocity principle. Since the British (or 'planters') stole the land of their Irish forefathers; since they destroyed Ireland's trade, despoiled its culture, and suppressed its religion, then Irish people have at least the right to claim their land back, to press for the reunification of their island, and to claim fair and equal treatment. In short, Irish history is seen to contain so many injustices perpetrated against native Irishmen by successive generations of British governments and planters, that the nationalists who are their heirs can lay claim to the rhetorical high ground of moral advantage against the putative descendants of their oppressors (see Boyce, 1982:306).

Irish nationalist history has also generated a pantheon of heroes who have withstood this oppression. Among them are O'More, Sarsfield, Grat¬tan, O'Connell, Parnell, Connolly, the Defenders, Ribbonmen, Land Leaguers, and many others. History, therefore, provides Irish nationalism not only with a range of historic ills requiring redress in the present, but also with 'inspiration', i.e. a plethora of legitimate operational models from which to choose actions appropriate to their remedy.


Orange approaches to the seventeenth century

As the seventeenth century is important to nationalists, so also is it to Protestants. Not least this is because the celebration of its events provides them with their most politically charged folk festivals. These are associated with the different Orange brotherhoods (Buckley, 1985-6), although the parades and their significance are widely and popularly known. Most famously, on the Twelfth of July, the Protestant Orange Order celebrates the defeat of the Catholic James II at the hands of William III. On the 13th of July, County Armagh Royal Black Institution, whose members are drawn from the Orange Order, hold a well-attended 'Sham Fight' (Dewar, 1956) in which, with much shotgun fire and mock sword-fighting, James II is similarly 'defeated'. And in August and December, the `Apprentice Boys of Derry' celebrate the victorious siege; of Derry, by marching around the city's walls.

Of all these historical events, this siege has the greatest symbolic significance (Buckley, 1984). It occurred when, in the face of indecision by the city governor, Lundy, Apprentice Boys shut the gates against the advancing James. Lundy escaped by stealth, in consequence of which his huge 16-ft effigy is burned as part of the celebrations each December.

Although it is not central, the rhetorical element in all this cannot be ignored. The siege of Derry can be conceptualized in the Levi-Straussian (Levi-Strauss, 1956) manner as a structure of opposites, in which the wicked, uncivilized, tyrannical, and 'rough' people outside the walls con¬front the good, civilized, freedom-loving, 'religious' people within. In the siege, the 'rough' behaviour of the Apprentice Boys (and by implication that of their successors) is 'mediated' by that fact that it is undertaken in defence of civilization, freedom, religion, and other high ideals (Buckley,1984; 1987). This 'mediation', however, is better described as a 'justification' (Cohen, 1975:13-14). The implied rhetoric here is consonant with another idea that I have heard many individuals separately state, viz 'nobody expects that America should be given back to the Indians' (or Australia to the Aborigines). In part, this familiar statement is a plea to let bygones be bygones: 'it all

happened a long time ago'. In part, however, it also contains an imperialist rhetoric, that Protestants in Ireland, like White people in America, Australia, and elsewhere in the British Empire, have been the bringers of Christianity and civilization. These views reflect popular Protestant stereotypes that stigmatize Catholics (like other 'natives') as superstitious, untidy, and feckless in comparison with Protestant rationality, tidiness,

and hard work (see Donnan and McFarlane, 1986; Harris, 1972:Chapter 8). It is an old argument found, for example in Harrison's The Scot in Ulster (1888:33ff, 48) but it is found in modern publications (e.g. UYUC, 1986).

Despite the existence of this implied rhetoric, this is not really to beregarded as the main purpose of these important commemorative proces¬sions. For rhetorical purposes, Protestants tend to emphasize more recent history. They therefore argue that since the 1920s Catholics have failed to accept the democratic will of the majority,2 and have instead subverted the state using even violent means. Thus Protestants, too, have a catalogue of grievances against nationalists, some of them deeply felt, but the list that they nowadays use tends to start in the 1920s.

More important than their implied rhetoric, these celebrations also embody a set of rules or guidelines for action. The events being remembered are the ones that, above all, established a 'Protestant ascendancy' in Ireland. They therefore provide practical models for the reaffirmation of Protestant power. The guidelines are most succinctly contained in such slogans as Not an Inch' or 'No Surrender', frequently quoted from politi¬cal platforms, and identified with the Williamite Wars. They evoke, too, memories of lesser battles, of the Diamond, Glencoe, Machen, and Dolly's Brae, and especially the campaigns of Carson and the Ulster Volunteers, which kept Ulster from the Irish Republic (Dewar, Brown, and Long, c. 1967; McClelland, 1973). These lesser incidents, like the stories of the Williamite Wars themselves, do not seriously attempt to justify Protestant claims except by the mildest of implication. They are used, rather, as models for action.

The various processions also contain a strong Durkheimian element (especially Durkheim, 1915). Solidarity is affirmed between bystanders and marchers and their putative ancestors who shared a concern to uphold Protestant monarchy. This demonstration of cohesion is also intended to show strength and determination against others. In many Orange halls hangs the portrait of William Johnson of Ballykilbeg. Johnson, in 1864, broke a government ban on Orange processions (Dewar, Brown, and Long, c. 1967:141) and his memory is evoked whenever attempts are made to reroute or prohibit processions (as happened, for example in 1985-6). As the gates of Derry were slammed against the wishes of the governor, and as William Johnson defied the government by marching, so, today, Ulster loyalists strive to resist 'Rome Rule' (an echo of Carson's campaign) by resisting compromise by British governments and by other waverers. The processions not only commemorate, but are themselves examples of the defiant strength modelled upon that exhibited in the past.


Biblical history: the chosen few

The Arch Purple and Black Institutions

The Orange Order, the Royal Arch Purple Chapter and the Royal Black Institution are comparable in organizational structure to the different bodies within Freemasonry (Buckley, 1985-6). When a man has been initiated into a lodge of the Orange Order, he may be invited to enter the corresponding chapter of the Royal Arch Purple, whence he may be asked to enter a Black preceptory where he will be initiated into each of eleven degrees. Membership of the Orange Order has long been recruited from a wide cross-section of Protestant men. Until recently, no unionist politician could have become a member of either the Stormont or Imperial Parlia¬ments without being a member. The Black Institution is almost universally regarded as more 'respectable' than the Orange Order, and is drawn from Orangemen of a somewhat higher social status than the average.'

The initiation rites of the Arch Purple and Black Institutions consist centrally in the retelling and re-enactment of prescribed Bible stories, and such stories, usually, but not always those used in the rituals, are also painted on the banners carried by Black preceptories on their parades. In a representative sample of banner paintings and other materials relating to Black symbolism and ritual (discussed in much greater detail in Buckley, 1985-6), I discovered that of seventeen different texts employed in these various contexts, fourteen had remarkably similar themes.3 The dominant framework is of an individual or group in favour with God confronting alien peoples. Some of these 'aliens' are wicked people, as in the story of Noah; some uphold a rival religion, as in the contest of Elijah with the prophets of Baal; others are mainly foreigners. The stories emphasize faithfulness. Someone who is loyal to God is likely to prosper or be rescued from his enemies or from God's wrath. He may gain a victory as did David against the overwhelming strength of Goliath. When a heathen or foreigner changes allegiance and turns to God, as did Rahabor Ruth, that person may also be saved from destruction or become prosperous. But where, as with Ahab, one of God's chosen people turns to foreign gods, he must expect ruin. Thus do the different texts explore variations upon the same theme. This theme is the encounter between heathens or foreigners and God's chosen people. Though it is never stated as a dogma, the metaphorical implication here is that, like Israel and Judah, Ulster Protestants are 'God's Chosen Few'.

It is clear that, like the Williamite Wars, the biblical texts provide a set of practical models useful to those who confront the alien, apostate, or merely wicked. By obvious implications the stories recommend that Protestants should avoid marrying the daughters of their enemies; be loyal to their religion; welcome heathens who turn to the true religion; fight against all the odds; and trust in God.

If, however, these Williamite and biblical histories have similarities one to another, they are not identical. The siege of Derry, for example, is similar to that of Jericho, but its details are quite different. It is not useful to think of Ulster Protestants as somehow 'trapped by their history', for their history provides them with not one 'historical charter',but a whole range of operational models for dealing with their opponents. (Santino, 1983 argues similarly in relation to anecdotes.) The Blackman, in particular, who is already familiar with the history of King William, who has also `been through', and taken many others 'through' the rites of the Arch Purple and Black Institutions, has acquired from this history much 'food for thought'.


Fundamentalist history

There is a multitude of small Protestant denominations in Ulster whose theology can be classified as 'fundamentalist'. Fundamentalists are also to be found in many 'mainline' churches (Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist). Commonly, individuals from different denominations gather together for weekday meetings in the 'Mission Halls' found both in most towns and villages. Fundamentalists distinguish themselves fro- ists' and `charismatics' who are inclined to be sympathetic to Catholicism. They also differentiate themselves from the merely 'religious', people who typically attend church but who have not been 'saved', who 'think that just by being good they can get to heaven', and who look askance at over- eager attempts to interpret the more difficult portions of the Bible.

Politically, the opposition between the two Protestant parties, - Reverend Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists, and the Official Unionists the led Rev- James Molyneaux, reflects that between fundamentalists and the 'merely religious'. Activists in the DUP tend to be fundamentalists, while, with sometimes significant exceptions, fundamentalists are more rare in OUP. Similarly, though there are DUP members inOrange lodges and even in Black preceptories, the DUP leadership and most fundamentalists are somewhat cool towards these institutions. On the other hand, the present Orange Grand Master, the Reverend Martin Smyth is an OUP Member of Parliament, while the Imperial Sovereign Grand Master of the Black Institution is the leader of the OUP, Mr Molyneaux himself. By a paradox, the DUP achieves important electoral strength from working-class people who are well represented in Orange lodges, but who tend to be non-church-going (Wallis et al., 1986).

Whereas in the Black institution, the image of 'God's chosen people' emerges from metaphorical stories that provide merely 'food for thought', for fundamentalists it is more explicitly a doctrine. Its mildest form is found where an individual is said to have been 'chosen' to do God's work. `Conservative' Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, and other Calvinists sometimes say they are of the 'elect', but this view blends into the Armini¬anism prevalent among fundamentalists who nevertheless say that they act by the 'grace of God'.

These ideas impinge most directly upon both history and ethnicity in millenarian thought. Of this, the most important form in Ulster is a type of `premillenialism', which asserts that Christians will be taken up (raptured) to meet Jesus in the air before the 'Tribulation', which heralds the one thousand years of Christ's rule. There is much speculation about the events predicted by biblical prophecy. A very common view, for example, is that the ten-horned beast of Revelation 13:1 is identical with the feet of the statue (with ten toes) in Nebuchadnezzar's dream (Daniel 2:31-5), and the fourth beast in Daniel's own vision (Daniel 7). These all refer to the last Roman Empire constituted by the ten kingdoms (as there were in 1981) of the European Economic Community, whose False Prophet is the Pope (see Moloney and Pollak, 1986:402ff; UFTM, R81-164; C81-21). There are many disagreements between funda¬mentalists about the precise roles of middle-eastern countries, the Soviet Union, the Common Market, and Rome in the events outlined in Revel¬ation. On one matter, however, most fundamentalists agree. For them, the Pope actually is the Devil, the Anti-Christ, or the False Prophet as described in scripture.4

Such views seriously affect fundamentalist church history. Ministers commonly refer in sermons to those martyrs who died upholding Prote¬stantism against Rome. The name of Dr Paisley's church in Belfast, 'Mar¬tyrs Memorial', reflects this interest. And modern editions of classic descriptions of Catholic butchery (Foxe, 1563; Tayler, c. 1850) are readily available in evangelical bookshops. The steadfastness of these saints is, of course, directly comparable to that of the heroes of the Bible and of Derry, the Boyne, the Diamond, and the Ulster Volunteers. More than this, fundamentalists see themselves as called by God to spread His Word in the face of a Church inimical to God's purposes. Fundamentalists will readily claim that they 'love Catholics' as sinners who need salvation. They nevertheless oppose not only Catholic theology, but also Catholic power, manifested in the IRA, the Irish Government, the Common Market, and also the Soviet Union with all of which the Church of Rome is said to be in league.


British Israelism

British Israelism is found throughout the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In Northern Ireland, BI forms a small but significant strand within funda¬mentalist debate. Locally prominent political figures are said to be pri¬vately sympathetic. A former Orange Grand Master, John Bryans (inter¬viewed UFTM R81-208-9) and the late Reverend Robert Bradford, former Vanguard assemblyman and later UUP Member of Parliament (see UFTM C86-12-16) were vociferous BI supporters. From the 1960s, there existed a paramilitary group called Tara, which upheld BI principles (Moloney and Pollak, 1986:282ff). In the 1950s, BI meetings are said to have filled the spacious Ulster Hall in Belfast. Nowadays, BI is organized as the Covenant Peoples' Fellowship, holding small weekly gatherings in and around Belfast. In churches of all sorts there are individuals who agree with BI ideas, but its main strength is in the Churches of God, pentecostalist congregations whose official teachings include BI. The larg¬est of these in Belfast in the early 1980s had 2,000 people at its Sunday services.

The essence of BI teaching (see, for example, UFTM R84-6; R86-224-6) is that the people of the United Kingdom and hence of the USA and the White Commonwealth are the descendants of ancient Israelites. Following the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was divided. The people of the Northern kingdom, it is said, found their way to northern Europe where, as Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, and Normans, they reassembled to form the British people. The kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians, and their history is recounted in the later Bible. Except for some Benjaminites living nearGalilee, among them Jesus and eleven of his disciples, the Jews became corrupted by intermarriage. At the time of the Babylonian exile, the prophet Jerem¬iah, carrying the Ark of the Covenant and the Stone, which had once formed Jacob's pillow at Bethel, travelled with the daughters of Zedekiah, last pre-exilic king of Judah, to County Antrim. One of these daughters, Tamar-Tephi married the Israelitish Irish High King, Eochaidu. The Ark is believed still to rest at Tara where the High Kings of Ireland were once crowned. The Stone, however, was taken to Iona and thence to Scone and it now rests beneath the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. The descent of Elizabeth II is traceable through James I and the Irish King Fergus the Great, to Eochaidu and Tamar-Tephi, and thence to King David.

Because the British are, in an Old Testament sense, God's chosen people, they have a responsibility to bring Christianity and civilization to the world. The collapse of the British Empire is for them a tragedy, and they support (as do many other Protestants) White rule in South Africa. British Israelites believe that non-White races are capable of civilization and salvation, but that Israelites have the task of helping them get there.

Adherents of BI are aware of the similarity of their doctrine to the symbolism of the Black Institution. But whereas Blackmen can see their similarity to certain biblical heroes, British Israelites say they are descended from them. The British Isles, according to BI, is the land promised to Abraham and Jacob, but they claim that even foreign lands (America, Australia, Africa) may be occupied, thus benefiting the aborigi¬nal inhabitants.

Apart from providing a generalized justification for British rule in Ire¬land as elsewhere, this doctrine has a special Irish significance. Even before Jeremiah and Zedekiah, they say, Ireland was inhabited by Israel¬ites. These were, however, driven into Scotland by invading Gaels, who were Phoenicians, half Canaanite, half Israelitish, from Tyre. This admix¬ture of Canaanite blood, I was told, explains the 'instinctive hostility' between southern Ireland and the remainder of the British Isles, and why, for example, Ulster-Scots settlers in America could absorb themselves into the rest of the Israelitish people, while southern Irish people in America have remained a separate ethnic group.

The idea that the Israelites who now live in Scotland were once the inhabitants of Ireland until the Gaels expelled them calls into question much of the rhetoric of Irish nationalism. For it implies that the subsequent invasions of Ireland, and especially those of the seventeenth century by the Scottish and other British were merely a reconquest by its former inhabitants. I have heard this argument stated explicitly by British Israel¬ites, but its form is more widely used and has recently been given great prominence.


The Cruthin

The final version of history to be considered here is contained in two books. The Cruthin (1974) and The Identity in Ulster (1982) written by a Belfast gynaecologist, Ian Adamson. His thesis in outline is neither new nor intellectually disreputable (see O'Rahilly, 1957), but these books are striking because they explicitly relate this ancient history to modern politi¬cal issues. When he wrote his first book, Adamson lectured to various groups including members of the paramilitary organization, the Ulster Defence Association, who later officially adopted his ideas. The second printing of this book has an introductory preface by Glen Barr, then an officer in the UDA, who became leader of the Ulster Workers Council, which co-ordinated the loyalist general strike that destroyed the 'power-sharing executive' in 1974. Adamson's books have had an appeal else¬where. In 1986, a pamphlet (UYUC, 1986) was published by the junior wing of the Official Unionist Party, presenting Adamson's views in simpli¬fied form, and, indeed, his work is now being more widely popularized (for example, Hall, 1986).

Adamson argues that the earliest inhabitants of Ireland were not the Gaels, but the Cruthin, who were closely related to the Scottish Picts (Adamson, 1974:11). After the Cruthin, came the Fir Bolg (fromBritain), other tribes from Gaul, and finally the Gaels. The Gaels established a hegemony everywhere in Ireland except the north-east, where the Fir Bolg tribes of Dalriata and Ulaid formed with the Cruthin an Ulster confederacy. He writes, 'The descendants of the two races are the Ulster Scots' (Adamson, 1974:12). Significantly, he also adds that 'through the kings of the Dalriata are all the kings of Scotlanddescended, and through this line is descended the present Queen of the British Peoples' (Adamson, 1974:13). By the fifth century, this mainly Cruthinic kingdom of Ulaid (later corrupted to Ulster) was pushed back into Antrim and Down until their defeat at Moira in A.D. 637 resulted in a gradual emigration of the Cruthin into lowland Scotland.

Adamson's attack is on at least three fronts. First, he challenges the naive assumption that all ancient Irish culture is Gaelic. He suggests, for example, that the Book of Darrow and the Book of Kells are Pictish or Scottish–Irish in inspiration (Adamson, 1974:93ff). More damning, he appropriates Ctichulainn, hero of the (Gaelic language) epic Tain Bó Cuailnge to the Cruthin. Clichulainn's statue famously stands in Dublin Central Post Office as a memorial to the nationalist dead of 1916, whose actions precipitated Irish independence. Placed in Adamson's context, however, CtIchulainn clearly personified the struggle of Ulster against the invading Gael. This idea is used with much rhetorical effect in the Young Unionists' pamphlet (UYUC, 1986). Second, Adamson is able to appro¬priate St Patrick to the Cruthin. 'Patrick makes a clear distinction between the Scotti (Gaels) and the ordinary peoples, the Hib&rnians (Cruthin and Ulaid)' (Adamson, 1974:42). It is the latter, he says, that Patrick first converted. Thus in a manner comparable to the British Israelites, Adam¬son argues that the Cruthin are responsible for spreading Christianity. And third Adamson denies 'the claim of the Gael to Ireland'. This is 'by the sword only, and by the sword was it reclaimed in later days by the descendants of those Ancient People . . . of these two Ulster Peoples, the paramount claim belongs to the Cruthin, last of the Picts' (Adamson, 1974:15). Or, as the Young Unionists urge, 'when the Plantation of Ulster got underway, in" the seventeenth century, those Scots who came over from the lowlands were in fact members of the Cruthin race returning to the land of their birthright' (UYUC, 1986).

In short, the Cruthin argument addresses directly the rhetorical chal¬lenge of Irish nationalist history. It makes the claim that Ulster Prot¬estants, and particularly those who emigrated from Scotland, have at least as much right to live in Ireland as do Irish Catholics. Second, it takes from the nationalist heritage many of its most treasured traits by arguing their Cruthinic rather than Gaelic origins. And finally, the historical lynch-pin of Irish nationalism, the Plantation of Ireland, is transformed from a conquest by an oppressive people into a reconquest by a people who had formerly been forcefully expelled.



The different forms of history found here appeal to different groups of people in different ways. Many of the biblically orientated theories appeal to a fairly small but significant body of people, the fundamentalists. These people often make claim to represent the essence of Ulster Protestantism, a claim provisionally accepted among the largely non-religious working class, which accepts leadership from the DUP (Wallis et al., 1986). Among fundamentalists, British Israelism has a rather limited appeal. Its advan¬tage is that, if true, it wholly refutes Irish nationalism, giving Ulster Protestants a valuable place both in Ireland and in the cosmic scheme. However, many fundamentalists (and others) have doubts about its histor¬icity – it is, perhaps, just a little too exotic. More important, its claim that the British are chosen by God by virtue of their descent from Jacob seems to question the doctrine of 'justification by faith', the cornerstone of fundamentalist Protestantism itself.

It is appropriate that a secularized and abbreviated version Of the BI message, Adamson's Cruthin (1974), should be espoused on the one hand by the UDA and, on the other by Official Unionists, both of whom have long been known to be antagonistic to the fundamentalist leadership of the DUP. One form of religious history, that found in the Arch Purple and Black institutions, has an appeal to respectable church-going unionists, especially Official Unionists, who are not, however, fundamentalists. For these people, the implied message that Ulster Protestants are God's chosen people is acceptable as long as it is not stated as a dogma, but is available merely as a set of useful metaphorical images. In a loose kind of way, they can see themselves as defenders of Protestantism or Christianity without being trapped into the rigorous life style and commitments of fundamentalism.

I have suggested, however, that not all of the history directly related to Protestant ethnicity has a rhetorical function: much of it is useful in generating strategems and tactics for action or as an expression and focus for allegiance. In this very generalized survey, I have not attempted to place the uses of history in immediate small-scale, concrete circumstances. My concern has been to explore the themes themselves in the broader context of Northern Ireland politics, and to indicate loosely the uses to which these histories are put.

Ulster Protestant histories reflect a very similar quest to that described by Boyce (1982:193) among Irish nationalists, namely that for a compre¬hensive concept of identity that transcends the pluralist nature of Irish(or Ulster) society. The rhetorical histories that aspire to justify the claims of Ulster Protestants as a whole and give them a satisfactory identity seem doomed, at least at the moment, to reflect the partisan concerns of specific unionist factions.


1. This article is based upon fieldwork undertaken for the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. I wish to acknowledge the help of Dr I. Adamson, Mr A. Campbell, and members of the Covenant Peoples' Fellowship, church members in south Antrim and Belfast, and innumerable Orangemen and others who helped me in the course of my fieldwork. I am grateful too for the help of my wife, Mrs L.J. Buckley, and my colleague Dr P.S. Robinson.

2. There are difficulties with the concept of a 'majority' in Ireland. In Northern Ireland, Protestants are a majority; in the island as a whole, Catholics predominate. Legitimacy based on majorities is, therefore, permanently question¬able (Poole, 1983).

3. The texts are: 1. Adam and Eve (Genesis:2-3); 2. Noah's Ark (Genesis:6-9); 3. Abraham and Isaac (Genesis:22); 4. Jacob's Dream (Genesis:25-28); 5. Joseph (Genesis:37-50); 6. Moses and the Exodus (Book of Exodus); 7. Rahab and the Battle of Jericho (Joshua:2-6); 8. The Two and-a-half tribes (Joshua:22); 9. Gideon (Judges:6-7); 10. Ruth (The Book of Ruth); 11. David and Goliath (1 Samue1:17-18); 12. The building of the Temple (1 Kings:5-8; 2 Chronicles:2-8); 13. Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings:16-19); 14. Jehu's purge (2 Kings:10-12); 15. Daniel (Danie1:2-3,5-6); 16. New Testament references (Matthew:3; John:19-21; Revelation:21); 17. Melchizedek (Exodus:28; Hebrews:7; Genesis:14, 18ff; Revelation:5).

4. UFTM Field Recordings 14:218ff gives a good example of the rationality behind this vision.



Adamson, I. (1974) Cruthin: the Ancient Kindred, Belfast: Donard.

Adamson, I. (1982) The Identity of Ulster: the Land, the Language and the People, Belfast: Pretani Press.

Barth, F. (1969) 'Introduction' to Ethnic Groups and Boundaries, London: All and Unwin.

Biggar, F.J. (1910) The Ulster Land War of 1770 (The Hearts of Steel), Dublin: Sealy Bryers and Walker.

Bohannan, L. (1952) 'A genealogical charter', Africa XXII:4.

Bowen, D. (1970) Souperism: Myth or Reality? Cork: Mercier.

Boyce, D.G. (1982) Nationalism in Ireland, London: Croom Helm.

Buckley, A.D. (1982) A Gentle People: a Study of a Peaceful Community in Northern Ireland, Cultra: Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

Buckley, A.D. (1983a) 'Neighbourliness; myth and history', Oral History Journal 11:44-51.

Barth, F. (1969) 'Introduction' to Ethnic Groups and Boundaries, London: All and Unwin.

Biggar, F.J. (1910) The Ulster Land War of 1770 (The Hearts of Steel), Dublin: Sealy Bryers and Walker.

Bohannan, L. (1952) 'A genealogical charter', Africa XXII:4.

Bowen, D. (1970) Souperism: Myth or Reality? Cork: Mercier.

Boyce, D.G. (1982) Nationalism in Ireland, London: Croom Helm.

Buckley, A.D. (1982) A Gentle People: a Study of a Peaceful Community in Northern Ireland, Cultra: Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

Buckley, A.D. (1983a) 'Neighbourliness; myth and history', Oral History Journal 11:44-51.

Buckley, A.D. (1983b) 'Playful rebellion: social control and the framing of exper¬ience in an Ulster community', Man (NS) 18:383-95.

Buckley, A.D. (1984) 'Walls within walls: religion and rough behaviour in an Ulster community', Sociology 18:19-32.

Buckley, A.D. (1985-6) 'The chosen few: biblical texts in the regalia of an Ulster secret society', Folk Life 24:5-24.

Buckley, A.D. (1986) 'Collecting Ulster's culture: are there really two traditions?' paper presented to British Association, Bristol.

Buckley, A.D. (1987) 'Bad boys and little old ladies: youth and old age in two Ulster villages', Ethnologia Europaea XVII:157-63.

Caws, P. (1974) 'Operational, representational and explanatory models', American Anthropologist 76:1-10.

Cohen, A.P. (1975) The Management of Myths: the Politics of Legitimation in a

Newfoundland Community, Manchester: Manchester University Press. Connell, K.H. (1968) Irish Peasant Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Connolly, S.E. (1982) Priests and People in Pre-famine Ireland 1780-1845, Dublin:Gill and McMillan.

Delargy, J.H. (1945) 'The Gaelic story-teller: with some notes on Gaelic folk-tales',proceedings of the Irish Academy, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dewar, M.W. (1956) The Scarva Story, Portadown: Portadown News.

Dewar, M.W., Brown, J., and Long, S.E. (c. 1967) Orangeism: a New Historical Appreciation, Belfast: Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

Donnan, H. and McFarlane, G. (1986) 'Social anthropology and the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland',  In R. Jenkins, H. Donnan, and G. McFarlane (eds) The.. Sectarian Divide in Northern Ireland Today,London: RAI.

Durkheim, E. (1915) The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (trans. 1968, J.W. Swain), London: Allen and Unwin.

Foster, J.W. (1982) 'Yeats and the folklore of the Irish revival', Eire/Ireland XVII:6-18.

Foxe, J. (1563) The Book of Martyrs, prepared (1985) by W.G. Berry, Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Green, A.S. (1908) The Making of Ireland and its Undoing, London: Macmillan. Hall, M. (1986) Ulster: the Hidden History, Belfast: Pretani Press.

Harris, R. (1972) Prejudice and Tolerance in Ulster: a Study of Neighbours and `Strangers' in a Border Community, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Harrison, J. (1888) The Scott in Ulster: Sketch of the History of the Scottish Population of Ulster, Edinburgh: Blackwood.

Hewitt, C. (1981) 'Catholic grievances, Catholic nationalism and violence in North¬ern Ireland during the Civil Rights period: a reconsideration', British Journal of Sociology 32:362-80.

Hewitt, C. (1983) 'Discrimination in Northern Ireland: a rejoinder', British Journal of Sociology 34:446-51.

Hewitt, C. (1985) 'Catholic grievances and violence in Northern Ireland', British Journal of Sociology 36:102-5.

Horowitz, D.L. (1985) Ethnic Groups in Conflict, Berkeley: University of Califor¬nia Press.

Jenkins, R. (1986) 'Northern Ireland: in what sense "religions" in conflict?' in R.Jenkins, H. Donnan, and G. McFarlane (eds) The Sectarian Divide in Northern Ireland Today, London: RAI.

Kennedy, P. (1891) Legendary Fictions of the Irish Cells, Detroit: Singing Tree Press.

Levi-Strauss, C. (1956) 'The structural study of myth', Journal of American Folk¬lore 68 :428-44 .

Malinowski, B. (1963) 'The foundations of faith and morals', in Sex, Culture and Myth, London: Rupert Hart Davis.

Moloney, E. and Pollack, A. (1986) Paisley. Dublin: Poolbeg.

McClelland, A. (1973) 'The Battle of Garvagh', Ulster Folklife 19:41-9.

O'Brian, G. (1918) Economic History of Ireland in the 18th Century, Philadelphia: Porcupine Press (1977).

O'Hearn, D. (1983) 'Catholic grievances, Catholic nationalism: a comment', Brit¬ish Journal of Sociology 34:438-45.

O'Hearn, D. (1985) 'Again on discrimination in the North of Ireland: a reply to the rejoinder', British Journal of Sociology 36:91-101.

O'Hergarty, P.S. (1949) A History of Ireland under the Union 1802-1922, London: Methuen.

O'Rahilly, T.F. (1957) Early Irish History and Mythology, Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies.

O'Sullivan, S. (1966) Folktales of Ireland, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Poole, M. (1983) 'The demography of violence', in J. Darby (ed.) Northern Ireland: The Background to the Conflict, Belfast: Appletree.

Santino, J. (1983) 'Miles of smiles, years of struggle: the negotiation of Black occupational identity through personal experience narrative', Journal of Amer¬ican Folklore 96:393-412.

Stewart, A.T.Q. (1977) The Narrow Ground, London: Faber.

Tayler, C.B. (c. 1850) Memorials of the English Martyrs, Toronto: Wittenberg (1984).

UFTM (Ulster Folk and Transport Museum Archives). 'R' and 'C' numbers refer to tape recordings.

UYUC (1986) CuChulain, the Lost Legend: Ulster, The Lost Culture? Belfast: Ulster Young Unionist Council.

Van den Berghe, P.L. (1981) The Ethnic Phenomenon, New York: Elsevier.

Wallis, R., Bruce, S., and Taylor, D. (1986) "No Surrendor!" Paisleyism and

the politics of ethnic identity in Northern Ireland', Belfast: Department of Social Studies, Queen's University.