Anthony  D  Buckley

'Collecting Ulster's culture: are there really two traditions?' 1

Paper delivered to the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Bristol, September 1986. In R Alan Gailey (ed.) The use of tradition: essays presented to G B Thompson.  Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra, 1988.


IN newspapers, on television, in learned discussions, and even in international treaties it is widely accepted that there are, in Ulster, or in Ireland generally, two 'cultures' and two `traditions'. The traditions in question are, of course, Catholic and nationalist or Protestant and unionist. A variation in this viewpoint is that there are `three traditions', Catholic, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian, or Irish, English, and Scottish. The question of whether there exist in Ulster one, or two, three, or indeed a multiplicity of `traditions' has much topical interest. It has particular significance for one who hopes to collect recordings, artefacts, or other information supposedly representative of Ulster.

It will be suggested here that there do not exist, in empirical fact, two (or three) `traditions' in modern Ulster, and that the opposite claim that there is a single Ulster, or even Irish, tradition is equally false. Instead, it will be argued that in Ulster and in Ireland generally there is both cultural diversity and cultural uniformity. These similarities and differences found between individuals, regions, and groups in Ireland are used by the people of Ulster for many purposes. One of these is the rhetorical one of asserting group identities. These identities, however, do not merely arise from the facts of similarities and differences in cultural traits but from the uses to which the perceptions of these traits are put.

The plea here is that the collection of artefacts, of recordings of stories or of music, or even the making of a written record of an event should be infused with the spirit of ethnography. Such collection should be made as part of a study whose aim is to find out what is going on when the object is used, the story is told, or the event occurs. It is not meant by this that the study of culture should somehow be reduced to what is called `social context'. For example, when describing house-building, or healing, or fishing, the fact that these practices take place in a specific social context, or that they have been learned from somebody else is not necessarily the most interesting thing to be said about the activity in question. Nevertheless, that the activity takes place always within a context, and for a purpose, should form at least part of the documentation of any collection of cultural items, if only so as to avoid other forms of simplification which are equally pernicious.

One effect of an ethnographic approach in an Irish context is to explode the idea that there exist two (or three) traditions. This, in turn, has broader implications. There have been, for example, in recent years, attempts to establish schools of `black studies', `women's studies', or 'Islamic studies', and so forth. It seems wholly proper in the human sciences to focus attention upon specific social groups. It is, however, wholly misleading to regard any such group as a bounded entity whose culture may be regarded as peculiar to itself alone. To speak of 'two cultures' or 'two traditions' in Ireland and to study 'Irish tradition' or 'Ulster-Scots tradition', as though they were somehow distinct is to be misled by political rhetoric down a path which can only be detrimental to good scholarship.

In a recent and important article, Wallis et al. show that members of the two `communities' in Ulster each `see themselves as the embodiment of a culture of a distinctive kind, with its own traditions, values, symbols and style of life'. Catholics and Protestants, they say, 'have not only distinctive patterns of religious belief and practice, but largely distinct institutions of primary and secondary education with some significant curriculum divergences, different holidays and festivals, high levels of confessional endogamy and p49 relatively high levels of residential segregation (particularly among the urban working class), different sporting enthusiams and locations of leisure activity, and each has an acute awareness of a communally shared and mutually antipathetic history with consequent victories, injuries and betrayals. They also . . . have largely distinct political commitments and aspirations.'2 In the sense that as a result of 'shared cultural traits and high level of mutual interaction', members of each group have 'come to regard themselves, and to be regarded, as a cultural unity .'3 They may therefore be considered as 'ethnic groups'.

It is clearly correct to say that members of the two major groups in Ulster society, Catholics and Protestants, often perceive themselves to be culturally distinct. This perception, however, is a commentary made by members of the society themselves upon the nature of the culture of Northern Ireland. What I wish to call into question is the wisdom of taking this type of commentary, with all its rhetorical implications at its face value, and specifically as a tool for analysis.

There has been, in recent years, a revival of academic interest in the idea of 'tradition'. The influential book edited by Hobsbawm and Ranger called The Invention of Tradition4 has suggested that many of Britain's more hallowed 'traditional' institutions, from kilts and sporrans to the coronation ceremonial are not only of fairly recent vintage, but were even deliberately invented for sometimes less than honourable motives. Ethnologists too have been moved to distinguish between 'folklore' and `folkorismus', the latter being that part of folklore used to assert a national or group identity.5

We are concerned here in part with the narrowly semantic question, 'it depends what you mean by "tradition"', for the word 'tradition' has many different shades of meaning. Ben-Amos has usefully set out some of the ways that folklorists themselves use this term.6 Sometimes, he argues, the term 'tradition' is used to mean lore, while at others it refers to a narrowly defined canon of lore. He differentiates between 'tradition' defined as a body of information and practice transmitted through the generations, and its use in such expressions as 'oral tradition' or 'literary tradition' where the emphasis is upon the mode of transmission. Sometimes, he says, 'tradition' is regarded as a set of performances, while at others it is seen as a set of learned principles which give people the competence to perform. And finally, he says, 'tradition' is sometimes merely a synonym for the term `culture'.?

Ben-Amos tolerantly claims that each of these different usages has its positive value. I disagree with him and argue that, whilst some are useful, others are simply misleading. In particular, the use of the term 'tradition' in expressions such as 'there exist two traditions in Ulster', is harmful to a proper understanding of what is going on in the province.

We can usefully define this particular meaning of the term, and hence why it is misleading by using Ben-Amos's own list. Such expressions imply the notion that there are to be found certain canons of tradition associated with specific social groups. This is closely related to the idea that 'the tradition' is a set of performances. In much the same way as various committies and councils in the early Church decided that certain books should, and others should not, be included in the Bible, so certain performances and their products are held to belong to a particular tradition, while others are to be excluded.

The main problem with such a canon of tradition is precisely that it omits so much social and cultural data. There are, indeed, as we we shall see, elements in Ulster's culture which are widely regarded as distinctively Protestant or Catholic, unionist or nationalist. The argu¬ment here will be that while certain of these are undoubtedly and explicitly associated with one or other 'side' in Ulster's divided society, many of the other supposedly sectarian differ¬ences are better seen as either regional variations or as variations existing between social classes. Such differences have been popularly translated into sectarian or political terms in a p50 manner which does not correspond to the facts. More importantly, however, those features which differentiate the 'traditions' of Catholic and Protestants are, in practice, only a small proportion of what Catholics and Protestants actually do. Most of what Catholics and Protestants do is not distinctively either 'Catholic' or 'Protestant'. Still less is it distinctively `Irish' or 'British'. It does not, in short, derive from any distinctive canon of tradition.

I therefore repudiate the notion that there exists a body of 'Irish tradition', or 'Ulster tradition', or 'nationalist tradition', or 'unionist tradition', or indeed any other canon of tradition, and replace it with the idea that, for any individual, tradition is that body of knowledge and skill, possessed by the people whom he meets, and from which he is able to learn skilful behaviour of his own. Tradition, in this sense, is what enables a person meaningfully to act.

The conclusion, therefore, will be that the collector who seeks in an ethnographic manner to find out what is going on, will discover many items of culture which do not at all reflect the cultural or 'ethnic' identities of the people among whom he works. Rather, in the process of collection, he will see how people make use of their knowledge of cultural differences and similarities in order to affirm a variety of different identities (of which ethnic identity is only one) and to do other things wholly unconnected with such affirmation. Identity, according to this view, is not something a person possesses. It is, rather, something which others attribute to him, or something which he himself asserts. In the last resort, the collector's concern must be to elucidate both the skills which people possess and how and why these capablities are used in specific situations. In presenting his collection of artefacts or recordings, what will therefore be exemplified will be the skills of individuals as these are manifested in the record of what they have produced. Of these products of tradition, only some will be distinctive of a specific ethnic group.



There are many major aspects to cultural diversity in Ireland, among them gender, region, social status, social class, and politico-religious affiliation. Although the latter is often perceived to be the most important, this perception is not always very accurate. In general, the alleged cultural differences between Catholics and Protestants, or between nationalists and unionists can more accurately be regarded as having a basis in either regional or class differences. Let us consider geographical diversity first.

There are, apart from the many wholly local variations, four readily differentiable groups of English dialect spoken in Ireland, and these seem to correspond broadly to distributions of other cultural patterns. The Republic of Ireland has a remarkably uniform dialect of its own. The major exception to this is in the Gaelteacht areas of the west of Ireland (north and south) where, not only do people speak the Irish language, but also there are dialects of English heavily influenced by Irish. North of an area which corresponds roughly to the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland is spoken the dialect known to linguists as Ulster Anglo-Irish. Dividing Ulster geographically is the river Bann. Roughly, but not precisely, east of this river, but excluding the Glens of Antrim, and also in the north-east of Donegal is to be found the Scots-Irish dialect. There is also a differentiable Scots-Irish urban dialect in the larger towns.8

In these regions of distinctive dialect are also located other forms of cultural distinctiveness. For example, Gailey has shown that there are New Year 'first footing' customs and Christmas rhyming traditions of a distinctively Scottish type found in areas of Ulster where the Scots-Irish dialect is spoken, but not elsewhere.9 6 Danachair has shown that, at least with some folk customs, but by no means with all, there exists a similar division along that other 'cultural divide', a northern Irish border.10 It is sometimes also argued that p51

These regional variations are the results of invasions, movements of population, and cultural contact primarily with Great Britain, though to a lesser extent from the continent.11 One argument concerning the language suggests that before the sixteenth century there had long been a linguistic division between the Irish spoken in the south of Ireland, and that of the north which was closely related to Scottish Gaelic.12 On to this pre-existing linguistic division came later settlement from Britain. Those areas which now speak the Scots-Irish dialect of English were, it is argued, settled by predominantly Scottish settlers. The area known as mid Ulster (roughly west of the Bann) was settled by people from England. The English spoken by the majority of the south of Ireland was also derived from cultural contact with England. The division between north-east Ulster and mid Ulster thus reflects the division between Scots and English settlement in the seventeenth century and earlier.13 The 'divide' between Northern Ireland and the present Republic of Ireland reflects the prevailing influence of and contact with Scotland throughout the north, and of England in the south from pre-plantation days to recent times. The dialects of the far west are due to the comparative isolation of these areas from both Scotland and England.

It is tempting to draw the conclusion from such work that the cultural areas thus defined are respectively Scottish, English, and Irish in essence (with the west of Ireland having an especially undiluted form of Irishness). These could further be translated into Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Catholic denominational identities. Such a leap, however, should only be made with the greatest of care. There can indeed be little doubt that the origin of this cultural diversity lies in part in the different forms of British influence in these different regions. However as an historian of the Ulster Plantation, P.S. Robinson has written, 'cultural fusion, the mutual adoption of traits, interdependent development and subsequent evolution have given rise to patterns of cultural development that are neither "Irish" and "Catholic" nor "British" and "Protestant" in type.14 Within each region is to be found a culture in which all of the people participate, whatever their politics or their religion.

Many writers have drawn attention to the fact that it is popularly alleged that Catholics and Protestants have different traits even of personality as well as ethos. Donnan and MacFarlane summarise these stereotypes neatly: 'Protestants contrast their industriousness, cleanliness, loyalty to the state and freedom of religious expression with Catholic laziness, scruffiness, treachery, clannishness and priest domination. Catholics contrast Protestant bigotry, narrow-mindedness, discrimination and money-centredness with their own tolerance, openness and interest in "culture".'15

Many of these differences, though here expressed in pejorative forms are real enough, but are more accurately attributed not to religious so much as regional differences. Consider, for example, the joke:

Question—'What is the difference between a Ballymena man and a coconut? Answer—`You can get drink out of a coconut.'

Thus a Ballymena man has allegedly 'Scottish' characteristics, for the town of Ballymena is thought in some respects to typify the Ulster-Scots region east of the Bann. In the popular imagination, however, as well as statistical fact, the Ballymena man is not merely `Scottish'; he is also typically a Protestant. There is therefore required no great leap of imagination to conflate the both supposed and real regional differences into religious stereotypes. This readily occurs even though the culture of a Catholic in, for example, Ballymena is much the same as that of his Protestant neighbour. As Heslinga has shown in his classic study of Irish regionalism,16 sterotypes of northerner and southerner derived from real cultural differences are translated into stereotypes of Protestant and Catholic. But in practice the cultural differences between northerner and southerner are much more substantial and transcend both religious and ethnic boundaries. P52

Another dimension to the presumed cultural divergencies between religious groupings in Ulster is social class. Much less now than in the comparative past, but nevertheless still strongly present in popular stereotypes is the fact that Protestants have typically been more wealthy than Catholics in any given geographical area. In general, predominantly Catholic areas have tended to be poorer than areas where there are more Protestants. In Ulster, those areas east of the Bann where Protestants predominate have historically been wealthier than those west of the Bann where there are more Catholics. And in Ireland as a whole, areas of strongest British, and hence Protestant influence, notably the south, east and north coastal counties, have been wealthier than the Catholic midlands and west.

The classic statement of this intertwining of religious identity with social class at a more local level has been made by Harris.17 She argued that in the specific area of Ulster which she calls Ballybeg, the people who lived in the valley were economically better off than those who lived in the hills. The valley contained numerically more Protestants than Catholics, while on the hillside, the proportions were reversed. Hence, the lifestyles of comparatively wealthy and comparatively poor people were perceived to be respectively 'Protestant' and 'Catholic' lifestyles. On closer examination, however, she found that the many Protestants who lived in the hills participated whole-heartedly in the supposedly Catholic 'way of life'. Conversely many valley-living Catholics had styles of life barely distinguishable from that of their respectable Protestant neighbours.

What is true of rural Ballybeg is true of most of the different areas of Ulster. Thus Catholic and Protestant university lecturers are likely to hold very similar social and political attitudes, coloured only by their respective social origins. There are to be found Catholics whose attitudes to tobacco, alcohol and gambling are scarcely different from those of Protestant fundamentalists. There are even nowadays to be found 'born again, Bible-believing' Catholics.18 And a Catholic working men's club is likely to have a very similar ethos to one frequented by Protestants of the same social class.

I do not, however, wish to overstate this case, for there are important differences between Catholics and Protestants. Not least, do they attend different churches and schools. These, moreover, provide a focus, particularly in rural areas, and particularly for youth, for the organisation of recreational activity. Even outside formal church connections, there are many social clubs which are recruited exclusively from one 'side' or the other. This is particularly true of working men's clubs, and also of more formal organisations, such as Freemasons and Buffaloes on the one hand and Irish National Foresters on the other, whose rules do not ostensibly exclude anybody but who effectively recruit from only 'one side of the community'. On the Catholic side, there are cultural organisations intended to uphold 'Irish culture' including Irish dance, Irish traditional music, and the games of hurling and Irish football. These cultural forms have a special significance in Ulster life of being distinctively `Irish'. This means that they are used emblematically for the assertion of the importance of a group identity.

What is more important to note is that the distinctiveness of these cultural forms is often quite minimal. The Orange Order, for example, together with its sister organisations, the Royal Arch Purple Chapter, and the Royal Black Institution, and its slightly more distant cousin, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, may be regarded as epitomising important aspects of distinctively Protestant culture .19 The Orange Order and the others arose, however, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries out of a much broader context of activity in Ireland, embracing not only Freemasonry (with which they are most commonly compared) but also friendly societies, trade unions and temperance societies, as well as agrarian secret societies such as the Ribbonmen, the Molly Maguires , the Rockites and Defenders, many of which were predominantly Catholic. The Orange Order proper arose in 1795 out of a skirmish with p53 a Catholic secret society, the Defenders. Robinson shows that the Defenders, like later predominantly Catholic groups, such as the Ribbonmen, had rites and secrets similar even in detail to the modern-day Orange and Black Institutions.20

There has long been in the expression of political and religious differences, a great deal of borrowing, to the extent that any attempt to project present-day symbolism into the past and to call them 'distinctive traditions' is almost impossible. The Lambeg drum is a case in point. This large, loud and ferocious drum is now widely accepted as a distinctively Protestant instrument. Yet, I have interviewed old men belonging to 'divisions' (lodges) of the specifically Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians who can recall Lambeg drums being stored in their halls, and being played by Hibernians in the same way as they are played by Orangemen. Such comparisons are endless, and can descend into triviality. A common Protestant graffito consists of the initials `F.T.P.' and is now being imitated by Catholics who scrawl F.T.Q . (the initials referring respectively to 'The Pope' and 'The Queen'). Kerb¬stones painted in red, white and blue are echoed by kerb-stones painted green, white and gold. The rise among Protestant youths of distinctively aggressive flute bands, now has its counterpart on the Catholic side, each side, however, having distinctive uniforms and playing their separate tunes.

Thus, it is not only in the non-sectarian aspects of life that the 'two sides' are culturally similar, but also they are often similar in their manner of asserting their separate identities. The broad sweep of these so-called 'traditions' is very much the same. All that differs are the narrowly specific details of the emblems and practices which they use to assert their differentness. Though these symbols of differentiation have immense significance in the culture they scarcely add up to two distinct traditions.

To a considerable extent, the significance of these diacritical emblems is much the same for one 'side' as it is for the other. People in Ulster take elements from shared culture or heritage (which has, however, regional and class differences) and make use of them to differentiate and identify social groups and to assert rhetorically the importance of these groups. These diacritical elements in the culture also provide a clear and visible guage as to which side is winning in their perennial battle for power, prestige and influence. Thus, if there are more Irish tricolours in the streets, more Irish-language streetnames, or a greater Irish dimension to government, or if Protestant street parades are curtailed, this is regarded as a sign that the Catholic side has increased its influence. When these various indications recede, then the influence of Catholics is perceived also to have receded.

There are of course, intricacies involved in some of these diacritical elements in the culture. Gaelic football or hurley, or Irish dancing, for example, or Lambeg drumming or the symbolism of the Royal Black Institution21 are each quite difficult to learn and some individuals become deeply immersed in the learning of these specialised skills. Nevertheless, to a considerable degree, they are expressed in an idiom which is not only understandable to both sides, but is socially useful to the people who express it precisely because it can be understood by people on both sides.

With only very limited and specific exceptions, the cultural heritage for a Catholic is likely to be much the same as that for a Protestant of the same social class living in the same geographical area. There are no distinctively Protestant or Catholic dialects, nor agricultural practices, nor house types, nor pottery techniques, nor styles of cooking. Family life is much the same on both sides, as indeed is the broader social morality. In general, then, we may say not that there exists a Catholic and a Protestant culture in Ireland, but rather that there are cultural differences which coincide with both regional and class distinctions, and that these divergences have often been used historically to give weight to the respective identities and claims of the two conflicting endogamous groups in society. The definition of these p54 endogamous groups, however, and of their social and political aspirations, should not therefore be taken to arise from the facticity of cultural variations. It arises, rather, out of the use to which these variations are put.



It is necessary to consider the way people use their tradition, for, as has been suggested, when one tries to examine what people do in particular circumstances, the notion that there exists a body of discrete 'tradition' peculiar to one segment of society becomes untenable. Gregg has written of regional dialect differences, 'Even a casual observer from outside will notice that all the dialects of English spoken in Ulster have features that contibute to what might be called their "Irishness",' and he suggests that 'the task of the boundary seeker is to try to recognise these features and then to ignore them, aiming rather to collect the data that will polarise the systematic differences between the dialect groups.'22 He goes on further to say that in the quest for dialect differences, only one level of analysis is truly relevant. 'There is little . . . of interest to be found at the grammatical, specfically morphological and syntactic level when we are searching for polarized contrasts. '23 In short, when we perform speech acts, only at a very limited number of levels is there any differentiation between one English dialect and another.

What is true of speech acts is true of all types of action, for all actions are organised at many different levels. In this context, Goldman's theory of action is useful.24 He suggests that a person achieves his purposes by performing actions at different levels. Thus, if someone is playing chess, he gains a victory over his opponent by check-mating him; he does this by moving his pawn to king knight seven; he does this by lifting the pawn and putting it down on the correct square; he does this by making a series of complex movements with his hand. Now, in order for someone to organise his actions at any one of these levels, he must first learn a skill. Most of these, including perhaps even the ability to manipulate objects, have been learned while watching and imitating other people. It is these skills which should be identified as 'traditional', for they have almost all been transmitted from a previous generation.

Let us now examine certain specifically 'sectarian' aspects of northern Irish culture as they were actually used in specific social contexts. When we regard specific actions as highly complex permutations of skills, the idea that there exist discrete 'cultures' or 'traditions' melts away. For if it is our aim to discover what is actually going on in specific instances, we must be ready to take account not only of what is distinctively Irish, or Ulster, or Catholic or Protestant in what a person does, but, at least in principle, to take account of factors which are common to all Irish people, or Europeans, or, indeed, in some cases, to all people. In given situations, the Irishness or Britishness of what somebody does, or its distinctively Catholic or Protestant character, is never the only thing which is relevant.



Although the Lambeg drum is used in a variety of contexts, it has come to have a special place in the festivities surrounding the annual Twelfth of July festivities. Lambeg drums are taken out and beaten on the First of July which marks the beginning of the season when arches and bunting are put out, on the Twelfth of July procession itself, but it has a special place on the evening of the Eleventh of July. In the course of fieldwork in Listymore I watched as Lambeg drums were beaten on the Eleventh Night.25

There are two villages in the predominantly Protestant area of Listymore, one called Long Stone, the other Killycarnon. The people living in Long Stone typically believed the people of  p55 Killycarnon to be 'stuck up' and `snooty'; the population of Killycarnon, for their part, incline to the view that Long Stone is rather 'rough'. There are Catholics living in the area, but they are comparatively few in numbers; insofar as there does exist a distinctively Catholic area in Listymore , it is a comparatively isolated part of the countryside near to the Catholic chapel.

At midnight on the 11th of July one year I watched as two dozen men took out the Lambeg drums from Long Stone Orange Hall. As they marched off, rattling the drums, they were followed by a cheerful crowd of some hundred other people, predominantly but not exclusively teenangers.

It is not intended here to suggest that in marching around at midnight, playing two extremely loud drums in celebration of the Twelfth of July, this body of people were not trying to assert a distinctively Protestant identity. That is not the whole of what they were doing. For, when they marched off from the Long Stone Orange Hall, they did not go anywhere near the local Catholics. Instead, they went, by the quickest possible route, straight to the village of Killycarnon, where, until at least 2.30 in the morning (when I went to bed), they regaled the sleeping inhabitants with an unbelievably loud musical offering.

The Lambeg drum in this case was indeed affirming a distinctively Protestant identity; but it was also doing something else. It was asserting the values, much prized among many in Long Stone, of 'plainness', masculinity, straightforwardness, bluntness, and good fellowship, believed by some to be not much in evidence in the 'snooty' village of Killycarnon. Using Goldman's idiom, these people were affirming this rather complex plain man's identity by affirming a Protestant identity and they were doing this, in turn, by playing the Lambeg drum long after midnight.

To limit the concept of tradition, in this case, to the undoubted fact that Eleventh Night processions with the Lambeg drums are specifically Protestant would be to miss at least half the point of what was going on. The dislike of the comparatively poor for the comparatively rich, of the teenaged young for those figures who represent authority, and, more specifically, of inebriated young males for more upright citizenry is quite as traditional a feature of Irish (indeed British) life as the more celebrated 'traditional' hostility between Catholics and Protestants, and, in addition, it is one which wholly transcends the so called 'sectarian divide'.



What is true for Protestant emblems is true also for those of the other side. The Irish tricolour is a common object used in Ulster to affirm a distinctively Irish nationalist identity. It is typically raised in Ulster on housing estates, Gaelic sports grounds, and even public leisure centres to indicate at least a claim that such areas are specifically nationalist territory, or sometimes even that the British (government, police or people) have no jurisdiction in such an area. As such, it is used in much the same way as is sometimes the Lambeg drum as a way of identifying or claiming a territory as the special preserve of one segment of the population. The overall pattern here is clear and well known. However, when used in an actual situation, there can be much subtlety.

I attended a march of Orangemen on the Twelfth of July in Downpatrick. When the march was in full swing, a small group of women unfurled a large tricolour outside the police station, some fifty yards from the march. Not only was the tricolour held by women, but they also organised some half dozen young children of six to eight years old, to stand in front of it.

This was a most elaborate situation. The police, in particular, were put in a great quandry. Fifty yards away were not only several thousand Orangemen, liable to become incensed at the sight of the flag, but also nearby were pressmen and television camera-crews. Had the police attempted to remove the tricolour, which they were fully entitled to do under the law, they P 56 would have gained massively adverse publicity. Policemen would have been photographed attacking a 'peaceful' demonstration of women and small children. If, on the other hand, the police did not remove the tricolour they ran a real risk of precipitating an unpleasant riot, at a time when there had already been indications that such rioting was likely. As well as this, once the scene had appeared on television, the local police would have been critised by loyalist politicians for not doing their duty. In abstraction, therefore, the showing of a tricolour can be seen as the affirmation of a Catholic, nationalist identity. In this situation, however, much more was going on.

The activity of the women and children in this context can be regarded as an especially deft example of what, elsewhere, I have called `wrongfooting'.26 This consists of manoeuvering someone, usually a figure of authority, into a situation where he is ridiculously incapable of defining what is going on, or of making a sensible decision. This form of skilful manipulation is as much part of Protestant culture as it is of Catholic; indeed, my article on wrongfooting already referred to, concerns the playful activities of Protestants. In addition, it should also be regarded as a 'traditional' form of activity, for wrongfooting is undoubtedly a skill which must be learned, and as such it is as much part of Irish traditional life as is the sectarian divide.

The senior policeman on the spot was, in this instance, quite as deft and agile as those who held the flag. He quickly shooed away all pressmen, and deployed policemen to seal them out of the street. He then stood near to the small demonstration and, with the pose of a Nelson refusing to see a signal, he studiously turned his head and looked in the opposite direction. After a while, the demonstrators, themselves out-manoeuverd (but perhaps having won a victory worth recounting to their grandchildren), packed up their flag and departed.

In this case, as in the last, emblems and activities, widely recognised to be specifically factional, not only have aspects derived from an inherently common culture, but they are used for purposes (irritating the snooty, or wrongfooting policemen) which are found on `both sides' in Northern Ireland, and which, indeed, are part of a more general popular culture found in the British Isles and beyond.



As the focus for two final examples in which traditional patterns have a variety of uses, I wish to examine some oral history collected in an area of Ulster which I called the Upper Tullagh, which was predominantly, but not exclusively Catholic.

There, the population spoke of two main categories of people existing in the past, one rich and the other poor. According to this history ,27 the poor lived an old-fashioned sort of life. They ate home-made bread and butter and other home-made food. Their lives were of easy  going tolerance, in which gambling, drinking, the playing of games and the telling of stories of fairies and ghosts all had a part in a rich community life. Above all, there was 'good neighbourliness', in which each gave to each when he was in need.

In contrast to the poor, the rich lived lives of steely rationality. Not only did they reject superstition and drink, but also they ignored the genuine morality of neighbourly give and take, replacing it with a harsher morality of rules and regulations.

This dichotomy which broadly amounts to a conflation of the Weberian opposition of `traditional' and 'bureaucratic-rational' with that of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft is a very potent one, and in Ulster it is one version of the stereotype, outlined above, of the Catholic and of the Protestant. In the Upper Tullagh, the good, kindly, neighbourly, fairy-tale-telling people were poor labourers who were usually Catholic; and the nasty, oppressive, rational people were wealthy farmers, who were usually Presbyterian.

Given the existence of this mythology in a largely Catholic area, it would be reasonable to expect it to be used as a parable to explain contemporary interdenominational relationships, to justify the assertion of a Catholic dominance over local Protestants, and generally to advocate and affirm the cause of Irish nationalism.

No doubt this history is sometimes used in this way. What I found, however, was that when this story was usually told, it was employed to make a rather different point. In an area in which there were remarkably good relationships between Catholics and Protestants, individuals on both sides tended to tell the same overall pattern of oral history, so as to uphold the virtues of being a 'good neighbour', to denigrate excessive devotion to 'making money', and in particular to emphasise the importance of maintaining good friendly relationships across the sectarian divide. Thus a version of the past which articulates stereotypes of Protestants and Catholics in a manner which has every possiblity of being used as nationalist propaganda is, in specific instances, used to provide an ideological basis for developing harmony between the two 'sides'.

The use of Catholic and Protestant stereotypes, however, can be even more flexible than this. In the following example I found the identification of Catholicism and Protestantism with quasi-Weberian 'traditional' and 'rational' values (somewhat detached, however, from ideals of 'community' and 'society') used to articulate quite different ideals among people who had an interest in the creative arts.

Alan lives in the countryside, teaching art in a nearby college. His house would be eligible for inclusion in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum's open-air collection, and he has made an effort to furnish it in a manner compatible with its age. Alan disapproves of being too `rational'. He says it is important to be open to nature. By conceptualising objects, he says, you limit your experience of them. One sees evidence of this in county Donegal (the epitome for Ulster people of traditional, rural, Catholic Ireland). Here, an object which has outlived its usefulness can be redefined for another purpose—for example a bedstead can be used as a fence. He and his wife bake their own bread. They use, where possible, natural herbal medicines, believing them to be gentler than those provided by modern doctors. Despite the fact that they are of Protestant descent, they have sent one of their children to a Catholic school, and their children have names whose origins lie in ancient Irish legends.

For them, as for the people of the Upper Tullagh, there is an ostensible rejection of modernity and bureaucratic rationalism, and they identify their views with an essentially Catholic past, still found, they believe to some degree, in the west of Ireland. They are, nevertheless, by no means Catholic nationalists—I would guess they vote for the Alliance Party. Also, unlike most people in the Upper Tullagh they do not stress the community aspects of the life of the poor Catholic labourer or farmer. In somewhat marked contrast, their view is that these people in the past had a somewhat independent and creative style of life. The virtue which they most of all prize, and which they are inclined to project into the Catholic peasant are 'creativity' and 'thinking for oneself . The Catholic peasant, for them, is someone, rather like themselves, in touch with nature, open to the supernatural, and with an artist's creativity and independence of spirit.



People living in Ulster have a variety of distinct roles and statuses or 'identities', and only some of these are directly related to their status as Protestants and unionists, or Catholics and nationalists. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that not only do Catholics and Protestants spend very little time and energy in affirming their cultural distinctiveness, but also that they frequently decide that such affirmation is undesirable. Thus do people avoid controversial subjects in mixed company28 and in other ways make an attempt to 'get on well' with people P59 from 'the other side'.29 Ulster people tend to present themselves to others as Catholics or Protestants but only when it is socially or politically useful for them so to do. More generally, however, it is important to recognise that the overwhelming bulk of what people in Ulster (or Ireland) say or do is unconnected to their statuses as Catholics or Protestants.

Ben-Amos makes the point that when folklorists themselves identify certain elements of folklore as a 'canon' of tradition, they usually regard this 'tradition' as being in danger of being overwhelmed by outside forces. Thus, folklore is sometimes spoken of as the 'little tradition' under threat from the 'great tradition' i.e. the world of education, science, literature, etc. Or they see it as a 'traditional culture' threatened by 'mass popular culture'.

But, quite apart from professional folklorists, ordinary people who themselves identify a specifically 'Irish tradition' or 'Protestant tradition' or 'Anglican tradition', or whatever, tend to conceive their tradition as being under threat. Thus, the national traditions of Ireland, its dance, language, music, games etc. are frequently held to be in danger of being swamped by the culture of America and especially of Britain. And Ulster Protestantism is similarly conceived as in danger of being swamped by the culture of Gaelic nationalism. In general, when people speak of 'tradition' in the narrow canoncial sense of 'this is our tradition' or even `this is what "we" believe', they are almost always trying to define the identity of their social group so as to assert its importance or to defend it against somebody else. 'Tradition' in this sense is, therefore, a rhetorical rather than an analytical device, and as such it can be very beguiling.

I have attempted here to assert a specifically ethnographic approach to the collection of artefacts and other items of culture, but I do so not out of any particular chauvinism for my discipline, for 'ethnography' is merely the anthropological form of 'finding out what is going on', and it has its counterpart in each of the human sciences. Objects and other elements in human culture acquire their significance not primarily through their place in some abstract system of classification, however useful this may sometimes be, but rather because of their use in the complexities of human situations. The purpose of collection and record is not primarily to classify objects or cultural items; even less is it to provide definition for social groups. Rather it is to cast light upon the very complexities and subtleties of what people do. In this task, the notion of a canon of tradition which somehow 'belongs' to a group merely gets in the way.




1. Much of the inspiration for this paper arose out of discussions with my colleagues at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. To them, I wish to express my gratitude. The paper was presented to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section H (Anthropology and Archaeology) in Bristol in September 1986.

2. Wallis, R., Bruce, S., and Taylor, D., 'No Surrender!' Paisleyism and the politics of ethnic identity in Northern Ireland (Queen's University, Belfast: Dept. of Social Studies, 1986), 3.

3. ibid., 2, quoting Robertson, I., Sociology (New York, 1981), 282.

4. Hobsbawm, E. and Ranger, T. (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1983).

5. Gailey, A., 'Folk Culture, Context and Cultural Change', in Horandner, E. and Lfinzer, H. (eds.), Folklorismus (Neusiedelsee, 1982), 73-104; see also Jones, L., 'The myth of Irish National Costume', Ulster Folk and Transport Museum Yearbook, 1971/72 (Holywood, 1973), 13-15; Scullion, F., 'The Decline of the Bodhran', ibid., 1979/80 (Holywood, 1981), 5-7.

6. Ben-Amos, D., 'The Seven Strands of Tradition: varieties in its meaning in American folklore studies', Journal of American Folklore, 21 (1984), 97-131.

7. To this list we may add the idea that 'tradition' has the force of 'precedent'. This is popularly used in Ulster to assert 'traditional rights' to march down roads, fly flags, etc. Many of the riots in 1985, for example, arose out of police refusal to allow loyalists to march down allegedly 'traditional' routes.

8. Gregg, R.J., 'The Scotch-Irish dialect boundary in Ulster', in Wakelin, M.F. (ed.), Patterns in the Folk Speech of the British Isles (London, 1972).

9. Gailey, A., 'The Scots Element in North Irish Popular Culture', Ethnologia Europaea, 8 (1975), 2-22.

10. Compare the distribution patterns in 0 Danachair, C., 'Some Distribution Patterns in Irish folk life', Bealoideas, 25 (1959), 108-123; idem, 'Distribution Patterns in Irish folk tradition', ibid., 33 (1967), 97-113; idem, 'Some Marriage Customs and their regional distribution', ibid., 42-44 (1977), 136-175.

11. idem, 'Irish Tower Houses and their distribution', ibid., 45-47 (1979), 158-163.

12. Barry, M.V., 'The southern boundaries of Northern Hiberno-English speech', in idem (ed.), Aspects of English Dialect in Ireland (Belfast, 1981).

13. Gailey, A., op. cit. (1975); Robinson, P.S., The Plantation of Ulster: British Settlement in an Irish Landscape, 1600-1670 (Dublin, 1984), chapter 5.

14. Robinson, P.S., op. cit., 193-4.

15. Donnan, H. and McFarlane, G., "'You get on better with your own": social continuity and change in rural Northern Ireland', in Clancy, P., Drury, S., Lynch, K. and O'Dowd, L. (eds.), Ireland: a sociological profile (Dublin, 1986), 386; see also Buckley, A.D., A Gentle People: a study of a peaceful community in Ulster (Holywood, 1982), chapters 2-3; Harris, R., Prejudice and tolerance in Ulster: a study of neighbours and `strangers' in a border community (Manchester, 1972), chapter 8.

16. Heslinga, M. The Irish Border as a Cultural Divide (Assen, 1962), passim.

17. Harris, R., op. cit., chapter 8.

18. See, for example, a letter in Belfast Newsletter, 7 May 1986.

19. Except in its relation to political history, the cultural aspects of the Orange Order and comparable organisations have been little studied. See, however, Buckley, A.D., -The Chosen Few": Biblical texts in the regalia of an Ulster secret society', Folk Life, 24, (1985-86), 5-24; Prosser, F., "'The heroes' song" in an Orange ceremony', Irish Folk Music Studies, 4 (1985), 45-54; Scullion, F., 'History and origins of the Lambeg Drum', Ulster Folklife, 27 (1981), 19-38; Robinson P.S., 'Hanging ropes and buried secrets', Ulster Folklife, 32 (1986, 3-15.

20. Robinson, P.S., op. cit. (1986).

21. Buckley, A.D., op. cit., (1985-86).

22. Gregg, R.J., op. cit.

23. ibid., 11.

24. Goldman, A., A Theory of Human Action (Englewood Cliffs, 1970).

25. Buckley, A.D., 'Playful rebellion: social control and the framing of experience in an Ulster community', Man, 18 (1983), 383-395; idem, 'Walls within Walls: religion and rough behaviour in an Ulster community', Sociology, 18 (1984), 19-32.

26. Buckley, A.D., op. cit. Man, 18 (1983).

27. idem, op. cit., (1982).

28. Harris, R., op. cit., 146-7.

29. Buckley, A.D., op. cit. (1982), and Donnan, H. and McFarlane, G., op. cit.