From Irish Political Review: December 2005

A Bounder And A CADogan?

The Irish Times is really great at pithy summings up of the learned historians and political commentators whose outpourings decorate its columns (much as those of various pigeons once decorated Nelson's). Its columnist Dennis Kennedy, it says, is "a writer and member of the Cadogan Group". Himself a great admirer of Nelson's column, Mr. Kennedy in his own little edifice describes the Cadogan Group as a "non-party think-tank". Rather modest perhaps for the group at least some of whose members advised former Nobel prize winning Unionist leader David Trimble. But then they did advise him into a spectacularly non-party position. Well done the Cadogan Group!

In 1988, before the coming together of Cadogan, while as yet a solitary saint atop his own lonely little pillar, Mr.Kennedy wrote an interesting work of political history: The Widening Gulf: Northern Attitudes To The Independent Irish State, 1919-49 (published by Blackstaff Press). This, rather than his recent call on Irish nationalism to disband its pomp and circumstance or his Nelson nostalgia, is our text of the moment. And a grand little text it is too.

The Widening Gulf is about attitudes and attitudes are moments of perception which exist solely in the understanding of the body which has set itself to the task of perceiving. Thus Mr.Kennedy sees his business as being entirely bound up with the organs of Unionist perception, its daily and weekly papers. This is how he explains his purpose and method in the Introduction to his work:

"More interesting is to seek the extent to which, and the ways in which, this Unionism remained basically a reaction to Irish nationalism, and to what extent it continued to draw strength and cohesion from widely held perceptions of the nature and characteristics of that nationalism as it became embodied in the new Irish state. Unionist statements and speeches of 1919-49 indicate how the political leaders of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland remained obsessed by the threat of nationalism and their distaste for it. Such speeches were, naturally, widely reported in the newspapers of the time. As well as being a prime source for the opinions of influential and representative men, and for accounts of the actions of Government and political organisations, the three daily Unionist papers published in Belfast, and to a lesser extent the array of weekly papers published throughout Northern Ireland, offered frequent editorial comments on the Southern state and events within it. These newspapers were also the windows through which the vast majority of Northern Unionists viewed the nationalist struggle from 1919 onwards. For most they were the only sources of information. Thus a reading of these papers, particularly for the vital early years immediately after the end of the First World War, gives a good picture of the events in Ireland as Unionists perceived them…

"As sources for a factual history of the period these newspapers have clear limitations. But as aids to understanding Unionists' perceptions of both what was happening to them and what was going on in the island, they are invaluable" (page 6).

If Mr. Kennedy had stuck to the procedures outlined in his Introduction he would have produced a worthy Unionist tract: edifying to the body of the faithful, entirely useless to all others. But Mr.Kennedy was led not those quiet waters by. He strayed and in consequence produced an oddly informative and interesting book.

In Part One, Chapter One, Looking Over The Fence, Mr. Kennedy begins badly for his cause by examining the unreliability of the organs of Unionist perception of its enemy:

"…there was no doubt co-operation between the News-Letter and the Government too. In January 1935 all the Belfast Unionist papers carried reports of appeals for help from Loyalists in the Free State to the Northern authorities, and for their transfer to the North. A cutting of one such article from the News-Letter, in Cabinet papers held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, has attached a note from Wilson Hungerford, secretary of the Ulster Unionist Council, to Craig, which makes it clear that Craig had seen a draft of the article before publication, that Hungerford had helped in its preparation, and that McKee, the editor of the News-Letter 'had promised a two-column spread'" (page 18).

There were three Unionist papers published in Belfast at that time. The other two were the Northern Whig and the Belfast Telegraph. According to Mr. Kennedy:

"The attitude of these Belfast papers in terms of journalistic organisation towards the rest of Ireland was somewhat strange. In the period up to the Second World War none of the three appointed staff correspondents in Dublin. This was despite the fact that in the early 1920s, and particularly from the advent of Eamon de Valera to power in 1932 up to the war, Dublin generated a vast amount of news adjudged to be of interest to Northern readers. All three relied almost entirely on stringers, working out of either the Irish Independent office, or that of the Irish Times…" (page 19).

A major element in Unionist reportage of the Fenian slough was the plight of Southern Loyalists. But…

"Even this last was generally reported on the basis of statements and debates in London, mainly in the House of Lords with Lord Carson foremost, rather than on any direct investigation in the Free State itself" (page 19).

So, the main thing one learns from Mr.Kennedy about Northern attitudes to the independent Irish state is that these were grounded in ill-informed propaganda. Oh dear!

Mr.Kennedy almost redeems himself for Unionism in succeeding chapters which simply follow Northern newspaper accounts of the war of secession as part of a world-wide conspiracy mounted by the Catholic Church against the British Empire. (Not straying into the matter of the Church in Ireland's hysterical condemnations of the IRA is crucial to making a go of this one). He makes a good job of simply reporting the propagandist coverage and ignoring the facts of anti-Protestant outrages in Cork. But then, once again, he allows reality a look in. Northern Protestants knew well enough that their Southern brethren were being persecuted but the oppressed themselves were unaware of it…

"The churches were understandably reluctant to cry religious war, for they stood to lose in such a situation. The outgoing Moderator of the General Assembly, Dr. H.P. Glenn, told the Presbyterian gathering in Belfast in June 1921 that wherever he had gone in the south and west, he had heard his people say that as yet there was no trace of a religious war manifesting itself. Another minister, the Revd. B. Young from Galway, said his district covered half a county, but he had never seen an armed Sinn Féiner, nor a trenched road, nor met with the slightest discourtesy in the course of his work. He believed that any interference that took place was not for religious reasons. There might be those who occupied farms coveted by their neighbours, or those who, because they were Loyalists, came under the ban of the IRA.

"Northern Presbyterians had no such doubts. Hugh M. Pollock, just elected to the Belfast parliament, and to be a member of the new Northern Government, told the General Assembly there was '…overwhelming evidence that there had been many cases of persecution of Protestants in the South. It is well known that this is going on and that one of the objects of the rebels is to drive the Protestants from their districts'" (page 55).

Hugh Pollock is quoted there from the News-Letter of 11th June 1921.

Mr.Kennedy did manage to find one prominent clergyman who spoke in support of the Unionist perception of itself as threatened and oppressed. This was the Most Reverend Dr. Fogarty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Killaloe, who regretted having to say that "…Protestant fellow-countrymen had been persecuted and dealt with in a cruel and coarse manner" (from the Irish Times, 8 May 1923, quoted on page 114). That is telling evidence, but hardly evidence of a concerted Catholic campaign to "drive the Protestants from their districts".

Now that Fine Gael has rediscovered its republican roots in the last year of the life of Michael Collins it might care to comment on the war which Collins and the Provisional Government launched in that year against the Unionists of the border areas. In the course of Collins' border campaign in the Spring and early Summer of 1922 the IRA and Free State troops crossed the line, blowing up and burning Big Houses, kidnapping prominent Unionists, and invading Belleek and Pettigo. Grand days Enda, just waiting to be memorialised by you! Go on Enda, away to Beal na mBlath and speechify about all that. Dare you. Double dare you!

Anyway, during Collins' war along the border, Unionist perception of the war of secession as an anti-Protestant jacquerie was at its height.

At the end of the year of Collins' border war, in December 1922, James Cooper told the Belfast Parliament:

"…in the County of Fermanagh you have at the present time a very large number of people indeed—hundreds upon hundreds of families who have crossed the Border from the Free State during the last twelve months. Every day I see four or five, sometimes six or seven, and sometimes more families coming from the County of Leitrim, the County of Longford, the County of Donegal and every county around the Border, and some of them have come to Fermanagh from Kerry" (quoted page 126).

The Unionist press had a field day:

"A News-Letter report of 29 May conveys the intensity with which the news of these events was presented to Northern readers. Under the headings 'Donegal Huns' and 'Persecution Campaign Against Protestants And Loyalists' it said:

" 'The plight of Protestants and Loyalists in Co. Donegal grows worse and worse every day. The rebels on the run from Northern Ireland are intensifying the campaign of persecution, and life has become unendurable for the abandoned Loyalists. Thousands have fled to Londonderry, Belfast and other places in Northern Ireland, leaving their belongings behind. They state that a reign of terror has been instituted. The Republican and Free State forces are now joined in the work of murder, robbery and incendiarism.'

"On 2 June the Whig reported 'a considerable number of refugees', mainly from Castlefin in Co. Donegal, arriving in Castlederg, Co. Tyrone" (pp. 120-121).

Now then, such a flood of refugees must surely have given rise to a considerable relief effort. Government committees pouring money on the problem as such committees are wont to do. Charitable foundations springing up all over the place. Clothes being donated, soup kitchens and shelters organised. All that kind of thing. Well, no, not exactly.

In May 1922, after 50 Southern Unionist refugees lobbied the House of Commons at Westminster, an Irish Distress Committee was set up under Sir Samuel Hoare with £10,000 to spend on relieving such victims of said Irish Distress who fled into Britain:

"In its first interim report in November 1922, the Hoare Committee said that in the period from 12 May to 14 October it had dealt with 3,349 applicants, many of them married men with large families. Not all of these were in need of immediate assistance, but of the 1,873 cases approved for emergency relief, about 600 were Protestant, and just over 1,000 Catholic. (Fewer than 100 of these cases were from Northern Ireland.)" (page 125).

So, it would appear that a majority of those fleeing to Britain from the anti-Protestant pogroms which disfigured the birth of the Irish Free State were Catholics. Strange that, but there you go.

So what about those refugees who fled to their co-religionists in the North? Well that's a bit difficult. You see the Northern government made no arrangements at all for relieving the distress of those fleeing the Donegal Huns. Not a sausage.

"A private committee was set up under the Chief Whip in Craig's Government…There is no accurate record of the numbers who actually did flee North. In September 1922 Craig wrote to Churchill mentioning 'some three hundred and sixty [refugees] now being maintained by private generosity in Ulster'. The money spent by the Dixon Committee was limited; in October 1923 Dixon sent a certificate of money expended to date, for £495.0s.6d., to the Home Office, seeking a reimbursement" (page 126).

Mr.Kennedy comments:

"There is an apparent discrepancy between this small amount of money spent by the Dixon Committee, and the frequent eye-witness accounts of hundreds. or even thousands, of Southern Loyalists arriving as refugees in the North" (page 126).

Indeed so. Mr.Kennedy concludes that "What is clear is that there is no evidence of any large-scale transfer of population across the border at this period".

The Unionist perception itself was rather confused on this matter. At one moment Unionists saw Protestant refugees flooding into the six counties. In just a sliver of the same moment they saw hordes of Catholics infiltrating themselves into God's Little Acre to create the 'artficial' nationalist majorities in Tyrone and Fermanagh. One can forgive Mr.Kennedy for running to the real world in despair at such attitudes. If only he could have remained there.

The Widening Gulf was published 17 years ago and since then Mr.Kennedy has fallen among Cadogans and been introduced to historiography. His occasional instinct to search among perceived attitudes for the facts of the matter has been drummed out of him. Now he is writing for the Irish Times and attitudes are all.

The current set of attitudes (in the Irish Times 31 October 2005) amount quite simply to declarations that the Belfast Agreement failed "because it was undermined by the IRA's tardiness in disarming" and also because the IRA's disarming was a trick to destroy evidence which could have been used to convict the murdering scum. Now the only thing for it is a major nationalist rethink that will unthink its aspiration to unity. Sad really that the man who discovered most of the victims of an anti-Protestant pogrom to be Catholics should have fallen to that. Very sad.

Then there is his strange lament (in the Irish Times on 8 November) that Nelson is not on his column to provide a focal point for Irish participation in English celebrations of his victory at Trafalgar (the English are working their way slowly but surely back to the Boyne). I hope someone else can bring themselves to comment on that. I can't. Its just too sad.

Articles And Editorials From Athol Books Magazines ATHOL BOOKS HOMEPAGE
Free Downloads Of Athol Books Magazines Aubane Historical Society
Free Downloads Of Athol Books Pamphlets, etc The Heresiarch
Archive Of Articles From Church & State Archive Of Editorials From Church & State
Archive Of Articles From Irish Political Review Archive Of Editorials From Irish Political Review
Athol Books Secure Online Sales Belfast Historical & Educational Society