"We have real hearts of flesh and blood beating in our bosoms": the Somme and the redemption of the Ulster Protestant political imagination
At the heart of the foundational narrative of the Ulster Protestant political imagination - the Glorious Revolution of 1688 - lies a profound contradiction. When the House of Commons sought to justify the events which resulted in James II being deposed, it passed a resolution stating that he had "endeavoured to subvert the constitution of the kingdom by breaking the original contract between the King and people". "Original contract": here was the whig political tradition  defining the Glorious Revolution as the outworking of political theorist John Locke's  social contract between the governed and the governor. If the governor breaks the contract (through, for example, unjust laws), the governed have the right to rebel. There is, however, no reference to the 'original contract' in the text of the Declaration of Right  passed by Commons and Lords - the means by which Parliament formalised William and Mary assuming the throne. This was because for the tory tradition  - the other great body of opinion in the political nation in 1688 - Locke's original contract was a dangerous fiction, a fiction which led to rebellion and disorder. Hence, the Declaration of Right presented the Revolution as being necessitated by James II having "abdicated the government" by fleeing the kingdom. There was, the tory tradition asserted, no rebellion, no desertion of duty by subjects, no rejection of allegiance.
Of these two very different accounts of allegiance present in the Glorious Revolution, it was Locke's social contract shaped the Ulster Protestant political imagination - an insistence on conditional loyalty, a sturdy Lockean vision of Protestant liberty. Its icon was the closing of the gates of Derry in the face of King James II. It was the understanding of loyalty and liberty which led to the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant - citzens who deemed themslves to be loyal subjects, bearing arms and refusing to consent to the will of Parliament . And in a text which has shaped much contemporary unionist political discourse, Arthur Aughey's Under Siege , this tradition was presented as an expression of the values of the modern liberal state.
In a cultural context in which imperial identity and Protestantism underpinned this vision, it had a robust and compelling character. Increasingly, however, in the second half of the 20th century, in the absence of imperial identity and national Protestantism, it becomes somewhat emaciated, a sickly theory incapable of meaningfully articulating who 'we' are and why allegiance matters beyond the will to power. It suffers, in other words, from the same crisis afflicting liberalism identitified by David Goodhart  and Maurice Glasman  - with no ability to articulate 'we', and the solidarity this entails, the liberal polity becomes reduced to power and proceduralism, incapable of recognising the communal and cultural contexts which give meaning to the common good.
This is one of the 'version of Britishness' identified by theologian John Milbank - "Roundhead, nonconformist, puritan, whig, capitalist, liberal". But there is another, seen by Milbank as expressing "our deep ancient character which is Catholic or Anglican, Cavalier, Jacobite, High Tory or Socialist" . Counter-intutitive as it may seem, it is this "deep ancient character" which reasserts itself within the Ulster Protestant political imagination in and through the Somme and its memory.
The march of the 36th Ulster Division to the Somme was no outworking of Locke's social contract. This was not a militia which had first negotiated with the Crown before consenting to serve. Here was the call of duty, a pridmordial and transcendental sense of allegiance greater than anything which could be envisaged by Enlightenment accounts of the polity. Its essence was captured over a century earlier by Edmund Burke in his rejection of the Enlightenment's abstract accounts of the 'Rights of Man':
We preserve the whole of our feelings still native and entire, unsophisticated by pedantry and infidelity. We have real hearts of flesh and blood beating in our bosoms. We fear God; we look up with awe to kings; with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility. Why? Because when such ideas are brought before our minds, it is natural to be affected .
"We have real hearts of flesh and blood beating in our bosoms" - something much greater, more captivating than the self-interest which defines the Lockean citizen. Note too how the Somme radically changes the iconography of the Ulster Protestant political imagination: from closing the gates of Derry in the face of Crown, to bleeding and dying for the Crown.
There is also a theo-political context worth considering. The Enlightenment, Lockean view of the citizen asserting rights can stand uneasily beside Europe's other great cultural inheritance.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world .
Whether in Calvinist sermons, Methodist hymns or Anglican liturgy, the Ulster Protestant imaginary knew that justificiation and communion are not grasped by us, are not the outcome of self-assertion, but are the fruit of sacrificial, self-giving love. This theo-political context gives to the Somme a deep cultural resonance . Even in the post-Christian United Kingdom, we discern something of the meaningfulness of the Cross standing over the Somme cemeteries, marking the graves of individual soldiers. The Cross articulates this sacrifice in a way the discourse of the liberal polity cannot.
The Somme is the redemption of the Ulster Protestant political imagination - redeeming it from the narrow and unsatisfying confines of the Lockean social contract. The Somme embodied and embodies a deeper, 'thicker', richer understanding of 'we' and of 'our' allegiance and loyalty .
Recent days have demonstrated this with considerable effect. Amidst the chaos of United Kingdom politics following the EU Referendum result, with the ties that bind the peoples of this Union stretched in a manner that only a short time ago was unimaginable, on 1st July 2016 a deeper sense of 'we' reasserted itself. In Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and London - and at the Somme - the Union was again seen, a shared experience of the peoples of this Kingdom capturing the cultural imagination in a way that liberal theories of citizenship seem incapable of doing.
Here, we might suggest, is the reason for the continued significance of the memory of the Somme to the Ulster Protestant political imagination - because it is its redemption. In the words of the poet Geoffrey Hill:
By blood we live, the hot, the cold, To ravage and redeem the world: There is no bloodless myth will hold .
 The terms 'whig' and 'tory' came to prominence during the Exclusion Crisis of 1678–1681 - the debates as to whether or not Charles II brothers James, a Roman Catholic, should be heir to the Throne. Whigs, with an emphasis on parliament and Protestantism, opposed James. Tories, supporters of Church and King against the forces which they saw as responsible for the Civil Wars of the 1640s, supported James. Interestingly, both terms have their origins in the Celtic fringe - and both were terms of abuse.
 John Locke, 1632-1704, philosopher of the early Enlightenment. His Two Treatises of Government were published anonymously in 1689 and are generally now viewed by historians as having being written to justify whig positions amidst the crisis of 1688/89.
 The Declaration of Right http://www.legislation.gov.uk/aep/WillandMarSess2/1/2/introduction.
 Tory support for the Glorious Revolution was based on the perceived threat to the Established Church and the Anglican political nation posed by James II. It was not, for the tories, an assertion of Enlightenment values.
 It is no coincidence that it was often referred to as the Ulster Solemn League Covenant, deliberately echoing a significant document in the whig story - the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, between Scottish Covenanters and the Parliamentarian party in England.
 Under Siege: Ulster Unionism and the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1989).
 See, for example, Goodhart's essay 'Too Diverse' published in Prospect, February 2004 - a significant critique of the UK's liberal left from within its own ranks.
 Glasman is the founding father of the 'Blue Labour' tradition - see Ian Geary & Adrian Pabst Blue Labour: Forging a New Politics (2015).
 John Milbank in the ABC Religion and Ethics symposium 'After Brexit: the Referendum and its Discontents' http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2016/06/24/4488874.htm.
 Edmund Burke Reflections on the Revolution in France (Penguin, 1986, p.182).
 From the Book of Common Prayer.
 While this would need to be addressed in a separate article, it is noteworthy how the motif of sacrifice has been significant to the nationalist political imagination. Such power of the tragic, often illustrated with implicit or explicit references to the Passion of Christ, was alien to the Ulster Protestant political imagination - before the Somme.
 Such use of 'thicker' in contemporary political discourse contrasts with the experience of 'liquid modernity' - rootless and insecure.
 The late Geoffrey Hill, 'Genesis' in For the Unfallen. Poems 1951-1958 (1959).
A guest blog post from Philip McKinley as we look towards marking the centenary of 1916. To mark this a conference is being held on 14 Nov - 'Silenced Stories: The Protestant Experience of 1916'. Philip McKinley is Church of Ireland Chaplain in Dublin City University.
Although small and seemingly politically insignificant at this stage, Southern Protestants hold a fascinating key to the Irish Question. In the midst of Ireland’s great political dualism between Nationalism and Unionism, lies an overlooked community, which has rich insights into both traditions and has also uniquely created a more fluid approach to the divide, with distinct results.
Republic of Ireland or Southern Protestants can perhaps be understood in three categories; Border Protestants, Rural Protestants and Dublin Protestants (who are fairly representative of all Urban Protestants). I am not qualified to speak about Border Protestants (some of whom for example are still Unionist and have retained a certain sense of pre-Independence identity). I do have some insights into Rural Protestants (with a Tipperary father), but I feel most comfortable talking about Dublin Protestants, and more specifically South County Dublin, Middle-Class, Suburban, Hockey-playing Protestants! Some would even argue, that the cosy-confines of the leafy suburbs, renders me too sheltered to even comment authoritatively on the experiences of other Protestants in the Republic.
The 2011 Census is not clear, but it suggests that the Dublin Protestant population is approximately 40,000 from a total approximate population of 1,200,000. When compared to other cities, this is a very sizeable number (as Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Sligo cities are served by no more than 2 Church of Ireland churches each).
When also compared to the fact that Dublin was at one point majority Protestant, today it has become a much smaller and scattered community. Indeed, the sad remnant of its Victorian and Edwardian heydays, lies in the numerous inner city closed churches now converted into community centres, Tourist Centres or pubs.
These buildings also serve as a reminder of a great demographic shift in the Dublin Protestant population 50 years ago, from urban to suburban. This shift coincided with the then Minister of Education, Donogh O’Malley’s Reforms in the 1960’s, which saw a number of Protestant Secondary Schools amalgamate and relocate from inner city sites to new suburban locations, which also mirrored the urban sprawl of a growing 1960’s Irish economy. The only inner city Secondary School that resisted the mass exodus was St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School (perhaps because it would have had to taken the Cathedral along with it!).
Indeed the shift was so rapid and so dramatic, that in 1950 St George’s Church on Hardwicke Place was the largest Protestant Church in the Republic of Ireland. By the mid-1970s, that accolade had been awarded to Taney Church in Dundrum and by 1991 St George’s Church has closed its doors, only to then become the Temple Theatre Nightclub.
The net result was a Protestant population squeezed into the suburban, middle-classes. Today Protestant media and forums are largely reflective of and passionate about middle-class issues; private schools and denominational education, Nursing Homes, Parish Fêtes, etc… For example, there is now no dedicated Church of Ireland ministry to Injecting Drug-Users, to the Homeless or to the victims of human trafficking. Because the indigenous inner-city, working-class Protestant population has virtually disappeared, it means that a vital component of urban connectivity has been lost within Dublin Protestantism.
This shift has been true across the Protestant denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc…), not just the Church of Ireland.
Therefore how do Dublin’s Protestant’s approach their citizenship today, 100 years after the Uprising that led to Irish Independence?
There are three basic responses to all forms of change; reject, adopt or adapt. These three narratives are reflective of three self-understandings of the Protestant narrative since Irish Independence.
There is one school of thought, which suggests that broad Irish society has rejected Southern Protestants. It cites the dramatic and continuous population decline, that lasted all the way from Irish Independence in 1922 until 2001. It also cites examples like the ‘Special Position’ of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1937 Irish Constitution, the Fethard-on-Sea Boycott and Dr Noel Browne’s ‘Mother and Child’ scandal. Recently a group of Protestant Fine Gael Councilors wrote to An Taoiseach claiming that Protestant Schools are the victims of ‘discrimination’, due to budget cuts.
Education and healthcare, which are the two main interactive and contested points in Irish Church-State relations, are also the two main barometers used to assess the State’s treatment of Protestants. Speaking in the Irish Times in relation to Tallaght Hospital in May 2006, the then Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev Dr John Neill said, ”Our ethos is very dear to us. It is inclusive and patient-centred, with no ethics committee imposing standards. I can see this ethos being eroded with the removal of many specialities, including paediatric medicine, from Tallaght”.
There is however a counter-argument that says Protestants in fact are the ones that have rejected wider Irish society, by forming hermetically-sealed sporting and cultural clubs and preserving denominational admissions policies in Schools and Nursing Homes. In 2002, the UCD Sociologist Professor Stephen Mennell, described Southern Protestants as a ‘Bubbled Community’. One permutation of this is a lack of political and civic engagement. For example only 0.25% of members of the Church of Ireland belong to the Gardai and members of Defence Forces, compared to the national average which is 1%. 1.44% of the Church of Ireland are involved in central or local Government, compared to a national average of 2.97%.
Indeed, in his Diocesan Synod Address in October 2013, the Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev Dr Michael Jackson said, “Sectarianism itself is alive and well not least in the Church of Ireland community. There us a deeply dug-in antagonism to difference on the part of those who trumpet pluralism”.
There is also another school of thought that argues that Ireland has in fact whole-heartedly adopted and embraced its Protestant minority. In 1983, Kurt Bowen titled his book ‘Protestants in a Catholic State; Ireland’s Privileged Minority’. Although just over 3% of the population, Protestants are included disproportionately in almost all major State functions with religious involvement. Protestant Cathedrals are the iconic images used to advertise Ireland’s Tourist appeal. Indeed some commentators like David McWilliams, argue that Ireland has in fact become ‘Protestant’ in its thinking, especially with regard to economics.
Others though feel that Ireland’s Protestants have instead adopted the majority culture and have lost their distinctiveness. For example the GAA has a growing support within Southern Protestant communities. However much more than that, statistics suggest that wider Western secularisation is affecting Protestants, just as much as Roman Catholics, with a whole generation no longer engaging in religious practice.
There is however a further school, which I ultimately would belong to, that suggests Protestants have adapted themselves, in the context of wider Irish societal adaptations.
Protestant identity was historically formed in opposition to Roman Catholic identity. However there has been a dramatic decline in the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, since these days. In April 1951, the then Taoiseach John A Costello said, ;I am an Irishman second, I am a Catholic first, and I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of the hierarchy and the church to which I belong’.
However in July 2011, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said, ‘The Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism . . . the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day….The delinquency and arrogance of a particular version . . . of a particular kind of ‘morality’ . . . will no longer be tolerated or ignored . . . Today, that church needs to be a penitent church, a church truly and deeply penitent for the horrors it perpetrated, hid and denied’.
There has also been a dramatic shift in religious practice and identity, whereby Protestants are no longer the dominant minority. As a result of this shift, has also been a significant rise in the number of members who have come from Roman Catholicism. This is a major factor in the lifeblood and innovation of many Protestant Parishes and Church organisations.
As we approach the Centenary Commemorations, perhaps Southern Protestants can highlight their experiences, in adapting from a Unionist-majority tradition in 1916 (albeit with a rich and historic cultural nationalist and constitutional republican tradition) into a flourishing community in a modern, pluralist democracy in 2016. They are perhaps the only community in Ireland to have successfully made that shift and still to have held both of Ireland’s great political traditions in their midst. Perhaps they hold a vital key to Ireland’s future?