Project to turn North into Unionist Valhalla cleansed of Irishness has patently failed

Posted By: November 21, 2019

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, November 20, 2019 

You might have noticed a news story recently about research into pine martens by a Queen’s University department

The story said: “Surveys were conducted across Northern Ireland in a variety of habitats for the research.”

No doubt much was learnt about the habits of the animals which could be put to use helping the numbers of the little critters to increase.

However, just as fascinating as the habits of pine martens is the thinking behind the research. Why restrict it to the north? Are pine martens here any different in their habits from those in the rest of the country? Furthermore, how do we know that a pine marten studied in Tyrone hadn’t snuck across the border from Donegal because, guess what, nobody told it there was a border? Furthermore, maybe pine martens from Monaghan have subverted the habits of northern ones in Armagh? How would  you know? To find out – shock, horror – you’d have to study the habits of pine martens, dare we say it, in the rest of Ireland.

As soon as this place [Northern Ireland] was carved out a century ago the Northern administration began trying to devise and establish, post hoc, a spurious geographical, cultural and historical identity, a gap between the north and south; with some degree of success it must be said. At the outset it was a bit of a rushed job because, remember, Ulster Unionists opposed home rule and never wanted a separate arrangement for Ulster, much less for two thirds of it.

Queen’s University  played an important role in the project to create Unionists’ own version of an artificial national territory and people, what historian Benedict Anderson called ‘an imagined community’. The new northern regime threw money at Queen’s Geography department, soon the UK’s biggest. Led by a Welsh blow-in, E. Estyn Evans, appointed in 1928, it immediately began to invent a six county identity based on non-existent historical, geographical and even, most laughably, archaeological concoctions. A plethora of Ulster ‘histories’ were written to show Six County distinctiveness from the dawn of time from the backward, benighted South.

Evans copied the south’s Irish Folklore Commission, setting up a committee on Ulster Folklife & Traditions which ultimately led to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. The Ulster Museum, also created in the same vein, could never match the absurdity of Evans’s other projects. At one stage in the late 1920s there was even an official effort to call the place Ulster. The BBC, acting as an arm of Stormont until the 1980s, helped enormously and continues in the failed project of inventing an entity which never could achieve any legitimacy among a growing number of its inhabitants.

BBCNI adopted the unionist title of ‘Ulster’ for many of its programmes as well as its radio channel, and never ceases to make  programmes extolling the separateness of aspects of The North from the rest of the island. It broadcasts as a region of the UK, not of Ireland. It still pretends stories need translation, ‘Gardaí (Irish police) arrested two men…’. Or, ‘The Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) said today…’. Who knew? BBCNI believes, contrary to all evidence and experience, that The North is a “nation.”

The whole project of inventing an exclusive Unionist Valhalla cleansed of any trace of Irishness failed as anyone can see.

The Good Friday Agreement officially demolished any legitimacy it had. The whole place only exists until it is voted out of existence. The north’s industrial and economic raison d’être for separateness has long gone. Economically it’s a basket case, at the bottom of UK regions and lagging far behind the Republic in wages, benefits, foreign investment and productivity.

Like everything else the endgame here has approached more urgently because of Brexit. The exigencies of a final Brexit trade deal based on the current Withdrawal Agreement will compel people here to ask what is the purpose of the border since demonstrably, it benefits no one.