Friday, 2 January 2009

'Clusters of regional and national identities'

In his Our Kingdom review of the book ‘Irish Protestant Identities’ Arthur Aughey quotes Tom Hennessey, writing about Ulster protestant identity and the frequent accusation that Ulster protestants (being mainly unionists) are confused as to their identity,

“‘Understanding Protestant identity in Northern Ireland’, he concludes (p256), ‘seems less a case of Ulster Protestants being confused about their identity and more a case of confused academics’. Diversity lies in the fact that there are not ‘one, two, three, or no nations within the Ulster Protestant community, but clusters of regional and national identities’”.

Of course the book’s subject matter is specifically Irish protestant identity, but Hennessey’s formulation is true of identity in general and in particular British identity. In the United Kingdom, citizens are able to give expression to a ‘cluster’ of regional and national identities. That is one of the strengths of unionism and Britishness, although nationalists claim that it is a weakness or implies confusion.

Aughey believes that Gordon Brown would benefit from reading Hennessey’s thoughts,

“he would discover that Northern Ireland is not peripheral to making sense of Britishness today but actually central to it. He would find reflections on the distinction between cultural, regional, national identities and political allegiance of a sort more considered than those in his own speeches.”

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