9 July 1998 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

New in print: New myths for old

The Siege of Derry in Ulster Protestant Mythology
By Ian McBride
Published by Four Courts Press, Dublin

Although this book landed on my desk almost a year ago pressure of work meant that I never got the chance to review it until Easter of this year, as the talks process culminated in the so-called Good Friday Agreement.

As I settled down in front of a computer the irony of the time was that, given the week that was in it, I thought that this book could almost have been written about the history of today.

All the emotive phrases and ideas and underlying concepts of what loyalism and unionism are about have been and are being played out in regard to the Stormont talks.

Paisley and McCartney were to all intents and purposes claiming the mantle of the true unionists and were accusing Trimble of being a Lundy.

Trimble on the other hand saw himself as the Governor Walker of the plot - faithful to the realm and ensuring that it is truly defended.

Then there are the representatives of the UDA and UVF labelled, as were the Apprentice Boys of yore, the rabble but who rushed to the city's gates and closed them in face of the advancing Fenian hordes. They're now installed as the minor heroes of the piece. Although we shouldn't forget that when they rushed, metaphorically, to shut the city gates recently some ten Catholics were shot dead in a brutal and vicious onslaught.

The methodology of Orangeism/unionism/loyalism has always been to build myths around itself. We often hear unionists say they are defenders of democracy and freedom - what democracy do nationalists have in the Six Counties? What about gerrymandering?

For so long the unionists told us they were the peacemakers - what peace do nationalist have when we consider the `traditional' triumphalism of Drumcree?

And now as I update this review we are three days into Drumcree 4 and its attendant violence and intimidation. Sectarianism is the watchword yet the Unionists and Orangemen are in the middle of building another myth, namely they are marching to uphold civil and religious liberty.

The importance of McBride's book is that it is a chart that we can use to sail through the myth-making process so key to the ideological development of unionism/loyalism. What it doesn't do is explain the need for this myth-making.

That need arises out of the need to build a consensus around unionist power and privilege - in the unionist ideology the power to say no is the ultimate myth. They say their No is about self-determination. For the rest of us on this island who desire peace the ability of the unionists to say no is about blocking change and progress towards a peaceful accommodation. It seems then that it is the rest of us that are under siege now.

By Peadar Whelan

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1