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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

It's Our Easter Too, You Know

Unionists should take part in the 90th anniversary commemorations for the 1916 Easter Rising by marking the Protestants who played a major role in this historic event


Dr John Coulter • 14 March 2006

Unionists are trodding in bucketfuls of hypocrisy by blatantly snubbing invitations to participate in the 90th anniversary commemorations of the Easter Rising.

The whole purpose of the Love Ulster campaign south of the border was to highlight the victims of republican terrorism who many unionists believe are being airbrushed out of Irish history.

But the same Right-wing clique which is pouring scorn on the Easter Rising is trying to eradicate an entire section of Protestant culture on this island – namely the ethos of Protestant nationalism.

Not since partition in the 1920s, has unionism been given such a brilliant opportunity to re-establish its presence on the Southern counties of this island and embrace Protestantism's rich all-Ireland true heritage.

Unionism needs to stop being selective in honouring Protestant icons who played a major political role in the types of government on this island. It is only within the past generation, that unionism decided to de-sectarianise St Paddy's Day and stop writing it off as a 'republican holiday.'

Orangemen have marched on 17 March to honour their patron saint, and across the North this year Unionist Party branches held Irish events to honour this part of their heritage. So why not recognise Protestantism's icons connected with the Rising rather than simply dismissing them as traitors?

Was it not Edward Carson himself who started the treason by bringing in weapons and bullets from Germany to arm the Ulster Volunteers? Was it not Carson and James Craig who condemned Southern unionists to their fate at partition?

If ever there was The Great Betrayal in unionism's cultural history it was the Carsonite policy of not supporting Southern unionism.

How come its now perfectly acceptable for unionists to honour the Ballycarry teenager William Nelson, a Presbyterian who was hanged by the English for his role in the 1798 rebellion by the United Irishmen?

Yet nowadays unionism ignores Protestants such as the Ballymena Academy educated Sir Roger Casement of the Irish Volunteers, and Broughshane's Captain Jack White who drilled the Irish Citizens Army – both key characters of the Rising.

Indeed, three years before the Rising Casement and White organised an anti-Carson Protestant meeting in Ballymoney in unionism's North Antrim homeland.

The duo even had discussions with the Rev J B Armour, then minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney who was a Liberal Home Ruler rather than a nationalist. Do these Protestants not deserve a recognition by political unionism this Easter?

Or are we seeing the selective honouring of heroes in the same way Northern unionists refused for generations to honour the bravery of two of Belfast's winners of the Victoria Cross simply because they were Catholics?

James Magennis won his VC in 1945 during World War Two; Patrick Carlin got his for his courage during the bloody Indian Mutiny of 1857 – yet both were conveniently airbrushed out of unionist history.

Are unionists this Easter also going to rub out the memories of other leading Northern Protestants who had major connections with the Rising, such as the journalists Sean Lester from Carrickergus and Ernest Blythe of Lisburn – both of whom were active in the Irish Republican Brotherhood? And what about Bulmer Hobson, another Protestant nationalist of that era?

Unionists also seem to conveniently forget the Catholics who fought for King Billy at the Boyne as well as the thousands of Presbyterians who fought with Protestant revolutionary Wolfe Tone in 1798.

Unionism will not even recognise the existence of Protestants like Casement and White in April 1916, yet they will march proudly each 1 July to commemorate the thousands of Catholics who died on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

If unionism continues to refuse to recognise its Protestant heritage, it will soon rapidly deteriorate into nothing more than a two-county movement in Antrim and Down.

Unionism seems to have conveniently overlooked the Glorious Revolution gave birth to the Protestant Ascendancy which ran the whole 32 counties of the island.

What Protestants need is a strong dose of Revolutionary Unionism – an ideology which forces them to consider their all-island heritage and culture. And don't dismiss Revolutionary Unionism because of the so-called numbers game.

Given the rise of the evangelical movement in both Protestantism and Catholicism, this brand of 'born again' Christianity has the potential to become the majority voice in the Irish Christian faith within a decade.

Unionists snub the 90th anniversary of the Rising at their peril. The centenary in 2016 could well see a united Ireland under the banner of the European Union.

How many more Protestant icons will unionism have destroyed by then? The hard fact is that in heritage and cultural terms, unionists are their own worst enemies.


















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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