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Culture of Hate?

Billy Mitchell

Sean Smyth, in his article praising Feile an Phobail, urges Unionists like myself to follow the example of West Belfast “instead of ramming their hate driven culture down the throats of Nationalists, making it something they can share with all the communities in the North of Ireland”. This rather sweeping statement bears no resemblance whatever to my own personal knowledge and experience of the culture in which I grew up and the cultural activities that my family have enjoyed, and still enjoy.

The communities in which I grew up made provision for culture through local Amateur Dramatic Societies, Music Festivals, Choirs and Choral Societies, Recitals, Burns Clubs, Folk Dancing (both Irish and Scottish) and Amateur Art Clubs. Perhaps a bit tame compared with what is available today, but certainly not driven by hate. While I did not always avail myself of the opportunity to participate in such events, other than as a spectator, they were an integral part of community life for me as I grew up. I cannot remember any of these activities being rammed down the throats of anyone, Catholic or Protestant. On the contrary people from both traditions participated.

Few, if any of these activities ever received public funding. They were sustained by member’s subscriptions, public donations, jumble sales and whatever little revenue was gleaned from performances and exhibitions. It could be said that the lack of public funding helped to generate and sustain a true sense of community ownership and self-reliance. These activities could not have been sustained without the interest and the generosity of the community and they certainly could not have been sustained if they had been driven by hatred.

In South East Antrim we inherited the legacy of the rhyming weavers, which has long been neglected by the literary world but kept alive in the memory of the common people through fireside readings and recitations. Places like Roughfort, Lyles Hill, Ballyclare, Ballynure and Ballycarry had their own poets and traditions, which I knew about only because of the stories and recitals given during the long winter evenings in the days before television. (Yes, I am that old). The late John Hewitt did much to revive an interest in the work of the weaver poets and a few anthologies have been published in recent years. Readings of local poems and stories by writers both old and new are on the increase.

I have yet to come across any work by either the weaver poets or John Hewitt that promotes hatred. Indeed the annual John Hewitt Summer School which is held in a Catholic College draws people from all communities in Northern Ireland, and beyond. Both Tommy Mc Kearney and myself addressed a session of the Summer School in 2001. The F.W. Marshall Summer School which is held in Derry each year also draws participants from both traditional communities. Again, nothing in the works of Marshall or the programme of the Summer School promotes hatred or division between nationalists and unionists.

No discussion of local culture would be complete without a comment or two about dancing. Both Irish and Scottish dancing were part of the performing arts in my community. The majority of Irish Dance schools in East Antrim are organised and attended by people from the unionist community. My own daughter is a former Nine Glens champion and a local Greenisland girl has recently won her section of the Ulster Championships for the seventh time.

The social side of Irish and Scottish dancing was catered for through ceilidh evenings. Of course being “prods” we paid little heed to the Gaelic League’s insistence on “Irish only” dances. The “Waves of Tory” could have been followed by “The Lancers” without anyone batting an eyelid, and I could make as big an eejit of myself trying to follow the “Bridge of Athlone” or “The Walls of Limerick” as I could trying the “Gay Gordons”. With a “drap of the cratur” down the neck the steps were as confusing to me whether they were Irish or Scottish - but the crack was good. Sadly, the ceidlihs are a thing of the past. Television and the coca cola culture have seen to that. But both Irish dancing and Scottish country dancing are still alive and well, and enjoyed by people from both traditions within my local community.

I have been to a number community festivals, cultural events and art exhibitions this summer in predominantly unionist towns and villages where both Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and Nationalist, have been quite happy to come together to enjoy the scheduled events. None of these events fitted the stereotyped culture of hate that Sean Smyth attributes to people living in unionist communities. None of my own cultural preferences, or those of my family, could remotely be said to be driven by hatred. Yet as a unionist I am boxed by Sean into a cultural corner labelled “Culture of Hate”. Such stereotyping displays a prejudicial approach to life that sees nothing good in those who come from a different community and tradition. It is a prejudice that feeds on putting down the “other” and that, in itself, is inevitably tainted with the very hate that it attributes to others.






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If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good.
- Thomas J. Watson, Jr

Index: Current Articles

25 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Compassionate Parole
Marian Price


Culture of Hate?
Billy Mitchell


An Agenda Less Hidden
Davy Carlin


The Rioting Police
Anthony McIntyre


Still Life of Sorts
Brian Mór


No Surrender!
Brian Mór


Not An Inch!
Brian Mór


The Adventures of Super Stake Knife
Brian Mór


22 August 2002


Listen Rather Than Punish
Anthony McIntyre


To Hell With the True Believers
Newton Emerson


Merger Mania
Ciarán Irvine


Interface Workers Snubbed
Billy Mitchell


A Vibrant Feile
Sean Smyth


RIRA & CIRA: No Support and Going Nowhere?
Liam O Ruairc




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