The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
United Irishmen
Davy Carlin • 6.11.03

I like others have been following the ongoing debate in the Irish News in relation to the United Irishmen with some interest. The debate has brought to the fore differing republican - nationalist understandings combined with loyalist understandings of this period. We have seen such issues as religion, the Orange Order, the union, sectarianism and much more raised, much based on fact while others based on wishful thinking, perceptions or indeed attempted revisionism. Nevertheless it is a worthy debate, which in some cases if you wade through at times that attempted revisionism or the falling into political and - or practically sectarianism coming from various articles, one can in fact at times objectively attempt to get an understanding of others' positions.

Having such a wide variety of differing opinions and understanding of this period should not be of much surprise as even on the hundred year centenary of the rebellion in 1898 James Connolly was moved to state that 'few moments in history have been more consistently misrepresented both by open enemies and professed admirers than that of the United Irishmen'. Like the United Irishmen, Connolly also has attempted to be claimed from many various quarters, this being both a testament and a tribute to their lasting legacies. So against this backdrop of continual debate on this issue I wish to raise but a few points.

Firstly then looking at Republicanism's claim to the United Irishmen, when I state republicanism I mean not that of traditional republicanism but that of Provisional republicanism (constitutional Nationalism). It is clear that the cause and beliefs of the United Irishmen would not sit well with many of this now locally articulated New Nationalism (Provisional Republicanism). With the ever embracing of corporate America, big business and the ruling exploitive powers and classes I reckon when Henry Joy stated that 'the rich always betray the poor' his words may now fall on deaf ears within such circles. The Catholic Church and their role, against the rebellion of the 'French Disease' has also been well documented. The church was part of a three tier British strategy against the rebellion which included also the attempted intensification of sectarianism and the increase of repression. Nevertheless from the various 'wings' of republicanism - nationalism they all wish to attempt to claim the United Irishmen, from Fianna Fail to left republicans they want to claim to stand in Tone's tradition.

Secondly looking at loyalists and their claim to Henry Joy McCracken and the widening debate in relation to Protestants and their position in such matters, I find interesting and such debate is welcomed. A number of points have been raised which I would like to touch on. Firstly David Rose stated Jan 6th that the link with Britain best guaranteed the equality of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter. Looking objectively this is a complete contradiction of what the United Irishmen stood for. They stood firmly with the breaking of the Union, this is a historical fact and again well documented. If one believes in the cause of the United Irishmen how then can one claim to 'uphold' that which the United Irishmen were against? Secondly how can one uphold the beliefs of the United Irishmen while in tandem support those that were set up to crush them? The sectarian 'peep O day boys' renamed as the Orange Societies were founded to create division not unity and to crush with other tactics any possible unity of the United Irishmen.

On the issue of the Orange Order's initial sectarian purpose, William Blacker, a member of the landed gentry who became the first grand master of the Orange Order described in the first meeting of his lodge 'a determination was expressed of driving from this quarter of the country the entire of its Roman catholic population'. On the issue of the Orange men's role against the United Irishmen the British General Knox laid out British strategy at the time, 'I have approved a plan to scour a district full of unregistered arms: this I do, not so much with a hope to succeed to any extent as to increase the animosity between the Orangemen and the United Irishmen. Upon that animosity depends the safety of the centre counties of the North'. Finally on the issue of the Orange men's make up General Knox confessed 'they are bigots and will resist Catholic Emancipation'. In effect rather than the Orange Order being established for religious and civil liberties it was established and developed to create division and to attempt to crush the United Irishmen.

So with then support from the Catholic Bishops against the 'French Disease' the development of this sectarian division and the orange order coupled with continued repression, state strategy was aimed at destroying the unity of the United Irishmen.

The debate while based in an historical context has also raised points in relation to the present with at times the debate unfortunately reverting to both sarcasm and sectarianism. Despite this though, I believe that readers can and will draw their own conclusions and on that issue I wish to draw my own historical lessons in relation to the practicalities of today. As this ongoing debate I hope will continue where differing political 'understandings' of that momentous period can be addressed, I believe that while many may have their own view on this issue that the lesson that we can all draw from the United Irishmen is of the unity they rallied across the religious divide for their cause, with Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. It was important then and is an important lesson for today.

While many have and will claim such historical events and beliefs as their own or as a set of principles they with others follow, I have always believed that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Those who talk of the United Irishmen and state they adhere to and uphold their principles should be judged on not what they say but in their actions. Many can, do, have and will state certain beliefs and principles, yet how many actively follow them? My belief is that the true
inheritors of the United Irishmen will stand firm against sectarianism and actively fight it; they will fight for equality for all our peoples and stand up for justice, they will look for unity and stand against division, they will do this on the understanding of the true principles of the United Irishmen - not communal politics, but that of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

7 November 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Ted Honderich Interview
Mark Hayes


Disappeared and Disapproved

Anthony McIntyre


HMP Maghaberry: First Flames from a Tinderbox
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh


Housebreaking Ulster Style
Brian Mór


United Irishmen
Davy Carlin


From A Granny
Kathleen Donnelly


An Enemy of the Republic
Liam O Comain


Some Count, Some Don't
Michael Youlton


If Voting Changed Anything It Would Be Made Illegal!
Sean Matthews


Hackneyed Views of Cuba
Douglas Hamilton


Colombian Trade Unionist in Belfast: Meeting
Sean Smyth


2 November 2003


A Memo to Adams: Remember That Every Political Career Ends in Failure
Tom Luby



Anthony McIntyre


Ballot Papers and Elysium
Eamon Sweeney


Republican Prisoners and their Families Put at Risk due to Prison Strike
Martin Mulholland


Trust Without Honesty in the Peace Process?
Paul A. Fitzsimmons


The Letters Page has been updated.




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