Such talk is utter nonsense. Frankly, it is my view that we have never been as far away from Irish unity as we are now. The reasons for this are numerous and in this piece I will address what I believe to be the main causal factors, and then I will attempt to offer a strategy that may be efficacious to the struggle in modern day Ireland.
Amidst an anticipated heat wave and under an Irish sky thousands are set to land in Rossnowlagh Co. Donegal this weekend for ‘The Twelfth’ celebrations, and I am sure the Craic will be mighty so!
Thankfully, I am sure there will be a healthy level of animosity and bitterness in the adjacent town-lands of Ballyshannon and Bundoran towards the unfolding events. And maybe at the extreme end of things a few stones will be thrown, but I am sure most antics will just be confined to talk in pubs. Yet outside of this minority, and to my initial surprise, there is an extreme fear of Irish unity (and the ramifications thereof) from the vast majority of ordinary people in the South of Ireland. To explain, the imagery of the ‘black North’ is still at the forefront of most people’s minds, and these people will do anything to maintain the current status-quo. Indeed, on closer inspection many hard-line Irish Catholics and Gaelic speakers could very well-be closet Unionists, and without question there are many members of the Orange Order living and working happily in border counties in the South and beyond.
The truth is on this side of the border ordinary people are too comfortable to be bothered with the drastic changes that come from an amalgamation with ‘the black North.’ And conversely the same hesitation is very well felt by many in the North in respect to the South. In this way, there is no real thirst for radical change by the masses because such change can only bring with it an unacceptable level of risk and uncertainty for themselves and their families.
It is not unheard of for those in Irish republican circles in the North to consider Unionists and Loyalists to be dinosaurs or knuckle-draggers; yet that very same perception and label is directed at Irish republicans from a sizeable portion of people in the South of Ireland. Consequently, there is a startling disconnect and lack of understanding on the differences and nuances of the political landscape on both sides of the border by Irish republicans, and it is this lack of understanding that makes the attainment of Irish Unity an impossibility!
All one has to do is to look at how Sinn Féin operate North and South of the border. They (SF) may be an all-Ireland party but they are not stupid and are fully aware of the drastic differences in the electorate either side of the border. In this way, although the physical border and it’s infrastructure has long been confined to the past, the psychological border between North and South has never been stronger. And it is this psychological split that has allowed the British to implement Brexit with minimal interference or an implementation of a hard border.
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So, under such testing circumstances how can Irish Unity be achieved in modern Ireland? Because it certainly cannot be done by the bomb or the gun, for such an outdated approach can only serve to exacerbate the existential division North and South.
Firstly, the concept of sectarianism must be dismantled. The governments on both sides of the border have an onus to educate the next generation accordingly. Namely, the key role Protestants had to play in the struggle for Irish freedom. Certainly in terms of the United Irishmen and rebellion of 1798, and the role Catholics played subverting their cause while working for the Crown in the Monaghan militia. Indeed, the battle cry at the battle of Antrim was ‘remember Orr’, and it can well be argued that the first Irish republican to be executed by British forces was the same William Orr in 1797 at Carrickfergus castle.
Furthermore, one would be hard pressed to find an Irish republican who has visited his grave at Templepatrick, a grave often dawned by an Easter Lily and located at the rear of a Unionist mansion. Nor is there much knowledge of Jemmy Hope, another Protestant United Irishman who is buried in Mallusk cemetery. It is of interest that the headstone of Hope was blown up by loyalists during the Troubles, such is their collective shame of having the blood of Irish rebels flowing through their veins! I find it astounding that such facts are not common knowledge, and school trips to such locations would surely be most beneficial. Such historical events, amongst more recent examples, must be conveyed to the next generation to eliminate any notion of future sectarianism. For the tradition of Irish republicanism or the concept of Irish unity have absolutely nothing to do with Catholicism or religion, rather it focuses on what is best for the country and for her people.
Next, and only when sectarian tendencies have long ended, all the people both North and South must meet on common ground to come to terms with the fact that the solution to their woes is in the complete removal of British influence in Ireland, to thereby give the people total control over their own affairs and way of life. Such common ground can only ever take shape on bread and butter issues that are shared by everyone, regardless of religion or race. It can never arise from an ‘Us versus Them’ mentality. Examples of such bread and butter issues would of course be housing, labour, healthcare, education and the freedom to celebrate one’s culture and one’s faith without fear of intimidation. Indeed, Unionists must be given their place at the table.
Finally, and in consideration of the aforementioned points, if the thirst for Irish Unity is to develop it must be sold differently to the masses on both sides of the border. It must cater to everyone, including Unionists and Irish republicans. Yet to achieve this a New Ireland is required that combines the best features of the Northern State and the Free State while upholding the vision set out in the 1916 proclamation. For example, an all Ireland national health service, affordable housing, a national curriculum and vastly improved labour rights would be a good start.
To conclude, could such circumstances really be the driving force behind the attainment of Irish Unity? Alas, I am afraid the answer is probably no. For it is just a foolish notion in my own head. The reality is that in the comfort of this modern bourgeois society the masses are not organised nor are they willing to be organised!
But make no mistake Ireland will be United, and when the time comes it will be under the most benign of circumstances. Cold hard logic tells me that it can only come when it is financially viable to the ruling class and the Irish and British economy. ‘This is the way the world ends - not with a bang but a whimper.’
⏩ Gowain McKenna is a writer, structural engineer (marine), musician, political theorist (and sometimes poet). His political compass is far-left moderate libertarian and identifies himself as an Irish Republican first and foremost and Connolly socialist second. He runs a blog The Road To No Town and he has three degrees in the field of aerospace engineering: - M.Phil M.Sc B.Eng (Hons)