Unionists should stop trying to be uber-British

The Union Flag. By any objective measure it’s a cool flag, it stands out from the crowd.

It is, of course, a symbol of the Union of the three Kingdoms of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick… and in Northern Ireland it is a symbol of Unionist insecurity.

Which is odd, because the “Union” it represents (less 26 counties) is supposedly now secure, insofar as it ever reasonably can be.

Yet in my home village of Groomsport there is a daft attempt ongoing to get yet another Union Flag placed on permanent display – in addition to the three already there. Why? Would an equivalent fishing village in Britain have more than three?

What is it about Unionists that they have to be uber-British about these things? Why on earth would they make a memorial to brave young men, of all things, the latest place to turn into a counter-intuitive dogfight about flags? The cenotaph in Groomsport has managed perfectly well for over 90 years without a Union Flag – why precisely, in AD 2012, does it need one now? Cenotaphs exist all over Britain without flags – so why would one in Northern Ireland need one?

The same applies on civic buildings. In Britain, typically, the Union Flag flies on civic buildings only on “designated days”, of which there are currently 18-20. Perfectly sensibly, that is the rule at Stormont. So why precisely are civic buildings in Northern Ireland, most obviously Belfast City Hall, made an exception to this pan-British norm?

What is it about Unionists that they seek to abuse their own flag? What is it about Unionists that they seek to be different from British people in Britain all the time? What is it about Unionists that they seek to make Northern Ireland an exception to British conventions?

Is it not time they calmed down and started behaving, well, you know, like British people?

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6 thoughts on “Unionists should stop trying to be uber-British

  1. L Kirk says:

    Ian,
    I could not agree more! Being brought up a Presbyterian in an Orange family frankly I find the attitudes of many unionist/loyalist communities baffling, frustrating and lacking in respect. Any person, body or organisation that erects a plethora of flags, bunting, banners, etc without taking them down again, and letting them rot before or eyes are anything but loyal. They remind me of dogs marking their territory. Yours,
    Frustrated in Antrim

  2. andyboal says:

    It’s all the same problem as the array of tattered flags that adorn our streets all times of year.

    When we were in Sweden, we saw plenty of Swedish flags around, but it seemed different. No territory marking, just an amount of pride.

  3. Gordon says:

    Ian,

    I agree with the example you have given about Groomsport and in general the UK wouldn’t have as many Union Flags flying about but even though the Union doesn’t appear to be in danger at the moment there is a pseudo-war of sorts being fought in the cultural forum.

    Little things like Londonderry the city or Londonderry the county being referred to simply as Derry on UTV news or even more galling on the BBC news smells to some border protestants or unionists in the outer nine constituencies as a nationalist agenda at work in the media. The issue of flags then appears to be a wail of defiance back at the media to tell them their Britishishness will not be erased.

    There is also the issue of using flags to mark territory and I don’t think anybody really wants to see society crudely split down those lines. However putting a Union Flag up in certain areas could mark your property for attack? Do we want to live in a society so intolerant of a flag?

    Dungannon was recently littered with Green, White and Orange bunting in the main square and shopping street. Shared space by any definition with the odd flag of the Republic of Ireland thrown in for good measure to celebrate St Patrick but what has the flag of the Republic of Ireland got to do with St Patrick? He was a saint for the whole of the island but I digress.

    I dare say it is a sense of alienation from society which sees the surge of flags which the PUL community are papering over cracks left by their elected representatives

    • other paul says:

      Gordon, as a person from a nationalist background I entirely agree about the tricolours at St. Patricks time, there’s no place for it and it’s making a political issue out of a religious holiday, a bit too much like the 12th for my liking… And as far as Derry/Londonderry goes I remember many moons Ian himself teaching me about this, I think it goes that the walled city is called Londonderry, but the county is Derry.

      • Re Derry, I say “Derry” for largely the same reason I say “Carrick”.

        Eamon Phoenix is very good on this. There was an “original townland” called “Derry” (which was actually in Donegal at the time), although the city was built by the London guilds and was thus always “Londonderry”. Strictly speaking, as Other Paul suggests, that applies only within the walls, and a lot of organisations attached to the broad built-up area refer to it as “Derry” – including Presbyterian churches, the Apprentice Boys and so on.

        The county was also always “Londonderry” from its inception, taking over from the short-lived “County Coleraine” and part of Tyrone, although counties and provinces along current boundaries were essentially an innovation (provincial boundaries were in fact drawn to make each province roughly the same size in terms of area).

        Thus, in writing, I generally refer to the city (i.e. the built-up area within the Derry City Council area) as “Derry” and the county as “Londonderry”.

  4. Clare says:

    There is a basic insecurity that goes back over 100 years. Distrust of British politicians has fed this insecurity.
    But more than anything, being a minority on the island still in many creates a sense of seige mentality. If it’s visible in Groomsport it’s even more visible in parts of North and West Belfast, and west of the Bann.
    Symptoms of a divided community Ian. The irony is that support for the Union is actually increasing in NI, and flag waving detracts from that.

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