For almost two decades there have been intense and often enlightening debates about innumerable contentious subjects on the blogsite Slugger O’Toole.

Published: 2 February 2021

Since Saturday, there has been such a discussion after the distinguished historian, playwright and author Philip Orr wrote of his frustration at the lack of “a long-term, rich and complex tradition of ‘Pro-Union’ writing”.

He had hunted for published and unpublished reminiscences, drama, fiction and poetry that would have offered insights into “the motivations, struggles and destinies that have awaited men and women who were born into a pro-Union community in the changing decades since the controversial events which led to the formation of the Northern Ireland state in 1921”.

But, he concluded, there was no body of work “that matches the powerful display of (wildly different) accounts of Irish Catholic and/or nationalist upbringing which stretches all the way from the years before James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man via much of Seamus Heaney’s verse about family and countryside to Anna Burns’ innovative novel Milkman”.

Growing up in Dublin every second student claimed to be writing something, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards. Protestant equivalents in Queen’s University Belfast, above, would have been more focused on useful qualifications

Growing up in Dublin every second student claimed to be writing something, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards. Protestant equivalents in Queen’s University Belfast, above, would have been more focused on useful qualifications

The discussion rapidly degenerated into the now familiar argument about whether Seamus Heaney belonged to all traditions or was the exclusive property of nationalists.

I had indigestion after reading a hundred or so posts, but one that will stay with me was from someone calling themselves Elma, who has become dispirited by the increasing narrowness and negativity and aggression in the discussions.

“I grew up in a Scotch/Irish culture that I am proud of,” she wrote. “Rich with music, art, beautiful countryside and much crack and laughter. Homes full of books and animated discussion. By the time I was a teenager, it was further enhanced by mixing with my wonderful Catholic friendships and the folk clubs of Belfast etc. The 1970s ended all that and that society/culture broke down and has never been repaired.”

She had thought of posting a piece about “why I grew up believing I was Irish…. but it would be pointless. It would be taken apart by those who brand me a ‘unionist’ first and British second etc etc”.

As an outsider who came to love Northern Ireland, I have been frequently intensely frustrated that while its unionists were resolute and successful in defeating terrorism, they have a dismal record when it comes to countering Sinn Fein lies and propaganda at home and abroad.

I heard the republican line that unionists have no culture first expressed in the late 1980s at a conference by Tim Pat Coogan.

Now it is true that for a variety of historical reasons Ulster Catholics delighted in words while Protestants tend to concentrate on the practical — on science, on engineering, and manufacturing.

Catholics sang songs: Protestants played musical instruments.

When I was growing up in Dublin every second student I knew was claiming to be writing a poem or a novel and probably wasn’t.

The Protestant equivalents in Queen’s would have been more focused on earning useful qualifications and would have thought claiming to be a writer was pretentious.

But as I came to know more Ulster Protestants, I recognised the truth of those lines by Robert Greacen: “Ulster’s soul is tense with beauty/ wild, curtained beauty/ bursting in fierce reticence.”

The republican tradition doesn’t do reticence and now Sinn Fein is in charge of it, it has degenerated into bragging, lying and intimidating unionists away from public debate. SF sees culture as a means of winding up the Prods and rewriting the truth.

We heard last week, for instance, that The Martin McGuinness Peace Foundation — which is the imaginative title given to an organisation celebrating a mass murderer and torturer — is hosting a contest for the best poem about “ Martin’s legacy or his vision for a new Ireland” because his “love of poetry was well known”.

Máría Cahill skewered this with a tweet enquiring politely if anyone knew a rhyme for Patsy Gillespie (who was turned into a proxy bomb by McGuinness in 1990).

Gerry Adams, whose autobiographies revealed him as an imaginative writer of fiction was at it last week in Andersonstown News, shocked that Taoiseach Micheál Martin had rightly said that Irish society was complicit in the Mother and Baby Homes scandal.

No, no, no, said Adams.

It was the political establishment who were responsible for thousands of children being “subject to sustained systemic physical, sexual, and emotional abuse”.

That encompasses Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour. How convenient.

Well, quite apart from the hundreds of children killed or injured, there were tens of thousands of others bereaved and terrified during by the terrorist campaign which Adams defends.

He doesn’t mention the 500 or so children beaten or shot by republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

Or the rapes the republican establishment covered up like those of Máiría Cahill, and Aine Adams, raped by Adams’s brother Liam, her father.

Everyone who wants history rescued from Sinn Fein should get a copy of Who was Responsible for the Troubles? by Professor Liam Kennedy.

They already hate him for his last one: Unhappy the Land: the most oppressed people ever, the Irish?

This one will have them spitting blood. And when they’ve read it, they might be inspired to write on social media and elsewhere memories of what actually happened during The Troubles.

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