Images of Ulster often rooted in an incomplete history


It was interesting to note in William Crawley’s recent BBC television series ‘Imaging Ulster’ the number of eminent historians who have come from Northern Ireland or, if you like, Ulster — a term less in use today, apart from rugby and Gaelic football — given that Ulster or Northern Ireland is such a small place, with a total population less than that of many a large city.

It seems that it is not only in sports that Northern Ireland individuals excel.

However, in speaking of the past that shaped what is now Northern Ireland and the images we have of it, which was the theme of the series, they might have stressed more, that present “images” are shaped as much by what is omitted as by what is remembered in the telling of the past.

The present “image”, arrived at by omissions, and then repeated over and over again, comes to shape our perceptions of the past, and unwittingly we are dominated by it.

This point, although without saying so, was tacitly made when we were told that the oft quoted statement by Lord Craigavon on a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people was said in the context of the usually omitted Eamon de Valera’s boast that Ireland was a Catholic nation.

Put the two together and we get a different image of the past from that given by singling out, as is the usual custom, Craigavon’s statement and omitting de Valera’s.

This applies to much else that passes amongst many in Northern Ireland for Irish history.

W A Miller