JOHN DERBYSHIRE: “The Star Of The County Down”—Ulster Protestants And Irish Catholics Both Suddenly Confronted With Globalism
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[Excerpted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively through]

Earlier (July 2020) by John Derbyshire:  Ireland Has Become The Heart Of Wokeness

Sunday July 11th marks a hundred years since the truce that ended Ireland's War of Independence. That led to peace talks with the British government and the Anglo-Irish Treaty. On December 6, 1922, the Irish Free State was born. Later it became, and still is today, the Republic of Ireland.

Ireland? Who cares?

Right now, NOBODY'S IN CHARGE AT THE WHITE HOUSE—well, nobody we elected—anarchist mobs are burning our cities, harmless protestors are jailed and beaten while arsonists go free, our justice system's been bought and paid for by a Hungarian billionaire, our kids are being taught that white people are evil, the Third World is pouring in across our southern border, our middle class is being replaced by cheap foreign labor on guest-worker visas, our savings are being wiped out by inflation, we're helicoptering people off the roof of our Afghanistan embassy, … Meanwhile Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are watching it all from their Barcaloungers, laughing and munching on popcorn.

OK, Ireland is provincial. The underlying issues, though, are ones we should all be thinking about and discussing: nationalism, globalism, religion, and related matters.

Consider some of the great issues that form the substance of serious conversation among thoughtful Americans nowadays. Terrorism vs. civil society; "diversity" vs. monoculturalism; race and identity; the place of religion in a hedonistic popular culture; the future of nationhood in a globalizing world economy.

You want to talk about these things? Go to Ireland, where they are all in active play.

At this point in history, Almighty God, following his own unfathomable intentions, has chosen a small windswept patch of boggy turf in the North Atlantic as a test site for the next few decades of human development.

Whether this attention is something the Irish people should feel flattered by, or cursed by, is for them to tell you.

(By the way, I’m paraphrasing myself here, almost twenty years ago—March 2002),

There was a wrinkle in Irish independence. British politicians—well, most of them—had resigned themselves to Irish independence for years before it happened. The obstacle: the heavily Protestant six counties of Northern Ireland—now known colloquially as “Ulster,” the ancient Irish province it approximates. These Protestants, known to American (but not British) historiography by the entirely accurate sobriquet “Scotch-Irish,” felt very strongly that they did not want to be ruled by Roman Catholics, who were a majority in Ireland as a whole.

In 1920, while the War of Independence was going on, the British parliament had passed a Government of Ireland Act giving some autonomy to Ireland. Not independence, only some autonomy. Actually, autonomies:  The six majority-Protestant counties of the north were to have a mini-government of their own; likewise the twenty-six counties of the south; but both territories were to remain parts of the U.K.

That was all supposed to come into effect in May of 1921. The Northern Irish were fine with it, but the Southerners fought on until that truce on July 11th.

So we've entered a whole clutch of centenaries here: Northern Ireland created as a separate part of the U.K., May 3rd. The truce that ended the War of Independence, July 11th. The Anglo-Irish Treaty establishing the Irish Free State, signed off on December 6th, came into effect a year later.

Here's the BIG wrinkle. The Anglo-Irish Treaty had a clause saying that if the six northern counties didn't want to be part of the Free State, they could stay part of the U.K. They took that option, and have remained part of the U.K. ever since. It's the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

To further confuse the issue of commemorations…

(What's that? You didn't think they could be more confusing? Hey, listen: If simplicity is what you cherish, stay away from Irish history. It's complicated, involuted, tangled, embrangled, snarled, knotted, raveled, and mazy. Thanks, Mr. Roget!)

So, to further confuse the issue, this coming Monday, July 12th, is The Twelfth, a great day for the Protestants of Northern Ireland. It celebrates victory in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, when Britain's Catholic King James II was defeated by his Protestant son-in-law William of Orange (“King Billy”). James fled from the British Isles and never returned.

For Protestants of the North, the Twelfth is a very big deal, their July 4th. And then some: In the lead up to it there are bonfires, parades, parties, picnics…The Twelfth is just the climax. Catholics mainly stay home.

That's enough history. What's happening in the present?

You know about Brexit, of course. That was Britain's voluntary departure from the European Union, which Brits voted for in a referendum five years ago. Brexit actually happened at last a year and a half ago, January 31st, 2020.

That created a problem in Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the U.K., so they left the EU along with England, Scotland, and Wales. However Southern Ireland, the Irish Republic, which of course is an independent country, has stayed in the EU.

So now the island of Ireland is divided in two parts: one in the EU, one not, with a land border between them.

You wouldn't think that to be an insuperable problem. Lots of EU countries have land borders with non-EU countries: Greece with Albania, Finland with Russia, Serbia with Croatia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, … Hey.

One part of the problem in Ireland is that there hasn't been much of a consequential border for 48 years, while both the U.K. and the Irish Republic were EU members.

In fact, to my personal recollection, there wasn't a very formidable border even before that, in the 1960s. (Although when the Troubles got seriously under way there was some militarization and beefing up of police presence around trouble spots).

To the degree people in Ireland remember real border posts, Ulster Protestants remember them as targets for IRA terrorists while Catholics remember them as manned by glowering British soldiers with guns at the ready.

That all came to an end with the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998. You can read the Agreement for yourself if you feel inclined, but I'd advise against it. Thirty-five pages of diplo-speranto is too much for me, and I'm actually interested in Irish affairs.

I did do a Ctrl-F on "EU," though. It got me fifteen hits. There's your problem right there. The Good Friday Agreement was drafted when Ireland and the U.K. were both EU members, and it assumes that will go on being true…for ever.

Good Friday really needs re-negotiating for the new situation. No-one wants to do that, though, for fear that any tinkering with it may upset the fragile peace it's established.

And then there's trade. The EU, of which Ireland is a member, has strict rules about member countries importing goods from non-members, especially food. Chilled meat products, for example, may not be imported. That means British sausages can't be imported into the Irish Republic [Brexit: What's the Northern Ireland Protocol?, BBC, June 30, 2021].

So what's the problem? You just have border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The problem is, nobody on either side of the border wants them.

Here are the names of some border posts between north and south: Belleek, Belcoo, Swanlinbar, Magheraveely, Aughnacloy, Middletown, Derrynoose, … You get the idea.

My point is, have you ever heard of any of these places? Not likely. The border goes mainly through remote low-density districts where farming dominates the local economy. Irish farmers don't want their eggs, milk, and meat held up crossing the border while trained customs inspectors check that produce follows EU and British rules, now different.

What to do? The diplomatic geniuses came up with something called the Northern Ireland Protocol—just "the Protocol" to its friends, who are few.

The Protocol basically puts the border between the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland in the Irish Sea, between the British mainland and Northern Ireland. Customs checking of goods to or from the Irish Republic is carried out in Northern Ireland ports.

That's ticked off the Ulster Protestants, who are now grumbling that they're second-class citizens in the U.K. You can see their point, but no-one's been able to think of any better solution.

You've probably thought: Well, yes. A united Ireland would work a whole lot better, either in or out of the EU. Most likely it would be in: In that 2016 referendum, Northern Ireland voted against Brexit, 56 percent to 44 [EU referendum: The result in maps and charts, BBC, June 8, 2016].

And that Protestant majority in Ulster, that forced Britain's hand a hundred years ago, no longer exists. That doesn't mean there's a Catholic majority, though. Neither religion has a majority. Protestants were just slightly ahead in a plurality at the last census ten years ago, 41.6 percent to 40.8 percent.

And I should add the customary caution here that "Protestant" and "Catholic" map only approximately on to "U.K. loyalist" and "Irish Republican." A lot of northern Catholics prefer being subjects of the Crown. The health service, for one thing, is better than the Republic's.

So: ten years ago, 41.6 percent Protestant to 40.8 percent Catholic. Now, ten years on, the Catholics may have inched ahead; but still only as a plurality, not a majority.

The interesting number is the seventeen percent not declaring any religion. That's one person in six; and that percentage is also likely higher now.

Is there a trend? There sure is. Looking at the census figures for my own age cohort, aged 75 to 79, northerners are 58 percent Protestant, 32 percent Catholic, ten percent none. That's the remnant of the old Protestant majority. Now look at my son's age cohort, ages 25 to 29: 33 percent Protestant, 45 percent Catholic, 21 percent none.

So not only have Catholics caught up with and likely overtaken Protestants, but unbelievers have also doubled in that younger age cohort.

That looks like a sure foundation for a united Ireland at last.

The funny thing is that the wisest heads in Ireland say it ain't gonna happen.

The wisest head I know of in Ireland is historian Ruth Dudley Edwards, who has been right about everything to do with the Emerald Isle for as long as I've been reading her, which is about thirty years.

Here she was on July 6th:  

Ireland has a hard-won stability, and it doesn't want it undermined. Unionists should stop worrying. Trustworthy polls show a united Ireland isn't wanted and even if a border poll happened, Southern voters would vote no while claiming to have voted yes.

Unionists should fear not — the south does not want a united Ireland,

The "Unionists" she refers to are the Northern Irelanders who want to keep their union with Britain. They do not want a united Ireland. It's confusing, I know.

Fundamentally what's happened is that the strongest, most militant style of identitarianism in Ireland today is found not in the Republic, not at all, but among the Protestant working-class and underclass of the north [“The whole thing’s falling apart.” Northern Ireland’s unhappy birthday, Economist, July 6th 2021].

The fierce Irish Republicanism that was driving those events a hundred years ago—the events that led to Irish independence—and that kept the Troubles burning until twenty years ago, has been melted away by globalism and its allies: multiculturalism, feminism, atheism, hedonism, and the rest.

Sure, you can still hear old-style passionate Irish Republicans barking away in odd corners, but nobody pays attention.

The Republic of Ireland today is, as I noted in my May Diary last year, the Heart of Wokeness.

Nationalism? Religious identitarianism? That stuff is so old.

So, just as I wrote twenty years ago, if you want to see the deepest currents of modernity in their slow, quiet movements, there they are plain to see in Ireland.

Oh, that damn stupid Protocol? Looks like they're stuck with it.

Some signout music. With all those Irish commemorations I've noted, obviously something Irish is called for. Since Monday is The Twelfth, a big day in Ulster, it should be something with a Northern color. On the other hand, with the centenary of the truce on Sunday and hopes that the vicious, bloody sectarianism of the Troubles are well and truly in the past, it should be something irenic and non-political.

So here's the great John McCormack with "The Star of the County Down"—that county being one of the six in Ulster.

And before anyone makes the accusation, let me say that the fact of the lady in the song being named Rosie had no influence at all on my choice of music, absolutely none whatsoever.

Music clip: John McCormack, "Star of the County Down."



John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

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