Monday, 9 November 2009

Ulster's Three Traditions (2)

On 26 October I commented on Ulster's three indigenous cultural traditions, a theme which has also been taken up by Mark Thompson in his blog

For some time there has been a tendency by elements in the cultural establishment to adopt a a two traditions model for Northern Ireland.  However that has not always been the case and in this and some future posts I intend to give some examples of academics and authors who have recognised that the three traditions model is the right one. 

Thirty years ago, in 1979, Professor F S L Lyons, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, endorsed the three-traditions model in his book Culture and Anarchy in Ireland 1890-1939.  He also illustrated it in this way:

It will be remembered that whenever President de Gaulle wished to commune with his soul he withdrew to his country estate at Colombey les Deux Eglises. So also Captain Terence O’Neill (as he then was) when prime minister of Northern Ireland, would sometimes leave the hurly-burly of Belfast and seek refuge at his ancestral home in the little town of Ahoghill. The parallel did not escape the wits and before long Ahoghill was rechristened Ahoghill les Trois Eglises. Like most Ulster jokes this one has a sting in its tail. The single phrase, ‘les trois eglises’, reminds us not only of the co-existence of three local cultures within the context of the dominant English culture but also that these three cultures were embedded in three different varieties of religion - Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic.

The ‘two traditions’ model in Northern Ireland is outdated and redundant.  It is a flawed model and the sooner it is buried the better.


  1. Does Mr McCausland have a view on the potential for Carnival - as in Beat Initiative's Belfast Carnival - to bring together the 3 traditions where it has recently included Ulster Scots drumming (presumably embracing Anglican and Presbyterian) with Bodhran drummers alongside its own Carnival Samba drummers. A way for all to have pleasure and co-operate together. A contribution to the way forward?

  2. I am aware of a number of cross-cultural events, which have illustrated the potential for a shared and better future. For example, in North Belfast, the lambeg and fife group from the Boys Model School has performed with the Irish traditional music group, with their bodhrans, from St Patrick's College. There was also an excellent event in Crumlin Road Gaol, organised by North Belfast Partnership Board. This involved the Ulster-Scots Experience, an Irish traditional music group and ArtsEkta. I have not had the opportunity of seeing or hearing the Carnival drummers from the different traditions but it sounds very interesting.

  3. Hi Nelson,

    As a newcomer to Ulster, I find this proposition, of three cultures, to be startling and intriguing. What, in your view, distinguishes Anglican culture from Presbyterian culture, and to what historical developments would you credit these distinctions?


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