Monday, 22 February 2010

Monica McWilliams and cultural identity

Professor Monica McWilliams, then leader of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition and an MLA for South Belfast, spoke about cultural identity in an address to the Irish Association in Belfast on 2 September 2000:
Closer to home the unionist-nationalist divide still remains strong. Perhaps one of the saddest developments in recent years is how cultural identity has been used to exacerbate this divide. It is doubtful if either Cuchullan (sic) or Douglas Hyde would have recognised the cultural battles that are taking place in their name. Faced with an increasing Irish language and cultural hegemony, Unionists have responded with an inflated Ulster-Scots identity, that they police in terms of parity of financial and esteem equity. This is the ‘black pig’s dyke’ defensive mentality in practice.
There are several interesting points in what Monica McWilliams said.
(1) She ignored the fact that the Gaelic revival at the end of the 19th century, led by men such as Douglas Hyde, gave rise to Irish cultural nationalism.
(2) She referred to an ‘increasing Irish language and cultural hegemony’. The word hegemony means ‘dominance, especially by one social group over others’.
(3) She also said that there was ‘an inflated Ulster-Scots identity’. In fact there is nothing inflated about an Ulster-Scots identity. It is an important part of our cultural diversity and a significant strand in our cultural history.

Today Monica McWilliams is the chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and therefore responsible for upholding the cultural rights of individuals and communities, including the Ulster-Scots community.  It may therefore be helpful for those in the Ulster-Scots community to have this insight into the commissioner’s ill-informed view of their cultural identity.

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