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01 Jul

Michael Brown on the Centrality of Ulster

The Union of Craic (see embedded tweet below)

This image of the Union of Craic reminded me of Michael Brown’s opening to his political biography of John Toland. 

Inishowen is isolated. A promontory on the northern reaches of the Donegal coast, located on the north-western corner of Ireland it is a remote peninsula which seems removed from the concerns of wider Irish, let alone British politics.

Yet this image is deceptive, for in fact Inishowen is near the very heart of the British Isles. The map of the archipelago, when turned on its side, makes this apparent, for the province of Ulster juts out into the Irish Sea and is nestled between the Argyllshire region of Scotland, the north Welsh region where the island of Anglesey gestures towards County Down, and the Cumbrian coastline of England. This position at the heart of the British Isles has had the unfortunate consequence of making the province the archipelago’s charnel house: when the political structures of governance and representation have become unstable or illegitimate, Ulster has been the central arena of contestation…


This is highlighted by the highlighting of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland in yellow in the image. The Union of Craic sweeps from south to north and west to east, with Ulster clearly at its heart.

Inishowen is the point furthest north on the island of Ireland. Brown outlines the “incongruous connections” to be found there, as in the rest of Ulster:

The strategic centrality of Ulster to the political concerns of the British Isles did not always result in such hatred and internecine violence. Ulster was also a province filled with incongruous connections, local settlements and negotiated loyalties. Inishowen, for instance, was the site of a Protestant plantation under the stewardship of Arthur Chichester in the early seventeenth century. It saw the intrusion of Presbyterianism in the 1670s. Yet the Anglican rector in Clonmany parish from 1672 to 1711, Daniel McLaughlin was the brother of the Catholic priest, Peter, who had responsibility for the overlapping parish. The very fact that the province represented the narrow ground of the British political fault lines ensured that those who lived with the threat of earthquake oft entimes resolved to negotiate the fractured landscape with agility and guile.

At first glance, John Toland fits with this profile of accomodatory aptitudes. By his own account he was born in Inishowen in 1669 or 1670.

Quotes from Michael Brown (2011) A Political Biography of John Toland, Pickering & Chatto, pp. 21-22.

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