These became amplified due to the violence of the Irish Civil War and the 1921-1922 establishment of the Irish Free State. With the 1800 establishment of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland now reduced to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, unionist political discourse adopted a tone of defensiveness. This expressed itself in the form of sectarian prejudice against Roman Catholic populations within Scotland and Ulster. It therefore proves worthwhile to examine sectarian unionist sentiments within this period in order to explore its effects on intellectual culture. From published historiography to Kirk reports to street-level extremists, sectarian unionism influenced the larger culture of Scottish Unionism.
The Union of 1800 established Great Britain as a Protestant State with an Irish Roman Catholic population in thrall. Despite the 1829 passage of Catholic emancipation, a Protestant Ascendency effectively ruled throughout Ireland. This proved very strong in Ulster, where Scottish Presbyterian settlers outnumbered the native Irish population. The settlers considered themselves as both entirely British and settlers in a harsh and unfamiliar landscape. Having travelled to an alien land, they sought to recreate Lowland Scotland within Ulster. such views also found expression within political culture as a public doctrine of ethnic and religious distinctiveness and concomitant superiority. In particular, the role of the fraternal organization the Orange Order cannot be underemphasized precisely because of its influence within both Scotland and Ulster. The Orange Order served as a forum for articulation and reassertion of Scotland and Ulster’s simultaneously Protestant and British identity through the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries. Still existing in the early Twenty-first century, it keeps the sentiments of sectarian unionist identity alive in both regions.
Initially, the Orange Lodges operated as Army veteran association and subsequently expanded into civic associations. The Scottish Orange Order began regular ceremonial marches every July 12th from 1821 onwards. Intended to commerate King William III’s victory against James II at the Irish 1690 Battle of the Boyne, they soon became public expressions of sectarianism. Although Ulster Orangeism proved the stronger branch, Scottish Orangeism quickly became a popular medium for Ultra-Protestant demagoguery and engendered opposition from governmental authorities. The Sheriff of Lanarkshire and High Tory intellectual Sir Archibald Alison (1792-1867) viewed Orangeism as disruptive of public order and personally led dragoons against an Orange Order march. For Alison, the Order constituted working-class unrest in the same manner after Chartist protests.
However, the Orange Order persevered and gathering significant support in Glasgow among Protestant manual laborers. By the 1880s, it attracted serious attention from the Conservative and Liberal Unionist Parties. Its public demonstrations of support for Protestant Ulster against Home Rule displayed the Order’s numerical strength. Both political parties desired to gain mass support and utilized Orangeist rhetoric in favorr of a Protestant national identity. The Orange Order approved of the Liberal Unionist party and publicly opposed Liberal leader William Ewart Gladstone’s support for Irish Home Rule. Accordingly, Orangeist support became pledged to both the Conservatives and the Liberal Unionists. This further cemented a public political culture strongly committed to the Union of 1800 along with a national biconfessional Protestantism.
Conservative statecraft sought to unite Tory, episcopal Scotland with urban, working-class Orangeism for political victories. However, the Order’s militant anti-Catholic campaigns alienated tolerant, temperate voters. Such political maneuvering continued through the 1880s and 1890s with such industrialist Conservative MPs as William Whitelaw (Perth) appealing for Orangeist support. Increasingly, the Orange Order became perceived as a respectable bulwark of Unionist and Protestant identity instead of disruptive sectarian marchers. Orange leaders believed themselves as stewards of Protestantism against Catholic subversion. Although coordinating with Unionist candidates, the Order would not hesitate to upbraid those Unionist MPs who did not stalwartly defend biconfessional Protestantism.
The Order’s Grand Master William Young stated in an 1897 declaration that the Orangemens’ votes would only go to unswerving Unionists. The Order’s successive Grand Master David Ness sought greater closeness with the Unionist Party. Elected in 1910 as Scottish Grand Master, Ness’s theological background as a Church of Scotland minister bestowed greater legitimacy on the Order. Ness oversaw the construction of the Order’s central Lodge in Cathedral Street Glasgow. His talents of political organization and Protestant oratory results in his 1920 appointment as Imperial President for the entire Order. Ness’s membership within the clerical ranks of the Church of Scotland gave him greater social acceptance and this continued under the leadership of Moderator John White. Throughout his term as Imperial President, Ness cultivated associations with Unionist politicians and presbyterian leaders. He sought to fully include the Order within Scottish political life.
Ness served as Imperial President when the Kirk compiled its prejudiced 1923 report The Menace of the Irish race to Our Scottish Nationality. His successor Colonel Sir Archibald Douglas MacInnes Shaw DSO (1895-1957) further increased the Order’s incorporation into elite political culture. Shaw was born into an established Unionist political family with his father serving as Lord Provost of Glasgow (1908-1911). Shaw served the Order’s Scottish Grand Master from 1924 to 1946 while active in Unionist politics as a Glasgow City Councilman (1921-1925) and West Renfrewshire MP (1925-29). Shaw’s public addresses also rearticulated popular Unionism as a distinctive national discourse threatened by Irish Catholicism. He deftly wove Orangeism into an intellectual discourse of Scottish history with the Kirk as a repository of the nation’s identity. Therefore support for the Unionist Party translated into support for Scotland’s ancient institutions. This cleverly tied Orangeism firmly into Unionist cultural politics and gave the Order far greater respectability within both public culture and elite political and ecclesiastical circles.
Essentially a closed class with impenetrable connections to English and Scottish elites, the Ascendency’s presence ensured the exclusion of Roman Catholics from political authority. Interestingly, the Ascendency barred both Roman Catholic and Protestant nonconformists from elite power. Although this resulted in an exclusively Anglican Parliamentary representation, it did not discourage Lowland Scots from settling within Ulster. This new population became known as the ‘Scotch-Irish’ and developed a staunchly Protestant cultural identity. Many Scotch-Irish further emigrated to the United States of America and settled most notably in Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley. Their Protestant cultural identity remained strongly but they chafed against Anglican Tidewater familial control over economic exchange. Similarly, the Ulster Scots retained a ‘primordial unionism‘ borne out of a deeply ingrained Protestant theological culture combined with loyalty to a Protestant throne. This made Ulster ripe for both Orange sectarian activities as well as a mythologised connection to mainland Scotland. Tragically this resulted in the late Twentieth century ‘Troubles’ of Northern Ireland and continues in subdued form into the present day.
Kaufmann, Eric (2007). The Orange Order: A Contemporary Northern Irish History. Oxford University Press.
Macdonald, Catriona M. M. Unionist Scotland, 1800-1997. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, 1998.
McFarland, Elaine (1990). Protestants First: Orangeism in Nineteenth Century Scotland. Edinburgh University Press.