The construction of national identity in Northern Ireland and Scotland: culture and politics after Thatcher

May, Anthony (2013) The construction of national identity in Northern Ireland and Scotland: culture and politics after Thatcher. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This study examines the construction of cultural nationalism in Northern Ireland and Scotland post-1979. Two particularly significant processes and practices are selected for analysis; football and literature. The methodological approach taken is a synthesis of ethnosymbolism, modernism, and cultural materialism, and nations are discussed as cultural constructs. Nationalism produced at both the elite and popular levels is considered, to provide a greater level of insight into the construction of national identity. The different nationally defined identities discussed are Scottish nationalism, Irish nationalism, unionism, and two varieties of Northern Irish nationalism. One of these is ecumenical, and is largely produced by literary elites. The other is loyalist, and is produced at the popular level. Scottish nationalism is produced through literature and through football, and is largely defined by working class values. As a consequence, literature has become a “popular” social practice in Scotland. Irish nationalism is also produced through literature and football; literature remains an elite practice in Northern Ireland, however. As well as fan groups, individual footballers play a key role in the production of Irish nationalism within Northern Ireland. The rejection of the Northern Ireland team by players of an Irish Catholic background, in favour of the team of the Republic of Ireland, is significant. Irish and Scottish nationalism have often been seen as antagonistic; however, there is an increasingly positive relationship between the two. In the novels of Irvine Welsh, Irish and Scottish identities are mutually informative; the identities of many Celtic fans, including the influential fan group “the Green Brigade”, are similarly constructed. Scottish and Irish nationalism are culturally “other” to unionism and loyalism, and are brought together by this common “enemy”. Most Rangers supporters consider themselves to be culturally unionist. Their identity is unlike that expressed by fans in other parts of the United Kingdom, and paradoxically appears nationalist as a consequence. The Northern Ireland national football team has become a symbol of loyalism, which is considered as a form of national identity because its rituals and symbolism are distinctively Northern Irish, not “British”. In adopting a nationally defined team, loyalists demonstrate the importance of Northern Ireland to their identity, rather than the United Kingdom.

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