Romancing Ireland : Richard Hayward: 2

When I first began to write books on Ulster history in the late 1960s, it was in an attempt to fill the obvious vacuum which existed in general public awareness concerning the real roots of the people of Northern Ireland. The increasing violence and depressing communal tragedy which continued over two decades and which I witnessed first hand as a Registrar in Child Health in the Ulster and City Hospitals and the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children only highlighted the need to make available to Ulster’s divided community some very pertinent facts about their unseen, but very real, shared history and heritage. Little did I realise then that my own work would itself become part of the debate, gaining acceptance from all sections of the community, but at the same time coming under attack from those whose stereotyped views of Irish history were seriously disturbed by what was being revealed.

One of the main claims made against me was that I was “indulging in pure revisionism”. “Revisionism”, as the word implies, means to ‘revise’ one’s interpretation of history, though often the word is also used in a pejorative sense, implying that the revision is deliberately undertaken to help substantiate the revisionist’s own particular ‘slant’ on our past. When The Cruthin was published forty years ago in 1974, such a charge of revisionism might have seemed to contain some validity. After all, terms and concepts such as ‘the Cruthin people’, ‘the non-Celtic Irish’, ‘the Galloway connection’, – appeared at that time to be confined mostly to my own work. Indeed, Michael Hall’s summation of my writings in Ulster – the Hidden History must have seemed so unfamiliar to the reviewer in the Linen Hall Review, that the latter concluded that the historical thesis being expounded aimed “at nothing less than an overthrow of current perceptions”. 

To introduce something apparently so ‘new’ into the historical debate might, therefore, have served to confirm the ‘revisionist’ label. Yet before we come to such a conclusion, let us consider the following quotes: 

“In the north (of Ireland) the people were Cruithni, or Picts… If the (Uí Néill) failed to subdue the south thoroughly, they succeeded in crushing the Ultonians, and driving them ultimately into the south-eastern corner of the province. They plundered and burned Emain Macha, the ancient seat of the kings of the Ultonians, and made “sword land” of a large part of the kingdom… Consequent on the (Uí Néill) invasion of Ulster (was) an emigration of Irish Cruithin or Picts (to Scotland)… The men of the present Galloway were part of the tribe known in Ireland as Cruithni, that is Picts, and only differed from the Picts of (Scotland), in having come into Galloway from Ireland.” 

To readers aware of the present controversy these quotes might appear to be a reasonable précis of some of my own writings. In fact, I am not the author of the quotes: they have been taken from the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, published between 1876 and 1886 – over one hundred and thirty years ago. My father bought me this encyclopaedia from Claney’s Auction Rooms in Bangor when I was eight years old and I read it from cover to cover over the next few years. The Britannica’s historical interpretation was not an isolated one, however – many books of the period took a similar approach. With his deep interest in archaeology , Edward Carson orientated towards the Pictish origins of the British people, while, as an Ulster Scot, James Craig wrote about Dalriada…As a little boy my father had also bought for me The Pictish Nation, its people and its Church by Archibald B. Scott published in September 1918 by T. N. Foulis of Edinburgh and London, Boston, Australasia, Cape Colony and Toronto.  It was printed in Scotland by R & R Clarke Limited of Edinburgh.  The author dedicated his book to his father and mother and to the memory of his youngest brother who died, in 1916, of wounds inflicted in action and sleeps in France with other comrades of the 1st Cameron Highlanders. This wonderful book was my introduction to the Picts. 

Richard Hayward was my favourite author at this time, so that as my prize for being First in History in Bangor Grammar School Lower Fourth (First Form), at the age of twelve, I chose his In Praise of Ulster, first published by Arthur Barker of London in 1938 and illustrated by J. Humbert Craig. In this volume we read “ At the time of which we speak the four Southern kingdoms, including that of the Ardri were Celtic in character but it is not certain that the Ulster Kingdom was Celtic; it seems more likely that Ulster was made up of a more ancient Irish people than the Celts, who were comparative newcomers. They seem to have been known as the Cruithni, but we will call them the Ulstermen, for that is what they were, and it is highly probable that they were descended from the aboriginal pre-Celtic Irish people, with some possible connection to the old Pictish race. It is quite certain anyway that these Ulstermen considered themselves different from the Southern Irish even in that yesteryear, and in the face of present-day controversy it is piquant to think that they most likely looked upon themselves as the real Irish people and upon the Southern invaders as a motley crew of foreign Celtic interlopers!” Richard continued this theme in Ulster and the City of Belfast (1950) and Border Foray (1957) published by Arthur Barker, with  illustrations by my old friend Raymond Piper. 

While I have clarified and amended such historical interpretations, having taken into consideration more recent archæological and historical conclusions, the direction of my enquiry was in fundamentally the same vein. Yet in the second half of the 20th century there occurred a definite change in emphasis. The Irish somehow came to be considered as most definitely Celts, and references to pre-Celtic population groups such as the Cruthin were unaccountably deleted from most history publications. Even the present (dare I say ‘revised’) edition of the Britannica, in its section on Irish history, no longer makes mention of the Cruthin or even the ‘Galloway connection’. Indeed, when we look closely at much of the academic material brought out over this period, it would appear that extensive ‘revision’ has indeed taken place, a revision which played down these former pre-Celtic and British aspects. It is ironic, then, that if the charge of revisionism can be substantiated, it is not with relation to The Cruthin, but to what has been taking place since the middle of the last century among the urban elite, who have indulged in a process of selective historical awareness. Yet, when we come to look at what has been written by a few eminent academics in the past few years, a remarkable – and for some, no doubt, uncomfortable – about-face seems to be occurring. Increasingly, historical evaluation is returning to some of that earlier thinking, with many previous misinterpretations having been corrected, of course – and it is the more-recent history that has been found ‘wanting’. 

It has also been said that some Loyalists have tried to use my work in their efforts to justify a sectarian position, in the hope that it might give a new credibility to the idea of a ‘Protestant Ascendancy’, only this time in cultural terms – a ‘we were here first’ mentality. How a proper reading of my work could lead to the supposition that the descendants of the Cruthin are somehow now exclusively Ulster Protestants is hard to fathom. Actually many individuals within the Protestant section of the community, including the Dalaradia organisation, are showing great interest in the common identity theme I have promoted for so many years and are not only feeling a new confidence in their own identity, but have a desire to share this British Isles (Pretania) identity with the Catholic section of the community. In many ways a cultural battle is now on, in which interpretations of history are right to the forefront. It is a battle in which narrow and exclusive interpretations, which served to consolidate each section of the community’s supposed hegemony of righteousness, are under attack from a much broader and inclusive interpretation of all the facets which go to make up our identity. A positive outcome of this battle might just help to drag the  people of Northern Ireland away from their obsessions with distorted history and the divisive attitudes of the past.

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