The Battle of Moira…Northern Ireland Assembly, 19th February, 2001

The following is a most illuminating and enlightening intervention by my SDLP  colleague Arthur Doherty in the Northern Ireland Assembly 14 years ago.

Arthur Doherty (19 January 1932 – 6 February 2003) was a nationalist politician.

Born in County Donegal, Arthur studied in Strabane, then at St Columba’s College in Londonderry, before becoming a teacher, he later studied Education and Arts and Design at the University of Ulster and became active in the Irish National Teachers Organisation.

Arthur was involved in the civil rights movement, and joined the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), later serving on its executive.  He was elected to Limavady Borough Council in 1977, serving as Mayor of Limavady in 1993. In 1996, he was elected to the Northern Ireland Forum representing East Londonderry, and he held his seat at the Northern Ireland Assembly Election, 1998. He resigned from the Assembly with effect from 1 September 2002 and was replaced by Michael Coyle. He sadly died the following year, after a short illness.

The significance of Arthur’s intervention was that, although he was descended from the Clan Conaill, who were Gaelicised Cruthin, he had absolutely no idea of early Irish history or even the history of his own clan. Yet his party’s ethos was predicated on Ireland as a nation, with its own historical identity. Arthur was a highly educated man, so where does the fault lie?..The answer lies,of course, in the reactionary and retrogressive nature of the political ideology of Irish nationalism itself, rather than Arthur’s espousal of it..

Ian Adamson UUP 3:00 pm, 19th February 2001

3. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline whether he has any plans to commemorate the Battle of Moira (637 AD).

(AQO 858/00)

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

My Department has no plans to commemorate the Battle of Moira. That represented the final and disastrous attempt of the Ulaid King Congal Cáech to challenge the growing supremacy Uí Néill dynasties of the midlands and the north-west. The battle was fought on 24 June 637 AD, not far from Moira village. This year marks its one thousand three hundred and sixty-fourth anniversary and is of no particular significance.

Photo of Dr Ian Adamson Dr Ian Adamson UUP

The Battle of Moira was one of the most significant battles in early Irish history. It was significant in three respects: politically, ecclesiastically and culturally. It was significant politically because, following the battle, the old links with Scotland were broken. In fact, you might say that the first union was dissolved. It was significant ecclesiastically because, following the battle, the cult of Patrick —

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

Dr Adamson, can you get to your question, please?

Photo of Dr Ian Adamson Dr Ian Adamson UUP

I must reply. The cult of Patrick moved from Connor in Antrim, where it was formed, to Armagh, which became the ecclesiastical centre of Ireland. Culturally, it engendered a series of sagas, some of which are still —

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am sorry, Dr Adamson. Unless you come to your question, I am going to rule you out of order.

Photo of Dr Ian Adamson Dr Ian Adamson UUP

Some are still prevalent today, especially Seamus Heaney’s great work ‘Sweeney Astray’. The Minister must agree that he would be contributing to cultural education if his Department recognised events such as the Battle of Moira as historic, rather than historical. Would it not help the development of a shared sense of identity for future generations in Northern Ireland if we paid more attention to those events which have not been trademarked by mural painters? That could perhaps be brought about through the Columba Initiative.

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

I replied originally that I thought that the Battle of Moira had no particular significance. I now stand corrected by the remarks that Dr Adamson has just made. I am aware that it is one of many battles fought over the centuries between the Uí Néill and the Ulaid. I also recognise that it has a significance. What I have ascertained actually came from a book that Dr Adamson edited. The historic significance of a battle in 637 AD needs to be better represented and explained before we begin to commemorate it. It is clearly something that Dr Adamson feels strongly about. There are obviously resonances, both within the Chamber and without.

Photo of Mr Arthur Doherty Mr Arthur Doherty Social Democratic and Labour Party

Taking account of what Dr Adamson has just said about the significance of the historic battle, will the Minister, in the interests of efficiency, consider setting up a committee of one — namely, Dr Adamson — to make preparations for the commemoration of the battle? Will he further require him to report 12 months before the date of that commemoration and to make his report in the language in common use at that time?

Photo of Michael McGimpsey Michael McGimpsey UUP

I realise that that was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. It is important to recognise that some 10 years ago Dr Adamson was instrumental in having an interpretative panel commemorating this battle unveiled inside the Moira demesne. Unfortunately, the panel was vandalised and has not been replaced. Lisburn Borough Council may have a role in replacing it. I would not begin to suggest that Mr Doherty was the one who vandalised it.

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