Two tribes, one professor: what could be simpler?


I was on BBC Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh’s “Sunday Sequence” this morning talking about ageism. I’d initially planned to blog on the topic  until I tuned in to the latter part of the programme as I drove home. The presenter Róisin McAuley was interviewing a Queen’s University professor who was big into dealing with the past/post-conflict reconciliation/whatever you’re having yourself. And what phrase did the prof  use most? “Two tribes”. According to him, we keep reducing everything   to tribal loyalties.   Whether it’s Nelson Mandela or the Scottish referendum or the EU, we boil it down to the two-tribes equation: – unionism vs nationalism/republicanism.

I thought the presenter might challenge him on the use of the term but she didn’t. A pity,  for two reasons at least. The first is that to talk about unionist and nationalists/republicans as being two tribes suggests that we in the north are two sets of natives who  were discovered years back by our colonial masters. We’re not. The most rudimentary grasp of our history tells us that our colonial masters when they arrived here discovered one tribe, which they promptly set about subjugating. In pursuit of this they  imported their people – Scots and English, mainly – to help subjugate and defeat this native tribe. We’re still living with the consequences of that strategy.

Reason number two: the  good professor went on to explain that he was very much in favour of votes for 16- and 17-year-olds because that would help us get past tribal ( aka primitive) division and into normal politics. Whoa there, prof. The thing that divides what you call the two tribes is far from either primitive or abnormal. People here are divided on the constitutional/national question. From whichever side you approach it, the continued union with Britain or the ending of partition and the creation of a new Ireland is a large,  legitimate and hugely important political concern. It’s not two sets of primitives quarrelling over which end of a boiled egg you should take the top off. To argue that it’s a primitive distraction from real politics is to accept  the present state of partition as natural – that is, to accept the unionist argument that continued union with Britain is the reasonable and normal  state of affairs. Whoa again, prof. Not quite so fast. Every decade since the creation of this north-eastern state a hundred years ago has shown that what was created was anything but reasonable/normal/natural.  You may not agree with Charlie Haughey when he referred to our tormented little corner as a “failed political entity” but you can see why he said it. That is, if you weren’t a condescending prof with a mindless two-tribes mantra.

23 Responses to Two tribes, one professor: what could be simpler?

  1. paddykool November 30, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    “The Lilliputian religion says an egg should be broken on the convenient end, which is now interpreted by the Lilliputians as the smaller end. The Big-Endians gained favour in Blefuscu.”..

    ..I don’t know Jude .I ‘ve always liked to break my eggs at the pointy end. I think the wee beggars sit better in the eggcup with the rounder end facing south .It’s all about aesthetics and balance for me..I ‘d imagine the awkward squad would want to turn them around just out of pure cussedness though. Mine’s a three and a half minute …soft-boiled , please!

  2. Aidan Donaldson November 30, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

    Like you June I was disappointed with Professor Brewer’s (lack of) analysis. His book ‘The Mote and the Beam: anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland’ is a very important and thought-provoking work which made his contribution today all the more disappointing.

  3. philip kelly November 30, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    the nutty professor comes to mind, the so called educated always avoid the big elephant in the room partition and the 1922 treaty which ignored the wishes of the irish people and i mean all the irish people as of the 1918 election where the vast majority voted for full independence and a full 32 county state called IRELAND

  4. neill November 30, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

    Would it make you feel better if we gave some land back to you and asked for forgiveness for creating towns villages prosperity we truly are a shocking people….;-)

    • Pointis December 1, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

      Hi Neill,

      Who do you mean by “we”?

      I think it is pretty clear Jude doesn’t accept the “two tribe (we and them)” explanation of our current situation.

      • neill December 2, 2014 at 9:05 am #

        The reality is we are two tribes however ironically the two tribes share many annoying characteristics….

  5. ANOTHER JUDE November 30, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    It doesn`t seem that long ago that people were referring to the Irish `race` or the British `race`, as if we were all different. As you say the argument here over the six counties is perfectly understandable, how could it be any different? People are by and large either for or against the union with Britain, they are either for or against the unity of Ireland. Some people of course don`t really care. As for your egg analogy, I personally always open it at the top, although I read somewhere that Unionists open it at the bottom.

  6. Norma wilson November 30, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    Guess what Jude

    I listened to you today going on about ugly and stupid. But like you I listened to something much more interesting on radio Ulster.
    It was about the Irish PROTESTANTS and English and Scots PROTESTANTS that left these shores for the new land they now call America. I was so proud, I felt such an immense pride. How brave they must have been, especially when the native indigenous tribe was so aggressive.
    But they had there faith, and that stood then in good stead.

    • ANOTHER JUDE December 1, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

      God, imagine those ungrateful indigenous people not bowing down and accepting the white man`s rule. Some people, eh? What makes people behave like that?

  7. Argenta November 30, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

    Pity you didn’t stay in the studio to challenge the Professor !I’m sure Roisin Mc Auley will take due note.Presume your blog on ageism will follow in the coming week.

    • Jude Collins December 1, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

      I used to have a teacher, Argenta, who liked to say in condescending way “You are a presumptuous fellow, X!”

  8. giordanobruno November 30, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    I don’t quite get what the problem is with what the Prof said. Is it the use of the word tribe, or the suggestion that the 2 tribes are equivalent?
    Is it that one tribe is the native tribe and the other is made up of mere interlopers?
    How many hundreds of years must they be here before they become native?
    How much intermingling has gone on over the past 800 years? There is no racial purity here any longer.
    Really we are one tribe now, better get used to it! Pearse will be spinning in his grave no doubt.

  9. Iolar November 30, 2014 at 8:57 pm #

    The heart of the matter

    “From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step” and so it continued on the programme. A meaningless question was posed about what may happen when Americans runs out of interlocutors for us after the present illusion of progress evaporates into thin air. Then we were informed that a blunt Mr Hart is unclear of his role.

    It would appear that Giraldus Cambrensis has returned to the B.B.C. as a researcher?

  10. Perkin Warbeck November 30, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    The t-word today, Esteemed Blogmeister, brought to mind a statement attributed to a particular tribal chief: ‘I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender his rifle’.

    Yes, but which tribal chief? Mature reflection narrows it down to two: Sitting Bull and Crooked Mouth.

    While all the evidence would tend to indicate the latter (as ‘no surrender’ is the warcry he is most likely to whoop) in fact, it is with the former that the line is credited.

    The confusion is perfectly understandable: substitute ‘raffle ticket’ for ‘rifle’ and Crooked Mouth is your only man. Due to an unfortunate quirk of chronology Crooked Mouth and Sitting Bull are not contemporaneous: whereas Sitting Bull went to the Happy Hunting Ground in 1890 Crooked Mouth goes back further than that, much further, in fact 200 years further back.

    Such a pity, because wot larks Crooked Mouth would have had with the tribal names of Sitting Bull. Starting with the name SB was born with: Jumping Badger, after his father, Jumping Bull. (Under no circumstances to be confused with his near name-sake, John Bull).

    And what a hoot Crooked Mouth would have had in Stormont with the names of Sitting Bull’s daughters: Many Horses and Walks Looking. Not to mention the names of his five wives: Light Hair, Four Robes, Snow-on-Her, Seen-by-her-Nation and (gulp) Scarlet Woman.

    One can with no great difficutly imagine him communicating by smoke signals his take on these tribal names with the great snaking regarder of the DUP tribe (to which he belongs, though he would disdain the use of the t-word) his blood brother on the banks of the Liffey, Big Chief Crooked Glen of TUT.

    The great in-house joke of The Unionist Times is, of course, the title of their Wednesday page, reserved for the lingua franca of the leprechaun: Treibh. Wednesday is known as Reservation Day and not for nothing is it so. The translation of ‘Treibh’ in the Q’s English (Tribe, actually) is never revealed. That would only let the Jumping Badger out of the bag, and dissipate the joke.

    The case of mistaken identity vis a vis the two tribal chiefs was not the only such one that Perkie’s inner chronic undergraduate experienced today. At first he assumed the unnamed Queen’s academic was the detached and disinterested Professor Liam Kennedy.

    This native of Tipperary was on a wireless station of late (actually a hundred w.s.) and one knows his county of origin because he told us so. Which was just as well, as there was rather more of Tiptree Heath, Essex than Tipperary about his accent. A listener could throw stones all day at his a. and not hit even one of those trademark sounds of the true Tipp’rary accent: the uvular r.

    Which of course increases Perkie’s fascination with same: the courageous brave of one tribe who crosses the Big Horn River to join the other tribe. Indeed, unless one has mistaken the smoke signals which occasionally rise above the campus of Queen’s he is to be seen with a fellow academic, a squaw, from South of the Black Pig’s Dyke as pillion passenger on their retro moped as they noisily flute and toot around Belfast in their distinctive gold-fish type crash helmets.

    BAM ! BAM ! Here come Bwana and Memsahib. WHAM ! WHAM ! There go the Tribalists, scattering in every direction.

    On another occasion, the hilarious, though hilariously detached, Professor Emeritus of Customary Custer Customs, Liam Kennedy confessed to not knowing whether he was born under the sign of Leo or Taurus. Ah, the lovable absent-minded academic. No need to wonder no more, Prof: it is the latter. Definitely the latter.

    Wrong academic, alas. The one in q. would be Professor Brewer, by all accounts.

    Which was Music ! Music ! Music ! to Perkie’s inner Fifties-pop anorak when Teresa B was all the rage until her popularity began to droop after she recorded a song in praise of the great baseball player, Mickey Mantle.

    The name of the song being ‘I love Mickey’.

    Put another nickel in the nickelodeon.

  11. John Murphy December 1, 2014 at 1:26 am #

    I totally agree Norma your fore farther’s must have been especially “Brave” when the native indigenous tribe was so aggressive. And of course so well Armed with their Bow’s & Arrows not forgetting their Main deterrent the invisible shield, which deflected the bullets and cannon fire of the Invading Tribes of Anglo Saxton sent there no doubt to bring the savage beast to heal for King and Country ! Or should that be King and Empire. Yes indeed those Native tribes can be really dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.

    • Norma wilson December 2, 2014 at 12:53 am #

      Yes yes yes, boring,

      I am and always will be proud both of my Linage and religion, and my Wueen. I don’t give two figs what you’s say do or feel.
      Thank God for my people, they made boats and explored, while you lot did nothing.
      Truth hurts, sad.

      • Alan December 3, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

        That’s what the Nazis used to say. It’s a tired excuse for colonialism.

  12. Séamus Ó Néill December 1, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Guess what Norma ,that Pride that you felt was colonialism at its best ….do you not consider that the native inhabitants may have been a little peeved at their lands being stolen…….and there exists a very good analogy…HERE!

  13. Jude December 1, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    Hey Norma – good to know someone is listening….I’ve often wondered at the courage then too, esp. when I’ve visited the Ulster-American Folk Park. To head out in those covered wagons! Amazing. Mind you, the Irish (of all denominations) had a name for especial savagery against the native American peoples – what we used to call Red Indians….

  14. ANOTHER JUDE December 1, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    That`s one of the great shames of the immigrant Irish, many of them were vicious and bigoted towards the indigenous natives and then again to those who followed in their footsteps. Shame.

  15. Dickens December 1, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    Slightly off topic but I suppose one could use the heading ” Imperialism in Iraq with Bush/Blair” to tie in with above article.

    Please sign the petition-

    Keep up the good work Jude

  16. Virginia December 2, 2014 at 2:02 am #

    The consequences of the past immigration from Scotland and England to Ulster pale in comparison with the rapid racial and cultural mixing occurring now in all parts of UK and ROI. Your tribal angst is seventy years to late. Sorry tribalism doesn’t apply when you have the open borders of the EU.

  17. Joe McVeigh January 4, 2015 at 7:12 pm #

    This ignorant 2tribes analysis must be challenged all the time. Brits & probe it’s love to refer to the two tribes in ‘ulster’ . The colonial mentality is alive and well.