A Happy St Patrick’s Day to all H&D readers worldwide

St Patrick

This article was first published in Heritage and Destiny magazine, #71 (March-April 2016), but is still very valid today. (See also our article on ‘St Patrick: Patron Saint of the USA?‘)

Enoch Powell’s Suppressed Article (on St Patrick, Ulster and the Scots Irish Identity) Rediscovered – with introduction by Peter Rushton, H&D Assistant Editor

After the Conservatives returned to government under Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Enoch Powell hoped Ulster’s status as an integral part of the United Kingdom would be reaffirmed. Some of the leading figures on Thatcher’s wing of the Conservative Party were Powellites, and until the eve of the 1979 election the Tories’ Northern Ireland spokesman had been Airey Neave – a strong and determined Unionist. Tragically Neave was murdered by a car bomb at the House of Commons in March 1979, and his successors pursued a very different policy: commitment to Ulster’s identity was progressively weakened through the 1980s.

Powell came to believe that the CIA had a hand in Airey Neave’s murder, and it is now established that MI6 and CIA operatives had been pursuing a deal with the IRA since the mid-1970s.

In January 1981 however (still believing that Thatcher’s government would defend the Union) Powell proposed that the Foreign Office should produce articles and booklets for the American public to explain Ulster’s distinct identity. It was agreed that Powell would write a brief article to be published in U.S. newspapers on St Patrick’s Day (17th March 1981) and that a 1965 booklet – Scotch-Irish and Ulster – would be reprinted, both with Foreign Office support.

Although Powell submitted the article and welcomed republication of the pamphlet, both were sidelined: the anti-Ulster faction in Whitehall and Washington triumphed. The article and related official correspondence remained classified until February 2015, and H&D now reveals the story for the first time after I obtained the documents from the National Archives.

Enoch Powell on the campaign trail

If St Patrick has a Member to represent him in Parliament, I must surely be that man. My constituency in the House of Commons is Down South, the southern half of the county of Down, which looks across the Irish Sea beyond the Isle of Man to Cumberland and Galloway. From that southern half there projects a peninsula which the ancient geographers were already calling Dunum, or Down; and Downpatrick, the town which stands at the isthmus of that peninsula, happily combines the name of the place and that of the British missionary with a late Roman surname who we believe brought Christianity from the largest to the second largest of the British Isles.

The peninsula where he landed, baptised his first converts, built his first church and laid his bones to rest has still a palpable individuality. When I drive into it – its traditional name is Lecale – from some other part of my constituency, I am always conscious of crossing a threshold. But the same is just as true of the whole north-eastern part of Ireland to which that peninsula is attached: it is distinct and separate from the rest, as if by a decree of nature. Geographically and geologically it had its own pattern, a mountain ring enclosing an inner central plain, long before man came there at all; and its earliest inhabitants were linked by blood and intercourse with the neighbouring mainland. The passage which St Patrick made was no voyage of exploration: he took a ticket on a two-way traffic route rather like that across the English Channel between Dover and Calais (which in point of fact is somewhat longer).

This north-east part was called “Ulster” centuries before Henry VIII (no friend of St Patrick’s!) used the word to dub one of the four administrative provinces into which he divided his Irish kingdom. Whatever elements, across the centuries, came to Ulster were drawn into its distinct identity. The Norman baron who, with a handful of knights and the king’s permission, rode north from Dublin into Ulster in the 1170s founded an independent principality – the earldom of Ulster, which is today held by the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Gloucester. Into Ulster flowed settlers from England and Wales as well as from Scotland, long before the Plantation of James I; and the separateness of the province claimed and enveloped them all.

St Patrick’s grave

That happened pre-eminently to those Scots who were the major element in the settlement of the forfeited lands at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Research has proved that they by no means displaced the earlier Ulstermen so comprehensively as was intended and is often believed. It is also true that they only represented one, albeit the largest, of a series of contingents earlier and later who returned across the narrow North Channel to the land from which the ancestors of many of them had originally come in remote, even prehistoric times. The great fact, however, is that, like the rest, they became part of Ulster.

The vocabulary of American history has called those people Scotch Irish. The truer name is that by which they liked, and still like, to call themselves – Ulster Scots. For they were indeed, and remain in virtue of many ties, Scots; but above all they were Ulstermen. This therefore was the Ulster, unique from its beginning, which contributed a disproportionate share – including at least ten presidents – to the foundation and to the spirit of the American nation right from the origins of its independence. It is a contribution as distinct from the rest, and as distinctive, as any other, whether Irish, English or Scots.

The modern search for national roots is, I believe, as healthy as it is popular and expanding. It has already brought many Americans, and not only those with demonstrable ancestral ties, to Ulster, to learn on the spot – the only sure way – the truth about its past and its present. Those who come are coming to the place which, of all spots on the globe, is peculiarly and forever St Patrick’s. On his day America is remembered in Ulster, as Ulster ought to be remembered in America.

Editor’s note: J. Enoch Powell (1912-1998) was Ulster Unionist MP for South Down, 1974-87, having earlier been Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West, 1950-74. His career in Conservative politics ended when he was sacked as the party’s defence spokesman in April 1968, following his famous “Rivers of blood” speech which criticised Britain’s racial transformation, which can be read online here.

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