The Catholics of Ulster: A History

By Marianne Elliott | Go to book overview

Prologue

'Whatever you say, say nothing'

(Ulster saying)

I still consider myself an Ulster Catholic, for that was the tradition into which I was born and in which I was raised and educated until the age of eighteen. I have always felt different from Catholics elsewhere in Ireland and this is a common feeling among Ulster Catholics. Yet I have found them consistently neglected in the histories of Ireland and of Irish Catholicism in particular, as if Irishness and Catholicism so dominated their sense of themselves that they could be safely included with all other Irish Catholics. The assumption is that Ulster is primarily Protestant. Had this been so, we would not have been left with that overwhelming insecurity which is such a feature of the Ulster personality, or such daily agonising over culture and identity. By the second half of the nineteenth century Catholics were in a small majority in Ulster. On the eve of partition they remained at 43.7 per cent and today (from the most recent 1991 census) account for 38 per cent. To a considerable degree their modern identity has been shaped by the Ulster Protestants and not always in a simple oppositional way. They needed a separate history which located them firmly in Ulster.

I have chosen to define them as 'Ulster' Catholics because it accurately describes that cultural and religious grouping for most of the period covered in this book. In addition, four-fifths of the book deals with the centuries before the state of Northern Ireland came into existence. However, I recognise that few Catholics today would admit to an 'Ulster' identity. Indeed, some go even farther in rejecting the very term ' Northern Ireland', dismissively calling the state the 'Six

-xxxiii-

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