The Glory of Being Britons: Civic Unionism in Nineteenth-Century Belfast

Published by Irish Academic Press Ltd on 12th November 2008

At a moment when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has excluded Ireland from his version of modern Britishness, John Bew's book could not be more timely. Covering a period of almost ninety years, Bew demonstrates how a strongly held British national identity took hold in nineteenth-century Belfast, a town which was once regarded as the centre of republicanism and rebellion in Ireland. Starting with the impact of the French Revolution - a cause of huge celebration in Belfast - this book describes how political and civic culture in the town became deeply immersed in the imagined community of the British nation after the Act of Union of 1801, allowing the author to provide a new perspective on the roots of Ulster's opposition to Home Rule. What caused this shift from 'Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity' to 'God save the Queen'?While entirely aware of the sectarian division in Ulster, Bew places these developments in the wider context of the Westminster political system and debates about the United Kingdom's 'place in the world', thus providing a more balanced and sophisticated view of the politics of nineteenth-century Belfast, arguing that it was not simply dominated by the struggle between Orange and Green. The book breaks new ground in examining how the formative 'nation-building' episodes in Britain - such as war, parliamentary reform, and social, economic and scientific advancement - played out in the unique context of Belfast and the surrounding area. Ultimately, however, it also explains how the exponents of this civic unionism struggled to make their voices heard as Britain and Ireland entered the age of mass democracy and traditional modes of identification began to reassert themselves, even before the Home Rule crisis began.