Sectarianism (the British Myxomatosis) Part 2

I concluded yesterday in part 1 by asking how Labour had successfully held onto the Irish Republican Celtic support in the West of Scotland for so long,when Labour are very much Identifiably British Unionist?
It doesn’t seem to make sense, or does it?

We need to delve into history to find out where the links between Irish Catholics and Labour take place.

The Impact of the Great Irish famine had a huge effect in Irish immigration into the West of Scotland. Between 1841 and 1851 the Irish population of Scotland increased by 90%.
Because of their poverty and poor state of health, Irish immigrants tended to settle in or around their point of disembarkation, which meant the west coast of Scotland.

it was the industrial areas of the west of Scotland which saw the largest concentrations of Irish immigrants, with almost 29% of all Irish migrants settled in Glasgow, but the smaller industrial towns of the west also had substantial Irish communities. The population of Coatbridge in 1851 was 35.8% Irish.

On the whole, the Catholic Irish settled wherever muscle and strength was in demand, and as such they found their way into coal mining, dock work and labouring of all kinds. It was estimated that in Great Britain in 1851, somewhere between a half to three-quarters of all dock-labourers and two-thirds of miners were Irish.

If you consider that Labour in Scotland and the trade union movement sprung from Miners and Dock Workers initially, the connection between the Irish Catholic vote and the Labour vote is made!
Of course in these days Labour was not a Unionist party, It was a Socialist workers party. Indeed Keir Hardie was a proponent of Scottish Home Rule!

Their lowly occupational status and their willingness to work for less than the going rate did not endear Irish Catholics to the Scottish working class. Indeed, their religion was a factor which gave rise to discrimination from all sections of Scottish society. Since the Reformation, Scotland had been a Protestant country and Catholicism was largely anathema. The Catholicism of the Irish was, therefore, detested by the Presbyterian’s of Scotland. Attacks on the Irish became commonplace in newspapers, pulpits and on the streets.

As late as 1923, the Church of Scotland could still publish a pamphlet entitled ‘The Menace of the Irish race to our Scottish Nationality’. The Irish were seen as drunken, idle, uncivilised and undermining the moral fibre of Scottish society.
A very clear example of Religious sectarianism indeed by Scots Presbyterian’s!

The same charge could not be levelled at the Protestant Irish. As Catholic Irish immigrants declined in number in the late 1870s and 1880s, the Protestant Irish took up the slack. Most of these new immigrants came from the most Orange counties of the north, such as Armagh. There had been historic links of an economic and religious kind between the west of Scotland and Ulster. Even the Church of Scotland recognised that in their 1923 attack on the Catholic Irish ‘[no complaint can be made about] the presence of an Orange population in Scotland. They are of the same race as ourselves and of the same Faith, and are readily assimilated to the Scottish race’. Thus, the Protestant Irish faced nothing like the level of discrimination endured by the Catholic Irish.

Most Irish males did not qualify for the vote as they failed to put down roots long enough in any one constituency to satisfy residential qualifications. Disqualified in large numbers from voting until reform of the franchise in 1918, the Irish, with the encouragement of the Catholic hierarchy, directed their political energies towards Home Rule for Ireland. Those that could vote gave it to the Liberal Party as the only party which might deliver on the subject of Home Rule.

With the partition of Ireland in 1921, the Irish became more embroiled in the politics of their adopted country. They overwhelmingly supported the Labour Party and this allowed them access to mainstream political life in Scotland. As part of this concord, the state provided for segregated religious schooling out of income from the rates, which led to numerous protests from Protestant churches about putting ‘Rome on the rates’.

Note that the vast majority of this sectarianism and disagreement was centred almost exclusively In the areas of Glasgow and the West of Scotland where the vast majority of Irish, both Catholic and Protestant had made their communities. Although there were smaller communities of Irish Immigrants In both Dundee and Edinburgh.
This division and animosity between the two groups, one accepted readily into Scottish Presbyterian Life, the other outcasts from it!
This expression was to be focussed on the male dominated preserve of footballing fixation and the forming of various clubs, Rangers,Celtic, Hearts,Hibs, Dundee and Dundee Utd.
Although all these clubs were all formed with love of the sport,and the best community intentions in mind. The very nature of tribalism associated with competitive rivalry meant that elements of that support were able to express their nursed hatreds and grievances through their warlike chants, with the teams their champions on their field of battle.

After the Second World war, society and the fact that so many had fought alongside each other on the same side, the sectarianism was considerably diminished. This and the fact that Scotland as a country has become mostly secular, and it never had the ghettos of Belfast or Liverpool has had a massive effect on relations, and in general the spirit of ecumenism which developed between Catholic and Protestant churches from the late 60’s has fostered much greater understanding and acceptance between the denominations and communities. So while there is no denying that religion was the ground of the sectarian war, there is no excuse for it to be seen so now apart from very marginalised minority groupings who have passed on from generation to generation their toxic historical hatred to their children and grand children.

We really need to look behind religion to other forces who have both historically and to this day benefited from keeping it going and encouraging it in order to create division and maintain disunity!

In order to do that we need to dig deeper back in time,to see those forces at work, and see how the ordinary populace has been herded and controlled by their will, and to see the politics which has continue to ferment it!

Part3 may eventually come to the myxomatosis, but it is taking longer than I initially imagined. It never is easy to trace the roots of a virulent virus!

Still to come: More History from an earlier age, this time centring on Ireland,Scotland, England and America before finally drawing it all together In the present day.

About auldacquaintance

I am not a member of any political party. I am however a strong supporter of Scots Independence. Any views which I express in this Blog are purely my own. This Blog intends to be a place where I will be putting my views on Scots Independence. It will primarily concern itself with the upcoming Referendum In Scotland. However It will also be somewhat diverse in the range of day to day issues which are evident to me in modern day Scotland. Not all of it will be political, and indeed may take me off into avenues I am not even aware of yet. Please come and join in on this journey, and any comments are welcome provided they are not abusive! All the best from a new acquaintance! Rod
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4 Responses to Sectarianism (the British Myxomatosis) Part 2

  1. Barney Thomson says:

    Can I compliment you on these incisive and thought-provoking articles.

    As you articulately point out, Catholic/Protestant sectarianism has been a problem for isolated sections of Scottish society but with the broadened experience brought by (e.g.) the spread of global media in recent years I was hoping it would become less influential and apparent. The reason we need to be aware of its existence and history is that in the current straitened financial atmosphere people will be looking for scapegoats and we could see it rise again, much in the way irrational attitudes to Moslem people are spreading in other areas of the UK.

    I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

    BUT – I would venture to correct one glaring error above, as I see it. In your comment about “footballing fixation” you state that the clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee were originally formed for reasons of “divisions and animosity”. Whatever has attached to these clubs subsequently, I believe their original formation had nothing to do with sectarianism as we know it. They came about through the efforts of community leaders, Catholic and Protestant, seeking the Victorian ideal of healthy activity for young persons (men at the time, of course). In particular, there has never been any religious or sectarian identification of the Dundee clubs, though at times some bigoted vested interests have tried, and spectacularly failed.

    • Thank you for your comments, they are very much appreciated.
      I am sorry If I have given the impression that the clubs mentioned were created to foster sectarianism. The truth of the matter as you rightly point out, is that this couldn’t be further from the case
      My intentions were to point out that for greater or lesser extents, these clubs have all at some point been used as excuses or vehicles to vent sectarianism by some parties. There still exists some of that residue by minorities today.
      It is no big surprise that football has been abused in this way, given its popularity.
      Mostly as we are all aware, that problem has been reduced to a rump of those supporting the old firm.
      But the fact is, even without that connection, it would still raise its ugly head through the mindless bigotry of some people in other walks of everyday life.
      It is time to eradicate it entirely, and one way of doing so is making people aware of it,and how it came into existence,and making it socially unacceptable.
      Everybody, not just the authorities, but ordinary people and communities,and clubs must clamp down on it when it is evidenced.
      The media must also for once act responsibly, and reporting in a reckless irresponsible manner only serves to inflame it beyond its actual significance.

  2. Barney Thomson says:

    Thank you for the clarification. My only concern was that the way you put it in the article may have implied that sectarianism existed as a heritage of the clubs you mentioned. I agree that their histories have attracted those who, for whatever sinister reason, wish to promote a sectarian agenda and that we, our governments and every other organisation should do everything possible to eradicate these influences.

    I’ve just read your third article on this subject and congratulate you on bringing together so effectively the complex history of the religious divide in so few words. As you imply, not so much a religious divide as a political one shaped round what the ordinary people of those days were focussed on.

    I believe that, with the support of communities, schools, governments and church leaders, “inter-christian” sectarianism can become a thing of the past but I remain concerned that a new anti-Muslim/Hindu/etc. sectarianism may be arising for the same old political reasons.

    Looking forward to Part 4, especially the bit about the rabbits,


    • Thank you again for your comments Barney.
      I have now made a slight amendment to that section which should hopefully make my views more clearly explicit and less open to misinterpretation or misunderstanding.


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