Ulster’s Ramsay MacDonald? Harry Midgley (1892–1957)

  • Paul Ward

Abstract

The Unionist Party believed that its coalition of support could be fractured if working-class identity provided a focus of loyalty that was irreconcilable with the Union. Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland was seen as ‘a place apart’ because it was divided by the fundamental political dispute between Irish nationalism and Unionism. The conceptualization of class as the primary identity of individuals in modern society meant that the existence of labour parties was seen as natural and inevitable. The Unionist Party sought to obstruct the ‘forward march of labour’ in Northern Ireland and their success suggested to the British Labour movement that the (Northern) Irish were deviating from the normative politics of the rest of the United Kingdom. Given their debt to late nineteenth-century Liberalism, which under Gladstone and Asquith was being forced to confront the pluralist nature of the British Isles, many early labour activists had an intense sympathy for Irish nationalism.1 The presumption was that Unionist-labour in the north of Ireland was a departure from the true interests of the working class.2 These presumptions have followed through into the historiography of the labour movement in Northern Ireland. As Henry Patterson has remarked, ‘The problem with such histories is their tendency to treat the main ideological currents among Protestant workers simply as obstacles to be overcome. From the outset they are defined as “problems.”’3

Keywords

Depression Europe Liner Lution Reso 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    There was also a Conservative inheritance within the Labour Party, which had less sympathy for Irish nationalism. See Martin Pugh, ‘The Rise of Labour and the Political Culture of Conservatism, 1890–1945’, History, 87 (2002), pp. 514–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Michael Farrell, Northern Ireland: The Orange State (London: Pluto, 1976) is an influential narrative of working-class Unionism as the product of the manipulation of capitalist and landowning interests.Google Scholar
  3. For a discussion of the schools of labour historiography in Northern Ireland see Terry Cradden, Trade Unionism, Socialism and Partition: The Labour Movement in Northern Ireland 1939–1953 (Belfast: December, 1993), chapter 1.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Henry Patterson, Class Conflict and Sectarianism: The Protestant Working Class and the Belfast Labour Movement 1868–1920 (Belfast: Blackstaff, 1980), p. xi.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Austen Morgan, Labour and Partition: The Belfast Working Class1905–23 (London: Pluto, 1991) p. 324.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Graham Walker, The Politics of Frustration: Harry Midgley and the Failure of Labour in Northern Ireland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985). I owe a great debt to Walker’s book.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    See for example, E. Rumpf and A.C. Hepburn, Nationalism and Socialism in Twentieth Century Ireland (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1977), p. 200.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Walker, The Politics of Frustration, p. 7; John Gray, ‘Turncoat or Evangel? Harry Midgley and Ulster Labour’, Saothar, 12 (1987), pp. 58–62.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Paul Ward, Red Flag and Union Jack: Englishness, Patriotism and the British Left, 1881–1924 (Woodbridge: Royal Historical Society/Boydell, 1998), p. 145.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Harry Midgley, Thoughts from Flanders (Belfast: privately published, 1924), p. 35.Google Scholar
  11. 20.
    C. Fitzpatrick, ‘Nationalising the Ideal: Labour and Nationalism in Ireland, 1909–1923’, in Eugenio Biagini (ed.), Citizenship and Community: Liberals, Radicals and Collective Identities in the British Isles, 1865–1931 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 276–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 30.
    Geoffrey Bell, Troublesome Business: The Labour Party and the Irish Question (London: Pluto, 1982), pp. 38–9.Google Scholar
  13. 32.
    Terry Cradden, ‘Labour in Britain and the Northern Ireland Labour Party, 1900–70’, in Peter Catterall and Sean McDougall (ed.), The Northern Ireland Question in British Politics (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), p. 74. For the imperial standard, see also Ward, Red Flag and Union Jack, p. 70.Google Scholar
  14. 34.
    For the state of the Northern Irish economy and the outdoor relief riots see Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Belfast: Blackstaff, 1992), pp. 526–9.Google Scholar
  15. 36.
    Thomas Hennessey, A History of Northern Ireland1920–1996 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), p. 61.Google Scholar
  16. 43.
    Quoted in Walker, The Politics of Frustration, p. 99. See also Harry Midgley, Give Labour a Chance (Belfast: NILP, 1937), pp. 4, 6.Google Scholar
  17. 45.
    Harry Midgley, Spain: The Press, the Pulpit and the Truth (Belfast: privately published, 1936).Google Scholar
  18. 48.
    Alvin Jackson, ‘Irish Unionists and the Empire, 1880–1920: Classes and Masses’, in Keith Jeffery (ed.), ‘An Irish Empire’? Aspects of Ireland and the British Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), pp. 123–47.Google Scholar
  19. 49.
    Sonya O. Rose, Which People’s War? National Identity and Citizenship in Wartime Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), chapter 7, picks the reality of the ‘people’s war’ apart. See also Wendy Webster, Englishness and Empire, 1939–65 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).Google Scholar
  20. 53.
    Graham Walker, ‘The Commonwealth Labour Party in Northern Ireland, 1942–7’, Irish Historical Studies, 24 (1984), pp. 69–90, provides a very full account of Midgley’s estrangement from the NILP. See also Walker, The Politics of Frustration, chapter 7.Google Scholar
  21. 55.
    James Loughlin, Ulster Unionism and British National Identity since 1885 (London: Pinter, 1995), p. 132.Google Scholar
  22. 56.
    For the air raids see Bardon, A History of Ulster, pp. 568–73; for the political crisis see Brian Barton, ‘Northern Ireland: The Impact of War, 1939–45’, in Brian Girvin and Geoffrey Roberts (eds), Ireland and the Second World War: Politics, Society and Remembrance (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000), pp. 47–75.Google Scholar
  23. 67.
    Quoted in Paul Bew, Peter Gibbon and Henry Patterson, Northern Ireland 1921–1994: Political Forces and Social Classes (London: Serif, 1995), pp. 92–3.Google Scholar
  24. 81.
    For a detailed discussion of education in Northern Ireland see Michael McGrath, The Catholic Church and Catholic Schools in Northern Ireland: The Price of Faith (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  25. 82.
    Patrick Shea, Voices and the Sound of Drums: An Irish Autobiography (Belfast: Blackstaff, 1981), p. 162. Shea was a Catholic Unionist and senior civil servant.Google Scholar
  26. 83.
    Michael McGrath, ‘The Narrow Road: Harry Midgley and Catholic Schools in Northern Ireland’, Irish Historical Studies, XXX (1997), pp. 429–51.Google Scholar
  27. 90.
    Henry Patterson, ‘Party versus Order: Ulster Unionism and the Flags and Emblems Act’, Contemporary British History, 12 (1999), pp. 105–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Paul Ward 2005

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  • Paul Ward

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