CFP Novelty in unionism & loyalism, 14th October 2021, Gustave Eiffel University, Paris

Novelty in unionism & loyalism

One-day workshop at the Gustave Eiffel University, Paris

Thursday October 14th, 2021

In February 2020, in the wake of PM Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, Susan McKay asserted that “A century after the foundation of the Northern Ireland State, unionism is demoralised” (Susan McKay 2020). It appears timely to take a close look at unionism & loyalism, as the new political circumstances create uncertainty and also because the prospect of the commemoration of the foundation of Northern Ireland reignites debates over the status of Northern Ireland and encourages political posturing.

The aim of this one-day workshop is to explore the diversity of unionism & loyalism. Many authors have insisted on the plurality of identities that exist within it (McAuley et al. 2000, 2008 ; Shirlow 2012). There are Ulster unionists and British unionists (Todd 1987), those belonging to « middle » unionism (Edwards and Bloomer 2008) and « transformative » loyalists and « regressive » ones (Shirlow 2012). Besides, a series of pamphlets published in the 1990s by Michael Hall shed light on the specific, multi-layered identity of working-class Protestants and « grassroots » activists (Farset 1994).

From a historical perspective, the organisers of the workshop wish to investigate what resources have been exploited by unionism & loyalism to adapt to shifting circumstances since 1921, in a variety of domains : politics, identity, community activism, rights and the arts. Unionists & loyalists created new discourses, new rites, new forms of cultural and/or political expression at certain key moments in history such as in the 1980s after the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Hutchinson contended that the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement led to a new process of “self-examination” and “self-discovery” among Northern Protestants (Hutchinson 2000) and gave way to a reappraisal of what constitutes Protestant identity. It gave birth to new projects notably in the field of community drama: for instance, Tom Magill worked with the Shankill Community Theatre Company in 1993 while the Ballybeen Community Theatre Group – founded by three women in 1991 – devised and produced The Mourning Ring (1995-1996) – an exploration of cultural identity issues (Alfaro-Hamayon 2009).

Since the Good Friday Agreement, new forms of activism, expression, dissent, and radicalism have also emerged. Connal Parr (2017) has sought to dispel misconceptions in relation to culture and theatre-making in particular. He describes theatre as a “safe thinking space” and playwrights as “myth-breakers” who are ready to challenge stereotypes and postures. He refers to the dramatists whom appear in his book as “a ferociously creative group of mythmakers and myth-breakers. They represent but one of Ulster Protestantism’s alternative cultures” (8). This is exemplified by the work conducted by Etcetera, a theatre company founded in 2013 in north Belfast’s Mount Vernon estate, or by Jo Egan on the Shankill (Crimea Square, 2013) and more recently by the Heel and Ankle Community Theatre Company (Flute Flags and Flames, 2015).

Moreover, in a recent study on ulster-scots identity, Hutchinson (2018; 2020) stressed its originality within the unionist tradition. He described it as a unique cultural form which offers multiple geographical imagined places – Ulster, Scotland, the United States. Interestingly, this polycentric form of identification runs contrary to mainstream attempts to build clear, delineated regional or national borders (2018, 2020).

Finally, as regards political developments, academics such as McAuley et al. (2000) and Shirlow (2019) have stressed the contribution of the Progressive Unionist Party and how this has instilled “novelty” in political thinking by opening a new ideological space and by promoting dialogue. Additionally, a number of authors (McAuley et al. 2000, Parr 2017) have emphasized the diffidence that exists towards mainstream unionist politicians. We wish to explore the links between this diffidence and the development of transformative loyalism and of community activism in various areas such as the arts, conflict transformation, education and human rights. As part of the G.I.S E.I.R.E.’s focus on the notion of rights in Ireland, the organisers of the workshop also wish to explore how groups within unionism & loyalism have referred to their “rights” over time and in what fields, the “right to march” of the 1990s standing as a case in point (Bryan 2000).

Possible themes include, but shall not be limited to, the following:

  • The resources of unionism & loyalism in times of crisis since 1921
  • Novel elements in discourse and/or in the forms of activism
  • What imaginary sites/places have nourished unionism & loyalism?
  • Shifts in identity: class identity; the links between language (Gaelic, English, Ulster-Scots, other) and identity
  • Alternative voices within unionism & loyalism:

The arts (theatre, music, other); community activism (community groups); minorities (the LGBTQ+ community, women, age groups, other)

  • New struggles for new rights
  • Educational issues and projects
  • The notion of “transformation” in unionism & loyalism: peacebuilding/conflict transformation; the experience of imprisonment, the contribution of former prisoners

Please send proposals including a title, an abstract (250 words), and a short biography to Joana Etchart ( and Hélène Alfaro-Hamayon ( by June 12, 2021. The language of the conference will be English.

Organisers: Hélène Alfaro-Hamayon (Laboratoire LISAA, Université Gustave Eiffel) and Joana Etchart (Laboratoire ALTER, Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour)

Guest speakers :

. Wesley Hutchinson (Professeur émérite, Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle, spécialiste de la civilisation irlandaise) (confirmed)

. Susan McKay (journalist and author). (Not confirmed yet)

Indicative bibliography

Bryan Dominic. 2000. Drumcree and ‘The Right to March’: Orangeism, Ritual and Politics in Northern Ireland. In: Fraser T.G. (eds) The Irish Parading Tradition. Ethnic and Intercommunity Conflict Series. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 191-207.

Edwards, Aaron, and Stephen Bloomer, eds. 2008. Transforming the Peace Process in Northern Ireland: From Terrorism to Democratic Politics. Dublin, Portland, OR: Irish Academic Press.

Farset Community Think Tanks. 1994. Ulster’s Protestant Working Class. A Community Exploration. Newtownabbey: Island Publications n°9.

——— 2005. Grassroots Leadership. Newtownabbey: Island Publications n°12.

Hamayon-Alfaro. 2009 ‘ Les arts communautaires à Belfast de 1979à 2006 : de la marge au consensus ?’. PhD, Sorbonne-Nouvelle Université Paris 3.

Hutchinson, Wesley. 2000. Espaces de l’imaginaire unioniste nord-irlandais. Caen: Presses universitaires de Caen.

——— 2018. Tracing the Ulster-Scots Imagination. Antrim : Ulster University.

——— 2020. « La Culture Ulster-Scots : Quel Potentiel Pour La Réconciliation En Irlande Du Nord ? ». J. Etchart & F. Miroux (eds). Les Pratiques de Vérité et de Réconciliation Dans Les Sociétés Émergeant de Situations Violentes Ou Conflictuelles, Paris: Transition & Justice, 125–44.

Magill, Tom. 1996. ‘Between a Bible and a Flute Band : Community Theatre in the Shankill and in Long Kesh.’ In Eberbard Bort (Ed.), The State of Play : Irish Theatre in the Nineties, WVT.

McAuley James White, Hislop Scott. 2000. « ‘Many Roads Forward’: Politics and Ideology within the Progressive Unionist Party ». In: Études irlandaises, n°25-1, 173-192.

McAuley James White. 2008. « Constructing Contemporary Loyalism ». Edwards, Aaron, and Stephen Bloomer, eds. Transforming the Peace Process in Northern Ireland: From Terrorism to Democratic Politics. Dublin ; Portland, OR: Irish Academic Press, 15-27.

McKay, Susan. 2000. Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People. Belfast: Blackstaff Press.

McKay, Susan. « For Unionists in Northern Ireland, Brexit has backfired badly », The Guardian,1 February 2020.

McKay, Susan. 2021 forthcoming. Northern Protestants: On Shifting Ground. Belfast: Blackstaff Press.

Parr, Connal. 2017. Inventing the Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shirlow, Peter. 2012. The End of Ulster Loyalism? Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Shirlow, Peter. « Changed and Progressive Loyalism Must be Embraced », The Irish Times,1 November 2019.

Spencer, Graham. 2008. The State of Loyalism in Northern Ireland. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Todd, Jennifer. 1987. “Two Traditions in Unionist Political Culture”. Irish Political Studies 2: 1–26.

Les propositions de communication incluant un titre, un résumé de 250 mots environ et une courte biographie, peuvent être envoyées à : Joana Etchart ( et Hélène Alfaro-Hamayon ( pour le 12 juin 2021. La journée d’étude se déroulera en anglais.

Organisatrices: Hélène Alfaro-Hamayon (Laboratoire LISAA, Université Gustave Eiffel) et Joana Etchart (Laboratoire ALTER, Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour)