Sectarian symbol? I fink not!

28 January 2005

Lookie, lookie, two vaguely serious posts in the one day. Must be Friday.

One of the Blue Peter presenters was recently in the news, some one had rung in complaining about her. The reason? They had some competition to find a symbol for an airline, she said that the red hand of Ulster would be a good choice. Previous to this incident she had picked out an illustration of Britain and Ireland both covered in the British flag.

Now, I’ll definitely disagree with the Republic of Ireland being tarred with the British flag, but the other incident is nothing more than a storm in a teacup. The man who complained is a professor of symbology (okay, made up that term, he’s actually a sociology dude), saying that the Red Hand is primarily a sectarian symbol as it is used in loyalist murals.

The first point I’ll make is so is Cuchulainn.
Cuchulainn is one of the great heroes of Celtic Ireland. He is the primary character in the Táin Bó Cuailigne, also known as the cattle raid of Cooley. In this myth he defended Ulster, single-handedly, from the ravages of Connacht’s Medbh. He is used by some loyalists to show that Ulster was never truly part of Ireland. Medbh’s husband was Ailill of Leinster, and many Leinster men fought with Connacht. So certain loyalist propaganda shows Cuchulainn defending Ulster against all of Ireland, this line of reasoning seems to forget about Munster however, and ignores the fact that Cuchulain himself was from Dun Dealgan, in County Louth, now part of Leinster.

Anyways, that is all beside the point. People can use any symbol for any purpose. Yes some loyalists use the red hand in their sectarian murals. But the GAA also use it, it is the primary devise on the county Tyrone shield. It also features in the Cavan and Monaghan shields, and neither of those two counties are in Northern Ireland, although they are part of Ulster.

So the symbol is used by both communities (don’t you hate that term; community *shudder*), and we should be happy at that. After all symbols and terms can so easily develop into exclusive descriptors. The swastika, for example, is a symbol that has been used in many cultures. But today the primary association for many people is Nazi Germany.

Similarly, in Ireland the term republican has come to be associated only with Sinn Féin types. Which is a bit on the strange side considering they don’t actually think of the Republic of Ireland as a legal state. Not only that, but for many people even the official Irish flag, the tricolour was a symbol, not of the republic but of those “republicans”. Only since the soccer team had such success have the “ordinary people” (another term I hate, but am too lazy to come up with an alternative) taken back the flag. Now you see it, and unless you are at a state function you begin to wonder what sport is on.

In the end symbols can only represent what we think of, and are not all that hard to corrupt. If we agree wit that professor about the red hand of Ulster then we are, in effect, telling people that yes, that is a mark of loyalist sectarian violence. Well, I choose not too give them that.

You may also like...

7 Responses

  1. Tom says:

    The red hand of ulster as used generally by nationalists has a closed thumb. The red hand "adopted" by the unionist community has an open thumb. So there's a bit of trivia for you.

  2. Fence says:

    Hi Tom.
    What about the Tyrone GAA logo then? <img src="; width="80"/>

  3. NineMoons says:

    And howsabout the Band of the Red Hand? Thumbs in or out? Shall have to ask my fella (Mat, not the real one)

  4. Fence says:

    Didn't we already have a Dougal-type conversation about reality :)

  5. NineMoons says:

    That was EIGHT years ago! My lawyers and I feel that I can't be expected to remember that.

  6. Fence says:

    But there were pictures. Illustrations to demonstrate!

  7. NineMoons says:

    I still have that somewhere. In my box of memories. Where I keep things so my actual memory doesn't have to remember them.