Meeting report by Sandra Millsopp
Bangor Historical Society met on the 9th December – the conclusion to our brief 2021 session. The chairman thanked all those society officers who had helped with meetings. The speaker was Dr James Dingley, formerly of Queen’s University, Belfast and now chairman of the Francis Hutcheson Institute. This talk had been arranged in conjunction with the Ards and North Down Council’s centenary of Northern Ireland events programme.
The subject was partition. Instead of talking about the events of 1920-21, he took a much longer view of the factors which he considered did much to differentiate North-east Ulster from other parts of Ireland.
He first looked at economic factors. He pointed to the 1917-1918 Irish Convention – a last attempt to get all parties round the table. While agreement was reached on some factors, the convention broke up on the issue of where final fiscal responsibility lay: Dublin or Westminster.
Dr Dingley characterised the nationalist view of an ideal Ireland as one dominated by the peasant proprietor. In the north meanwhile Unionists took a different view. There the growth of Belfast as a major industrial centre with shipbuilding, engineering etc. created the need for raw materials, markets and capital. This could best be achieved by continuing links with London and the British Empire. There was no source of local raw materials or markets for such products as large ships. Many people in the north were employed in these industries.
Britain was a major market for Irish agricultural produce, including live cattle, but this changed with the development of refrigerated ships in the late nineteenth century. These could bring carcasses from as far away as New Zealand where large farms could produce meat more cheaply. Meanwhile Irish farms remained small and less economic.
He then looked at the role of organized labour whose jobs depended on industry and some of whom looked to the TUC in England, the British Labour party and the health and welfare legislation introduced by Lloyd George.
Dr Dingley then turned to the much more controversial issue of religion which he saw as a major divider in society in Ireland. He thought that in the early nineteenth century relations between the different religions were generally good.
The situation in nineteenth Italy was one which interested him very much. He thought that events there in the later nineteenth century had an effect on Ireland. Italian Unification had created a more secular state, which led to concern in the Roman Catholic Church. Dr Dingley advanced the more controversial opinion that Cardinal Paul Cullen who was in Rome at this time, was one of those alarmed by events. When the cardinal returned to Ireland, he advocated a stricter form of Catholicism which would prevent the development of secularism in Ireland. Dr Dingley gave a number of examples in support of his view of Cardinal Cullen and the influence he had on Irish Roman Catholicism.