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The Glory of Being Britons: Civic Unionism in Nineteenth-Century Belfast


John Bew

Demonstrates how a strongly held British national identity took hold in nineteenth- century Belfast. Illuminates the reasons for the shift from ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity’ in the aftermath of the French Revolution to ‘God save the Queen’ in the 19th century. Provides a new perspective on the roots of Ulster’s opposition to Home Rule.

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At a moment when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has excluded Ireland from his version of modern Britishness, John Bew’s book could not be more timely. Covering a period of almost ninety years, Bew demonstrates how a strongly held British national identity took hold in nineteenth-century Belfast, a town which was once regarded as the centre of republicanism and rebellion in Ireland. Starting with the impact of the French Revolution, this book describes how political and civic culture in Belfast became deeply immersed in the imagined community of the British nation after the Act of Union of 1801, allowing the author to provide a new perspective on the roots of Ulster’s opposition to Home Rule.

While entirely aware of the sectarian division in Ulster, Bew places these developments in the wider context of the Westminster political system and debates about the United Kingdom’s ‘place in the world’, thus providing a more balanced and sophisticated view of the politics of nineteenth-century Belfast, arguing that it was not simply dominated by the struggle between Orange and Green. The book breaks new ground in examining how the formative ‘nation-building’ episodes in Britain – such as war, parliamentary reform, and social, economic and scientific advancement – played out in the unique context of Belfast and the surrounding area.

Table of Contents

Part I: Intellectual Foundations

  • Becoming Britons: Patriotism, pragmatism and the constitution before the Union
  • West Britons: Reaction and radicalism from the Union to the Reform Act

Part II: Political Realities and New Identities, 1832-1848

  • ‘Brothers in Political Bondage’: Liberal unionism, British politics and Irish nationalism, 1832-48
  • ‘The glory of being Britons’: Conservatism and unionism between reform and famine, 1832-48

Part III: The High Tide of Victorian Unionism, 1848-1874

  • The Constitution and the Continent: Mid-Victorian Britain and the contradictions of liberal unionism, 1848-74
  • Deadly Nightshade and the Orange revolt: the challenge of Protestant populism, 1848-74

About the Author

John Bew is Harris Fellow and Lecturer in Modern British History, Peterhouse, Cambridge. He is the co-author of Talking to Terrorists: The Search for Peace in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country with Martyn Frampton and Inigo Gurruchaga (Hurst and Co, London).