Without a “dog’s chance:” the Devlinite Irish News, Northern Ireland’s “trapped” nationalist minority, and the Irish boundary question, 1921-1925

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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Between 1920 and 1922 Ireland was partitioned and two new polities emerged: the overwhelmingly Catholic and nationalist Irish Free State, and Northern Ireland, which was largely Protestant and unionist. These polities were not homogeneous, however, and the existence of a small unionist minority in the Free State and a more significant nationalist minority in Northern Ireland necessitated the establishment of a Boundary Commission in order to redraw the border. This thesis is a study of Northern Ireland’s divided nationalist minority and their relationship with Southern nationalists during the period between the onset of partition and the collapse of the Boundary Commission in 1925. While my focus on the relationship between Northern and Southern nationalism is itself unique, “Without a ‘Dog’s Chance’” breaks new ground by demonstrating how Northern Ireland’s nationalist minority represented an example of what Israeli anthropologist Dan Rabinowitz has called a “trapped minority.” My use of the hitherto ignored poetry that appeared in Northern Ireland’s nationalist press also sets this work apart from the existing historiography. Whereas the trapped minority model provides a way of conceptualizing Northern nationalism as a component of the wider Irish nationalist movement, incorporating poetry into the discussion of the relations between the trapped Northern minority and the Irish “mother nation” reveals a new dimension to the feelings of angst, betrayal, and victimization that were embedded in the politics of Northern nationalism. Although this project concentrates on the constitutionally-minded supporters of West Belfast MP Joseph Devlin and the Devlinite Irish News, their border-dwelling Sinn Féin competitors are by no means ignored. While Free State strong-man Kevin O’Higgins was unequivocally correct when he suggested that tensions between the Devlinites and the Sinn Féiners were exacerbated because the former did not have “a dog’s chance of getting out of the Boundary area” and the latter did, this thesis argues that individuals belonging to both political traditions witnessed the diminishment of their nationalist credentials after partition. Feeling under-valued, abandoned, and exploited by their peers in the South, the nationalists of Northern Ireland were also marginalized within a host state that regarded them with fear and suspicion.
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