Who do you think you are?
All Irish?: Patricia Craig. (photographs © patricia craig, 2012)
Patricia Craig's father, Andy, with his younger brother and sister outside their Dunmurry home, around 1928 (photographs © patricia craig, 2012)
All Irish?: the Scullabogue atrocity of 1798, depicted by George Cruikshank.
BIOGRAPHY:Patricia Craig’s tracing of her family lineage has little room for stereotypes of Gael and planter
A Twisted Root: Ancestral Entanglements in Ireland, By Patricia Craig, Blackstaff Press, 277pp, £12.99
In 2010, as a preview of the upcoming decade of commemorations, the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council organised an impressive event at Belfast city hall. There was one refrain: a rolling Who Do You Think You Are? scheme for the divided communities of Northern Ireland. And this is what we have in Patricia Craig’s splendid ancestral biography.
Other Irish writers have already done this kind of thing. My favourite is that of his Waterford upbringing by the guru of imagined identity, Benedict Anderson, in the Dublin Review of Books, in 2003.
Where Craig’s differs is in her very successful creation of the atmosphere and environments in which her ancestors operated, particularly the kind of people who do not figure in official records.
Craig is a much-respected literary critic and writer. She grew up on Falls Road in Belfast and imbibed all the origin myths of Irish Catholic nationalism about the dispossessed and downtrodden Gael.
It was this cultural programming that produced the IRA, and though she escaped Belfast before she herself had any such involvement, she was fully signed up to romantic republicanism as a teenager. Many who witnessed the horrors that such cultural programming produced are reassessing their cultural baggage. A Twisted Root is Craig’s contribution to this post-Troubles rethinking.
Her journey takes her to planter ancestors from Warwickshire, though these humble Tippings, seeking a better life in Ulster, scarcely fit the stereotype conveyed by the loaded term planter. Katharine and John Tipping and their five children arrived in the Lisburn area of Co Antrim in the early 17th century.
Their children were already intermarrying with the so-called “native Irish” by 1622 and seem to have survived the horrors of 1641 (though another relative was slaughtered by the same native Irish). By the time we reach the 20th century the Tippings are Catholic and red-hot republicans. So some ancestral credibility has been found for the Irish/Catholic/rebel photofit.
But Northern Catholics have been perceived by the rest of Ireland as not quite the full shilling in terms of being fully paid-up members of the Irish Catholic nation, so a southern line was quite a useful attribute. This Craig finds in Wexford, and involvement in 1798.
But wait a minute: these are Protestants (Letts) who survived the massacre of loyalists at Scullabogue. So this line, too, is a little dodgy, even though one of them joined the rebels. The presumed tolerance of the United Irishmen and Tone’s “common name of Irishman” ideal has been a talisman for moderate Northerners, and so it is a refrain throughout this book. The sectarianism of some 1798 rebels clearly shocks the author.
Other Protestant ancestors include the notorious 19th-century grand master of the Orange Order, William Blacker, he who was removed from the magistracy because of his anti-Catholicism. And the Orange connections resurface in the Craig ancestry – no grandees such as Blacker here, however, but a stable hand and coachman.
This is the author’s grandfather, and she recalls her grandmother’s clumps of orange lilies in her garden – yes, even the flowers one grew were a cultural signifier.