"No Idle Sightseers": the Ulster Women's Unionist Council and Ulster Unionism(1911 - 1920)
Mckane, Pamela Blythe
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This doctoral dissertation examines the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council (UWUC), an overlooked, but historically significant Ulster unionist institution, during the 1910s and 1920s—a time of great conflict. Ulster unionists opposed Home Rule for Ireland. World War I erupted in 1914 and was followed by the Anglo-Irish War (1919-1922), the partition of Ireland in 1922, and the Civil War (1922-1923). Within a year of its establishment the UWUC was the largest women’s political organization in Ireland with an estimated membership of between 115,000 and 200,000. Yet neither the male-dominated Ulster unionist institutions of the time, nor the literature related to Ulster unionism and twentieth-century Irish politics and history have paid much attention to its existence and work. This dissertation seeks to redress this. The framework of analysis employed is original in terms of the concepts it combines with a gender focus. It draws on Rogers Brubaker’s (1996) concepts of “nation” as practical category, institutionalized form (“nationhood”), and contingent event (“nationness”), combining these concepts with William Walters’ (2004) concept of “domopolitics” and with a feminist understanding of the centrality of gender to nation. This analytical framework is used to explore the UWUC’s role in the Ulster unionist movement during the 1910s and the 1920s, with a particular focus on the gendered constitution of Ulster. This study argues that Ulster historically has been constituted through the gendered discourses, norms, symbols, rituals, traditions, and practices of Ulster unionist institutions, and contingent events, such as the Ulster Crisis, World War I, the Anglo-Irish War, and the partition of Ireland. This dissertation analyzes primary sources related to the UWUC. It reveals the extent of the work undertaken by members of the UWUC in terms of opposing Home Rule and constituting Ulster. It argues that the scale of the mobilization of the UWUC and the scope of its anti-Home Rule work makes clear that the UWUC was not peripheral to Ulster unionism; nor were its members “idle sightseers” in terms of the events of the 1910s and 1920s and the constitution of Ulster.