Professor Arthur Aughey and author Dr Aaron Edwards at the book launch
The launch of A people under siege: Northern Ireland’s unionists, from partition to Brexit and beyond it took place at No Alibis bookstore in Belfast on June 15, 2023. Merrion Press editor Conor Graham made comments, saying the author’s books make “a significant contribution to the history of this place.” Professor Arthur Aughey, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Ulster, launched the book, saying that A town under siege resonated with a
very distinctive author’s voice, an author’s voice that is confident in its ability and confident that it has something to say. Readability is intelligence after all… This book is the story of a people, a people with all their anxieties and expectations, all their weaknesses and strengths, all the challenges they face and the opportunities they can seize. And it traces itself over a century… The optimism of the book is in an idea of progress that Aaron borrows from the Ulster Scottish philosopher Francis Hutcheson… It’s not just a story, it’s about people. And for those who have read Aaron’s earlier books, you may realize that it is often those who have been marginalized historically or who don’t feature in the present day who figure prominently… What Aaron tries to do in the book is locate people, locate places and locate ideas and try to build a vision out of it… The book ends with a short manifesto that builds on Edna Longley’s famous description of Northern Ireland as a cultural corridor or conduit of influences between British and Irish… It reminds us that whatever the institutional configuration of Northern Ireland, whatever the constitutional configuration of Northern Ireland, unionists, nationalists and none are united in a community with a shared future. And that uniting that community of destiny can be vicious… or, possibly, it can be virtuous. Being differently British, being differently Irish is the reality of people here, even if, like that Cole Porter song, they can be true to these different identities in their own way. Now, Aaron doesn’t put it that way, but that was the song in my head when I finished the book: differently British, differently Irish, each in his own way.
The book launch was attended by family, friends and academic colleagues and was accompanied by coverage on BBC Northern Ireland’s The View, the irish times and the independent sunday.
About the book
Since the 2016 Brexit referendum, extraordinary uncertainty has hung over the future of the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, creating a crisis for the unionist community. A referendum that began on the question of sovereignty quickly degenerated into cries of treason for a redrawn border in the Irish Sea, and has led unionists to become more insular again, resurrecting ethnic and nationalist notions of what constitutes the Union.
In A People Under Siege, Belfast native historian Aaron Edwards explores the profound challenges facing the community and, in the process, articulates what unionism really means. He explains key developments within unionism over the last turbulent century and examines how a people who believe they are under siege again is viewed by others beyond their community. In doing so, he confronts the narrow, sectional beliefs and prejudices of unionists and loyalists, as well as outlining their more positive and progressive aspects. By embracing these, Edwards explains how divisions can be healed and a position of mutual acceptance, tolerance and understanding can be reached that will benefit the entire population.