Blackstaff celebrates 50th anniversary with McKay's 'valiant' Protestant testimony

Blackstaff celebrates 50th anniversary with McKay's 'valiant' Protestant testimony

Northern Irish independent Blackstaff Press is to publish Susan McKay's new title, Northern Protestants: On Shifting Ground, a non-fiction work which examines the upheaval and unrest caused to the Protestant community during the Troubles.

The publication coincides with the press's 50th anniversary and chimes with the material it focuses on publishing. It was founded in 1971, at the peak of unrest and violence in the country.

Northern Protestants: On Shifting Ground is about people who are from a Protestant background, including some whose families are mixed, whether through their parents’ or their own choices. The author explained: "In recent years a term has come into use that attempts to corral everyone in Northern Ireland into a binary of ethnic huddles, Catholic Nationalist Republican on one side, Protestant Unionist Loyalist on the other."

"The term PUL has caught on more than CNR," McKay said. “I dislike it for its sense of circling the wagons, and it excludes a lot of people. The term loyalist needs to be used carefully. It generally refers to working-class unionists, but it is also often paired with or even used as shorthand for ‘paramilitaries’, which reinforces the false notion that the paramilitaries represent the people."

The book's synopsis states: "Things are changing in Northern Ireland with demographics at a tipping point. McKay explains that when the state was founded, Protestants outnumbered Catholics by a ratio of about two to one, and ruthlessly discriminatory systems were in place to maintain control. A hundred years later, almost half of the population is Catholic, there are fewer Protestant than Catholic schoolchildren, and the only cohort of the population in which Protestants are in a significant majority is the over-sixties. So this book offers a vivid and multi-layered portrait of a surprisingly diverse and fluid community coming to terms with itself and living with change. Written with McKay’s trademark passion and conviction, and full of vulnerable and valiant testimony, this book is compelling, essential reading."

The publisher acquired world rights to the book direct from the author. Patsy Horton, Blackstaff’s managing editor, said “We've built our list on cutting-edge titles that explore the rich political, historical and cultural life of Northern Ireland. Our books make a vital contribution to debates here but they also use expert voices to give the world a broader and more nuanced understanding of politics and society in Northern Ireland. Northern Protestants: On Shifting Ground by journalist Susan McKay is just such a book and speaks at a crucial moment in Northern Ireland's history - the centenary of the foundation of the state itself. What we didn't fully anticipate was that the book's publication this June would coincide with a period of extraordinary upheaval and unrest in Northern Ireland, particularly for the Protestant community. Brexit has raised all kinds of questions around identity and borders and Susan's book goes to the heart of all of that."

McKay is a journalist and author of Sophia’s Story, Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People, Without Fear: A History of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Bear in Mind These Dead. She was Northern editor of the Sunday Tribune and has made a number of radio and television documentaries, including "The Daughters’ Story" about the daughters of the murdered musician Fran O’Toole of the Miami Showband. She was a founder of the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre and from 2009 to 2012 was c.e.o. of the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

McKay’s Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People, published in 2000, is also being reissued in a new edition with a new introduction this month.

“There will be much to work out in Northern Ireland in the coming years,” said Horton, “and  Blackstaff will continue to contribute to that, publishing books that foster debate and helping to create an informed dialogue between Northern Ireland and the rest of the world."