‘Orange is not the only colour in the Protestant spectrum’: Glenn Patterson on ‘More of It Than We Think’
by Katy FIELD for Northern Ireland Foundation
20 August 2014
More of It Than We Think was the final screening of the BBC Diversity on Screen series, held in conjunction with the Art of the Troubles exhibition at the Ulster Museum.
Produced in 1995 by the Belfast writer and novelist Glenn Patterson, More of It Than We Think was an exploration of Protestant identity and culture in Northern Ireland.
Hailing from a Protestant background, Patterson wrote More of It Than We Think in response to what he considered to be a real identity crisis within the Protestant community. Today, nearly twenty years after Patterson’s production was first broadcast on the BBC, the topic of Protestant identity is once again at the forefront of discussion.
According to Patterson, Protestant culture has often been dismissed as ‘a one note refrain of no, no, no’. Indeed, this culture is frequently assumed to have been sculpted by largely reactionary and negative thought, as a response to events. Thus, More of It Than We Think was Patterson’s effort to disentangle such unconstructive stereotypes and demonstrate that ‘orange is not the only colour in the Protestant spectrum’. Rather than replicate the hackneyed imagery of bonfires, flags and flute bands, More of It Than We Think preferred to concentrate on the tremendous cultural influence individual Protestants have had on the development of Belfast.
Patterson spoke of the existence of a ‘third community’ in Northern Ireland, a dissenting tradition in which Ulster Presbyterians were at the forefront. The Presbyterian community in Belfast was in fact famed for their radical political ideas, evidenced by their support for both the 1798 Irish Rebellion and the French Revolution. What is more, such men saw no incongruity in their Protestant identity and their love of the Irish language. Irish soon became regarded as the fashionable language for middle-class Belfast Presbyterians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
More of It Than We Think then focused upon the poetry of two prominent local poets, Louis MacNeice and John Hewitt, both of whom were from the Protestant community. Indeed, the title of the film, More of It Than we Think, was taken from a line of the MacNeice poem Snow, which Patterson confesses is a personal favourite.
As both writers and Protestants, such men as MacNeice and Hewitt had a profound impact on Patterson. He heralds them for continuing the radical nature of Protestantism.
The diverse soundtrack accompanying the film reflects Patterson’s own musical tastes, which range from harp arrangements to Oasis songs. In one poignant scene in the City Hall, the camera pans over busts of Belfast’s former mayors, whilst Morrissey questions, ‘where am I going?’
Patterson closes the film by remarking that ‘no individual is without contradiction’. Protestant culture, he maintains, does not always have to be synonymous with loyalism, unionism or reactionary politics. Overall, More of It Than We Think was a reflective and thought-provoking piece, which sought to challenge our preconceptions about identity.
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.
And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.