“Alternative Ulster” is the signature track off of Inflammable Material, carrying enough cultural influence to have a Belfast based music magazine name after it. Similar to other songs on Inflammable Material, “Alternative Ulster” deals with identity issues that arise from living in an oppressive and sectarian society, as well as authenticity issues that come from living in a violent and oppressive situation.
The last stanza addresses identity in the all-encompassing ideological stand off of Northern Ireland. “They say they’re a part of you, But that’s not true you know/They say they’ve got control of you, And that’s a lie you know/ They say you will never be free.” This is a call to resist any possible inherited obligation to engage with The Troubles in an extremist way. The chorus also supports individual choice, offering alternatives for Ulster as being within reach and also rejecting ubiquitous reactionary militarism: “An Alternative Ulster, Grab it change it it’s yours/Get an Alternative Ulster, Ignore the bores and their laws/ Get an alternative Ulster, Be an anti-security force.” Ignoring “the bores and their laws” is referential to sectarian legislature, but also a nihilistic punk genre motif as well.
“Alternative Ulster” also deals with issues of authenticity while living in Northern Ireland. The first stanza includes some lines concerned with a lack of authentic existence; due to not belonging either entirely to Ireland or England. “Nothin’ for us in Belfast, the Pound’s so old it’s a pity/OK, there’s the trident in Bangor, Then we walk back to the city.” Referring to the Pound as old indicates a lack of necessity for England for the people in Ulster. This brings to light interactions between England and Northern Ireland in the early 20th century, where England viewed Unionist Northern Ireland as “a particularly tiresome problem, apt to be a nuisance.”* Walking to Bangor is also mentioned, and this is referential to the wealthiest town in Northern Ireland, which even during The Troubles was an idealistic Irish tourist town. This ideal of Ireland is not however sustainable and the realities of sectarian Ulster must be returned to. By rejecting both ties to a “traditional Ireland” and England, Stiff Little Fingers vie for authenticity in a unique created space.
Despite the institutionalized violence and oppression present in Northern Ireland, it is not condoned in any manner: “Take a look where you’re livin’, You got the Army on your street, and the RUC dog of repression, Is barking at your feet.” Ulster is defended as being capable of authentic experience. The chorus also states, “Alter your native Ulster, Alter your native land.” While it may not seem important, the usage of “your native” calls for genuine pride in Ulster, and alludes to ideas on Lamar’s “Compton,” standing out on an album filled with mostly scathing mockery of a difficult situation.[If you would like to refresh your interactive experience please pinback to the songs.]
*McVea and McKittrick (28)