So Northern Ireland, my home nation, has eventually won some gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. Two young boxers were doing the rounds of the post-games chat shows last night clearly delighted with their success, as was the Scottish postie boxer who also won gold and amused everyone with his enthusiastic rendition of 'Flower of Scotland', the chosen anthem for his country, during the medal ceremony. The two boxers from Northern Ireland may have felt less enthusiastic when their medal were being awarded. The radar that all those who grew up in NI acquire tells me that these young men are probably Catholic (the names give it away) and might not have much loyalty to the 'hand of Ulster' flag used to represent Northern Ireland in the games, nor for Northern Ireland's chosen 'anthem' 'The Londonderry Air' or 'Danny Boy' as it is better known. In fact, Paddy Barnes was heard to say 'that's not my anthem' when it was being played. But he later defused the row by making a comment on Twitter. He said he 'won the medal for everyone, Catholic and Protestant alike, I don't care what your religion is! Some clowns out there.' Good for him.
People in mainland Britain cannot believe what a fuss is made about flying flags in Northern Ireland. There were violent protests last year about the council's decision to limit the number of days the union flag would be flown over city hall. Thankfully this has died down, but Paddy Barnes is right. There are still 'clowns' around and a sickening new twist is that some of the loyalist extremists seem to be supporting Israel's horrendous bombing of Gaza. Read more about this here.
In Ballyronan, where I grew up, it became a kind of sport at one stage for the young men in the village to erect either a tricolour (what we called the Irish flag) or a union jack and take down the one erected by the opposition. These days no one bothers. Most people are ready to live in peace with each other and get on with their lives. My brother in law who lives in NI showed me this clip from a show called 'The Blame Game' which sums up the attitude of most sane people to the flag issue.
Last week I had to complete and sign a form related to our farm in Ballyronan. It had to be returned to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. I noticed that the address on the form said Derry/Londonderry. This use of the / alternative is new to me and is I suppose another official attempt at reconciliation since the name of NI's second city is another contentious issue. When I was young, I always talked of Derry and used Co Derry when writing my address. It was only later that someone told me that Protestants like me said Londonderry. Really?
My own cultural identity is a bit mixed. I don't feel any real connection to what is 'traditional' Irish culture - the language, the dance, the music and I can't even spell ceilidh without looking it up. Nor do I see parades like the Twelfth, which I blogged about here, as my cultural heritage: it's time to move on from all that. I never know what to put on those Ethnic Diversity forms you have to fill in at work sometimes. Am I White Irish or White British? Sometimes I tick both.