Sunday, 3 August 2014

Flying the Flags - culture and identity in Northern Ireland



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.



13 comments:

  1. Very thought provoking Doris. This is a very confusing topic for someone growing up in Switzerland, with its uneventful history and bland politics. I know there are similar tensions in Glasgow, albeit much less talked about or noticeable, at least in the neighbourhood where I live. The YouTube video you link to is refreshing.
    I never know what to tick for my children on ethnic diversity forms we get from school.... The older ones see themselves as Scottish (born in Scotland) but they aren't really, they are Swiss and Italian from my side, English and Australian from my husbands side. I usually tick other white. For the two little (adopted) ones I tick Scottish white, which causes confusion in the school office.... although on paper they are now the same cultural and ethnic heritage as my birth children. My head is spinning :) Cultural identity is a complicated construct that is so much more than a box on a form, isn't it? Cx

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    1. It is. I am not sure those forms serve any purpose other than to create statistics.

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  2. I can totally relate to this, even though I grew up on the other side of the border, on the other side of the cultural divide. While I do have an affinity to traditional Irish culture, can still speak a wee bit of Irish, and enjoy trad and folk music, I also see myself as European, even though that has become a bad word since the recession and the bail out.
    Unfortunately the flying of flags is still divisive - a pensioner in South Armagh drowned last week when he attempted to swim out to an island where someone had placed the tricolor so he could remove it (think he felt it was disrespectful to the flag rather than objecting to it). The Irish Times had an interesting feature last weekend about people from 'the south' who had never visited 'the north' and vice versa. The two groups were taken across the Border to experience a holiday on the other side. They all enjoyed the experience and were very impressed with the hospitality and friendliness shown to them, although some of the southern visitors found the flying of the Union Jack and painting of footpaths intimidating.

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    1. I don't know the 'the south' well either, really not getting much further than Dublin and Donegal. I'm ashamed to say I know France better. I hope to remedy this in the next few years - fancy a camper van tour.

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    2. And I also wanted to say how horrible it was that this poor man died unnecessarily.

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  3. We never have to fill in ethnic backgrounds here, it's a bit of a taboo. You do have to fill in nationality and parent's nationalities: Dutch, Turkish, Moroccan and the like. But never 'white' or 'caucasion', as we had to in New Zealand.

    Good post, Doris. I agree with Christina that it's very thought-provoking.

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    1. This sounds like a better system if such data has to be collected.

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  4. I'm surrounded by flags. Every year they have something new.

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  5. Yet in England the only time anyone flies a flag is when there is a big football tournament and that didn't last long this time.

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  6. Oh well,...not sure what to say about this one. I'm from the South but live in the North. Brought up Catholic but married to a Presbyterian. And I live in a mixed area. As an Irish citizen, I do resent my national flag being paraded about up here. This is part of the UK and the flag is the union jack. Suck it up. If you can't, then move across the border. I can't abide people arguing about stuff from the past...onwards and upwards. But sadly, it's not as clear cut as this....nothing ever is in this funny part of the world! x

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    1. My perspective is a bit different I suppose as I've been away so long. It just makes me so sad that some people are prepared to do things which threaten peace and prosperity. Lovely to see you visit here Avril. I'm in the Lisburn area next week for a little while visiting my sister if you'd like to meet for a coffee.

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  7. The whole ethnicity question is very interesting, we now have a 'Cornish' box we can tick for our ethnic identity. The Cornish have now been recognised as an ethnic minority, and the Cornish Language is being taught in some schools.

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  8. I hadn't realised that the Cornish Language was still going. Is it spoken in any areas as a first language? You are lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world - I love Cornwall.

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