Friday, 24 January 2014

Thinking Ulsterly

It did not cause me any trouble to become a Protestant Ulsterman, but my becoming an internationalist is my own work. 

I am often in the company of people who hail from all over the world. Conversations are lubricated with fizzy drinks or alcohol, usually the latter. Then: "Are you from Ireland?" 
I would say something along the lines of, "Northern Ireland, which is technically part of the UK." 
I knew what was coming next. "Isn’t all of Ireland part of the UK?"
"Weeelll" - I would start with a dip in it to signal my mild irritation, but before I’d get the chance to answer would come the intention, 
“I would like to visit Ireland. I have heard it’s a real party island full of nice friendly people.”

Expats: They just come right out with things. I wasn’t sure what news they had heard or who had "educated" them, but I was determined to fill the gaps in their knowledge. My painting the picture of the island as "two nations", as described by the brilliant Dungannon born historian W.F. Moneypenny, turned out to be less alluring than the romantic expat point of view. 

To present my more balanced view of Ireland I consulted other favourite historians and authors and thought about the role of America. Oscar Wilde had loved America and even believed it capable of settling the age-old Irish problem. Having read the Haass proposals I have to confess that I find myself in disagreement with Wilde.

The civil war, more commonly known as "the Troubles", was at the beginning and end of all our conversations. I explained the reasons for the conflict, the cease fires and the peace process and took the edge of the worst atrocities as best I could. But you should have seen the reaction when I described rubber bullets as resembling the sculpted Coke bottles from which my expat friends were drinking. 

Then came the sort of question which made me wonder if they had understood anything at all, “So are you a Protestant or a Catholic Ulsterman?”   

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