Walls in the country

Last month Alliance multi jobber Naomi Long “challenged OFMDFM on peace lines on 40th anniversary of troubles.” In fairness it was not a bad idea and she did not pretend that this could be done quickly. It did, however, set me to thinking about the fact that the lack of peace walls where I was brought up or indeed where I live now never prevented effective community segregation. That is of course a little unfair but there is a major element of truth therein.

Large parts of rural Northern Ireland are divided pretty completely on sectarian lines: sometimes there are no or almost no members of one community in a given area. Sometimes a Union Jack, Ulster flag or Tricolour marks out the area for the benefit of outsiders but very frequently there is no such clue: for the locals none is needed; they all know. Even if there is a mixed community many or even most people can recite which side each house’s inhabitants or even which side each field’s owners are and indeed many of the older locals can recount if in the past it was “sold wrong.”

In part this is down to separate schooling, largely separate leisure and cultural activities, to high levels of religious observance in rural areas and, hence, people’s friends being drawn from one community or the other. There is of course mixing but people know what to say and to whom from a very young age.

Naomi Long may decry peace walls scarring Belfast but a much more subtle though little less complete form of separation occurs in the country.

  • Coll Ciotach

    I would agree to a certain extent, in fact when you think about it the segregation is far worse in its character in the rural areas. At least in the towwns it can be claimed that the segregation is due to ignorance of the other sort but in the country that does not apply. Thus the segregation is wilful. I would disagree with you attributation of the cause.

    The reason why there is segregation is due to the immigrants refusal to take their part and insistance on their separateness

  • Its the same in middle-class areas of the cities, though, where there are no physical signs of segreation. I live in the Upper Antrim Road – a generation ago impeccably mixed, now with a Catholic population of about 80%.

    You obviously see zero flags here on the 12th of July. But you could go to similar areas which are 80% or more Protestant – Jordanstown, or Belmont, or Helen’s Bay – and see equally few flags on the 12th of July. The Germans have a saying – “the wall in our heads” – to refer to the psychological division of the country that has now outlasted the political division of the country by a generation. The situations aren’t close to being comparable, but I think there are maybe analogies.

    When a young, well-educated, upper-middle class family decide to set up home in North Belfast, usually through family connections, they will either cite the proximity of the city centre and lack of traffic jams as the reason for setting up home along the Antrim Road; or a bigger house for the same money for doing so in Jordanstown. Nobody cares, in public, about religion or politics. But at the end of the day wealthy, liberal, Catholics tend on balance to cite the former and settle along the Antrim Road or in the more upscale parts of lower Glengormley like Collinbridge or the Church Road; wealthy, liberal, Protestants cite the latter and settle in Ballyhenry, Jordanstown or Upper Road Greenisland.

    There’s no problem if you don’t go with the ethnic solidairty flow; half the Catholic kids here go to BRA or Hazelwood anyway. The kids playing football in my (majority Catholic) street sport as many Northern Ireland shirts as GAA shirts, and a lot more rugby tops than Celtic tops, and in any case they all tend more towards Liverpool and Man United than anything else, as do their counterparts in both the New Lodge and Tiger’s Bay. Protestant ministers are an integral part of community life here as is the treasurer of the Church of Ireland Diocese of Connor and Shankill bomb survivor Alan McBride, and we have a high proportion of both mixed marriages and Northern Ireland’s tiny Jewish community; I get my Parish newsletter hand delivered from St. Peter’s Church of Ireland every moth and it would horrify anyone here to think that could remotely be an issue. When my neigbour to the back needed to get her trees cut back, it was obvious from names that she was a Prod and I was a Taig (well, I’m a bit more complicated, but ultimately at first sight I’m yet another New Lodger done well thanks to St. Malachy’s and moved up the Antrim Road). I could put two and two together and I’m sure she could too, but what difference does that make? But I’m still fairly sure her children are living in Jordanstown and Greenisland and, in the unlikely event I had any, they would settle in the immediate vicinity.

    Catholics in Jordanstown and Ballycraigy are equally a part of their communities, accepted and respected, but why do their communities tend to be overwhelmingly Protestant, mine overwhelingly Catholic, and still others – places like Ashgrove, Whiteabbey and most improbably parts of the Upper Crumlin Road – remain almost equally mixed for decades? And similarly, in what you call the dreary steeples, why does pretty much all of middle-class Enniskillen stay mixed in a county known for sectarian tension, whereas middle-class Lurgan remains almost entirely divided?

    You could say it doesn’t matter – but at the end of the day shared moaning about shared problems are part of what make a shared civic culture possible. And also, while in the poorest urban areas the divisions are often at their starkest, why do some of those areas – the Whiteabbey estates, not short of social problems, spring to mind – stay mixed while others remain or become mono-ethnic?

  • KieranJ


    Uganda in the North Atlantic.

  • willis


    Multi-jobber! A Councillor as well as being a MLA? Oh and having a real job as well. Did I miss something? MP? MEP?

    I’m glad the TUV is taking a stand against multi-jobbery.

  • New Blue

    Sammy – spot on

  • willis


    The point about “peace walls” is that they are there to protect against violence. You can have a divided society without the fear of violence.

  • Turgon

    Re Multi jobber. Maybe a bit unfair but she is mayor, councillor and MLA but still yes on balance a bit unfair. You are of course correct about peace walls. I was, however, pointing out exactly what you have said about a divided society.

    I suspected that would be the case re North Belfast but did not really know: thank you.

  • igor

    “the immigrants refusal to take their part and insistance on their separateness”

    Ah so its all the Prods fault as usual. Of course theres no sectarian intent at all in all those tricolour flags and ‘war memorials’ on the republican side

    A protestant friend lives in the mid ulster on a country road. Over the years the area has become increasingly catholic – now perhaps 60% – and his is the only Protestant family left on his road. He doesnt fly flags and isnt in the OO – he just gets on with his life.

    This year in the wee small hours of the night, two large tricolours were erected on telegraph poles right beside his house. They are the only flags in the area. He was annoyed at this blatant intimidation but was afraid to remove them. He is on friendly terms with all his Catholic neighbours but did any of them remove them or say anything? Nope.

    I will bet there are dozens of similar stories with Catholic families in other areas too. Sectarianism is sectarianism and its endemic in all our communities

  • willis

    Thanks for that Turgon.

    AFAIK Councillors only get expenses, not pay, so the only “job” from the public purse is MLA.

    Of course I am biased, but a few less lawyers and a few more female consulting engineers would help our public life.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Turgon, recently I have got involved in a local history group in a rural area of tyrone, we cover an area of approximately 60 townlands, it is appox 60% catholic, 10% CoI, and 30% presbyterian, and has not changed to any major extent since virtually the plantation. We have discovered that although the pres/CoI disitinciton matters little now it was quite a major issue in the past, and with that mix power and influence achieved a sort of equallibrian over the years. The area was deeply effected by the troubles with both side actively involved, the catholic community would have been equally SDLP and republican, the unionist more UUP until recently swings have reversed that to more DUP.
    Both communities are still deeply religious and you count those who dont attend church rather than vice versa, however the catholic church has not been immune to the changes and attendance is down with the laity taking an increasing role.
    Outside of church most socialising takes place round Orange and GAA events with the virtually the only mixing being through work/business and wakes, everyone still attends a wake within at least a mile radius, and up to 3 or 4 miles.
    Back to the history group, we have been going for only 6 months now but have been getting a good attendance at the meetings, and it is mixed, it is not always easy achieving a balance but so far so good, strangly most people think history is devisive but it is quite the opposite here and understanding to where both sides have come from is slowly growing, and this isnt some wishy washy middleground the uglier sides of both our histories are faced head on.
    The hilight so far was a Hog Roast and Cultural evening held in the early summer with over 250 local people in attendance and the crowd roughly reflected the community mix, certainly the first such event I can remember and that I know off in recent history, it was amazing evening with a mix of irish and scottish dancing and ceili and loyalist band music, poetry, singing (Percy French songs seem to work) and even a short history talk.
    There is long way to go and it is so easy for things to get derailed but maybe steps are being made, and bridges are being built.

  • Dewi

    That sounds fantastic Drumlins Rock. Excellent post also Turgon. Do the Orange Order still buy “Protestant” land if the owner dies without heir?

  • Dublin voter

    Excellent thread. Well started Turgon. Keep going on that one, Drumlins, the more of it the better.
    If fascinates me – sectarian division. A good point well made too that it exists bigtime among the middle classes too – maybe not physical walls but clearly mental ones.
    I don’t go to NI very often but I did once take a drive en famille from Co Leitrim to the Giants Causeway. Was always looking out for signs of which tribe’s territory we were passing through. It was the summer so the UDA, UVF, Ulster and Union flags were flying in many areas. I can’t remember the name of the village but it was in Co Derry and festooned with same. And just to emphasise the point, nailed to a wooden lamppost was a stencilled sign which read “100% Prod”. I thought that was very funny but then I was only passing through. I don’t think it would be particularly funny if I lived nearby.
    Nice to see some areas cited where the middle classes mix and some that are working class and mixed too. Please God there will be more and more of them as time goes by.
    My late father was a nationalist and he sincerely hoped for a united Ireland within his lifetime. I hope that the physical walls in Belfast will be down before I die.

  • Drumlins Rock

    before people think this territorialism is yet another NI quirk,( whilst it is a bit more promounced here, either through flags and grafetti, or peace walls,) similar divisions exist in virtually every country of the world, with the exceptions often being countries that took the extreme routes to deal with it, the best (or worst) examples I can think of are Greece and Turkey, swapping minorities mite have solved a problem but from visiting both I scense both have lost a part of their soul. Although those countries that have wiped out entire minorities are not unknow either.
    We are not unique, maybe we should be a bit more outward looking and learn from it.

  • joeCanuck

    You are a very reasonable person but I keep thinking that you are in bad company.
    What is the TUV prepared to do to tear down those virtual walls or are they content with leaving them intact?

  • joeCanuck

    Should have said “..help tear down..” since, of course, tearing them down would require action by all parties.

  • Turgon

    Thank you for the compliment: I think.

    I am unsure about tearing down the walls in that I am unsure how much people want to tear them down and in light of that any attempt by an outside group: be that a political party, church group or anything else is probably doomed to failure.

    Completely benign groups accidentally contribute to the walls. For example I was (and still emotionally am) a Presbyterian. My local church was the centre for all community activities and we had presbytery events. As such I knew Prebyterian young people from some distance away and was more friendly with and knew them better than with CoI people from nearer at hand (there were almost no Catholics or Methodists where I was brought up).

    The same system in reverse could I am sure apply to the Catholic church: it is not the fault of the Catholic or Presbyterian churches; it is just an inevitable thing in many ways.

    The same occurs with the Orange Order, GAA etc. etc.

    Maybe one day things will change but I think it must occur organically (even it must evolve). Trying to tear down walls is I suspect doomed to failure: allowing them to fall apart is the only hope.

    Political parties are in some ways divisive by their nature as clearly they are groupings of fairly like minded people (at least in political terms). As such political parties are a particularly bad vehicle for breaking down division.

    I think the only option is for political parties to try to represent their position honestly and honourably and that is about all one can do. In addition for elected politicians they need to help their constituents no matter who they are.

  • in other words turgon

    In other words turgon just keep on spinning.

  • Turgon

    “In other words turgon just keep on spinning”

    Well I have a certain talent for it even if I do say so myself.

  • Turgon

    Dublin Voter,
    I suspect the village you drove through is Tobermore. You will also have driven through the area I was brought up in. It is almost as Prod as Tobermore (though in the country) but there is absolutely no sign of this to an outsider.

  • ersehole

    Tobermore, almost certainly from tobar mór, a big well.

  • Tochais Si­orai­

    Talking of big wells, another meeting place rural protestants tend not to frequent that much (certainly not to the extent of their catholic neighbours) is that major Irish social hub i.e. the local pub. Don’t underestimate how a few pints with the neighbours can add to social cohesion (yes, I know how some pubs can be a ‘cold house’ for some & drink can exacerbate a hostile atmosphere but my general point remains). Any thoughts on this?

  • Dublin Voter

    Thanks Turgon. Tobermore it was, I remember. I’m pretty sure I knew your native area as Prod too as I drove through – all those tidy farms and gardens (JOKING, JOKING).
    To keep the compliments going, sincerely your Post 16 is excellent. So sensible and true.
    Very good point from Drumlins too. People of different nationalities, ethnic backgrounds live side by side in loads of places around the world. NI is similar to many other places in that regard.

  • Brit

    My one trip to rural NI involved staying in an overwhelmingly Prod village/town in County Down. Lets just say that pubs were doing good business.