Who do we think we are?

I just finished listening to a fine piece of radio presented by Gerry Anderson and would recommend a listen. It covered the area of identity and what factors make us what and who we think we are. It’s certainly timely given the present impasse we are stuck in, unable and unwilling to perfom a basic function of democracy and govern ourselves. Perhaps a better or more confident sense of identity or achieving some permission to allow ourselves to claim shared identity would be useful at this time. (I heard a certain Mr Fealty credited on the show, but will have to listen again to catch his contribution.)The point has often been made in this forum that our sense of identity in Northern Ireland is one of the key issues we need to explore and understand. Edward Moxon Brown says:
The differences between the two communities in Northern Ireland are palpable. The lines of division tend to reinforce each other. There are few, if any, overarching institutions or foci of loyalty that can transcend the cleavages. Although the lines of division are often considered to be religious in character, religion is best seen as a badge of difference – the visible symbol of deeper and less tangible attachments to national ‘roots’

This point is nicely taken up on the show with examples of how we can claim sporting or other figures as ‘our own’ when it suits, but that by and large we have very few common icons or symbols that we can share. It seems that the people of Northern Ireland would rather self destruct than admit that these differences in root and religion should not continue to define and determine our present and our future.

That idea of self-destruction was brought home to me during the summer, and the impliactions for our society at large. A friend was out observing a parade in East Belfast and heard a young child, about 8 or 10 starting to shout over at the people going to Mass at St Matthew’s. The usual epiteths were being shouted, when my friend turned to the wife of a local politician to see if she was going to censure the kid. She looked and said ‘He’s just right, them ones shot at us during a funeral’. The missing part of the story is that the funeral was 30 years ago and the hatred, confusion and intolerance is being passed from one generation to the next depriving all of us of hope for a shared future.

  • Anglocelt

    Is that anything to do with the excellent series on TV called “Who do you think you are?” which follows various people tracing back their family tree?

    The Nigella Lawson episode was especially excellent, I think that is BBC too.

    I always think alot of people here should really look at who they are in terms of their ancestors. Chances are some ardent republicans will find they are sprung from anglo-norman settlers and ardent unionists will find they go back to celtic times!

  • OldShankillProd


    Spot on.

    I come from the Orange community but would not be the least surprised to find that, back in Penal times, we “turned” to hang on to a half-acre of bogland somewhere, and I could care less.

  • michael

    im not convinced the creation of a ‘shared identity’ is such a good thing. Perhaps the idea of a ‘shared space’ is more valid in that it provides a place where all peoples identities are respected as equal. I.e. those of us who live in NI would not autmaically be ‘northern irish’ we would be ‘the people of northern ireland’, irish, british or northern irish.

    Im pretty sure that this was the intention of the GFA, however i dont think that it has been understood, accepted and put into practice. Particularly on the side of unionist in relation to practice, with the assumption of flags, nationalities etc. being more important than others. Perhaps though this view is colored by the devided environment in which we live.

    as i say, this is true of the entire community. i consider myself to be irish. this doesnt mean that i dont have a british identity, i dont consider the two to be mutually exclusive (however, i feel that the qualities that the majority of the british public ascribe to are more an atribute of the european identity these day). anyways, as i say, i consider myself irish. there is a problem with this as many of the people of my generation (18-25 ish) consider any deviation from the ‘northern irish’ identity is a display of my support for sinn fien or Republicanism (though i am a republican, note the lower case r).

    This forced identity doesnt sit well with me, i cant associate anything good with ‘nothern ireland’ or ‘northern irish’. its entire history is one of conflict, why would i want to adopt this identity. of course one could argue that the adoption of the northern irish identity under the guise of a hopefull future is valid. but evidence to date suggests that our future is anything other than hopeful, to the contrary, those devisions that gave rise to the troubles appear to be deepening, all be it in a less violent atmosphere (but how long can that last?).

    my two cents.

  • Byzer

    Now that we have genetics rather than 19th century myths about people magically disappearing to make way for the next “race” defined in terms of language we’re pretty much discovering that we are all mostly descended from people who were already living on these islands before any Celtic or Germanic language speaker ever set foot on them, indeed before any Celtic or Germanic languages ever existed anywhere.

    I guess defining race in terms of language was always a kind of silly assumption. Nigerians aren’t descended from the English nor the Senegalese from the French.