We have all the identity we need

Ed Curran’s column, asking what is actually meant by unionism and nationalism today is no less wise by being familiar. He injects a note of basic reflection into a dour political scene that seems trapped in its own silos. Lightening up about identity is one way out. People are often embarrassed to question the fundamentals because like a sermon about God is Love, it fails to reflect ” the real world.” Phooey. I would only add that the choice of British and Irish doesn’t have to be and “either” “or”, it is actually both. That is what the politicians actually created with the Agreements although they still flinch from acknowledging it. The time for us all to play catch up is long overdue. The creature looking down at us from Mars would see only an Irish-British continuum today. We need a political rhetoric that confidently declares that this is an age for making new links, not for breaking old ones. Acceptance of both identities without surrendering a preference for either is surely the best way ahead. Britishness today is much more familiar throughout northern society than ever it was in the days of the old Stormont because of the long period of direct rule, frequent summitry, global consumerism and cheap flights. It is no longer synonymous with Ulster nationalism, any more than Irishness can be stereotyped by the physical force tradition. This penny has yet to drop on both sides because of the unconscionably long time it is taking over sorting flagwaving and marching at flashpoints like Drumcree. The development of Irishness since partition was further stunted because the Troubles sealed NI off as a place apart. We should now trumpet the logic of new developments like Derry-Bridgend if they come off and carry them forward to wherever they might lead, not just across the fading political border but across more stubborn frontiers, those in people’s minds and in the barely suppressed struggles for territory that continue to plague our cities and towns.

  • fionn

    what are ye on about? how many versions of ‘Irishness’ do ye want?

    I’m from the Republic, not a bit of Brit about me. Then you want northern nationalist Irish, then northern Ireland Irish, then British Irish … and at the ond of that you reckon we are actually the same?

    yer nuts man!

  • Seymour Major

    Ed Curran’s observation

    “With the constitutional issue on the back burner, unionists and nationalists are falling back on their respective traditions, habits and social background.”

    I really dont see any evidence of this “falling back…” that he is talking about. If there is a trend it is in the other direction.

  • Garza

    I can see what he means though.

    People in NI are different from their brothers be in the ROI or on the island of Britain.

    In NI, the Irish have a bit of British in them and the British have a bit of Irish in them. It has nothing to do with ancestry but being influenced by one of each others culture and mannerisms.

    A lot of people will refuse to believe this but people from both communities in NI are far closer than they like to think they are.

  • Scamallach

    “Britishness today is much more familiar throughout northern society than ever it was in the days of the old Stormont because of the long period of direct rule, frequent summitry, global consumerism and cheap flights.”

    More pertinently, I would argue “Irishness” has seen a much greater proportional rise in prominence since the implementation of direct rule. An indictment of the old regime.

  • disinterested observer

    I love those anonymous spokesmen from Emerald Holdings and their imaginative schemes.
    Who knows one day – in the far distance when the recession has been forgotten and people can think of a reason to invest in economic wastelands such as Derry or Omagh they night even come to pass

  • Alanbrooke

    I can never understand the either\or brigades.

    People have access to two of the richest cultures anywhere and are to be forced to choose ?

    No thanks. Take what’s best from both and enjoy it.

  • dub


    could you clarify what you mean? in which direction do you see people going?

  • dub

    The irish struggle if you want to put it that way was about getting the british state out of ireland not about identities. All this identity talk misses (deliberately so i might add) the point which was and is to attain a national democracy on this island.

  • Republic of Connaught

    The Irish people in the vast majority decided long ago they were not British; they were merely being forced to live under British rule. There’s a huge difference.

    An 21st century Irishman is an Irishman, a Brit is a Brit. Two different islands and histories. The relationship should be no different to that of Australia and New Zealand. The only fly in the ointment and source of any conflict is the fact that nearly a million geographically born Irish in the north east are of British heritage culturally and politically. So Unionists alone on this island are British and Irish.

    Any Irish nationalist in the north of Ireland is, just like the rest of his countrymen, not British. He/she may be a British ‘citizen’ as was Michael Collins and Mahatma Ghandi et al.. but that means f-all. If any Irish ‘nationalist’ thinks they are Irish AND British then they clearly don’t understand the identity and WISHES of the vast majority in the 32 counties of Ireland.

    I as a citizen of the Republic am as influenced by ‘British’ popular culture as any Irishman in the North; I am even more influenced by American popular culture. It makes me neither British nor American because I watch Sky Sports or Charlie Rose, X-Factor or The Wire, read The British Daily Mail or NY Times support Liverpool FC or the Chicago Bulls. The English speaking countries are all culturally very close to each other in a globalised world; it doesn’t mean we all share a national identity.

    The Irish nationalist family made their decision long ago we are manifestly not British; any Irish nationalist in NI who believes he/she can be both and still an Irish nationalist is deluding him/herself. In the end it comes down to one thing; you stand with the decision of the majority of your countrymen or you do not.

  • Freddie

    “Two different islands and histories.”


    I take it that history is not one of your strong points? A cursory examination of it will show you that both islands have been joined at the hip for centuries. It wasn’t an Englishman who gave Rorke’s Drift its name.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Reality isn’t your strong point, Fred.

    Were they joined at the hip in 1845-50? Strange, I don’t recall a million English people starving to death in those years nor another million or more emigrating.

  • Freddie,

    Not so much ‘joined at the hip’ as hand-cuffed. Can you point me to the referendum/election/vote/popular movement that democratically led to Ireland becoming a vassal state of England.

    Your point is as foolish as telling Poles that they are ‘joined at the hip’ to either Germany or Russia.

    Is history your strong point? Doesn’t look like it.

  • Spaghetti-Hoo Ha

    Republic of Connaught is a good example of the myopic maentality that thinks the ‘Irish Wolfhound’ evolved on his island.

  • Republic of Connaught

    And you, Spaghetti boy, no doubt belong to the myopic mentality that believes civilisation in Ireland could not exist without mother England.

  • PJM

    Amartya Sen is quite good on identity in his book Identity and Violence. It always gets me when people have to prove how pure they are. The DUP and SF would have us all floating about in seperate universes never connecting. Monolithic identity is a thing of the past and those who argue for seperateness are unsure in their own sense of self and see any ambiguity as a threat. Down the line violence will always emerge! Damn the other …!

  • bigchiefally

    I always thought arguing about nationalism is a bit daft, as essentially there is no correct answer. It is all personal opinion and feeling.

    You cant argue conclusively which colour is prettier, green or blue? Neither can you argue what tastes better, chocolate ice cream or strawberry ice cream. Personally you can say blue and chocolate but for someone else it will just as correctly be green and strawberry.

    Same with someones national identity. Let people be whatever they want to be.

    We can categorically state facts like NI is a part of the United Kingdom or that it is on the island of Ireland but to tell an individual from NI that he is Irish or British when they think otherwise seems pointless. Personally I may suggest that if someone from NI considers themselves Irish or a mix of Irish and British then that makes sense, whilst if they were to consider themselves 100% British and not at all Irish I’d find that a bit strange (given the island they were born on and live in), but you know what, ultimately it is both none of my business and indeed not something anyone should get worked up about. They are what they think they are and no amount of logic or yelling is going to change their opinion.

  • Garza

    WW1 and WW2 should I’ve taught us that at the end of the day nationalities are BS and only lead to trouble and exclusion, we are all people- thats all the matters.

  • Greenflag


    I agree with your overall sentiment. Would that it were that simple . If there were no ‘constitutional ‘ issue or if it had been resolved 90 years ago instead of being long fingered . It’s the fuzzy and for some /many uncertain area where culture crosses political lines and vice versa and where perceived histories cross both where ‘identity’ issues are seen. In situations where ‘politics’ is not an issue then such issues are purely personal and harmless. In NI they can be ‘toxic’ .

    ‘They are what they think they are and no amount of logic or yelling is going to change their opinion.’

    Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am ) is all very well but on both sides of the divide in NI it’s very often a question of

    ‘I don’t think therefore I’m not ‘

  • Dave

    “We can categorically state facts like NI is a part of the United Kingdom or that it is on the island of Ireland but to tell an individual from NI that he is Irish or British when they think otherwise seems pointless.”

    It’s not so pointless when it comes to paying your tax, claiming benefits from the state, or determining laws in accordance with your particular national interest.

  • Southern Irishperson

    “I’m from the Republic, not a bit of Brit about me.”

    We in the Republic don’t like to think of ourselves as having anything to do with Britain. The reality is that these isles share one language, and to a large extent the same legal system, parliamentary form of government and popular culture. You can call that Britishness or a common Anglo-Irish culture or whatever you like.

    Where we differ is in our heritage (i.e. our history, not our present) and our perceptions of our own respective identities.

    Historically Irish people spoke their own language and had a very unique culture. Not any more. We’re largely a satellite of Anglo-America. People from truely foreign cultures, say the French for example, often find we on these isles difficult to tell apart.

  • Freddie

    “Were they joined at the hip in 1845-50?”


    Yes they were. Hence the Union.

  • Freddie

    “Not so much ‘joined at the hip’ as hand-cuffed. Can you point me to the referendum/election/vote/popular movement that democratically led to Ireland becoming a vassal state of England.”


    Hardly likely given that they were no such thing.

    “Is history your strong point? Doesn’t look like it.”

    Because I don’t do the Tim Pat Coogan/Meda Ryan version?

  • My identity isn’t ‘British’; it isn’t ‘Irish’; it’s simply me and my right to choose those aspects of culture – local, regional and further afield – that appeal to me. Just like my friendships, they form an eclectic mix. I don’t need a committee or an egghead to tell me who or what I am 🙂

  • “The Derry/Donegal ‘gateway project’ at Bridgend”

    A Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy type enterprise but on a bigger scale? 😉

  • borderline

    There is no doubt that Identity, and National Identity are at the root of the Troubles, and play a large part in people’s personal identity, one of the defining factors of who we are.

    It’s also plain that there is an identity battle underway in Ireland, as there has been for centuries.

    Expect changes in the British/Irish identity scenario. Violence caused polarization of these identities. The absence of violence will mean change.

  • Republic of Connaught

    “Yes there were. Hence the Union”

    Powerful stuff there, Freddie.

    But what exactly does the political technicality of an enforced ‘Union’ mean when a million people are starving to death? A Union indicates shared experience; that obviously wasn’t the case between the island of Ireland and island of Britain in 1845-50 was it, Freddie? Richest nation in the world Britain was at the time. Clearly Ireland wasn’t part of that wealth, or Union, in anything but hollow words.

    Ireland was factually under the political jurisdiction of England for centuries; but so was colonial India. Does that mean in your warped logic Indian and British history are not separate and different because England ‘was joined at the hip’ with India for so long?

  • Occasional voter

    Although I carry an Irish passport, when abroad I find myself increasingly describing myself as Northern Irish. The border after all has been one of the most constant in Europe over the last century, and in my opinion anyway has resulted in it’s citizens having a collective identity quite distinct from either Britain or the RoI

  • Southwestern Irishman

    I would suspect Southern Irishperson that you are one of us from the 26 counties that are disappointed that you were left behind in 1922. Not being capable of giving your complete allegience to your own state and harking for more ties with your previous coloniser is such a slave mindset. Like the battered housewife you just can’t walkaway.

  • gtaznni trixi

    “identity ..at the root of the troubles…”
    A moot point – as I remember it, ‘identity’ came into public discourse around 1990 as explantion for the Ts. But poor innocents, like me, believed that ‘violence’ was the problem…even though, as a Taig, I also knew discrimination was rampant… .but not worth a single life.

    Ed Curran has definately a point ..but one which is so retro..a kind of Alliance 1970s. How I work it out is that I fill in forms asking about your identity as “British-Irish” or,occasionally,”Irish-British”.

    I got an insight once ..when I approached someone in a wheelchair,going to speak to them …stopped just in time, before making a fool of myself. But it made me think that disability,for particular reasons, was a more important element in my identity than my perceived religious or community background. Ed Curran is calling for a redefination of political parties but,going back to Alliance, which has had to work to accomodate difference, what’s new?

    I welcome Ed Curran’s stimulating debate but been there, got the T-shirt.