Children of the Ceasefire / 3

This is one of three winning articles for the Future Ireland series. The articles were submitted together – by three friends who met at college – a northern Catholic, a east Belfast Protestant, and a Dublin man. We liked the nuanced content of the pieces, the sense of identities in flux, and the fact that each tried to understand the perspectives of the others. Also how being children of the ceasefires weaves throughout their pieces.

By William Clarence – from East Belfast, and a graduate of QUB and the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin.

The challenge for any new Ireland is to create a space where all heritages can be expressed peacefully.

As a Protestant raised in the unionist stronghold that is East Belfast, I can honestly say my identity shifts.

When I see the pomp and ceremony that surrounds ceremonies through the streets of London, I feel British. When I share in the friendship of a night out in a country pub with rich music, I feel Irish. Both have a strong and rich identity that I feel connected to; that have played an intricate role in my upbringing and making me the person I am.

This may sound like the best of both worlds. In reality, it is often a curse.

Whilst trying to engage with your “Irish self”, you feel a certain sense of betrayal. Betrayal to all you have known from your community, your friends, and your family. A sense of rebelling against everything you have ever known, and indeed are.

On the other hand, to retreat into your community identity shields you from nearly half of your nation. It isolates you from experiencing a different and vibrant culture on your doorstep, one that not only introduces you to new friends and a new communion, but one that you can not help but recognise has shaped your engagement with the world.

Added to this, to be a child of the peace process, raised in the hope of generations to establish a new country founded in peace and prosperity, is a heavy burden.

Engaging and embracing your two historic identities is a strain on the soul. You have no sure footing and no understanding of a self you can instantly revert back in times of cultural shock.

The promises of a progressive future can often seem beyond reach when compared to the tribalism that defines our politics. We can even make wider issues like same-sex marriage, corporation tax, Israel and Palestine, all about our own divisions.

A new Ireland in whatever form it comes, must accommodate freedom of expression for all narratives. We must somehow be able to move away from a position where all issues are subsumed by the communal, or national, question. And to create space where community identities can be peacefully explored, not out rightly rejected.

This might help assuage our sense of inner betrayal, our fears of the other community, and the inclination to divide along community lines. If we freely open the space to peacefully and ungrudgingly accept competing narratives and identities, we will not only create a new Ireland, but a more harmonious one, based on both individual and group liberty of the mind and soul.

Any new Ireland must accommodate various identities, yes. But more than that it must push further to recognise that what joins us is far greater than that which divides us. Whether unionist or nationalist, we must recognise that we all occupy this land, and will continue to do so. It is only when we recognise our shared goals of a meaningful existence and a society where we all feel valued, that a new Ireland can be realised.

It is important for young people, who have grown up with peace, to play a role in shaping these spaces. It is time to move out of our comfort zones and create something new.