What Northern Ireland Means To Me…

I’ve always been of the view that every birthday is worth a celebration, even if it’s simply to remind people you still exist. But of course marking the centenary of Northern Ireland was always going to tricky.

In the Belfast Telegraph, Sam McBride laments the lost opportunity to use the anniversary to find common ground between Unionists and Nationalists, and highlights the fact that recognition of the centenary has been underwhelming to say the least. In the ever present ‘crisis’ context in which Northern Ireland seems to exist, perhaps it’s still a case of whatever you say, say nothing.

At Shared Future News, however, we did want to say something – or rather, give you the chance to say something. If you haven’t come across Shared Future News before, we’re an online publication which practises constructive journalism, to provide news and personal stories on peacebuilding, reconciliation, and diversity – the clue is there in the title.

Today we’re launching a new podcast called What Northern Ireland Means To Me. It’s presented by me but its purpose is to hear from as wide a range of voices in Northern Ireland as possible, not just about what they think of the centenary, but how they view this place at a fundamental level. Each interviewee has been asked to speak for three minutes – so it’s a short summary of their views, reflecting on the past century, describing what Northern Ireland means to them today, and envisioning what the place will be like in a hundred years’ time. The Shared Future team, Allan Leonard, Alan Meban and me has started recording interviews, and so far participants include activists, writers, artists, peacebuilders, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and clergy; younger and older people.

Like many journalists, I’ve found that asking people a specific question has prompted me to consider what my own answer would be. I moved away from Northern Ireland around 3 years ago, after living in Belfast on and off for nearly 15 years, reporting for the BBC and lecturing at Queen’s University. It was my choice to re-locate to GB, where I had grown up, but I found the move incredibly difficult. With hindsight I would say my first year away was mostly spent grieving for the life I’d had in Northern Ireland. But like many of our interviewees, summing up what the place means to me is still not easy. Northern Ireland is beautiful and ugly, living there is relaxed and stressful, life is easy and challenging. But I realise now that for me those contrasts are part of what makes it such a seductive place.  At the time I left, certain aspects of life were driving me crazy, but now the pandemic has prevented me from returning for nearly two years, I’m counting the days until I can visit again. Of course I have a choice about my relationship with Northern Ireland; for some of our interviewees that’s not the case. This is why the podcast is asking such a broad question, and allowing interviewees to speak for themselves.

The What Northern Ireland Means To Me podcast project has funding from the Heritage Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office, to create an initial 20 episodes, but we hope to go further. And that’s where you come in. If you would like to be included, or would like to suggest a potential interviewee, you can get in touch by emailing [email protected].

You can find all of the recordings, and transcripts, on our website or download the podcasts from Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, other platforms and by RSS.