There have been a number of posts here recently about the unionist community, its failings (real and unfairly accused), its difficulties and most recently its need to “embrace its Irishness” as if it was a straightforward and simple issue. Too many of the comments thet followed them are generally well off the mark and border on the obsessive about the Unionist mindset from people outside that community with little grasp or genuine interest in its complexities. And little sympathy for the challenges it faces.
My identity doesn’t exercise my thoughts a lot. I am British and Irish. That’s what virtually everyone I knew was growing up in East Belfast in the years preceding the Troubles and how all my closer friends and associates see themselves in 2022. I am not Ulster Scots (I have no particular affinity for Scotland apart from a few very happy years living there) and I am not Ulster British.
As I am neither an American nor the immediate descendant of immigrants I don’t need any double-barrelled epithets to my name. I am Irish because I was born here, and British because that’s the nation I was born in and (while I am not a patriot by any means and don’t much care for patriotism as a concept) British because I was born in the UK, identify with the UK, have lived and worked all my life in the UK (not just NI) and identify with the UK as my home. Also no one has made a plausible case for me to renounce that identity, nor am I convinced in this post Brexit, extremely polarised era that my sons or whatever children they have would be treated fairly in a post UK, united Ireland. Particularly one in which far too many people seem to be moving in a similar attitudinal direction to parts of the SNP’s Scotland.
When it comes to culture I am simply not interested in, nor do I identify with the Irish language (like the vast majority of Irish people). In the same way I am not interested in, nor do I identify with Orange culture (like the vast majority of unionists). So I don’t need to embrace it to prove my Irishness and I don’t need a flagpole in the garden to prove my Britishness. Nor do I feel any sense of responsibility, accountability or shame that occurred before I was born, and which did not involve me or my family. In the same way I don’t attach any sense of culpability for Republican terrorism to a Catholic community that largely rejected it while it was happening. We are responsible for our own actions. Not those of others. Though I do accept that events and experiences caused contemporaries of mine on each side of the community to feel the need to do terrible things they would never otherwise have considered.
In other words, I am like most other people in the UK and ROI in that I just want to get on with my life and to let others do the same. I don’t want to be patronised or “understood” by “academics” or by the same tedious people at the same tedious conferences. There isn’t a lot to understand in either of our conflicting identities here so don’t overcomplicate it.
I have taken out an Irish passport alongside my UK one. Not out of any exaggerated sense of belonging or as a badge of identification, but because I didn’t vote to surrender my rights as an EU citizen. My marriage certificate is in Irish as I was married there in my wife’s family church, and I cross the border on numerous occasions each year for breaks, concerts or just meals out. I see none of that as any conflict with my Britishness nor am I uncomfortable with anything I see or anyone I meet when I go there. Its part of the life of any multi-faceted person. In the same way I am not more British than the British in the way many here are, or more Irish than the Irish in the bizarro version (a Seinfeld reference).
The point I’m making here is that a lot of people in Northern Ireland (an exaggerated version of which we see on social platforms) spend too much time talking or writing ABOUT the other side of the house. Really talking TO them might yield a rather better understanding.
Ian Clarke spent 36 years in sales & marketing for newspapers in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland – including the Belfast Telegraph, Wolverhampton Express & Star, Northern Echo and The Herald (Glasgow) after graduating from QUB in Political Science. Glentoran supporter.