Richard Wright, Contributor.
Northern Ireland. The North of Ireland. Norn Iron. Our Wee Country. The Land that Time Forgot. Whatever name you want to give it, this temporary solution of a country, it is coming up on a rather special anniversary. One hundred years of continued existence. On the 4th of May 2021, the people of Northern Ireland will unite as one under a single banner to rejoice at the birth of our glorious nation. We shall drink ourselves silly without the fear of restitution on the morn and we will be filled with so much pomp and majesty that the State will last for another one hundred years. Improbabilities? Without a doubt. But in four years’ time we will find ourselves in quite a sticky situation.
A bit of History, perhaps?
Northern Ireland as an idea was born out of minds of desperate men. No one wanted it, per say, the Republicans in the South opposed partition but they couldn’t take it by force. The signing of the Ulster Covenant and the formation of the Ulster Volunteers left the Free State with two rather undesirable options, fight a bloody, bitter war in the North and no doubt draw the capitulation of the British upon the Unionist majority in the North East corner or allow for the partition of the Island thus abandoning the numerous Nationalist enclaves in Derry, Tyrone and along the newly formed border. It’s easy to guess from Queen’s University what option they chose. And the Unionist politicians of the time were hardly thrilled, Carson famously opposed the partition of Ireland but saw it as the only solution to the growing violence, particularly in Belfast. If only he had known!
This new border up until 1924 was a fairly fluid affair with both sides claiming the governance of several parts of Ulster. Representatives from the new Northern Ireland, the Free State and the Westminster governments were sent to ‘clear up’ and finally solidify the border. With a fairly light heart, the NI government relinquished the catholic majority counties of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan but what about the Nationalist majority city of Derry? Well, needless to say the historical relevance to Orange culture cannot be denied and with a flick of a pen the border was extended, passed the river Foyle. Welcome to Northern Ireland!
The ‘tricky’ part in all of this.
Nothing is ever simple when it comes to Northern Ireland, particularly when it comes to the past and the ever-entertaining world of us and themuns.’ The tricky part in all of this is that nearly fifty percent of the population wouldn’t exactly be thrilled in the celebration of a state that had a long history of institutionalised sectarianism and brutality that is still fresh in the minds of vast sways of the population. The other half? Well, there are parts of the Unionist community that will not disappoint in their love of all things British and their pageantry for this anniversary will be unrivalled, but what about the moderates? Well, looking at the now increased DUP vote, there might not be any moderates left, but we must assume there are some Unionists who aren’t entirely proud of Northern Ireland’s mixed history. But maybe the idea of Northern Ireland is more important to them than the actual political reality and in a way that is to be commended as the very idea of being a Unionist in this day and age is so filled with negative connotations that to stand by what you believe in must always be respected, regardless of that belief.
Surely there is something to be proud of…surely?
There has to be something in this tiny little country that we can be relatively proud of. The people? I suppose…we’ve had John Hume, Seamus Heaney, Paul Brady, Mary Peters and to a lesser extent Eamon Holmes and the Frostbit boy. But that has about as much to do with the actual formation of Northern Ireland, as the Climate. So in a way we have a lot to be proud of in Northern Ireland, but I think that is in despite of the formation of the state and not because of it. We are in a unique position in Northern Ireland, we are a country filled with two utterly distinct points of view, those who wish to be Irish and those who are almost uncomfortable with the idea of calling themselves Northern Irish because in a way it intrinsically admits the very fear that they run from, that they are closer to our southern neighbours than they will ever be with those beyond the Irish sea.
So, how will we celebrate the anniversary of Northern Ireland? If left entirely to Unionists, it will have about as much subtlety as your average twelfth of July parade—for those not aware…not very subtle—but what if both communities get behind it? If we address both the obvious flaws of the state and the slightly harder to find successes of the state then common ground may be found. But being optimistic in Northern Ireland is a tough path to follow, and I’m sure the political parties will find a way to muck it up.
Rule number one of Northern Ireland, prepare for disappointment and expect worse.