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TitleBritain and Ireland: Lives Entwined IV - British Council
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Page 1

www.britishcouncil.org/nireland

Britain and Ireland:
Lives Entwined IV

Page 2

Cover image © Pacemaker Press Agency Northern Ireland

Page 49

47Forcing myself to be part of it all: Fionnuala McGill

Here I sit, as I write this, staring out upon Belfast and even I can spot the areas I would
dub as ‘safe’, which would be other Catholic areas. Even though there may be more
crime in certain areas populated by Catholic communities and therefore deemed much
less safe than nearby Protestant areas, to me and other members of my generation
they still are the ‘safe’ parts.

I remember a time when my sister, who was going away on a holiday bought a scarf.
She remarked continuously how lovely it was, then I took it and opened it up – lo and
behold, it was decorated as a Union Jack. Suddenly the loveliness was taken away.
But if worn a certain way it would be fine, as long as it wasn’t exposed. If that doesn’t
say something about how my culture is, then I don’t know what will.

I feel comfort in the Irish tricolour. When I was younger and driving through Protestant
and Unionist areas I was overwhelmed by the number of Union Jack flags, a sign of
British pride. It was as if you knew right off the bat you were no longer ‘in your side’
of Belfast.

I was astonished when I visited England when I was 10 and the place was void mostly
of any Union Jacks at all. Alas, no person could say my name either, but I figured
that also was because they were British. To me, Union Jacks seemed to become less
germane to Belfast areas. I thought if people in England didn’t hang them in their areas,
why did we? Or should I say they? Because back then I was much more separated from
the Protestant community. However I must remark on how different it felt seeing that
flag in England compared to any other part of Belfast. It just didn’t feel as threatening.
Even after the visit the Union flag in Northern Ireland still felt rather ominous.

Being brought up to a father born and raised in Donegal and a mother born and
raised in Belfast, I was nothing short of an ‘Irish’ upbringing. I remember fondly
watching RTE as a child, saying Ireland when asked where I was from and hearing
old Irish folklore stories. It wasn’t until later in my life I noticed just how different each
‘side’ (being Catholic and Protestant) was. I wasn’t aware until not so long ago that
many people also born in Belfast didn’t have any idea what hurling or camogie or
even Gaelic football was, or couldn’t in fact pronounce my Irish name.

Growing up I was astounded by how few people could pronounce my name, or even
try to. I didn’t understand how people just didn’t know.

Page 50

48 Britain and Ireland: Lives Entwined

When looking at murals and symbols of Nationalism and the Troubles I feel at home,
but also pity when I see derogatory slogans about Catholics and Protestants. In a
humorous sense you also know what type of area you are in if you see nationalist
paramilitary or Irish murals in other areas you’ve never been in. I think it’s important
for anyone of any community in Northern Ireland to know if they’re in a Catholic or
Protestant area. I think it’s just a weird precaution and that one must know who they’re
around – well, just because. I know I do it myself, glancing at murals and flags and
people’s schools uniforms and their names to get a sense of where they come from.
Maybe everyone from Northern Ireland does it at some point. There’s a fear here that
I think will always be here no matter how long the peace process goes on, and I hope
the peace process does carry on.

I’m not sure what comes next for Northern Ireland, I just hope the future is bright. I
remember hearing a story of a relative’s friend, who said she would date a Protestant
but not marry one; I think there is still discomfort here from both sides of the pond.
And as new generations come about, it won’t stop, because when my generation
become parents they’ll tell their children the same they were told and it will continue
on. Ignorant people breed more ignorance. A friend of mine wasn’t aware Protestants
celebrated Easter. I wasn’t aware the 12th of July was an actual celebration that went
for days with parties for children and the like.

In the short time I have lived, I have one close Protestant friend, living in a Catholic
area and attending a Catholic school. It is no surprise to me. However, every time
my friends and I (all being Catholic) come to stay over at my Protestant friend’s house
we all go over the same routine of sometimes changing your name, depending on
the time of year and how to pronounce the letter, ‘H’.

Although there is little to no threat, there is still a fear that maybe something might
happen and I might have to pronounce the letter ‘H’ in a different way. I’m still not
sure why that is.

I think bringing both communities together is the only way to solve our problems,
but trying to do that is a problem in itself. I’m positive in the changes I see happening
around me, albeit not some. I don’t think trying to mix already standing Catholic
schools with Protestant schools is a good idea, nor knocking down the peace wall or
painting over murals from the Troubles. Changing our mindset is the first and foremost
thing and even now the notion of knocking down the peace wall is a touchy subject.
Although, from my point of view anyway, I don’t see a great change being made in
the actual communities, as I don’t think many people in Belfast are ready for drastic
changes just yet. Many people who lived through the Troubles still feel the pain and
I’m not completely sure how Northern Ireland will achieve complete peace, and I’m not
sure we ever will. But if we keep moving forward positively and successfully working
together, it can’t be anything but a bright future.

Page 97

95Friendship our weapon of choice: Trevor Ringland

Our ‘Peace Walls’ remain in existence, but much debate is taking place between those
on either side of the walls as to how better relationships can be built, so that at some
stage in the future they can come down.

There are also the socio-economic divisions right across the island. As we try to
manage the current economic problems, it is so vital that we maintain and, where
possible, create employment. That needs a strong and vibrant financial economy,
But it should not be forgotten that its success is also linked to the social economy.
Poverty and unemployment are fertile ground for extremism.

6. The consequences of violence

While these issues remain in our society that fed the conflict in our history, each can
be tackled with leadership and commitment at all levels in our society. This is what
I have so far tried to outline. The one matter that we cannot undo is the hurt and
tragedy that has been visited upon too many by the failure in our past relationships.

Some of the families involved have a high public profile while most have remained
quiet and many from all sides have shown what can best be described as grace, to
permit the space to open up for our peace process to evolve and politics to begin
to work.

In some ways it may ultimately be understandably impossible to somehow ease the
hurt caused to too many families. There are also those, who, while regretting their past
actions, feel they were somehow justified, a position which is unacceptable to many
others, nationalist or unionist.

But we have an opportunity now to create that different, better and genuinely shared
future in Northern Ireland, on this island and between these islands, which is perhaps
the best tribute we can pay to those who suffered loss and tragedy. To grasp it we
have to learn to care about each others’ children and value them as if they are our
own, standing resolutely against those who continue to promote the flawed ideologies
of old, using our friendship as our weapon of choice. We must have the courage to
believe that we can create that different future.

Perhaps in this ‘Decade of Commemorations’ we could all reflect on one missed
opportunity that occurred during that same period, the Christmas Truce in 1914 along
large sections of the Western Front in northern France. What if those soldiers, on both
sides, having met the other, had had the courage to stay in their ‘no man’s land’ and
not let their leaders force them back into their trenches?

1 Seaview is owned by Crusaders FC, but is shared (under a formal ground-sharing arrangement) by
Newington FC. The two clubs, under the ‘Mes Que un Club’ (‘more than just a football club’ – strapline
‘borrowed’ from Barcelona) initiative have jointly developed a shared space comprising offices and a
training suite/hospitality space under the Seaview North Stand. Still under construction, but due to open
soon. The ‘Mes Que un Club’ initiative aims to undertake cross community work through sport – meeting
educational, social and other goals.

Page 98

© British Council 2012 / C205
The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation
for cultural relations and educational opportunities.www.britishcouncil.org/nireland

In my head, there are nameless fears about England,
all of them traceable to the fact that it is known to be
full of Protestants and therefore entirely without order
or morality.

Fintan O’Toole

I was naïve. The springtime honeymoon period is over,
the cherry-blossom and confetti has blown away, and
we are now living in the day-to-day reality of post-conflict
Northern Ireland.

Fionola Meredith

The book that reveals most about the relationship
between Ireland and England is no novel or history
textbook or learned tome, but the telephone directory
of any major British city, in which hundreds of people
bearing my own surname will be found.

Joseph O’Connor

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