Irish Northerners and Southerners

My mother is from Connacht; it’s in the west of Ireland, but we from the north generally call that “down south”. My father is from Tyrone, which is north of the Irish border. I myself grew up along the Donegal-Derry stretch of the border, where the Laggan district meets Inishowen. I lived, was schooled and socialised between Derry city and its north-east Donegal hinterland, kind of on a cross-border basis.

Technically, I was born on the “southern” side of the border but, in terms of geography, accent, experience, temperament, political character and cultural or inherited memory, I don’t consider myself anything other than a northerner. That’s how I identify; one aspect of my identity.

Being from the province of Ulster, maybe the term “Ulsterman” could have served my identity more accurately, in the most literal of senses – I’ll always support an Ulster county team to the end in the annual GAA All-Ireland Football Championship, for example – although that label already possesses a particular ethnonymic status in that it has been claimed and monopolised by another identity group in the north of Ireland of which I am not part; the predominantly-unionist British-identifying Ulster(-Scots) Protestant community.

We, on the other hand, are Irish GaelsÓ Coileáin (Collins), Ó hAinnín (Hannon), Ó Seanacháin (Shanaghan), Ó hAnracháin (Hanrahan), Mac Somhairle (McSorley), Mac Mathúna (McMahon), Ó Braoin (Bruen), Ó hIomhair (Hever) Ó Riain (Ryan), Ó Cuinneagáin (Cunningham), Ó Cathláin  (Culhane) and Ó Laighin (Lyons) blood flows through my veins. My background is also culturally Catholic; I am baptised although I’m what they call “lapsed” and would presently describe myself as an agnostic atheist if pushed.

As a consequence, like musician Brian Kennedy who grew up on Belfast’s nationalist Falls Road, I would have difficulty truly embracing the term “Ulsterman” given its (paracolonial) cultural significance to others and its politically-loaded connotations.

Even though I am not a unionist and my own politics are diametrically opposed to the primary constitutional aims of political unionism, that is not to say I have any issue with that identity; it’s just a different, but certainly no less valid, one from my own. Having contrasting political aspirations by no means negates or undermines the possibility of sharing mutual cultural respect.

My family are all nationally Irish – all equally Irish – despite having been born across the two insular jurisdictions in Ireland. For us, our national identity transcends political or territorial boundaries.

Recognition and validation of that – our common Irish national identity – is important to me. I suppose that is an instinctive human desire most of us have; to be accepted for who we are, be it personally, familially, collectively or communally.

It is also important to me because the commonality of our identity has been and still is directly challenged, or even explicitly denied, by some. When I say that, I’m not talking about it being denied by just hard-line unionists or loyalists who regard themselves, the north-east of Ireland and all those born north of the Irish border as absolutely British or Northern Irish and nothing else; that is to be expected.

Often, it is denied by those from whom we might least expect it; by our very own fellow Irish nationals further down the country. Such denial is as if to say that only those born in the southern state can be “truly” or “authentically” Irish. That can sting.

Martin McGuinness, from Derry’s Bogside, had to endure this sort of southern partitionist rejection whilst campaigning in Dublin to become the president of Ireland in 2011. On RTÉ’s The Frontline, he was asked the following by an audience-member:

As a young Irish person, I’m curious as to why you have chosen to come down here to this country with all your baggage, your history, your controversy, and how do you feel you can represent me as a young Irish person who knows nothing of the Troubles and doesn’t want to know anything about it?

I wonder would this audience-member have expressed the same prejudicial view in respect of the out-going president Mary McAleese, who is also a nationalist from north of the border (but not from the Sinn Féin tradition), or did the audience-member apply her partitionist exclusion to only republicans like McGuinness? Possibly the audience-member would indeed have excluded McAleese from her definition of Irishness too. One can only speculate.

Having (perhaps surprisingly) come upon similar partitionist sentiment within the overtly-nationalist GAA, former Derry Gaelic footballer Joe Brolly wrote the following of the difference between northerners and southerners in a Derry Journal piece a few years ago:

Culturally, we are no doubt slightly different. In a way, northern Gaels are more ferocious about our Irishness because we had to fight harder for it. My father, a veteran republican, fluent Irish speaker and traditional musician steeped in all things Gaelic quipped to me during the week, “Don’t be too hard on the southerners Joe, some of them are almost as Irish as we are.”

Our experience explains why we are far more fervent about our province than the other three. When I began working in RTE I was amazed that Cork people didn’t support Kerry when they got out of Munster and Mayo folk didn’t support Galway. Up here, we rally round whoever gets through because we feel we are all in it together. When Tyrone scored their killer goal in the 2005 final against Kerry, a Derry man sitting in the stand jumped up, punched the air in delight and roared, “Come on you Tyrone b******ds!”


A Royal Ulster Constabulary and British army watch-tower in the north of Ireland (Sean an Scuab; CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons).

Of course, my mother is a southerner and I have southern relatives, but, generally and beyond family, I’ve naturally always felt more in tune with the northern nationalist community than with southerners.

I suppose that is of little surprise given my cross-border upbringing, the Tyrone background of the paternal side of my family and the fact that so much of my life has been spent in Derry. (I presently live in Manchester.)

When I was growing up, southerners I encountered on RTÉ and in the establishment media commenting on the north often struck me as residing in a distant, if not aloof, moralist’s bubble.

It seemed the more they said about the place (and the conflict going on at the time), the less they actually knew. They would pontificate and preach in indignant fashion about rights and wrongs without any real sense of experience or context. The perch of moral superiority is a comfortable one.

Of course, not all southerners are like this, but there are enough, especially within the establishment, with a prominent-enough platform, to make the sanctimonious, exclusionary or differentiating sentiment distinctly felt by northerners.

There are plenty, most often nationalists or republicans, who can and do express solidarity and empathic sentiment too. Ultimately, the Irish national identity of northerners is not dependent upon recognition or acceptance by anyone, but it is nice to have it; northerners are sensitive to that and are appreciative.

When I say “southerners”, I’m also generally excluding people from the immediate southern side of border region; from my experience, people from the border region tend to get the north in a way that people further down the country often don’t.

Experience fosters both intimate knowledge and empathy. Their social, economic and cultural lives would have taken border people across the border weekly, if not daily, throughout the conflict and since the peace process. When they weren’t being hindered from doing so by the communally-invasive British army, that is…

Further down the country, the “black north” was long seen as a troubled, alien world where one simply wouldn’t dare venture. It was “bother”; a place “stuck in the past”. Many southerners either wanted to “move on” or had “moved on” in their heads; they were now content, if not happy, with their broadly-violence-free (except for what trouble spilled over from the conflict in the north of the country) independent nation-state, even if it was just a 26-county, rather than a 32-county, one and even if their fellow nationals had been forsaken on the other side of a border imposed by Britain as part of an imperfect but reluctantly-accepted independence agreement.

I should know intimately of the common southern mindset; my mother oft tells me of the blissful ignorance of her early life in respect of the northern situation until, upon meeting my father in the early-1980s, she moved north from then living and working in more-cosmopolitan Dublin.

Dublin bustled night and day, but moving north was quite a culture-shock for her in contrast. The militarised society, the British army checkpoints, armed soldiers and armoured vehicles on the streets, the incessant drone of their observation helicopters hovering overhead, the bomb-scares, the bombs, the visceral sectarianism, the communal segregation, the fear of entering the “wrong area” (whilst not knowing the region all that well in the first place anyway), or, worse, actually entering into the “wrong area” unwittingly and receiving cold, hostile stares upon opening her mouth (not every area was “conveniently” territorially-colour-coded by flags on lamp-posts and painted kerb-stones, but, as far as many dwellers in unionist communities at the time were concerned, a southern accent was a pretty reliable give-away for a “taig”, and “taigs” were the enemy), being finger-pointed at during social gatherings and referred to pejoratively as “you Catholics”, as a “Papist” or as a “fenian” for simply being or having articulated a point that inadvertently revealed her background, having to calm an extremely distressed cousin-in-law who had phoned the house looking for help and advice one night in 1989 after an attempt was made on his life by a loyalist gunman in suspected collusion with British state forces and he had luckily escaped the bullets by running through fields in the dark (sadly – as discussed later in this article – he was not as fortunate when a similar attempt was made on his life two and a half years subsequent to this incident in 1991), the city centre becoming a nightly ghost-town after 6PM, the grim metal protective shutters covering every shop-window upon closing-time, the oppressive and constant sense of surveillance, fear and suspicion in the air; these things suddenly became a regular part of her life. At the very least, it was eye-opening...

Northern nationalists marooned north of the border post-partition have referred to (mainly-partitionist) southerners as “Free Staters” ever since the imposition of the border. The term captures a mild underlying resentment or derision reserved generally on account of the northern nationalist’s sense of having been abandoned in an oppressive Orange state by his or her fellow Irish men and women in the southern state. The southern state was originally known as the Irish Free State up until 1937.

When I lived in Dublin in the mid-2000s, I found that southerners had a word of their own for northerners. I was dubbed a “nordie”. It is a term that was and is used relatively harmlessly and generally without malice – it’s primarily geographical in significance and wouldn’t quite possess pejorative-status – but I felt a bit culturally-different when called it; like a semi-outsider. I wasn’t particularly fond of it for that reason, but it was also self-reinforcing in another way; I was a northerner, after all.

I felt somewhat forlorn when occasionally told by my southern compatriots that “nobody down here cares about what goes on up the north” or, more bluntly, “it’s a different country up there”.

For me, Ireland – the entire island or national area – was one country; a unit. That is what I had always known. Lines on maps and military installations across the landscape were physical inconveniences, sure, but they made scant difference as far as my national and cultural consciousness was concerned.

The idea that my mother and father came from two different countries or that they might be two different nationalities, or even foreign to one another, seemed so counter-intuitive and absurd to me, I’d never really considered it. It just never crossed my mind. Why would it have? Our common sense of national Irishness is all we have ever known. It is unthinking; natural.

What primarily sparked me to write this piece was a recent considered, thoughtful and empathic article by Jennifer Hough in the Irish Examiner on the neglect of southerners for their northern compatriots and the sense of abandonment that that has cultivated in the north. I’ll re-post it here in full as I was so impressed by it.

Hough wrote:

WHY are we, in the Republic, so apathetic about the prospect of a united Ireland?

It’s a question I asked myself many times over the Easter weekend, having spent the 1916 rising commemorations, quite by accident, in Belfast.

For the weekend that was in it, I decided to immerse myself in the political history of the city.

Having studied Irish history, I’ve always had a keen interest in Northern affairs.

But there’s nothing in the books that can prepare you for walking around communities living side by side, but divided by generations of mutual hatred, and a mammoth “peace wall”, still standing as a testament to those feelings.

On the loyalist side of the wall, a huge mural (some have been painted over) of hit man Stevie “Top Gun” McKeag looks down on the community. It’s chilling to see this man, killer of at least 12 Catholic civilians, so proudly remembered. On the other side of the wall, a stone’s throw away, lies a community shrine remembering the burning of Bombay St. I’m ashamed to admit, it was the first time I’d heard of the event in 1969, which saw loyalists burn Catholics out of their homes. The subsequent clashes led to the deployment of the British army to Belfast, and the building of the wall that remains, higher than ever, today.

Eight people died during the burning of Bombay St, 750 were injured and more than 2,000 Catholics were left homeless. Standing in that tiny memorial garden, surrounded by the names of civilians killed in their communities, it’s not difficult to understand why people reacted like they did. And indeed walking around West Belfast in general, it is very easy to understand why the IRA flourished — the people felt they had no other support or protection.

It was always easy for us in our largely middle-class trouble-free 26 counties to tut tut at what went on during the Troubles, but if the British army had set up in Galway, Cork, Athlone; if people were burnt out of their homes, do we not think the population in those areas would have responded in a similar fashion? I will freely admit that it felt good to stand with the people of West Belfast on Easter Sunday — and to honour their dead.

That doesn’t mean condoning the bloodshed, but acknowledging it, and the reasons why it happened, not least because a civilian population stood up to discrimination they faced and were met with the might of the British Empire.

If it’s OK to stand in commemoration of the men and women of 1916, and the armed struggle they stood for, why is it wrong to do the same for those who fought in the Troubles? Or course no one condones terrorism, but we have to consider what that term means in an Irish context.

It’s likely that calling Bobby Sands a terrorist is not something that would sit easy with most Irish people. If we don’t call Sands a terrorist, then can we call the rest of the people, who fought in what they considered a war, one?

Speaking to ordinary Irish people in Belfast over the weekend, what came across strongly was the feeling of being abandoned by the Republic, not just in the worst of times — but all of the time. They are a proudly Irish people, with a strong affinity for their Irishness: the GAA, Irish language, culture and music. They look South to us, whereas we — who pride ourselves on building connections with diaspora all over the world — rarely look North to them.

One man put it bluntly: “I live in an occupied land.” At first I dismissed what he said as an old-school Republican stance. But as the weekend wore on, the statement niggled at me, not least as I stood on Antrim’s stunning coastline, at the Giant’s Causeway, listening to legends of Finn McCool, a very Irish hero. I felt like I was in Ireland — I was on the island of Ireland, but not in Ireland, of course.

THE whole experience made me realise that yes, I would like to see a united Ireland, achieved by peaceful and democratic means, as set out in the Belfast Agreement.

Does that make me a republican? Some sort of extremist? I don’t think so. And if it does, then why? It should not be so.

Apart from Sinn Féin, (I am not a member) Irish political parties do not entertain the notion of a united Ireland.

Is it because we’ve so blatantly abandoned our Irish population in the North that we cannot bear to face up to it? Or really, is it because we don’t consider the North can be truly Irish anymore, and it would simply be too much work to undo partition?

Of course, any move towards Irish unity would have to include the Orange vote, and that’s where the greatest stumbling block lies. But we too, the Republic, through our apathy, and lack of real understanding about the horrors that Irish people in the North faced, are a stumbling block.

As we wave our tricolours proudly in honour of 1916, that feels very wrong.

It is unusual to see such solidarity, understanding or even acknowledgement of the northern experience or condition ever expressed in the southern mainstream media.

For some reason, the piece reminded me of back in the pre-Good Friday Agreement early-to-mid-1990s when we would have family gatherings with my mother’s side of family down the country. The adults’ table – usually all southerners (consisting of my maternal grandparents, aunts and uncles) except for my father – would be discussing various current affairs and global problems. This would go on over drinks long into the wee small hours, as is the way at such get-togethers.

My father, however, would be getting exasperated by the apparent hyperopia of the others; why weren’t they focusing the optics of their social consciences onto what was happening under their noses, right on their doorstep? That which they could maybe do something about.

He would respectfully take them to task over the fact that they would talk about and condemn horrible things going on around the world but had much lesser interest discussing what was happening to their fellow Irish men and women just two or three hours up the road and across the border. Expressions of sympathy and empathy beyond the superficial were scarce. They didn’t get it. I don’t think they wanted to get it.

Such exchanges were a microcosmic representation of the stark contrast in outlooks and experiences of Irish northerners and southerners despite their shared nationality.

My father would tell them of the intimidation and harassment of the nationalist community, of the British state’s collusion with loyalist paramilitaries and of the British army’s shoot-to-kill policy; he interacted with people and families directly or indirectly affected by all of these through his work in Strabane on a frequent basis.


Patrick Shanaghan’s work-van – with nearby RUC officer – shortly after he was shot dead in it by the UDA/UFF on his way to work in August of 1991 (The Castlederg/Aghyaran Justice Group).

As briefly mentioned earlier in this article, his own cousin, Patrick Shanaghan – an electoral worker for Sinn Féin from Aghyaran outside Castlederg – was an innocent victim of suspected collusion between British state forces and the UDA/UFF in 1991. The Castlederg/Aghyaran Justice Group and Committee on the Administration for Justice are still pursuing the long fight against the British government for truth, justice and closure in the case as the UK remains in flagrant violation of its European Convention on Human Rights article-2 right-to-life obligations.

Article 2 obliges the UK to conduct a proper, effective and transparent independent investigation into the killing and other killings either by the state or in which the state is alleged to have colluded with others, as was outlined in 2001 by the European Court of Human Rights after the case went to Strasbourg. A proper independent investigation has been promised by the state but not yet delivered. Indeed, nearly 25 years on from the shooting, there is little sign of it being delivered upon either.

My father’s southern in-laws would evade his complaints and appeals; they had little interest and such discussion made them uncomfortable. Maybe they felt it brought the tone down too much. Maybe it was too close to home. Maybe they felt guilty, or like it was a nuisance. Acknowledging issues around the world is one thing; you can talk about them and all you might feel is a social or moral obligation to shake your head in disgust. That suffices. It’s easy. Often, that’s all you can do.

However, once you start acknowledging issues on your doorstep, it’s harder to just shake your head in disgust and then do nothing further. If that’s the course of action you take, you become a hypocrite. How can you shake your head at something you could maybe do something about, but then do nothing about it?

Maybe that’s why southerners have always shied away from the north. Acknowledging it might have resulted in a sense of moral compulsion for concern and engagement beyond mere lip-service.

To be clear, I’m not condemning or judging my relatives either. They’re family and good people; not uncaring monsters. People have their own lives to live, after all, but the reluctance to engage did demonstrate the stark divergence of focus between Irish nationals in the south and Irish nationals in the north. I think uncertainty as to how to approach the matter perhaps posed difficulty as, after all, they didn’t live it like my father did.

Unfortunately, when experiences of the nationalist community are articulated to certain other southerners – especially those of a partitionist persuasion – this absence of experience leads them to jump to the other extreme of hesitancy and into the realm of bellicose anti-empathy.

Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty’s insensitive comments before the recent general election in the south were a perfect example of this phenomenon. She blindly and sanctimoniously assumed that the suffering of the nationalist community and republicans was “all brought on by [their] own actions”, as if nationalist trouble-making was the primary source or cause of the conflict.

Perhaps such hostile reactions amount to victim-blaming as a means of deflecting from repressed southern feelings of semi-responsibility, failure (to create a 32-county republic) or guilt (over partition and the abandonment or marooning of northerners on the other side of the border).

Jennifer Hough’s piece moved me because it reassured us – northerners – that our fellow non-republican nationals down south – on the outside, or maybe it’s vice-versa and they who are on the inside – are capable of listening and empathising instead of just dismissing articulations of the northern nationalist experience as “republican propaganda”. The term “republican” and even the incredibly moderate “nationalist” are almost traduced terms in the south now.

Reading the piece was validating; a validation of the Irish identity and aspirations of northern nationalists. It felt like an expression of solidarity rather than the usual ignorance or abandonment northerners have come to expect. She got what so many other southerners can’t even begin to imagine or accept. Northerners are just as Irish as anyone else on the island.

Exceptionally disappointing it was then that, on the same day as Hough’s piece had been published, the president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins opted out of attending a city council dinner in Belfast to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising – the foundational event of the proclaimed Irish Republic and a pivotal point in the Irish nationalist and republican historical narrative – due to the fact that the Democratic Unionist Party unsurprisingly went back on a prior all-party agreement to attend.

The decision by the largest unionist party in the north to remain absent meant the president felt the event no longer possessed the appropriate and uncontroversial cross-community character required to enable his attendance. Of course, it was his choice to opt out, but the question must be asked: why ought northern nationalists and republicans have been punished by their president when it was unionists who reneged on a promise?

The above piece was also published here on Fly By Those Nets. There was further discussion on it here on


  1. …why ought northern nationalists and republicans have been punished by their president when it was unionists who reneged on a promise?

    Why were northern nationalists and republicans abandoned by the breakaway Provisional and later Free State governments in Dublin during the early 1920s? Why did the successors of Collins renege on the promises given to northern nationalists and republicans in 1921-22? As always it is the colonial-style bigotry of the British unionist minority in Ireland that is tolerated and indulged by the political establishment in Dublin.

    It’s as if the Confederacy won a stalemate during the Civil War in the United States, forced the partition of the country, and a century later the government in Washington was still accepting the requirement that their diplomatic representatives in Richmond must not include any African-American men or women. The paracolony of “Northern Ireland” is simply that: a legacy region of Britain’s colony in Ireland and some of its inhabitants act accordingly.

    A well-reasoned piece, as always.


    1. Many thanks, Séamas. Kind words always appreciated.


  2. Too many southern fools killing each other over an oath that Dev only a few years later could cynically dismiss as “an empty formula” while Cosgrave and O’Higgins just shrugged their shoulders about their own in the North and ‘hoped for the best’ – there you have southern guilt & desire to keep the treachery in the closet.

    & I’m from the South.


  3. Have been saying for years that Dublin people should call nordies cultchies. though when I do it to people from the north they tend not to get the point and call me a cultchie in a poor imitation Dublin accent, especially ardoyne people, just don’t get it.

    The phase northern Ireland seems to have come into vogue since the signing of the GFA. Big shift happened when rule 21 went.

    Would suggest its more a post post conflict issue than a legacy of conflict issue. Not talked about but from a southern point of view and Northern nationalism the GFA was the official accepting of the principal of consent, before that, was common enough to have a conversation about about the injustice of the very existence of the Northern state itself, haven’t had one of those conversations in years. Maybe the shift happened when the state was accepted, though some of us haven’t.

    Also middle class people are generally soul less scum that will go along with any situation so long as their nest is feathered hence the people in promenat positions you viewed holding a certain position, afraid to bite the hand that feeds them, even if justified, soulless scum.


  4. […] Source: Irish Northerners and Southerners […]


  5. Isobel Ward · · Reply

    i am an irish woman living born and raised in northern ireland but im irish and i like the piece that you wrote but can only say have heard it all my life you dirty northerners not realising that i am as irish as the next person.yes it was was sad that our president of ireland cancelled his trip up the road to the north maybe he will do it on the exact date 24th April 2016


  6. The reason there is no support among the political establishment for a United Ireland is because politicians are shameless careerists. At this point Sinn Fein are the only party with a real cross border mandate.

    The merging of the two electorates will see the voter base of establishment parties down south (at least initially) diluted. Even worse is in store for the other northern parties who would be relegated to bit part seat numbers.

    As a significant number of politicians will have something to lose from a United Ireland, it should therefore come as no surprise to see them advocate against it so vociferously.


    1. Fianna Fáil are planning to start contesting northern elections from 2019, aren’t they? It will be interesting to see how that develops.


  7. “Having contrasting political aspirations by no means negates or undermines the possibility of sharing mutual cultural respect.”

    ^^This! I somestimes feel like ‘Republican’ is a dirty word to Protestant/Unionist friends of mine. But we should be able to identify as Republican or Unionist without people assuming that we’re fanatic political zealots.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oddly, even the word “nationalist” appears to possess a somewhat sullied status within the southern establishment now, as Omagh’s Martina Devlin found out on ‘The Late Late Show’ a while back:


  8. diarmuid de faoite · · Reply

    You’re a Gael (of Irish blood stock if you will) and an Ulsterman. More fool you if you want to hand over your Ulster identity to Unionism (which you are diametrically opposed to). Give them the Red Hand while you’re at it! Northerners are a bit different to Southerners, thats partly down to partition and living under a different regime, different institutions etc etc for so long, but hey, the West of Ireland is a far cry from the East, i.e. there is an East West divide too but perhaps thats an article for another day


    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Diarmuid.

      Heh, good point on my Ulster identity. Maybe it can be “reclaimed” or even shared, although I’ve, since publishing the above piece, been directed towards a Seamus Heaney quote which would appear to suggest he was also hesitant to apply the term “Ulsterman” to himself.

      Heaney said:

      For a long time the name Ulster was used by people of a unionist persuasion as a kind of signal that for them, Ulster was British. Ulster in that case stood not so much for the six counties bounded by the border, but for a Northern Ireland affiliated to the UK. l remember, for example, Joseph Tomelty’s ironical parting shot to me when I’d be leaving his company, was always ‘And don’t forget you’re British!’ So nationalists had a standoff from that usage. At that time, if I described myself as an Ulsterman I’d have thought I was selling a bit of my birthright because I’d be subscribing to the ‘Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right’ tradition, and that was a different Ulster from the one that I was in, which was basically SDLP before the SDLP were invented – a nationalist, apolitical background, but with a kind of northern nationalism, I’d probably have said, rather than Ulster identity.

      From personal experience, I think that would be a common feeling amongst many northern nationalists and republicans, but, as you suggest, maybe we shouldn’t hand it over or surrender it so easily. We are Ulstermen (too), after all.

      My intention certainly wasn’t to reinforce a sense partition because I sense or observe differences in outlook between northerners and southerners. Rather, I’m decrying the fact that partition has inevitably led to such differences.

      I’m proud of my Gaelic heritage, which is undoubtedly a heritage native to Ireland and one that has played a significant role in the formation of a broader Irish national identity. It hasn’t been a solitary contributor though and I don’t think of it as the only “authentic” or valid component of Irish identity. I think it’d be divisive, exclusionary and non-constructive for anyone to define Irishness in such strict terms. I feel the official De Valerian projection of “true” Irishness as purely Gaelic and even Catholic over the past century or so has been to the detriment of the cause to re-unite Ireland. Looking forward, I’d like to see a more all-embracing, civic and fluid imagination of Irishness that would allow us to create a fully inclusive and pluralist 32-county republic that celebrates all Irish identities or identities of Irishness that wish to partake in realising it.


  9. I came to your blog via An Sionnach Fionn. Most superb article though I must confess my ignorance of Irish politics. I am a staunch supporter of Scottish independence and by default, I suppose, a supporter of Sinn Fein. As in Scotland, I am very sure there will be a united Ireland. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

    I am viewing the unification of Ireland vis-a-vis Scottish independence, which is inevitable and god willing by 2021. This is why I think NI keeps a close watch on this matter. The moment Scotland becomes independent, the union that is the UK will cease to be relevant. NI is far removed from Westminster’s consciousness and I believe it will come to a time when Westminster will decide it is not in their interest to keep NI after all. Scottish independence will definitely aggravate this.

    From what I can deduce, if Ireland were to be united, it is the Irish that will cause it. Not the politicians. On both sides. They all have vested interests in keeping Ireland apart. It has to be fought apolitically by normal citizens on both sides of the divide, on similar lines like the same-sex marriage referendum.

    I fear if reunification as cause is not ramped up and fought ferociously, the Irish will accept that Ireland will exist as a two-polity state. The southerners just don’t care and the northerners will concede that they are on their own.

    I won’t lose hope though. The SNP was on the political fringes until 2007. Look where they are now. Scottish independence was just a dream. Now some of us can feel the independence.

    I think it is time that the Society of United Irishmen makes a comeback.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My English brother-in-law was going out with a woman from Newry a few years back and I remember telling my mother-in-law in the presence of said Newry woman that there was absolutely no difference between my country and her country. We were both Irish and it was the same Ireland and no state border was going to change that. Through it all I was acutely aware that it was Newry woman who was addressing. Sure, there are differences between us based on history and politics. In my college days I was acquainted to varying degrees with Averil Power, Leo Varadker and Rory Hearne. That’s a pretty diverse bunch but they’re all the same type of Irish as I am. Sure isn’t Leo one of our own – his mother is from Waterford. I was expressing to Newry woman a form of guilt. I’m lucky in a way that Newry woman is not. i.e. to hail from a country to which I can, for all of its woes, unhesitatingly give my allegiance. I really need to push back more against those who would scoff at the Otherness of Irish people in the North. Well done for a fine article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the words of appreciation, Deiseach. It’s nice to see that this piece is resonating with people from across the entire island. Someone commenting on it elsewhere referred to the explicit rejection of Martin McGuinness’ Irishness by the woman in the embedded video as being indicative of a “pulling the ladder up after they’ve achieved what they wanted” mentality. I thought the analogy was very apt.


  11. Anonymous · · Reply

    Very relatable article Daniel. As a native ”border hopper” from South Armagh and former resident of Derry now living in Galway, I never had to go more than a stones throw away to find people within the neighbouring Louth and Monaghan areas of the ”Republic” with a similar ignorant and ”other worldly” views of towns and villages no more than a few miles away, some of these townlands straddling both sides of the border. These views as you said, are obviously not an all encompassing narrative of those people, but it is hard to believe how aloof some of them are/were to the political environment, just ”up the road”.
    We live on a small island, and in a small world for that matter. To listen to the perspectives from some people who believe sociopolitical events have little or no affect on an all Ireland basis is infuriating to say the least. I mean, the price of diesel for jaysus sake! Sure isn’t that all us border dwellers are concerend about!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. […] This post originally appeared on Daniel’s personal blog, which can be found here. […]


  13. David Campbell · · Reply

    Why its hard to hug a nordie!
    1. You scare us. The accent is very strong and can be a little hard to take. Allot of southerner only hear your accent from the TV. Unionists are particularly prone to been very harsh in both tone and words.
    2. The troubles were a horrible shameful time. It’s very hard to understand how each side could be so hateful and vicious and for so long. Its a stain in all sides.
    3. Every time there has been overtures from south ti north unionists are too quick to push us away. Do we try very slowly to build trust or do we ignore them?
    4. Sinn fein are all ways the outsiders in the south. Never holding any power or bargaining chips, the SDLP have done nothing since John Hume. They had a golden opertunity to build strong relationships with the good will they built up but instead done nothing.
    My comment is trying to show that it’s not all down to the south. Maybe your next post could be about how we change things.


    1. Thanks for your thoughts, David.

      1. Heh, can’t do much about the accent, which I kinda like anyway, so you’ll just have to lump it. We don’t mean to scare.

      2. There was plenty stirring underneath what was apparent in the media. It was a three-way conflict, oft characterised by tit-for-tat acts, and Britain played a very dirty game too whilst publicly presenting itself as a neutral referee. Britain is still in denial about much of this truth, unfortunately, which isn’t conducive to helping people genuinely move on.

      3. I think building trust is important. If not purely for reasons of good neighbourliness, it will also be a strategic necessity to achieving a united Ireland, assuming agreed stipulations are adhered to by parties concerned.

      4. Sinn Féin are growing rapidly in the south, especially amongst the younger generation. The mainstream media like to suggest Sinn Féin are more marginal, peripheral or even loathed than they really are. Policies aside, the media’s focus and over-emphasis on attacking Sinn Féin (a lot of it of the red-herring nature) before the general election is not an indication of Sinn Féin’s political weakness; it is actually an indication of just how threatened the southern establishment feels by the party’s increasing strength. If Sinn Féin were really powerless outsiders, the media would just ignore them.

      As you suggest, if you’re going to make an issue of something, your voice will always carry extra weight if you suggest a viable alternative means of doing things. Accordingly, I have plans to do a follow-up as to what the south might be able to do to bridge the seeming chasm between northerners and southerners.


  14. Great article. It’s an interesting topic and one that people from the south would have difficulty comprehending. Even though I was born in the south, I would probably have more of an affinity with the Northern counties than I do with the southern.

    Derry and Tyrone are the natural hinterland of Donegal and we in Tir Conaill are probably cut off from both sections of society in many ways. RTE have a big part to play in the way that the northern counties are presented and most southerners who grew up on a diet of RTE have very little idea of what life in the north is really like. The narrative presented by RTE about the troubles plays into this and listening to people from the south talking about the troubles is always fun.

    I like your style of writing, which is informative and thoroughly researched. Will be back for more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks for the kind words, Ryan. Glad the piece resonated and that you enjoyed it.

      You’re certainly correct to suggest that Donegal suffered a sort of double-whammy effect due to partition. Post-partition, Donegal was now left cut off both from its main regional commercial centre (Derry) by an imposed territorial border and from its national capital (Dublin) by geography.

      This, a paragraph from ‘Century of Endeavour: Politics in the Early 1990s’ by Roy Johnston (2001), is relevant and goes into greater detail:

      Starting with the Northwest, pre-Partition it was possible to get from Westport to Sligo and on to Omagh and Derry by rail; the system also interfaced with the light rail system in Donegal at Strabane and Derry. There was the makings of a viable economic hinterland in the Northwest, which extended down to the West. The possibilities presented by this were killed by Partition; Derry was cut off from its natural hinterland; both Derry and its hinterland became declining peripheral areas of remote centralist capitals in Dublin, and in London via Belfast.

      The media definitely plays a big role in determining southern sentiment and feeling. They’re the gatekeepers of information, after all. People can’t empathise, never mind sympathise, if they simply don’t know. This is a very interesting piece by Dr. Pat Walsh relating to the southern state and establishment media’s treatment of the north, Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams:

      Plenty of insightful observations, irrespective of where one’s political allegiances might lie. This bit is particularly pertinent:

      The principal thing driving the ‘Get Adams’ campaign in the South was the fear of a Northern contamination of the cosy Partitionist Southern body politic. Adams went South to capture the Louth seat and the people put a Northerner in the Dail. But Adams as the leader of an all-Ireland party crossed the line which no Northern Catholic is supposed to cross—unless they have become harmless, and fully integrated cogs of the party system of the South, like Frank Aiken and Austin Currie.

      Adams, in coming South, was confronting the 26 Counties with the fact that the issue of the Northern Catholics was not put to bed in 1925 or indeed 1998 and that there was still unfinished business in the North. Jack Lynch is praised by all shades in the South for having kept the North at bay but the presence of Adams and the rise of Sinn Fein in the Opinion Polls was a sharp reminder that Lynch failed.

      There is a complete absence from the Irish National press of any publication sympathetic to the predicament of the Northern Catholic community. Such sympathy is seen by the social stratum that produces the media as sympathy with Sinn Fein.

      The fact that Sinn Fein was produced out of the situation in which the Northern Catholic community was placed, not by Partition as such, but by the political arrangements made by Britain as the means of enacting Partition and maintaining it, is denied. The implications of admitting it are too awful to contemplate for those in control of the media. This is an issue which goes beyond careerism and is connected to the basic orientation of the State. It is a remarkable fact that there is no mainstream media organisation which fully reflects the true national interests of the Irish state. There was one newspaper in the past which represented native Ireland, the Irish Press. It was brought down in 1995 and has not been replaced. Martin O Muilleoir, the Belfast publisher, attempted to establish a newspaper on an all-Ireland basis, but was blackguarded by the Southern Establishment, with the Progressive Democrat Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, in the lead. It started publication in January 2005 and closed down in September 2006.

      In the Irish media dispassionate description of British political conduct, whether in ‘Northern Ireland’ or in the world, is put down as Anglophobia, a product of the bad old world of backward, independent Ireland. A phobia is defined as a groundless, irrational fear or hatred of something. But, in Dublin a strictly accurate, rational and factual account of how Britain managed the Six Counties is decreed to be Anglophobic and not helpful. In short, the truth cannot be told in Dublin about the North because the truth might be of benefit to Sinn Fein. So the conflict ‘up there’ needs to be presented as a campaign of murder and mayhem against lawful activity.

      That Britain is not responsible for the political condition of the ‘Northern Ireland’ region of its State is held as an article of faith, in defiance of all fact and reason. But, if that is the case, it rules out all understanding of the problem and all effective solution.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Damian O'Eireamhoin · · Reply

    Superb article and hit every nail on the head. As nordie I oft felt betrayed by my fellow Irishmen and women in the southern counties. Living in a loyalist stronghold and from mixed religion my natural affinity and cultural outlook was and remains Irish. I was an outcast and second class citizen in my home town. I could not for the life of me understand how the descendents of the men and women of 98 and 16 raised not a voice never mind a finger while in the north Irish men and women were being subjecated, tortured and murdered. Many no longer view the north as part of Ireland and the upcoming generations in the north suffer from an identidy crisis, not being british but not wanted by ‘free staters’. I am proud to call myself an Ulsterman although growing up that wasnt the case as the term had been hijacked by loyalists. I dont recognise their Ulster but I do recognise the 9 county Ulster. I even called my dog Uladh to help reclaim the term.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Damien, for your words and thoughts. Much appreciated.


  16. I’ve oft wondered about this. Yes. The Nordies are Irish too. Perhaps more so? Belfast Irish had the worst of it from the occupying English/British. Isn’t it in the north that the biggest resistance fights were fought compared to Dublin and other places.

    I’m neither Irish nor European but this divide has for me parallels with the Sri Lankan Tamil situation.The Tamils of the north and mostly the Sinhalese of the south. Yes two different cultures but the insensitivity of the south to the north boggles the mind and worst of all hurts. The consequences continue.

    I am 100% with the writer on his views. Wish this got talked about more. Came across this when there was a discussion during these Euros about the two different teams. Ireland and Northern Ireland. I’d never engaged with the dichotomy or the rhyme or reason for it but here we are.

    Perhaps the euros are a vehicle to talk more about this divide and about subjugation. And why isn’t there one Ireland.

    Mostly I was amazed at the use of the word Island in the article that brought me to this indirectly and also in this article. Could it be the southerners have their heads in their backsides a little bit that they don’t even use the word any more. Because in the end Ireland in its entirety is but one Island. Even like Sri Lanka with our north and south issues.

    Kinda interesting you’ve ended up in Manchester; if that’s where you still are. Though Liverpool is not that far from there, in Beatlebone there’s an interesting passage where Barry talks about there being a Dublin accent in a specific part of Liverpool.

    I want to know more about how this partition happened and why it continues. Again rings loud bells of the other partition. India and Pakistan.

    Man those bastards knew how to divide and rule. And we are all still reeling from it. And continue to do so as evident in the City council dinner you write of at the end. It’s not over. Is it.

    Thank you. This is important, moving and very special. And very good writing.



    1. Thanks for your interest and words of appreciation, Renuka. This was a piece I wrote on why two island teams exist:

      It might be of some further interest.


  17. […] northern and border regions, in the post-Brexit economic winter) and hopefully towards undoing the sense of abandonment felt by many northerners as a result of that partition and the negligent approach of the southern […]


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