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Dublin: 3 °C Monday 21 October, 2019

'Snobbery and hypocrisy when some people in the 26 counties talk about 'The North''

It’s all well and good commenting from the sidelines when people in the Republic have had the liberty to move on, writes James Cumiskey.

James Cumiskey County Armagh native living in NYC

SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT HAPPENED last week in Ireland, and I don’t just mean the resolution on the Irish border issue. Some healing took place if you will.

Leo Varadkar had a message for Irish men and women in the North: “You will never again be left behind by an Irish government.”

Northern nationalists had been somewhat forgotten 

For the first time we had a Taoiseach acknowledging that northern nationalists had been somewhat forgotten about and left behind since the formation of the two States. A healing moment. Comments that were welcomed and did not go unnoticed by all sections of the community there.

Over the years I’ve had several conversations with people from across this island about Irish history and politics. And although I think it’s important to stand up for one’s beliefs, I find it equally important to listen attentively to opinions that differ from your own. You learn a breadth of knowledge on how that opinion has been formed and the experience that has come with it.

In some conversations I’ve got a sense of snobbery, hypocrisy and lack of understanding when it comes to some people in the 26 counties when they talk about ‘The North’ or ‘Northerners’. None so much summed up by the Wexford radio host Ivan Yates who recently expressed on his Dublin-based show: “We don’t actually like the Nordies”.

A man who complains about the lack of progress and reconciliation there but goes on a smug filled rant attacking them.

A strong sense of our identity

I grew up in the south Armagh countryside and had a great childhood. My home was a five-minute drive from the border boundary that was drawn up in 1921 separating, in our case, Armagh and Louth. We were and continue to be in both jurisdictions weekly.

My family was not a political one. They voted, of course, but were not of any strong opinions when it came to politics. However, we had a strong sense of identity.

We were Irish and we identified with every corner of the island as a whole. RTÉ was the main channel in our house, my sister and I both learned the tin whistle and Irish dancing, I played GAA for a while and attended the Gaeltacht in Donegal during my teenage years.

Growing up in the 90s it was safe to say that the troubles were coming to an end. I was lucky enough to be oblivious to what was going on around me. My parents were sure to shelter us from what was happening and what had happened in the past. A form of neutral thinking and treating everyone as equal no matter their creed was instilled in us.

However, I do have quite strong memories of playing outside and having British Army helicopters fly over our house, or soldiers walking through our fields and being stopped now and again in our car by them. For us this was completely normal, but on closer evaluation was not the most standard of childhoods.

How far we have come

Opinions like Ivan’s or comments by people of that mindset frustrate me. In some ways I can understand. Northern Ireland gets a lot of bad coverage. It is known for its political hiccups, and in some cases, rightly so. We are still in the middle of an evolving peace process.

If you really look at the North in the 1970s and 80s, and the attitudes that existed then compared to now, you can see how far it’s come. The place is unrecognisable. We agreed on a peace deal that seemed like it could never be done, and for all its ups and downs, it has mostly stuck. How amazing is that? What an example to the world.

I often ask people to consider if it had been six counties in Connaught, Munster or Leinster that had been partitioned, and nationalists there were discriminated against in terms of jobs, housing, voting rights and culture, while the new Republic moved on. How would have that developed? Would everything have been different?

It’s all well and good commenting from the sidelines when people in the Republic have had the liberty to move on and embrace their Irishness and culture. This is something we in the North are still trying to fully achieve as we take into consideration our Unionist friends and neighbours.

Both States were formed on violence

I’m not a supporter of unnecessary violence and the majority of the people I know would agree. Unfortunately, in some cases it has been unavoidable in the last 100 years. I think the 1916 centenary was a good way of reflecting on that.

It made us recall the fact that both States were formed on violence and whatever your opinion on it, it happened. On all sides. North and south of the border. Throughout the generations. And thankfully those day are over.

Reflecting is a great thing and in the spirit of reconciliation I’ll borrow a few words from the Queen on her famous visit to Dublin in 2011:

With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently… or not at all.

Attitudes towards the North

Belfast’s Niall Ó Donnghaile is a senator in the Seanad and doing a lot for Irish citizens in the North. He supports extending presidential voting rights to those in the North and hits the nail on the head when he says, the President represents Irish citizens no matter where they are located. He is constantly highlighting the grievances nationalists feel and is someone I admire.

Another prominent example is the controversy around RTÉ’s butchery of the map of Ireland on one of its shows. The map was showing health data from the 26 counties that obviously it didn’t have available on the North. It left the six counties out.

I think many people understand that context but I think what many people couldn’t get to grips with is why a national broadcaster would not at least include the outline of the whole of Ireland and fill in the data for the 26 counties it did have.

The map produced was seen as an insult to the Irish men and women of the North who have contributed so much to Ireland. I’m thinking of people like the ROI footballer James McClean from Derry, the poet Seamus Heaney, and former president Mary McAleese from Antrim. We exist too.

Remember partition is new

It’s important to remember that partition and in some cases, this disconnect between the North and the Republic  is relatively new: 96 years to be exact. The age of my grandmother. The proclamation of the Republic’s founders envisioned a 32-county republic.

Dáil Éireann was first created in 1919 and was established as an all-Ireland Dáil with elected representatives from all 32 counties of Ireland taking their seats.

Keeping these points in mind, I’ve learned there are many forms of being Irish and no hierarchy of what makes someone a true national of Ireland exists. Accents, interests and faiths might be different but we are all part of one nation and this is something that should be constantly yet respectfully embraced.

The Ireland we are working towards should be an inclusive one. A society of all backgrounds, nationalities and traditions.

James Cumiskey is a County Armagh native working as Business Development Manager for a tech company in NYC. 

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About the author:

James Cumiskey  / County Armagh native living in NYC

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