It’s July. Schools are finishing up, Glasto has been and gone, Wimbledon is in full flow, it’s the summer.
If you live in Northern Ireland there’s another indicator that we’re halfway through the year that’s characterised by the distant banging of a Lambeg drum, the rattle of snares and the shrill of flutes; marching season is in full swing.
A mate of mine wrote a handy explainer about this for threads – have a read of that if you want a quick history and an insight into why things are as they over here.
This year my church has been attempting to be involved in the negotiations with those who are responsible for a particularly contentious bonfire that last year forced people to flee their homes and this year has resulted in a playpark having to be partially deconstructed due to the risk of it being incinerated. Bonfires often have effigies dear to the nationalist/republican (typically Catholic) community. This is why I’ve been provoked into writing again. I’m not here to be belligerent about that though; I believe the Church has a unique role in holding justice with compassion in these moments.
The point I want to muse on is a suggestion as to where a lot of this might come from:
We don’t know who we are. 😕
I can only use myself as example. Take, for instance, any time I travel (bar the recent Euro 2016 escapades; when the world saw us). Most people in the UK and Ireland are aware of Northern Ireland so that’s fine. It’s when we go beyond that.
Am I British? I don’t feel British, whatever that means. My passport says I’m British. But that’s the only thing. Surely, I’m not British and am actually UKish. After all, it is the United Kingdom of Great Britain AND Northern Ireland. And that’s the title you’ll see paraded out in the opening ceremony of Rio 2016. Why they don’t call that, ‘Team UK’, is anyone’s guess. I come from a Protestant upbringing and am Protestant now in the faith that I hold dear, but I don’t feel any particular loyalty the crown.
If I’m not British, am I Irish? I could have an Irish passport, thanks to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. I personally don’t have one, but now I’d like one. I feel more Irish than I do British in some ways. I understand the sentiments of the Irish republicans who feel that part of Ireland was stolen from them, but having zero lineage to that endeavor, I doesn’t feel like that’s my fight. Globally, people seem to like the Irish more than the British too, so I’ll often just say that when I’m travelling. Mind, this year’s Euro 2016 has done a good job of showing that we exist; both Irish and Northern Irish fans were recognised for being all-round-legends for the last few weeks in France.
Alright then, am I Northern Irish? It was an option in the most recent census and I recall checking that box emphatically (N.B. more than one box could be checked). The results of that are quite interesting. 29% of 1.8 million people (533,085) marked Northern Irish. Fascinatingly, 21% (379,267) checked ‘Northern Irish only’.
I like the idea of being Northern Irish but the problem is that it’s not an official thing. We do have a devolved government but aren’t a separate state and never will be. We have access to multiple passports. And to make matters even trickier, we voted to ‘Remain’ with Scotland and London. This is why, when it dawned that the UK voted to ‘Leave’, Irish passport application forms became as scarce as hen’s teeth in Belfast.
We’re this weird mix of British and Irish with over a third of us refusing to identify as solely either. For a while there was a lot of attention on Rory McIlroy over whether he would choose to represent Team GB (and NI) or Team Ireland at the upcoming Olympics. He chose Ireland. Then neithe, because he’s scared of the Zika virus.
I’m sorry. Your head might be melted at this point. Here’s a link to a video of an actual bubble magician to apologise.
I know, I know, I know. My identity is ultimately bound up as an adopted son of the Lord through the grace of Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. I know that to my core.
National identity isn’t going to go away any time soon, though. So whenever moments like this come along that are so close to home, it’s tough. There is no tidy ending to this story – yet. Ask me next July who I am. Hopefully I will have an answer for you by then.