By Owen Collins.
In all my years of gracing this earth with my presence, gleefully meandering from bar to bar and likely ruining many a night for everyone involved, I’ve only ever lived in one country. A country steeped in a history of bombs and bonfires. Ladies and Gentiles, I present to you – Northern Ireland.
Now, before I get into heavier subjects I must clarify something. Northern Ireland (a country within the United Kingdom) has many names, depending on who you ask and for this reason, it can be quite confusing for foreigners who come here. You may hear people refer to this venomous little land as The Provence, the Six Counties, Ulster, The North of Ireland, Norn Iron, The Occupied Zone or OZ (Do you hear that, ‘Straya? We’re shitting all over your good name!) and now you’re starting to get the picture here. The dispute over who “owns” the country impacts our rights too, people from here can choose their nationality: British or Irish, or both. However, most people here would call themselves Northern Irish and likewise, refer to the nation itself as such.
Speaking of the Northern Irish people, we’re quite a rare breed in the UK. Having a landmass equal in size to a slice of toast and a population slightly fewer than Perth, we’re fairly outnumbered compared to the bellowing behemoth that is Great Britain. We don’t fit in anywhere either – The English believe us to be terrorists or alcoholics, the Scottish think of us like their little troublemaker brother, even the Southerners view us as we’re a shame to the island. I’ve heard Belfast (our capital) called “The Columbia of Europe” during one of my trips to Dublin. Wales… Think we’re cool I guess, I don’t know. Fuck Wales, am I right?
There is, or was a good reason for this prejudice. For the latter half of the 20th century, Northern Ireland was locked in a civil war of sorts. This period of time called The Troubles, a fucking colossal understatement but we’ve never been a nation known for our ability to name shit (a running theme here). To spare your innocent minds from the indigestible tripe that is our history, I’ll break it down.
During World War One, Ireland fought to be independent from the rest of the UK, seizing government buildings in Dublin and targeting officials such as police officers. During this war, the predominantly unionist county of Ulster wanted to stay British, where as the mostly Nationalist South wanted to become a republic in and of its self. This led to the creation of the state we have today, and apart from the odd case of civil unrest, this was a generally peaceful time for the country.
This all ended by the late 60’s. Same as it is today, the population was more or less split down the middle between the mostly Protestant Loyalists and the mostly Catholic Nationalists. At the time, Nationalist people were effectively second-class citizens and with Belfast housing over a quarter of the country in or around its crane crammed docks, this inevitably led to conflict. Civil rights campaigning was met with Loyalist violence, even the almost exclusively Protestant police force joined in by violently dispersing protests in the city of Derry. The Irish Republican Army, a terrorist paramilitary group of Nationalists retaliated by attacking Protestant civilians, which also led to the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force, a similar yet Loyalist terrorist paramilitary group who dedicated themselves to fighting the IRA*.
*They “fought” the IRA, in the same way, the IRA “fought” the Army, by blowing up civilians… Because, reasons.
By 1969 the IRA evolved into the Provisional Irish Republican Army, widespread rioting resulted in British troops being deployed and huge walls called “peace lines” were erected throughout the city, which may as well been called “Billy, aim for houses next to this big fuck off wall, lines”.
This marked the beginning of The Troubles. Nationalists were initially pleased with the arrival of British troops, who would have spent most of their time protecting neighbourhoods from attacks. This changed as time went on, realizing that British soldiers tend to support the people who side with them (a development that nobody saw coming). Nationalists were not only contending with the biased and angry local police, but a highly trained armed force that peaked at 21,000 super-duper-murder-troops.
The city of Belfast, once the biggest and most productive shipyard in the world and briefly the largest city on the Island, was devolved into a war-torn urban area. Armed checkpoints, car bombs, militant attacks and the use of terror made Belfast a western equivalent to what we’ve seen in the Middle East in recent years.
The Troubles ended officially in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, almost a month before Harry Potter finally defeats Lord Voldemort (Coincidence? I THINK NOT, MUGGLE). The British Armed forces were still here to as late as 2007, yet paramilitaries continue to operate to this day.
It isn’t all doom, gloom and kaboom here though! We’re the country that built the great ship, Titani… Er, wait never mind that. We brought Liam Neeson into the world and Game of Thrones is shot predominately within our wee nation, which is more than fucking Wales ever accomplished.
“I’m calling you out, Wales.”
For all its faults, Northern Ireland has a growing comedy scene and some of the best bars in the world – This is coming from a man of both Irish and Scottish heritage, as such I can legally sell my blood as a hearty, organic wine – and for everything wrong with us, at least we don’t have huntsman spiders or giant hopping scythe-toed pouch rats or, fuck forbid, New Zealanders. I’ve seen Lord of the Rings… You’re not fooling me, Sauron.