Our wee country, Northern Ireland, is unquestionably a place of contradictions. There is an indescribable beauty in our landscape. The coast and glens of Antrim and the Fermanagh lakes can take your breath away. The gently rolling hills of County Down and the Mourne Mountains provide inspiration for poets and writers aplenty. However, there also exists a terrible ugliness in the working-class slums of Belfast and Derry.
Perhaps the greatest contradiction in our wee country is in our working-class people. The Irish are fighters and lovers, joyful and yet deeply pessimistic. Those traits led the writer Thomas Adcock to claim that “There’s no sense to being Irish unless you know the world’s going to break your heart.”
Of course, we cannot ignore the elephant in the Northern Irish room. The greatest contradictions lay within the politics and religion of the people of this small corner of Europe. The tensions between Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and Nationalist shape the national psyche.
Writer Quentin Crisp illustrates the religious divisions beautifully when recalling telling an Irish audience he was an atheist. A woman asked, “Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?” The dark days of the “troubles” may be in the past, but they are far from forgotten.
Our Wee Country: Born From Conflict
It can be difficult to understand that our wee country has just celebrated the centenary of its birth. The Irish had won the battle for an end to British rule. Northern protestant unionists fiercely opposed Home Rule. Lord Edward Carson formed and armed a militia to oppose Home Rule and civil war seemed likely. The outbreak of World War One intervened and Carson’s militia enlisted to form the 36th (Ulster) Division.
The Ulster Divisions heroics, particularly at the Somme, led King George V to remark:
“I recall the deeds of the 36th (Ulster) Division, which have more than fulfilled the high opinion formed by me on inspecting that force on the eve of its departure for the front. Throughout the long years of struggle, which now so gloriously ended, the men of Ulster have proved how nobly they fight and die.”
The deeds of the 36th (Ulster) Division made it politically impossible for the British government to ignore the demands of unionists. Ireland was partitioned in 1921 as a way to satisfy both Unionists and Nationalists. History has taught us that the attempted compromise simply led to further conflict.