NB: I wrote this as part of my portfolio at the end of my first year.
On St Patrick’s Day, it’s not just the Irish that celebrate; many countries worldwide decide to go green.
Everyone likes to think themselves Irish on March 17th with shamrocks painted on their faces, covered head to toe in green clothing with a pint of Guinness in their hand.
Being Irish, I just had to go home to Derry for the St Patrick’s Day weekend. But despite the holiday being so popular worldwide, a woman who I met at the airport was shocked to find that I celebrated it as I’m from Northern Ireland.
“I thought it wasn’t very popular in the North, schools and workplaces don’t even get the day off, do they?” she said.
I quickly corrected her saying that St Patrick’s Day is massive in Derry with parades, music and the bars being packed out from 12 noon.
This year, Derry kicked off the celebrations with the Spring Carnival Parade. The theme of the parade was ‘All Kinds of Everything’ – a song made famous by Derry’s own Dana – which brought together a mixture of new and seasoned community group performances, carnival groups, tradition and contemporary dance groups and pipe bands from all over the city.
The people of The Maiden City came out in their thousands to line the streets of the city centre and transform them into a magnificent sea of emerald green.
As St Patrick’s Day was on a Sunday this year, the national holiday fell on Monday 18th March which is stated on every calendar – Holiday in Northern Ireland & Ireland.
It struck me as very odd that this woman, who was English, was shocked at me, an Irish person, returning home, to Ireland, to celebrate my patron saints holiday.
Why is it so hard for some people to understand the cross-community aspect of living in Northern Ireland?
The holiday is widely celebrated throughout Northern Ireland with parades in Belfast, Newry and Armagh. This year, there was a cross-community dimension to Belfast’s St Patrick’s Day Festival with Ulster-Scots Highland dancers performing and offering lessons alongside Irish dancers.
The majority of people outside Northern Ireland and even the Republic automatically connect being from Northern Ireland to being British.
From my own experience, I don’t think that many people are aware that even though Northern Ireland is technically part of the UK, not all people living there believe in the Union between both countries but simply believe in a United Ireland.
It’s almost like the situation with America and Canada, while neither country owns the other, their accents are very similar but would you dare call a Canadian American? I wouldn’t advise it.
There are many people in Northern Ireland, like me, who believe that they are 100% Irish – call them British and they’ll try their hardest not to rip your head off. The same goes for those who believe they’re 100% British.
It is no secret that people in Northern Ireland often suffer from identity crisis that is mainly brought about by an outside party.
Jannine Silo, 19, tells of her ordeal this St Patrick’s Day: “I’m at University in Scotland and couldn’t get home to Derry for St Patrick’s Day so all the Irish ones here decided to have a party in our flat.
“These people from Belfast gate crashed the party with the Union Jack flag and started waving it while we were listening to ‘The Fields of Athenry’.
“My flatmate, Ciaran, who is from Scotland, told them to put it away because it looked like they were asking for trouble and they answered ‘well maybe that’s what we want.’
“Then they started saying that I shouldn’t be celebrating St Patrick’s Day as I’m from Northern Ireland and that automatically makes me British.”
I have no problem with people wanting to be British as it’s their choice but does that give them the right to tell me and others like me that what we believe is wrong? No. Everyone deserves at least one day to celebrate where they’re from without a racist, sectarian overtone.
It cannot be denied that after Northern Ireland’s troubled past, sectarianism remains a major problem. One of the main ways to tackle this problem is by making sure young people nowadays grow up with as open a mind as possible.
Youth Leader at Pilots Row Youth Centre in Derry, Úna McCartney, 34, said: “Even though Northern Ireland is becoming an increasingly diverse society the focus still remains on the two largest communities – Nationalist/Republican and Unionist/Loyalist.
“A lot of cross community work focuses on breaking down the barriers between these two communities and promoting opportunities for collaboration and shared spaces.”
She added: “Single identity work is a key piece of youth work practice where we actively encourage young people to explore their own culture and identity.
“By having a greater understanding of their own identity we can then foster a respect and understanding of other cultures and identities.”
People are sometimes blind sighted when it comes to change, but it’s definitely time to make a change in the way people view other cultures and nationalities.
Being from Northern Ireland, we have the right to hold a dual citizenship. Everyone in Northern Ireland can chose to have a British or Irish passport. Everyone in the world, not just in Northern Ireland, has the right to a nationality. So why are we any less Irish just because we live in the North of the country?