Jude Collins

Monday, 11 April 2011

Young Rory: Northern Irishman, an Ulsterman, an Irishman, a British man - or all of the above?

Before poor young Rory -  oh, OK, let me rephrase that – before rich young Rory went into meltdown on the last few holes last night, I posed the question on Facebook as to whether, were he to win the US Masters, he would be described as  British or Irish or an Ulsterman.  In typical Irish fashion, my question was answered by another Facebooker: “Could he not call himself all of the above?”

In fact I wasn’t talking about what he called himself, I was talking about what the media would call him. Maybe I’m remembering a long time ago, when we got “And yes, the British lad breasts the tape and has done it! He’s won!”  or “Oh dear, the young Irish lad comes in a disappointing fourth. What a pity!”   Does that still obtain? Maybe not. Although Irish boxers like Barry McGuigan have always had to become British if they were to make their way in their sport.

But since I asked my question and got my answer in the form of another question, I’ve begun to wonder if you CAN call yourself all these -  Ulsterman, Irishman, British.  Louis MacNeice added ‘European’.  Literally speaking you can, of course,  but it’s dodging something, isn’t it? Just a whiff  of the Alliance Party to it.  If I describe myself as an Omagh man before describing myself as an Irishman, it  has no political meaning. But if I describe myself as an Ulsterman before I add that I’m an Irishman, I’m making a political statement.  Just as I am if I say I’m Irish and add that I’m British.  In both cases the Ulster and British, regardless of positioning, dominate. They are saying that my loyalties lie with Britain, leaving Ulster or Ireland something that’s an incomplete part of that British identity. And what if I say I'm "Northern Irish"? Is that a dilution of my Irishness?

In the end, it comes down to whether a person can claim to be fully Irish while maintaining a British identity. I would say no.  In fact I  find it hard to see how an Irish person claiming a British identity can maintain his/her self-respect. Ach sin sceal eile, as we say at our Beginners Irish class.  


  1. Was fairly happy to have the option of ticking Northern Irish on the census recently...

    It's that classical position though - like those Canadians Lennox Lewis and Greg Rusedski...

  2. Interesting point, Pete. I know a number of nationalist/republicans see it as a coming-together when unionists refer to themselves as 'Northern Irish' rather than 'British', because 'Northern Irish' is 'us over here' rather than 'British' and 'us over there'.