Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two Tribes

I had an enjoyable and interesting meeting today with a Queens University academic about Ulster-Scots related issues, with particular relevance to community relations in Northern Ireland. We talked for the best part of 2 hours - I hope he got something out of it.

What became ever more clear to me during the conversation is that the "two tribes" stereotype of Northern Ireland - Protestant/Catholic British/Irish Unionist/Nationalist - is not the whole story, but its' perpetuation is doing huge damage to our cultural life. To me, this outmoded bipolar model harks back to the 1500s, when the issues on this island were English/Irish. To be stuck in this mindset 500 years later is a tragedy and disgrace.

Why? Because it leaves out Scotland. In the 1600s Ulster was changed forever when a tidal wave of Lowland Scots began to arrive here. We might have a "two tribes" political identity, but we have three-sided cultural identity - with Scotland the missing piece. The distinctive regional flavour of Ulster compared to the rest of the island is overwhelmingly due to the influence of lowland Scotland. But the Scottish chapter of Ulster's story is, for most people who live here, completely unknown. And its potential is unrealised.

As long as society, politics, academia and the media remains stuck in the false, 1500s, two tribes mentality, and as long as political identity continues to be imposed upon cultural identity, a"shared and better future" will remain just a buzzphrase for government policy.

It's time to change the story.