Thursday, February 07, 2013

City versus country (Photo: the Scotch-Irish Farm, Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton, Virginia USA)


An idyllic photo of hard work outside an old Ulster farmstead that was taken across the Atlantic to Virginia. I visited it 15 years ago on honeymoon.

It is one of my favourite images and I am posting it here as over the past few days I have been thinking about the enormous social mis-fit there is here in Northern Ireland. It is not the 'two tribes' stereotype. It is the gulf between city people and country folk. It is vast.

The NI media and the majority of NI institutions are dominated by city-minded people. In cultural terms there is a version of Ulster-Scots heritage in the cities - but the authentic and natural form is to be found in the country areas. In landscapes not streets. City issues do not automatically apply to the country; city 'chips on the shoulder' are sometimes irrelevant in the country. City fights should not be assumed to exist in the country.

I have been spending a bit of time over recent months with some city-dwellers who are getting to grips with Ulster-Scots history for probably the first time ever. I think their self-confessed scepticism is starting to melt a wee bit. And fair play to them for being open-minded. But every now and again their urban mindset seems to struggle with things that country folk find natural.

Yes, Scotland is just over the water and we can see it every clear day. Yes, there are lots of folk out here who still use those words. And yes, we do try to get on with our neighbours even if their politics and religion are different than our own - we'll maybe bump into them next week in the shop, or down at the shore, or at the builders suppliers. And our grandparents probably knew their grandparents. And maybe even after all of that, they are our neighbours first and 'different' second.

As a local man once said to me '... d'ye know who it is that causes all the bother roon here? A'll tell ye - oul Bilfast yins...'. Life in much of rural Ulster is far from perfect, but it is not as polarised as in the city.

I know some lovely folk from Belfast, so the observation certainly doesn't apply to everybody. But, the next time you hear people arguing on our radio and tv channels, ask yourself if they are city-minded people. They probably are.


Jenny said...

I've been there! The sleeping cat on the loom warp was the most perfect sight ever. :)

So as a general rule, the ill blood is more of a city thing? That's fascinating - but understandable. Was it the same back in the early plantation days, do you think?

Mark Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Thompson said...

Hi Jenny

"Ill blood" isn't limited to the city but it is most obvious there. 90% of Northern Ireland is rural and peaceful but 90% of the IMAGES of Northern Ireland are urban and violent. That in itself tells a tale.

Hope you're well and thanks for reading!

Alan said...

A well said piece Mark, with a lot of truth in it.