Its in the blood (or at least the air…)

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So, I went to my “cardio kick” exercise class on Monday.  A proud moment of self-control and discipline in the face of i’d-rather-die-than-go-ness and a event of marvel in itself.  We’ll skip over the fact that my punches and kicks were rather half-hearted and that I only did one sit up for everyone else’s two…

Being still relatively near the start of a new year there were lots of unfamiliar faces there.  A couple of late teens were there with their mum and were wearing Gaelic tops.  Instantly I felt intimidated.  Now, its not like I’ve never seen people in Gaelic tops before – I work with an all-Ireland student movement after all.  But this was different!  This was in a town not known for its peaceable catholic-protestant relations; in what should have felt like neutral territory.

I leant towards my friend and whispered “Its hardly the place to wear Gaelic tops, is it?”.  She agreed: “It makes quite a statement doesn’t it?  We wouldn’t wear Rangers football tops here.”

Now, please don’t misunderstand me; these feelings of intimidation did not incite religious hatred nor strong desires to assert my identity as a British/Northern Irish Protestant (though I’m pretty sure those things would be low on my list of identity definers if they made it at all!).  It was simply a reaction to the association with a ‘side’ that has become common in Northern Ireland.  Like, even seeing a huge Union Jack flying outside a house last week put me on my guard…

…then I remembered I was in England.

Back in the leisure centre up the road, though, I was feeling uncomfortable – but I didn’t really think too much about it until I realised I was wearing my Christian “CSSM” t-shirt.  Why, if I could wear that, could they not wear their Gaelic tops?  Why did it matter?

Basically, it shouldn’t matter – and in terms of my feelings of non-hatred for people from a Roman Catholic background it doesn’t matter!  Rather, it seems to be that I am a victim (awww poor me! 😉 ) of the culture of bigotry I’ve grown up in – not from my family’s influence, but more I guess the divided school system, the eventful news, the ‘no football tops’ signs over bowling alley doors… 

Meaning that, rather than a sports tops reflecting an enjoyment of the sport or a flag being a symbol of wholesome patriotism, I have grown up interpreting these things as a political statement:

“This is who I am and if you’re different, you’re my enemy.”

If that’s me, from a middle of the road un-bigoted Christian family, I can only imagine the depth to which such lies run amongst those for whom painting curb stones and hanging flags is an ‘innocent’ past-time…

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12 Comments

Filed under culture, fear, modern life, Norn Iron, story

12 responses to “Its in the blood (or at least the air…)

  1. lilytodd

    Ironically I’m always more offended by the Union flag than I am the tricolour. It makes me feel sordid, I don’t want to see it in my church or in anyway be associated with such a contentious symbol. I hate the 12th July and bonfire night.
    I’m intrigued by my completely involuntarily reverse psychology reaction. I don’t think I would have noticed a Gaelic top, but I would have noticed a Rangers one and been uncomfortable and had no interest to speak to them.
    You’re right bigotry is everywhere and we are all victims and perpetrators of it. Scary…..

    How’s the neck by the way, I’ve been meaning to ask for ages?

  2. meinmysmallcorner

    I concur.

    More importantly, however, the neck is doing well Thanks! Milo (I know you intended to ask about HIM too…) is also fine 😉

  3. There was a girl in my year in school who thought the red white & blue painted kerb stones were to help learner drivers with their reverse parking

    Maybe we’d all be a bit better off if we were a bit more naive!

    🙂

  4. My colleague in the Presbyterian Church usually shows up in the office in his Monaghan jersey. I was offended when I noticed it yesterday but only because I’d never get away with that- I have to look “smart” all the time!

    You’d be offended if you saw me in my Leitrim jersey- but only because God never intended for bright green and bright yellow to meet on cheap polyester, worn by a pasty white Irishman.

  5. smoothstonesinmyhand

    Like Lily, I’m also more offended by the Union Jack, I even phoned the council to complain about one draped over a sculpture near our house, and was very pleased when it was removed.

    Maybe it’s because I want to distance myself from that type of Protestantism (though technically I don’t think I am a Protestant).

    To be more hopeful; I teach my fair share of bigoted pupils, but when it comes to 6th form and the classes are mixed with kids from the convent across the road there’s not a hint of trouble as they learn and interact together.

  6. carrieohara

    Smallcorner you should be focusing on the kicks and sit up and things (or the pastry reward after the class)…tut, tut!

    I too hate the 12th Day of July and the Protestant triumphantism it suggests. I entirely think that hurley, camogie, and football of all types should be taught at school (less time to be tortured by hockey).
    I also think that all Northern Irish schools should be integrated. I entirely believe that World Religions: including the various brands of Christianity should have a more prominent place in the RE syllabus.
    I think that it is very sad, and oh so very true that Northern Ireland has yet to escape the bigotted symbolism of its past.
    Also the polyester sports top look isn’t really that good on anyone…maybe we should ban them all together?

  7. meinmysmallcorner

    Yep, I’m pretty sure your shirt would offend anyone by the sounds of things, zoom. Why oh why do they have to be so ugly?!

    The gaelic top girls were there again tonight but mysteriously left half-way through. Perhaps they are among the silent readers of my blog…? You’ll be glad to know I kicked, punched and sat-up my ass off at tonight’s class, Carrie.

    Normal blogging service will resume when muscle pain resides…

  8. I have never voted for the DUP and I have no desire to set any large fires in the middle of the summer. But that is because even though I am a Protestant, it isn’t part of my cultural heritage. It would have been very different if I hadn’t grown up in middle class Holywood, been blessed with the parents and friends I had and gone to the school I went to. If I had been born off the Lower Newtownards Road or in a rural village in south Armagh or west Tyrone, I suspect it would have been very different where the symbols of the Union and the fraternity of the Orange Order could have taken on huge significance for us.

    I wonder what many of our ‘brethren’ would think if they read many of these comments (not the original post). Would they consider our ‘enlightenment’ to be ‘self-satisfaction’? I suspect so. Would they be wrong? I’ll leave that hanging…

  9. meinmysmallcorner

    Ok, yellowcranes, I’ve approved your comment on the basis that you include your own comment in your remarks… 😉

  10. The first sentence of my first paragraph is how I feel about the cultural trappings of Protestantism and the rest of the paragraph is me trying to be grateful for how I feel and not smug (which is how I tend to feel most of the time).

    So, please by all means, include my own comments in my remarks, because I have many Norn Iron match-going friends who would describe me as ‘self-satisfied’ when I suggest dropping the anthem in favour of something more all embracing or banning Rangers’ tops at matches.

    My question is by being ‘enlightened’, do we risk alienating those we should be trying to reach?

  11. i used to be a protestant, like big time…then i converted to Christianity!!

    yeah good post…reminds me of where i’ve come from and what God has brought me thro. thanks!

  12. meinmysmallcorner

    yellowcranes… valid point. i suppose its more about our attitude, isn’t it? Like (she said eloquently!), we have to be careful about coming across as if we’re – like you said – self-satisfied, or like we’ve ‘risen above it all’.

    I think a recognition of the discomfort these ‘political signs’ induces is healthy: if only as a signal that the way things are being not the way they should be. Didn’t someone somewhere once say something sometime about the desire for change springing from something like that…?!

    (hi rick! you should write a wee blog about it!)

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