I enjoyed that.
Not to undermine the seriousness of the piece, but I’m still chuckling at:
Even Bram Stoker, giving his imagination the freest rein, was compelled to conjure up a landlord, surrounded by superstitious peasants, vacating his crumbling mansion in a box of his native soil, while casting an acquisitive eye on the London property market.
Ulster is indeed a borderland, a frontier zone like Ukraine so just another ethnic conflict inexplicable to those secure in Surrey.
The Protestant population until late lost their literary and intellectual offspring to London and nationalism which encouraged the necessary intransigence that so surprises the rest of the UK.
Aris misses out a number of the best local writers like Sam Hanna Bell (December Bride, A Man Flourishing, Across the Narrow Sea), historian David Miller (Queen’s Rebels) and ATQ Stewart (The Narrow Ground). They explain things better than the somewhat arid Forrest Reid.
Oddly, it is very much Catholic and southern journalists like Eoghan Harris and Ruth Dudley Edwards who appreciate and defend the new minority best.
And also my book on the polite and sometimes not polite, treatment of Southern Protestants post independence Buried Lives. The Protestants of Southern Ireland. Please not “Anglo-Irish”. They were/are Irish.
Yes, I’ve heard that note of alienation from Irish Protestants in the Republic too.
As a Nordie nationalist, I’ve never remotely fitted in politically anywhere. I view the comfortable integration of the good burghers in GB and the ROI with something approaching contempt.
I have often said that, outside of the small place I grew up in, I’m an impostor.
An impostor of necessity.
NOT fitting in has always been a joy. It’s how you preserve the
irreducible self you were born with. No matter where I went in
London, or in Dublin, I always carried an oasis of alienation and
difference in my mind. If I wear this suit, carry this case, smile
and deflect, deflect, quip, quip, I am like a rock in their stream.
“Really?” “Quite …”
That art of concealment in plain sight – I am in your midst, and you
have no idea – that is Joyce’s “silence, exile and cunning”; that is
Heaney’s un-toppled Omphalos.
Nationalist or not, I understood Paisley Sr. Much as he hated the South, unlike Trimble, Empey or Donaldson, he was no Englishman manqué.
The reality of Nordies is that we don’t especially like any of you.
Sorry about that.
You should both (ROI and GB) dump us.
We’re really not worth the trouble, and the ruinous expense. Awful place, really.
Ah come on.. ye cannot be that bad, surely.. we have a good reputation for assimilating all sorts here in the ROI.. sure we’ll have ye behaving normally in no time!
Really enjoyable reading, Aris. Living in the ‘neurotically globalising Republic’, I miss the magical realism of CS Lewis and my childhood. I live in a country I no longer recognise, truth be told.
I know the feeling – am living in an England that is no longer the country I reached middle-age in (when John Major was PM) let alone the England I grew up in.
“Bogside Nil” has always been my distilled sense of the Troubles. I forgot how damm good the rest of the poem was.
Excerpt from Casualty by Seamus Heaney
He would drink by himself
And raise a weathered thumb
Towards the high shelf,
Calling another rum
And blackcurrant, without
Having to raise his voice,
Or order a quick stout
By a lifting of the eyes
And a discreet dumb-show
Of pulling off the top;
At closing time would go
In waders and peaked cap
Into the showery dark,
A dole-kept breadwinner
But a natural for work.
I loved his whole manner,
Sure-footed but too sly,
His deadpan sidling tact,
His fisherman’s quick eye
And turned observant back.
To him, my other life.
Sometimes, on the high stool,
Too busy with his knife
At a tobacco plug
And not meeting my eye,
In the pause after a slug
He mentioned poetry.
We would be on our own
And, always politic
And shy of condescension,
I would manage by some trick
To switch the talk to eels
Or lore of the horse and cart
Or the Provisionals.
But my tentative art
His turned back watches too:
He was blown to bits
Out drinking in a curfew
Others obeyed, three nights
After they shot dead
The thirteen men in Derry.
PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,
I’m no fan of poetry but Heaney is sheer brilliance. Scarcely believable levels of language, I’ve never come across anyone else who can be so evocative and create such a sense of being out of words. A bona fide genius.
Great read, thank you
I would’ve thought that, rather that “gurn,” that splendid Northern sport of face-pulling, here in Norn Irn we”girn,” i.e. grizzle, whinge or moan about our lot.
Nonetheless, you’re more than welcome here, Aris!
An absolutely lovely piece that was a real pleasure to read. Very insightful too and very perceptive in terms of the assessment of the impact of place and culture on the local literature.
My own favourite piece of Northern Irish literary endeavour comes from a Colin Bateman novel where he writes:
“‘f*** you, you f***ing f***!’ – 400 years of protestant culture distilled into one sentence.”
Aris, thanks for this fascinating piece, an education for me. I’m a Brit who’s lived in England all his adult life, but I plan to buy a property in N Ireland next year, when I reach retirement age, and relocate. Maybe Co Fermanagh – all that water!
JUSTICE FOR MEN & BOYS
Check out Knockninny near Derrylin.. I lived on my barge there for a year.. a magical place.
I’m also a great appreciator of Ciaran Carson’s “Last Night’s Fun” and Adrian McKinty’s great run of Sean Duffy detective novels and anti-hero Michael Forsythe in the “Dead …” trilogy of thrillers.
‘vacating his crumbling mansion in a box of his native soil’
What does that sentence mean?