What Northern Ireland Means to Me is a compilation of interviews for a project to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary. Participants discussed their historical links to the land, their own experience of living and working in Northern Ireland, as well as what they think this place should be like 100 years from now.
Portrait images and associated landscape and artefact images accompany the 26 rich conversations from across different aspects of Northern Ireland society, including politicians, religious figures, artists, and campaigners — familiar as well as newer voices.
What Northern Ireland Means to Me was edited jointly by Allan Leonard and Julia Paul, co-founders of Shared Future News, which is an online publication dedicated to providing news, information, and personal stories on the topics of peacebuilding, reconciliation, and diversity.
Marking the centenary of Northern Ireland was always going to be tricky.
At Shared Future News, we wanted to use the occasion to say something meaningful about the last 100 years — and what people want to see in the next. Shared Future News is an online publication that practises constructive journalism and exists to provide news and personal stories on peacebuilding, reconciliation, and diversity. We created the podcast, What Northern Ireland Means To Me, to hear from a wide range of voices in Northern Ireland, at a personal level.
We listened to the voices of those who may well be known to the general public, as well as those who aren’t. Our aim was not to have an equality between the two traditional communities, but an interesting mixture of perspectives.
Most of the people we spoke to found it hard to sum up what they felt about Northern Ireland. For many, ‘home’ was the first word used. But when we dug deeper, we found of course that ‘home’ meant different things to different people. Dr Emily Stanton, who came here from America and is a peacebuilding practitioner and academic, summed up Northern Ireland in one word — ‘complexity’.
One of those complexities is how we define Northern Ireland. It exists as a place, but it’s a place that arguably has been wrestling with its identity for 100 years. There is no agreed definition of what Northern Ireland is — and we all know all the different nicknames that are used and abused. For some of our contributors, that search for an identity really resonated. The writer and actor Joseph Nawaz, who grew up with a mother who’s an Irish Catholic and a Pakistani Muslim father, spoke of there always being “a sort of identity crisis that’s lurked at the hearts of this entity”, and reflected his own sense of identity crisis.
Meanwhile, Darren Ferguson’s Northern Ireland is a place of sound and music, which he uses to break down barriers. The writer, commentator, and lawyer Sarah Creighton unpicks what it means to her to be an Ulsterwoman, embracing her unionism while rejecting the ‘Ulster says no’ identity. While the writer Claire Mitchell, who lives in the County Down countryside, tells us she has no hostility to the name Northern Ireland, but neither does she feel any emotional connection to it.
We certainly had no ambition to answer our complexity with a couple dozen episodic pieces. However, as you can discover in the following pages, there is a diversity within historic communities as well as those less heard. You can also see this in the images of the faces, places, and artefacts that accompany the testimonies.
This is of course by no means a ‘finished’ document. But we hope it stands as an insight into what Northern Ireland means to different people, at a particular moment of time.
— Allan Leonard and Julia Paul