In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet Claire Mitchell, who’s a writer from Belfast.
I suppose if I think what Northern Ireland means to me, I see it as a current and kind of practical unit of political administration, and I have no problem with it. But at the same time, I don’t really have any emotional connection or sense of belonging to Northern Ireland, per se. But what I do love is my city of Belfast and County Down, where I was born and I spent a lot of my adult life.
I love the people and the landscape and the very soil of the place and the soul. And my life is completely shaped by living in this northeast corner of our island. I love the Ulster Scots as well as the Irish that underpins the way we speak English.
I love our diverse and various Protestant heritages, especially the radical and dissenting histories. And so many things I love about home. But at the same time, I’m totally shaped by the conflict here and the brokenness of living in Northern Ireland, a place that was born out of violence and into violence. We live every day with that kind of segregation and separation, and it seems sometimes like a daily struggle to fight for a positive future.
But if I think about the Northern Ireland part specifically, I guess I’ve always seen that as a temporary and a temporal kind of idea. You know, if I look outside the window now, I can see a place where there was a Neolithic settlement. After that the Normans were here. Then the place was ruled by Gaelic Lords and then Scottish settlers came. And then today we have that kind of beautiful mixing and melding between traditional communities as well as newcomers and migrants. So the place and the shape of where I live is always changing. And you can see each of those chapters still reflected in the built and the natural landscapes of the place. So I sort of see Northern Ireland as a moment and a chapter in that much, much longer timeline.
I think it’s just really important to say again, I have no hostility to Northern Ireland. I’m happy to say the words; I do not bristle. It’s a practical reality right now that I totally accept. But my gaze, I think, is longer. You know, Northern Ireland, it’s been around 100 years; it’s not how we started. I don’t think it’s how we’re going to end up. And I think it’s really important to love and cherish the heritage of this part of the island whilst also embracing the change and the flux of it.
What Northern Ireland Means to Me is presented by Julia Paul and produced by Shared Future News, to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, with funding from the Heritage Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office.
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Image © Claire MITCHELL