In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet Sarah Creighton, who is a writer, commentator, and lawyer in Belfast.
Northern Ireland is home. That probably seems a very obvious thing to say, but for some people they don’t really feel very connected to it. But for me, I always really have, even though I’ve always felt very frustrated, kind of infuriated with it, but it’s where I’ve always felt my sense of belonging. I am a Unionist — that I’m British and I’m Irish. But if you ask me to pick somewhere in the world where I feel most at home, where I feel the biggest sense of belonging, it is Northern Ireland. I don’t really feel like I fit in much in Britain. I don’t really feel like I fit in much in the Republic of Ireland. I suppose I’m an Ulsterwoman. I always think that’s a bit of a unique thing. It’s a bit of a strange thing to describe to people. Sometimes they think, well, you know, you’re a Unionist and you want this union with Britain, but you don’t really feel like you belong there.
I think it’s the experiences we have here and the problems we’ve faced, really, it kind of defines you, no matter what side of the community you come from. Ulster, I think a couple of years ago, a lot of people, quite rightly so, they associated Ulster with “Ulster says No”, the concept of Ulster that meant Northern Ireland; it was a de facto way of saying Northern Ireland. But John Hewitt talked about it a lot in his writing — the province of Ulster. To me, it kind of speaks about uniqueness of the Irishness and the Britishness. He talks about the knot of this island, when all the different cultures and creeds that have come to this island and made it their home. That’s what I mean when I say Ulster, really. It’s that kind of fusion of cultures, that kind of very uniqueness of being from Ulster because we have such a long, complicated history.
I think for me, about being an Ulsterwoman, that’s what I mean. I don’t think everybody needs to have a shared identity. Hewitt, he was born before partition, so he did have that connection to Ireland as a whole. But some of my friends, even from a Catholic, Nationalist background, because they’ve grown up in the United Kingdom, they are influenced by that culture.
And then you get this Northern Irish identity that’s coming through. They would feel that as well. It’s a strange thing just being from this place, you’ve just got all these different strands running through your identity. And I think it’s good to explore them, no matter where you’ve come from.
That knot that John Hewitt talked about, that kind of sense of being from lots of different places and you’ve ended up in this wee rock somewhere on this corner of the Irish Sea. My family’s here; we’ve lived here hundreds of years, I suppose. A lot of my family would have come over from Scotland. There were migrants that came over from Scotland in the mid 1800s. Some of them came over in the plantations, obviously which is very different, but we have a connection to Scotland. And that connection to Scotland is interwoven into Ulster as well. I do feel quite a bit of a connection to my Scots heritage.
My job is here. I love our sense of humour. I love the people. I love our food, love our culture. It’s a fantastic place. And I love the diversity of Northern Ireland that’s increasingly coming through in the past couple of years. I think we’re a very friendly place. I think we’re a very warm place. Now, I think we’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of tackling racism and I think we can be a bit more welcoming to people from overseas and some places. But overall, I think we’re very good, decent people. A lot of people here would give you the clothes off their back if they really wanted to help you. It’s not just unique to Northern Ireland, but I do think there is something very warm and kind hearted about us in Northern Ireland, despite everything that we’ve been through.
So for me, really, it means home. It means safety. It means a sense of belonging for me. That’s what sets Northern Ireland apart from everywhere else.
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.
If you would like to suggest someone for a future episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, please email us at email@example.com
Images © Allan LEONARD