July’s post is brought to us by NazToo’s Philip Hoy, a nearly-21-year-old from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. He attends church in his neighbourhood and is the NYI Vice-President for the British Isles North District. He is currently studying Music and Audio Production at Queens University Belfast and doing grassroots reconciliation and starting work at a castle.
Dia duit. Cad é mar atá sibh? Is mise Phil Ó hEochaidh. Ta mé í mo chonaí í Carraig Fhearghais, Aontroma,Tuaisceart Éireann.
Translation: Hello (literally ‘God be with you’). How are yous? My name is Phil Hoy. I live in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
The first couple of sentences you just read were Gaeilge (in Irish). That is one of the many reasons why the majority of my town and about half of Northern Ireland would consider me a traitor.
To understand Ireland and its culture (and also to get the full significance of this blog) you need to know the history of Ireland. Unfortunately for yous, it is long, confusing and full of bloodshed. Luckily I’ve compiled a short history of Ireland, particularly that of the North, that will help you out should you choose to read it. I’ve added it as an appendix.
(Please note: when the terms ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ are used, this doesn’t necessarily and usually doesn’t mean practicing Jesus followers but culturally affiliated people groups. Here are some other terms and their definitions.
Unionist- Someone who wants Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK.
Loyalist- Extremist subgroup of unionists. Have and are prepared to use violence
Nationalist- Someone who wants NI to be part of the Republic of Ireland
Republican- Nationalist version of Loyalists)
I grew up on the kinda border between lower middle class and the upper end of the working class. I went to school and church in a very working class, loyalist council estate which is just across the road from my housing estate. ‘Hood adjacent’ would be the American equivalent. Every day on the short drive or walk to school or church I seen the large paramilitary murals of men in balaclavas with machine guns spouting pro-British and anti-Catholic rhetoric. Many of my classmates da’s were in the UDA (Ulster Defence Association, a loyalist paramilitary group). I was told from a young age that I was British and other people around me would say that Catholics weren’t like us and that they wanted to get rid of us. People would sing inflammatory songs about Catholics and the Pope and use the derogatory terms fenian and taig despite the fact that very few of us had ever met a Catholic to see if these prejudices were true. We would go to the 11th of July Bonfires, with giant piles of stolen wooden pallets (seriously, Google some of them, they are huge) celebrating the 12th and shows of superiority over Irish Identifying Catholics. This was when I was about 8 years old. My parents never taught me to be like that; it was the culture around me.
But as I got older I started to notice things. I realised my next door neighbour (who my family is good friends with) who was from Muff, Co. Donegal was probably a Catholic. And he was just the same as us. Any ‘Catholic’ I ever met was always the same as me. Any time we went on a church trip to Scotland or England everyone always called us Irish no matter how often we protested that we were NORTHERN Irish or that we were British. I started to think that if the British didn’t consider us British then what were we? In high school one of my only friends at school was a Catholic and we got on really well. I began to get interested in social justice and learnt some of the history of the Troubles. Then from September 2016 to August 2017 I lived in the south side of Chicago with an organisation called Mission Year (which is a story for another time). I was able to look at back home from the outside. I began to see how silly the divisions in Northern Ireland really are. I then started to look into the history of Ireland and realised that Protestants until the Partition of Ireland considered themselves Irish.
I started to research my family history. My da’s side were all rural, farming Presbyterians for hundreds of years back, but the names in the family tree were a lot of them ‘Mc’ (‘Mac,’ meaning son of, was usually shortened to ‘Mc’ in Ireland) names and from the Highlands and west of Scotland which means they were originally Irish. Even the name Hoy which although was possibly Scottish was actually an Irish name and was the anglicised version of Ó hEochaidh (pronounced O Hoey). It was very possible that an O hEochaidh due to either marriage or persecution or both converted to Presbyterianism and anglicised the name to Hoy to appear more ‘Protestant’? The fact that there were ‘Mc’ surnames meant that my ancestors spoke Irish! Having grown up thinking this was only for Catholics I realised that many Presbyterians in Ireland during the 16, 17 and 1800s only spoke Irish and it was a prerequisite for ordination in the Presbyterian church. The culture of rural County Antrim was Irish in character. On my mum’s side, her granny’s last name was Adrain. On researching this name I found that it was originally O Drean and were chased out of County Roscommon during the 12th century by the Normans and the MacDermotts into East Antrim which is the only area in Ireland were the name occurs today. Those that remained Catholic shortened their names to ‘Drain’ whereas those who converted to Protestantism changed it to ‘Adrain.’ So I started to think that maybe if I was ethnically Irish and lived on the Island of Ireland then maybe perhaps I was Irish after all. I began to see that, culturally, Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants weren’t actually that different other than where most people DON’T hang their hats on a Sunday morning. After working for social justice in Chicago seeing racial reconciliation between white and black Americans I really had a heart for reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants back home. I started to change politically from a soft Unionist (someone who wants Northern Ireland to remain a part of the UK) to an Irish nationalist (someone who wants Northern Ireland to join the Irish republic free of British interference) and identified as Irish. I’ve also started to ‘decolonise’ my Christianity as have a lot of indigenous peoples around the world. All this made me to people back home a ‘traitor.’
This September I started Queens University to do a degree in Music and Audio Production. I quickly befriended Catholics and started going to play Gaelic football and learning the Irish language at an extra-curricular class at uni. I dread to think about what people from my primary school and the estate would say to me now. I know for a fact that if I was to wear my County Antrim Gaelic football tracksuit bottoms around the housing estate at the least I would get slandered and intimidated or beat up or worse. Around the estate are Union flags and paramilitary flags to mark territory to show Catholics aren’t welcome. If I were to get caught taking these down I would more than likely get beat up at best or kneecapped at worst. Carrickfergus has the most paramilitary presence of any town in the North of Ireland. They practically run the housing estates. They sell drugs through dealers to young people and then beat up or kneecap young people for having drugs. They extortion local businesses for ‘protection money’ and if that isn’t paid the business is burnt or chased out. The politicians and police and the people who live in the estates are too intimidated to do anything about it. If people in my 98% Unionist town knew of my cultural and political leanings I would not be made welcome. The Church is apathetic at best about reconciliation. Many Protestants don’t consider practising Catholics as truly Christians. Ecumenism is at the back burner. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one seeking to bring unity. I found a small cross community church group which meets once a month but we are few and I’m the youngest there by about 40 years. We have no government and Brexit is throwing a spanner in the works due to the fact that Northern Ireland will be the only touching part of the UK with the EU. If a hard border is enforced then Dissident Republicans will threaten violence. If a border is placed on the Irish Sea loyalist paramilitaries will feel isolated further encouraging their siege mentality and threaten violence. Some farmers’ fields run through the currently invisible border. It’s a nightmare. And we have no one to plead our case in the UK parliament except DUP members who are extremists and pro-Brexit even though Northern Ireland as a whole voted to ‘remain.’
It’s coming up to the 12th of July. The bonfires will be burnt and the bands will march through Nationalist areas to intimidate them. There are often recreational riots from disenfranchised, working class young people with nothing to do over the summer months, added to by the sectarian tension. Most people in Northern Ireland are only culturally religious and don’t actively follow Jesus. Protestant and Catholic are really used as an identifier for British Unionist and Irish Nationalist. Since I’m a mixture of both I suppose I’m a kinda Proddy Fenian. There has not been a functional power sharing government for 530 days. Please pray that the politicians would work together for the sake of the people. Also pray for me as I seek to bring peace and reconciliation in my small realm of influence with God’s help. Please pray for this small corner of the island that it’ll once again become a land of saints and scholars instead of the land of hatred and intolerance it currently is.
Here is a brief (!) history of Ireland. I would encourage you to read it as most people I come across outside of Ireland (and many in it) know very little of our history and so cannot understand our conflicts and problems.
In the early centuries AD, the islands of Ireland and Britain were Celtic (this is pronounced like a ‘K,’ never an ‘S’ btw; the only time it’s is pronounced like an ‘S’ is the Glasgow football team). This is not so much an ethnic group but more of a cultural one. The people were tribal. The peoples of Ireland were Gaels and Q Celtic whereas the peoples of Britain were P Celtic. During the early centuries AD some Gaels led by Fergus Mor MacErc (the same Fergus my town Carrickfergus is named after). He was returning to Ulster looking for a holy well to cure his leprosy when his ship struck a rock and he died. The rock is where my town developed became know as the Rock of Fergus) traveled to the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland settling there bringing their language, culture and Celtic form of Christianity with them founding the Kingdom of Dal Riada comprising some of County Antrim in Ireland and the west of Scotland. By the 7th century or so the Highlands and Islands were Gaelic in ethnicity, language and culture, and Christian in religion. Meanwhile the area of Britain now known as England had been invaded and subsequently abandoned by the Romans with the Angles and Saxons bringing an entirely new Germanic and pagan society to Britain that was very different to the native Celts. They pushed the indigenous peoples into Cornwall and Wales whilst the Kingdom of Alba or Scotland as it is now known was still Celtic.
Flash forward to 1066 AD. The Battle of Hastings. The Normans (a group of Vikings who invaded, settled and intermarried with the native French forming the area of Normandy in the north of France) invade England and take over. They then, under the encouragement of the Pope (which will become very ironic centuries later), set their eyes on Ireland. They first captured the area around Dublin known as the Pale. Ireland is split into four provinces: Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster (of which the current day Northern Ireland comprises 6 out of the 9 counties of Ulster). Ulster was always the most rebellious province so in order to get a stronger hold on Ireland they sent a Norman Knight (John De Courcey) up North who built a large castle on a rock, and aye, you guessed it, that rock was Carrickfergus. Now the Normans, as of all Western Christendom, were Roman Catholic so the only differences between the Normans and the native Irish were cultural. Things, however, were about to change. During the 1500s England became Protestant and a large part of Scotland became Presbyterian (differentiated from Protestant here by the term Dissenter). The Normans in Ireland, or the Old English as they were soon to be called remained catholic and had their power taken off of them so many assimilated with the native Irish. Ulster was still very rebellious so Queen Elizabeth I and later James I began to ‘plant’ Ulster with Scottish Presbyterians and English Anglicans. The Scots Presbyterians were persecuted because of their faith in Scotland and so sought a better life in Ireland. The mostly English Anglicans sought land and wealth. There was now a religious as well as cultural divide between Irish Catholics, Scottish Presbyterians and English Protestants (read Anglican). Cromwell came and slaughtered hundreds and thousands of natives, telling them they had the choice between going either “to hell or to Connaught’. After the Restoration of the Monarchy James II came to the throne of England. And he converted to Catholicism. This made the Protestants of England and Ireland nervous but gave hope to the Catholics of Ireland. So what did the Protestants of England do? They invited a Dutch king (William of Orange) to come and take over and drive King James II out. James fled to Ireland and started gathering an army. King William (or King Billy as he’s known here) landed by boat in Ireland to fight James and by now you’ll have probably guessed where he landed. That’s right. Carrickfergus. Then the battle and the date that’s engraved on the minds of every person in the north of Ireland’s brains happened : the Battle of the Boyne, 12th of July 1690. King Billy won the battle and the war which became known as ‘The Glorious Revolution’. Ever since the Orange Order (although founded in the late 1700s/early 1800s) has marched on the 12th as celebration and to lord it over in superiority against Catholics. But what both sides don’t want people to know is that the Pope actually sent King Billy a letter of congratulations due to it also being involved with the King of France (told you Irish history was confusing). The victory of King Billy paved the way for the Protestant Ascendancy. This was the Irish parliament in Dublin comprised almost entirely of English descended Anglicans. They ruled over the native Irish Catholics and Presbyterians persecuting both under the Penal laws. Catholicism was outlawed, many forced to hold mass out in the fields or in hiding. Presbyterian marriages and Eucharists weren’t held as valid and all were forced to pay tithes to the established Anglican Church :The Church of Ireland. Things were getting so bad that in 1798 the United Irishmen Rebellion took place. Ironically in Ulster this rebellion was led by PRESBYTERIANS! The oath of the United Irishmen was to set aside the divisive names of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter (Presbyterian) in favour of Irishman. Many on both sides of the sectarian divide don’t like to mention that the founders of Irish Republicanism were Presbyterians and Protestants. The rebellion was squashed. Many were killed as a result. In order to stop this from happening again, the Presbyterians were given more privileges similar to the ‘White Bribe’ to white indentured servants in the United States. The Presbyterians were still not well off but in the eyes of the state ‘at least they’re not Catholic”. They became ‘Protestant.’ The ironic thing is that ethnically and culturally many of the Scottish settlers were technically Irish, descended from the Dal Riadans who left Ireland to Scotland with King Fergus. Many still spoke Gaelic with some even being monoglots in it and were able to converse with the Irish with little difficulty. Some even intermarried although this was slightly rare. However after the failure of the rebellion there was an attempt at collective amnesia. The Scots Presbyterians ‘forgot’ their role in the rebellion, their Celtic culture and language and started to identify as ‘British’ instead of Irish. Ireland was added to Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) in 1801 to form The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
In the mid 1800s the Great Famine happened when the potato crop failed. This mostly affected Catholics and Presbyterians and the poor in general. The English had brought the potato to Ireland from the Americas and introduced it as the staple diet. Meanwhile they exported all the other food such as crops and meat out of Ireland to England. To make matters worse there was a very large storm that year that blew many of the fish away. So when the potato blight hit there was nothing to eat. There was other food but it was all exported to England or given to wealthy Anglican landlords. Poor families starved. 1 million died and over 2 million emigrated over the next 100 years due to the famine. The English government did very little to help. There’s been cases of families being forced to walk for 20 miles to get food from a alms house and being turned away and found dead with grass in their mouths. Many see this as a genocide against the Irish people through British colonialism. Ireland was in fact the practice ground for the British Empire. The native language and culture was beaten out of school children. The land was confiscated and given to absentee landlords who rented the land back at extortionate rates. In the late 1800 hundreds the Catholic Emancipation laws were passed.
Now that Catholics were in parliament there was a growing demand for the Irish people to be governed by themselves. The Home Rule bills were sought to be passed. However the Protestant majority in the North (due to the Plantation of Ulster) but minority in the whole island feared that Home Rule would mean ‘Rome Rule’. The 1916 Easter Rising happened which paved the way for the Irish War for independence in the early 1900s. Ireland won her freedom from the British however the British minority in the north wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom. Consequently they smuggled guns from Germany and threatened war with Britain if Britain didn’t keep them. That makes sense. Obviously. Britain agreed and the island of Ireland was partitioned to create the state of Northern Ireland separate from the Republic of Ireland. ‘A Protestant country for a Protestant people.’
For the next 50 years Catholics/Irish identifying people faced similar injustices to black people in the States during the 60s. Catholics were discriminated against in jobs, housing, voting and were burned out of their houses by working class loyalists. This came to a head in the late 60s with the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). At a NICRA protest the RUC (the mostly Protestant comprised police force at the time) started to attack the protesters in what is known as The Battle of the Bogside. This is what is considered the birth of the Troubles.
The Troubles were a civil war like conflict between Irish identifying ‘Catholic’ Republican paramilitaries, British identifying ‘Protestant’ loyalist paramilitaries and the British Army. Many atrocities were carried out over the 30 years of the conflict including Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday and bombings carried out by the IRA and the UDA and UVF. The conflict officially ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement. This was officially the end of the violence but it has continued on an off on a smaller scale since. British Identifying ‘Protestant’ unionists and loyalists are separated culturally and proximity wise from Irish Identifying ‘Catholic’ nationalist and Republican. Walls known as Peace Walls separate Unionist and Nationalist areas of Belfast and Derry. Schools across the whole country are segregated on sectarian lines. Unless you go to an integrated school most children will never meet a child from the other community. The way the government works here the people vote for political parties not based on policies but to keep the ‘other side’ out. Last year votes were almost split 50/50 between the Unionist DUP and the Nationalist Sinn Fein. The few smaller parties got the rest of the votes. This is the first time ever since NI was formed nearly a hundred years ago that there hasn’t been a Unionist majority. The way Stormont works is that there is a First Minister and a Deputy First minister who are pretty much equal but one is from one community and one is from the other. With the two most extreme parties (DUP and Sinn Fein) filling these positions tension is Leah’s rife and after a botched renewable energy scheme which lost the country £500 million along with arguments over Irish Language rights the government collapsed and as of writing Northern Ireland has been run by unelected civil servants for 530 days. The 50 politicians who are part of the assembly receive £131 a day without having done a day’s work since the collapse.