Ulsters, Ulster Unionists, Protestant Ulsterites, Loyalists; Republican, Nationalist
Identification. The island of Ireland is known as Eire in Irish Gaelic. The name of the capital city, Belfast, derives from the city's Gaelic name, Beal Feirste, which means "mouth of the sandy ford," referring to a stream that joins the Lagan River.
The state of conflict in Northern Ireland is manifested in the names by which the Northern Irish identify themselves. Ulsters or Ulster Unionists identify themselves by ethnicity, religion, and political bent. These residents are generally Protestants from England who colonized the country in the nineteenth century and earlier supported William of Orange when he wrested the throne of England from the Catholic James II. The Nationalists are native Irish who were ruled by Irish chiefs. They are Roman Catholics who want Northern Ireland to be reunited with the Republic of Ireland, removing the northern counties from the sovereignty of England. The Ulster Unionists remain politically, religiously, and culturally loyal to England, yet feel that Northern Ireland is their homeland. Nationalists believe that the land is theirs, and their loyalty is to their compatriots in the Free State of Southern Ireland.
Location and Geography. Northern Ireland is the smallest country in the United Kingdom, situated on the second largest island of the British Isles. It occupies one-sixth of the island it shares with the independent Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is composed of six of the twenty-nine counties of Ireland, covering about 5,452 square miles (14,120 square kilometers). It is separated from the Republic of Ireland by a three-hundred-mile-long artificial boundary. Northern Ireland makes up the northwestern corner of the island; the entire island is bordered on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by the Irish Sea, and on the south by the Celtic Sea. The waters around Northern Ireland's coast are shallow.
The climate is mild as a result of Atlantic Ocean breezes and the Gulf Stream, with comfortable summers and temperate winters. Snow is uncommon, and temperatures dip below freezing only a few times a year. However, rainfall is heavy. Low mountains with steep cliffs dropping off to the sea and fertile lowlands are the principal topographic features. The two major mountain ranges are the Sperrin Mountains and the Mourne Mountains. Most of the farmable land, in the middle of the country, is used as grazing pastures for livestock. Lough Neagh, in central Northern Ireland, is the largest lake in the British Isles.
Until seven thousand years ago, Ireland was linked to Europe by a land bridge, but the ocean eroded that bridge and separated Ireland from the continent. Scotland lies just thirteen miles east of the island across the English Channel.
The Upper Bann River begins in the Mourne Mountains and flows northwest for twenty-five miles before entering Lough Neagh. The Erne River, which is seventy-two miles long, starts in the Republic of Ireland and flows northward into Northern Ireland. The Foyle River, marking the northwestern boundary with the Republic of Ireland, passes through Londonderry and empties into the Atlantic Ocean, becoming a bay called Lough Foyle.
Soggy areas called peat bogs have developed in parts of the country. The bogs contain layers of vegetation that have partly decayed in the moist earth. As the layers build up, they form a thick crust of turf that is called peat. This turf, originally cut by hand, is now cut by machine. The resulting
Demography. In 1998, the Annual report of the Registrar General for Northern Ireland reported the population of Northern Ireland to be 1,668,000. The population is most dense in the east. In the 1980s, the population was described as being 70 percent Protestant and 30 percent Catholic, but 60 percent Protestant and 40 percent Catholic may be more accurate. The population breakdown is difficult to ascertain because many residents are reluctant to indicate their religion.
Catholic families have a higher birthrate because of their religious beliefs and their desire to surpass the population of the Unionists. Stability in the population has resulted from the fact that many Catholics were forced to go to London to escape unemployment.
Linguistic Affiliation. English is spoken throughout the country, and the native language of Gaelic, or Gaeltacht, is disappearing. Many Gaelic speakers died in the Great Famine of the 1840s, and Gaelic was replaced by English, which was needed to achieve social mobility. Gaelic still carries a stigma as the language of the poor.
Gaelic is a Celtic language that probably was introduced by Celts in the last few centuries B.C.E. Similar to Scottish Gaelic, it shares common structures with Welsh and Breton. It is an idiomatic language with a complex grammatical system that is considered rich in terms of warmth and expressiveness. Irish is required at some schools but is taught with an emphasis on grammar rather than conversation. The Gaelic League, formed in 1893, is a revivalist organization, that attempts to propagate the Irish language and culture. In the 1920s, the Gaelic League attempted to deanglicize the country by gaelicizing the schools. It wanted to require that all teachers at teacher training colleges have a background and proficiency in Irish. However, the league realized that Gaelic would languish if it was not also used in the home environment.
Symbolism. The Union Jack flag and the British crown are associated with the Unionists both by their Protestant supporters and by their Catholic opponents. Members of the Orange Order have a picture of the crown on the huge drums that are used in the parades in which Orangemen celebrate the victory of William of Orange over James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Another image associated with the rivalry between Loyalists and Nationalists is the Ulster emblem of a right hand severed at the wrist from which no blood should flow.
Northern Ireland is recognizable by its lush green countryside and stout mountains leading down to a steep and craggy shoreline. The flag of the Free State of Ireland, which has equal vertical bands of green, white, and orange is a symbol of the Irish nation.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. Prior to 1920 the island of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Government of Ireland Act of 1920 founded the Irish Free State and allowed six Ulster counties to remain part of the United Kingdom, becoming Northern Ireland. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) opposed the establishment of the Irish Free State. In 1925, an agreement among the Irish Free State, Northern Ireland, and Great Britain partitioned Ireland and defined the borders. Catholic residents of Ulster did not want to see Ireland divided, but Protestant business leaders wished to remain linked to England. In 1936, the Irish Free State proclaimed its complete independence, and in 1949 it renamed itself the Republic of Ireland. Since 1974, the United Kingdom has ruled Northern Ireland directly.
National Identity. The Northern Irish see themselves as distinct from the English but connected to their compatriots in the Republic of Ireland. The Northern Irish see the British of Northern Ireland as interlopers and oppressors.
Ethnic Relations. Violent antagonism between Catholics and Protestants developed in the nineteenth century and resulted from history and religion. The influx of settlers from England and Scotland was not welcomed by the native Irish, since the newcomers were awarded the best parcels of land. At first, the minority Ulster Protestants could not dominate the Catholic majority, but after the victory of the Protestants supporting William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne, they prevailed.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
Particularly in Belfast, most decisions involving public planning are made to preserve public security in the midst of "the Troubles." Many of the busiest streets in that city have control zones where only pedestrians can travel. Automobiles are not allowed in those zones to reduce the risk of car bombings. Cars that are parked in commercial parking lots are given a quick inspection for potential bombs. The boundaries that separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods are enforced by the police.
Graffiti and wall murals appear throughout urban areas, depicting the sentiments of Unionists and Nationalists. In the case of the Nationalists, IRA propaganda and images of men with guns tell supporters to "fight back" and state that "we will meet force with force." Catholic children learn from graffiti the strong views and potential for violence held by the Nationalists.
In a sign welcoming travelers to the County of Londonderry, Nationalists have expressed their anti-British feelings by scratching out the word "London" and identifying the county as Derry, as it is known among Catholics. At Free Derry Corner, two large murals commemorate the events of
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society is an organization that educates the public and lobbies for historic buildings in nine counties in Northern Ireland.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. The diet is rather simple. Porridge or oatmeal often is eaten at breakfast. At midmorning, one stops for a cup of tea or coffee with cookies or biscuits. Most people eat the main meal at midday. This meal generally is meat-based, featuring beef, chicken, pork, or lamb. Fish and chips are eaten for a quick meal, and a rich soup with plenty of bread can be bought in taverns at lunchtime. Potatoes are a staple, but onions, cabbage, peas, and carrots are eaten just as frequently. Irish stew combines the chief elements of the cuisine with mutton, potatoes, and onions.
Bakeries carry a variety of breads, with brown bread and white soda bread served most often with meals. White sliced bread is called pan in Irish. Belfast's soda bread enjoys an excellent reputation; made of flour and buttermilk it is found throughout the country. In the evening, families eat a simple meal of leftovers or eggs and toast.
A drink generally means beer, either lager or stout. Guinness, brewed in Dublin, is the black beer most often drunk. Whiskey also is served in pubs, and coffee is also available.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Food customs of the Northern Irish are not really different from the practices of the Irish in the Republic of Ireland. Christmas supper includes meat such as chicken and ham followed by plum pudding. Being a strongly Catholic country, the Friday night prohibition of meat is observed by Catholics. Since fish is permitted, the Friday evening meal generally features trout or salmon.
Basic Economy. The economy of Northern Ireland is based on agriculture and manufacturing. The agriculture sector benefits from rich farming soil. Agriculture contributes to manufacturing through processing of livestock and dairy products. Northern Ireland's principle industries are textiles, shipbuilding, and engineering.
Unequal resources and unequal opportunities resulting from colonization have created conflict. The ethnic and religious strife is really a matter of an uneven distribution of economic resources and opportunities.
Land Tenure and Property. The current distribution of land between Catholics and Protestants can be traced back to the settlement patterns of the seventeenth century. The eastern counties of Antrum and Down were settled by the Scottish because of their proximity to Scotland. The settlers who later came from the north of England got land in Monaghan. In the 1600s, the incoming Protestants took the best land for farming, leaving the Catholics with less fertile and more mountainous parcels. As a result, a majority of Protestants established roots in Antrum and Down as well as Armagh and Londonderry.
Commercial Activities. The Industrial Revolution occurred in Belfast during the twentieth century and made the country the world's major linen center and the home of two flourishing shipyards. The success of shipbuilding spawned related industries in engineering and rope making.
Major Industries. Northern Ireland, Belfast in particular, has always been an industrial center. Early in the twentieth century, the major industries were shipbuilding and rope making. The success of Belfast's industries kept it inextricably bound to Great Britain, from which it imported its raw materials. The owners and managers of most industries were Protestants, reinforcing the paternalistic relationship to England.
Trade. As much as 80 percent of external trade is with England. Textiles, in particular linen, are the major export. Grain also is exported; during the Great Famine, grain and foodstuffs were exported to England, with little done to relieve the starving Irish people.
Division of Labor. Catholics generally are excluded from skilled and semiskilled jobs in shipyards and linen mills. They historically were restricted to menial jobs on the docks, earning lower wages than the Protestants who worked in skilled jobs and management positions. Ulster Unionists tend to own businesses. Many Catholic Republicans are unemployed.
Classes and Castes. The class structure renders Protestants superior in that they dominate the professional and business classes, tending to own the majority of businesses and large farms. Catholics tend to be unskilled workers or work small farms. Catholics tend to be poorer than Protestants as a result of economic inequality that often is attributed to ethnic and religious roots. The general enmity between the two groups is exacerbated by long standing prejudices. Protestants generally believe that Catholics are lazy and irresponsible. Social separation contributes to these perceptions. Protestant and Catholic families live in separate enclaves and worship separately, and their children study in segregated schools.
Irish Catholics may tend to drink, whereas Protestants are viewed as more British and puritanical. On Sundays, Catholics often engage in leisure or recreation activities after mass, while Protestants scorn Sunday leisure activities, often choosing not to garden in deference to the sabbath.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Protestants tend to comport themselves as British, members of the United Kingdom. In regard to owning land and businesses, Protestants constitute the economic, social, and political elite. Their accent and manners are in keeping with those of Great Britain. Catholics, who tend to be poorer and have larger families, speak Gaelic, although not fluently. Most Protestants belong to the Orange Order, which is dedicated to maintaining the Protestant religion and Protestant social superiority.
Government. Northern Ireland is symbolically headed by the British monarch but it is governed by an elected parliament. The Ireland Act of 1920 established a parliament that was suspended in 1972 because of the ethnic violence. The makeup of the parliament is intended to include fifty-two delegates in the Northern Ireland House of Commons who serve five-year terms. The House selects twenty-four Senate members who serve eight-year terms. House members choose the prime minister from the political party that holds the most seats.
The judicial system is similar to that of England, in which the courts base decisions on parliamentary legislation and common law. A magistrate hears minor cases, and more serious cases are heard by the Crown Court, which is made up of a judge and jury. Any appeals go before a nine-judge court in the British House of Lords.
There is no written constitution. The three viable political options are the continuance as part of the United Kingdom, association with the Republic of Ireland, and independence. The country has the
Leadership and Political Officials. Each of the twenty-six districts has an elected council. Belfast and Londonderry have their own councils, which focuses on education, public works, local planning and public health. Protestants tend to hold most elected positions, and this has led to an uneven distribution of resources.
In the 1830s, the Catholic Emancipation Act allowed Catholics to seek election to the British legislature. However, Protestant leaders in Northern Ireland gerrymandered the voting districts so that the Catholics were always a minority in every district.
Social Problems and Control. Most violence results from the civil unrest between Catholics and Protestants. Bombings and individual attacks generally are motivated by the politically charged atmosphere and segregation. Nonpolitical crimes are generally based on socioeconomic inequity. Burglary and theft accounted for nearly three-quarters of all recorded crime in Northern Ireland in 1995. Between 1990 and 1995, the number of arrests for drug-related offenses more than tripled.
Military Activity. The presence of British police and military personnel is pervasive. There are police checkpoints, and citizens must carry documents routinely. The Ulster Volunteer Force is a Unionist military organization that is highly secretive and has been labeled a terrorist group since it is openly anti-Catholic. The Ulster Defense Association was a legal organization until 1991. The Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army are responsible for keeping the peace; the Royal Ulster Constabulary employs a special branch of army intelligence to anticipate and prevent all terrorist attacks.
The Irish National Liberation Army is composed of older, more experienced members. The Provisional Irish Republican Army is a descendant of the original IRA. In this secretive group, which is a military wing of the IRA, each member knows only the names of his immediate colleagues. The IRA has detonated bombs under cars, striking at the moment a police patrol passes. The IRA has killed twenty to thirty soldiers and police officers per year since the 1980s.
Young Nationalists are recruited for paramilitary service. First they join Fionna Eireann as a scout or recruit. To prove themselves, young initiates must participate in the beating or kneecapping of a Protestant.
The military carries out regular security patrols in Unionist and Loyalist areas on foot or in police or army vehicles. The 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act was passed to prevent the IRA from extending its attacks to Great Britain; it authorizes detention for up to seven days for anyone seemingly engaged in terrorism in Northern Ireland, Great Britain, or the Republic of Ireland.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
Social insurance benefits exist for orphans, widows, pensioners, and persons on disability or maternity leave. The state, the employer, and the employee all contribute to the fund that provides these benefits. Health services and medicines are free to all persons with long-term illnesses. Beyond that, there are two kinds of entitlements: free health services for those who have a low income and a lower level of services for people with higher incomes.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
Most nongovernmental organizations operating in the country, including the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Assembly, are concerned with human rights and human rights violations resulting from violent attacks by the IRA and the British Army. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which was established by the Northern Ireland Act of 1988, has the duty and power to ensure the human rights of all residents and to counter human rights violations.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. The position of women in the economic structure shifted during the period of direct rule, with more women entering the workforce between 1952 and 1995 as the number of jobs expanded. Typically, women work in low-paid, part-time jobs in the service sector, and even though their participation in the workforce has increased, it has remained below that of men.
The most dramatic increase in women's employment was that of married women after a constitutional revision. In 1937, the constitution reflected religious bias by stating that a working woman who married had to resign from her job. It was not until 1977 that an Employment Equality Act made that practice illegal.
The Relative Status of Men and Women. Women have become increasingly involved in the peace movement. The Northern Ireland Peace Movement, which began in 1976, allied Protestant and Catholic women who marched together through both Loyalist and Republican parts of Belfast. Two of the founders, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for their efforts to unite Catholics and Protestants to halt the violence.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. Premarital chastity is valued by both religions, especially in rural areas. Young people are expected to abstain from sex until after they are married in a religious ceremony in a church. Marriages often are brokered by a matchmaker since the economic aspects of marriage require experienced calculation. In the 1920s, postfamine marriages were infrequent, with many young people abstaining from marriage; there were more single than married people in the age range of twenty-five to thirty. Farmers who had small plots of land wanted to keep it and they discouraged early marriages of their children to avoid the need to subdivide the land.
In the 1970s, marriage rates increased, but Ireland was joining the West in embracing the nuclear family model. While more marriages occurred, married couples were having smaller families. By 1977, the birthrate had declined by one-third. This trend toward nuclear families applied to both Catholics and Protestants, although Catholics still had larger families. Even after marriage, contraception, which is forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church, is not legally obtainable in much of the country.
Since the 1600s, when the Scots and English arrived, very little intermarriage between those ethnic groups and the original Irish inhabitants has occurred. However, it is said that as many as one-fifth of marriages in Belfast today are between a Catholic and a Protestant; this figure may be exaggerated.
Domestic Unit. Families tend to live together in nuclear units in government housing projects that reinforce the separation of Catholics and Protestants. Catholics get smaller, older houses, while Protestant government officials award new or upgraded dwellings to other Protestants. Catholics tend to have larger families, making their homes more crowded. The government once talked about altering family assistance to favor smaller families but decided that move would lead to charges of religious discrimination from Catholics.
Inheritance. Inheritance customs changed after the 1920s. After the famine, farmers felt betrayed by the land, and the generations of birthright to a family's land stopped. Farmers who had small plots wanted to hold on to what they had and were reluctant to subdivide their parcels to hand down to their sons.
Generally the father would give his land to one son, not necessarily the oldest. Only then could that son take a bride. Often this did not take place until the father reached the age of seventy, at which time an old age pension allowed him to bequeath his land. In the meantime, the grown children who were not going to inherit land had no place in the home and usually emigrated or looked for work as craftsmen in a neighboring town.
Parents enjoy a patriarchal status and the father claims the best chair near the fire. Historically, when parents retired and passed their land to a son, they stopped sleeping in the kitchen and moved to a smaller room in the back of the house, where they would display heirlooms and religious pictures that previously were kept in the main hearth area.
Kin Groups. Kinship is reinforced by religion, class, and socioeconomic status. Catholics feel a kinship among themselves as the minority as well as links to their coreligionists in the Republic of Ireland. Protestants associate with their British heritage and identify with their compatriots in Great Britain in terms of religion, socioeconomic status, and class. Nuclear families are the main kin group, with relatives involved as kin in the extended family. Children generally adopt the father's surname. The first name is generally a Christian name, usually the name of a saint.
Infant Care. Infant mortality as measured in the 1926 Dublin census was high. In the 1990s the infant mortality rate fell to a level lower than that in Europe as a whole.
Child Rearing and Education. The mother raises younger children. However, when a boy makes his first communion, generally at age seven, his father rears him alongside his older brothers. Education is compulsory from ages six to fifteen. Schools are
Higher Education. Queen's University in Belfast, which was founded in 1845 and originally was called Queen's College, is the most prestigious university. About eight thousand students study there, mostly in the sciences. The Union Theological College was founded in 1853. In 1968, the New University of Ulster opened in Colraine; two thousand students are enrolled. Vocational schools include the Belfast College of Technology, Ulster Polytechnic in Newtownabbey, and the Agricultural College. Assembly College, founded in 1853, is a Presbyterian training school.
Rules of etiquette are situational and are affected by status and class. While political conversations in pubs may be intense, political discussions occur only among friends and people with similar views. People are reluctant to discuss their political, religious, social, and economic views with outsiders.
Religious Beliefs. For Catholics, Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas are the most holy days and are observed by attending church services and spending time with the family. While Catholic-Protestant conflict has worsened in the last century, the religious and political history between the two groups goes back centuries. In 1534, King Henry VIII of England established himself the leader of a new church of Protestantism that he tried to impose in Ireland. He offered to increase the landholdings of Irish nobles who would recognize the new church. However, few of the Irish, and none in Ulster, accepted the offer. In 1541, Henry declared himself king of Ireland and outlawed monasteries. In 1547, Edward VI, his son and successor, declared Protestantism the official religion of Ireland and dispatched troops to enforce the new law. Those troops arrested Irish nobles and seized the property of those who refused to convert. Edward gave the confiscated land to the English Protestants who were settling there. Elizabeth I continued that policy and enforced Protestantism. In 1560, she was named head of the Irish Church and insisted that English, not Gaelic, be used in religious services.
Religious Practitioners. The Catholic clergy provide a link between God and the Catholic congregants. This represents a significant difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Catholic clergy participate in the civil rights movement in an attempt to equalize the volatile conflict. However, Protestants complain that the Catholic clergy exacerbate the situation by interfering with politics when they support Nationalist candidates and participate in demonstrations against the British Army.
Rituals and Holy Places. The headquarters of the Catholic and Protestant churches are located in Armagh. Each religion has a cathedral named for Saint Patrick, a fifth century missionary who brought Christianity to the Celts of the island.
Death and the Afterlife. Protestants believe that the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is found only in their religion, which means that the Protestants are heretics damned to eternal damnation. Catholics killed in "the Troubles" are venerated as martyrs.
Medicine and Health Care
A national health care program was started in the 1950s. The Department of Health and Social Services administers the health care system by using tax revenues. Many services are free, such as hospitalization and maternity coverage.
Saint Patrick's Day is the most widely celebrated secular holiday and is characterized by vigorous parades. New Year's Day is celebrated on 1 January. The controversial annual pride parade of the Orange Order is held on Orange Day on 12 July to celebrate and commemorate the victory of Prince William of Orange over King James II. This Protestant organization had about ninety thousand members in the 1990s. The public parade and celebration evoke tension in Belfast, often provoking Nationalists to violence.
The Arts and Humanities
Support for the Arts. Since the partition of Ireland is artificial, there is no real distinction between the two cultures.
Established in 1962, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the prime distributor of public support for the arts. Its mission is to develop and improve the knowledge, appreciation, and practice of the arts; to increase public access to and participation in the arts; and to encourage and assist artists.
Literature. Most Irish literature has been written by authors in and around Dublin. However, Northern Ireland produced the Nobel Prize-winning poet, Seamus Heaney, who has published many collections of poems. His career parallels the violent political struggles of his homeland, but he is fascinated primarily by the earth and the history embedded there. His verse incorporates Gaelic expressions as he explores the themes of nature, love, and mythology. His poems use images of death and dying, and he has written elegiac poems to friends and family members lost to "the Troubles." Northern Ireland is also the birthplace of C. Day Lewis, who wrote novels and verse and taught and translated classical literature. Lewis was named poet laureate of the United Kingdom in 1970.
Graphic Arts. Celtic designs can be seen in artistic and everyday images. The Celtic influence appears in the lettering on shop signs, letterheads, jewelry, and tombstones.
Performance Arts. Irish music incorporates fiddles, bagpipes, drums, flutes, and harps. Folk music is performed in pubs and parades. The Ulster National Orchestra in Belfast and the Philharmonic Society are the leading classical musical groups. Traditional Irish music has grown very popular outside the country in the last decade.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
Queen's University has a strong reputation in the sciences. Many of the eight thousand members of the student body receive undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in agriculture, food science, and horticulture. The university has research programs in livestock production and crop and grass production as well as food quality and processing to improve the competitiveness of the beef, sheep, and pig livestock sectors.
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—S. B. D OWNEY
S EE A LSO : U NITED K INGDOM