Northern Irish - History and Cultural Relations

Northern Ireland was fashioned as a distinct political entity within the U.K. with its own devolved government at Stormont Castle in Belfast. In 1972, after four years of civil unrest, the Westminster government resumed direct control. The Northern Irish have strong cultural ties with Australia, Canada, and the United States because of heavy emigration to those countries. Seventeen United States presidents had Ulster forebears.

Northern Irish poets Louis MacNeice, John Hewitt, and Seamus Heaney have international reputations, as does the flutist James Galway. Many Northern Irish entertainers, broadcasters, novelists, playwrights, and filmmakers are public figures throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom. Seasonal customs in Northern Ireland reflect cultural traditions. The early Celtic Halloween is more important than the Scottish New Year, and mummers who perform folk dramas in a Scots-based dialect do so in distinctively Irish hero-combat plays.

Some sports are played within United Kingdom leagues and associations but most are within Irish leagues, including soccer and cricket. Gaelic sports include Gaelic football, hurling, handball, and camogie. The Gaelic Athletic Association lifted a ban on playing or watching non-Gaelic "foreign" games in 1971. Protestants play soccer, hockey, and cricket at school. International rugby, boxing, athletics, and darts are nondenominational.

Most cultural and social activities take place in neighborhoods and at the county level. Townlands remain important, as do local ceilidhe houses, where folktales and traditional songs are performed. Whether public houses cater only to coreligionists varies with time and place. Cinemas and dance halls are nonsegregated. In some places Catholics and Protestants patronize only shops and services controlled by coreligionists. They support each others' occasional fund-raising activities, fetes, and bazaars, although attendance at such events is almost entirely restricted to coreligionists. Everyday segregation is more acute in working-class urban areas than in small towns and country villages.

Households at the same economic level share a common culture regardless of religious affiliation. This is reflected in standards of living; family relationships; and ideas and attitudes about the role of the sexes, kin, duties of neighbors, good and bad conduct, respect, and officialdom. Nevertheless, the Northern Irish view their society as being fundamentally dichotomized.

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