Flags of Our Fathers

The following blog is more serious than my normal blogs, mainly because it tackles a subject that might be a tabu or of a political sensitive nature.  The views and comments are purely mine, and are based on my understanding and impressions.

On my recent adventures of the isle of Ireland, I took the family to Northern Ireland for a long weekend.  We had a great time in Northern Ireland and it has some fantastic scenery.  I would even go as far as stating that some areas are nicer than most parts of Ireland, in regards to its landscape that is.  However, Co. Clare wins the competition.

The aim of this blog is to discuss (with myself, which sounds pretty pathetic) the impression I got when visiting certain parts of Northern Ireland, and be confronted with a fanatic love for the British flag, the Union Jack.  Most countries flag and are proud of their flags and have flags up all year.  But these villages in Northern Ireland take it one step too far – in my humble opinion.

However, this is something that I would like to understand, so please educate me, hence this blog.  Feel free to add your comments below.

I will attempt to give you a brief history lesson of newer times, as I couldn’t be bothered boring you with too much hsitory, and if you do want to know more about Northern Ireland, then I would recommend Google.

Demographics:  Approx. 1.7 million people live in Northern Ireland and has an area of 13400 square km, smaller than New York City in area – NYC has more than 18 million people!

The history / background to this goes back to the early 1940s, but escalated in the late 1960s when the Troubles started.  The Troubles lasted for more than 30 years and consisted of acts of violence between nationalists (Catholic) and the unionists (Protestant).  More than 3200 people were killed during he Troubles.

The conflict itself was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the discrimination against the nationalist (Catholic) minority by the dominant unionist (Protestant) majority.  The violence was carried out by paramilitary groups, such as IRA (Irish Republican Army) and UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) – bombings, shootings, beatings, etc. were normal  and daily occurences.  Belfast itself was torn in two and a giant wall erejcted, dividing the Catholics and Protestants.

The British Army and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) upheld order, or at least tried to, and were regularly involved in voilent clashes too.

The British Government’s objective (according to them) was to remain neutral in the conflict, while trying to uphold law and order in Northern Ireland, as well as protect the right of the people of Northern Ireland to democratic self-determination.  The IRA didn’t agree with this statement and saw the State forces as an agressor in the conflict, claiming that the Brisitsh Army and UVF we working together.

As a fact, both sides of the conflict used violence to make their points, and neither of them hesitated using deadly force.  People were killed by either side, many innocent unfortunately.

Alongside the violence, the major political parties in Northern Ireland, including those who condemned violence, couldn’t agree in the future of Northern Ireland and what the Government should look like within Northern Ireland.

Now, more than 40 years after the Trouble started, and 11 years since the Good Friday agreement was signed and voted in, one would assume that Northern Ireland has started the healing process.  But, to my surprise, this is not the case.

Driving through Northern Ireland, as we did in August 2009, only reflects that not all parts have moved on from supporting either Union Jack or the Irish Tricolour.  We went though villages were sidewalks, lamp posts, buildings and even trees were decorated with Union Jack colours.  This worries me slightly, especially when you then see giant gates outside estates and villages, displaying affection to Orange Order, as well as showing weapons and skulls.  Is it safe to be a tourist in these areas and does the tourists feel safe?

It is not only the Union Jack, but the mix of unionist flags that dominate the areas, displaying a variety of violence (or at least supporting violence) such as Red Hand of Ulster, Orange Order, UVF, etc.  Displaying the Union Jack flag is in fact fine, and is normal in most countries.

I can understand that certain parts of the public still want to show their allegience to either flag, but this simply takes it one step too far.  And, the Irish supports are just as fanatic in the North, in regards to showing the Tricolours (green, white and orange).  But, it is the unionists that are most predominant and I’m afraid that this fanatism is not good for tourism.  Tourists are still wary of violence and such a powerful display of support to a flag can only describe the residents as nationalists, which would be a worry for any visitor.

Northern Ireland have for years been without sufficient funds, so most villages/towns are farily run down, but painting the villages/towns red, white and blue doesn’t make this go away.  On the contrary, it makes the problem even bigger, as it makes the villages/towns look even less inviting.  The Northern Irish citizens must consider the future of the country and understand that they need to promote their beautiful country in a different light.  We actually sped through some of these villages and avoided to stop to tank the car in those places too, and we have lived on the isle for more than 12 years.

Sights like Giant’s Causeway, rope bridge, beaghmore stone circles, Torr Head, etc. are amazing and should not be spoiled by tricolour villages, red/white/blue or green/white/orange.

Again, these are just my views and opinions, and how I felt when visiting Northern Ireland.

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