A slight variation from languages – BBC NI’s William Crawley asked for comments on “identity” towards his piece “Who are we now” for BBC Radio 4. Out of interest, here is my response:
I remember, on my first trip to the United States in mid-2001, I backed into a parking space in my hire car. When I returned to my car, I noted it was the only one backed in, rather than just driven in forward. “Spot the European”, I thought to myself – the first time I had ever self-identified as such!
In other words, identity changes depending on place and circumstance – to the extent, even, that identities we would outright deny having in some cases actually come to the fore in others.
For all that, I take the view that one identity (denied or otherwise) is clearly coming to the fore in contemporary Northern Ireland – “Northern Irish”. [This email was written pre-census results.]
It used to be said, at least until the 1998 Agreement, that there was a place called “Northern Ireland” but no “Northern Irish” – I seem to recall even reading that in a tourist guide. Not so now! A common experience of the “peace process”, widespread recognition of Northern Ireland (broadly positively) since, and, latterly, obviously “Northern Irish” role models (Rory most prominently, but he’s not unique) have combined to create the idea of a positive “Northern Irishness” that doesn’t, to younger people at least, lead to outsiders instinctively thinking of bombs and bullets but rather perhaps of singers and [golf!] swingers.