Shared Future Definition: the history

Tasked with explaining the Northern Ireland conflict/division in a paragraph to American visitors last week, I came up with this:

The British Isles consist of three main nations: the English who are religiously Anglican and ethnically Anglo-Saxon at home in the Kingdom of England; the Scots who are religiously Presbyterian and ethnically Anglo-Gaelic at home in the Kingdom of Scotland; and the Irish who are religiously Catholic and ethnically Gaelic at home in the Republic of Ireland. Essentially, Northern Ireland is where the three meet.

It’s a gross simplification of course, but it’s a good start. If you insist that Northern Ireland belongs to just one, or even just two, of these groups you are not dealing with reality. Once you recognise that Northern Ireland is fundamentally a place of convergence – in a way in which England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland are not – then you can begin to build a Northern Ireland which works.


8 thoughts on “Shared Future Definition: the history

  1. Yes, I’ve used similar trivariate language to explain Northern Ireland to American tourists (and even local inhabitants): The Church of Ireland were responsible for the local administration of government on the whole island (why you find CoI church in every village in the land), with an influx of Presbyterians in the North amongst an overall Gaelic and Catholic people.

    I comprehended this pretty readily during my Irish history lessons at Boston University. Then spent the next decades trying to figure out why the likes of de Valera and Paisley couldn’t accommodate this reality.

  2. John Smyth says:

    How wrong can you be – the north of England is more Norse than Anglo Saxon. Was under Danelaw and place names and common words have a Norse origin. Should read Melvyn Braggs history of English. Recounts case of Cumbrian soldier in WWII stationed in Iceland, who after 2 weeks could converse with locals as the dialects were so similar.

    Problem with shared future definition is that its not possible to come up with a simple & accurate definition. Why define, I know what I am don’t need someone else to come up with a definition that exists merely to give non N Ireland people an insight.

    • Calm down man!

      Actually, we are really not sure how Norse, Jutish, Anglic or Saxon the English are. Although those groups came to dominate politically, we really don’t know whether they were just an elite (like the Normans) or actually a large part of the blood line of the residential population.

      But mainly, you know, read the post (“gross simplification”)!

    • Re Shared Future, the more important point: you may know what you are but if you are treated as if you are something else then we run into difficulties.

      But the bigger point is, we cannot debate a “Shared Future” if we all define it differently! We have to be clear about the society we live in if we wish to change it in practical ways.

  3. Jeff says:

    But that makes the Ulster Protestants frontiers people who can only ever be frightened and suspicious of London abandoning them, as the metropolitians would want, even if the ordinary English don’t.

  4. factual says:

    The poor Welsh.

  5. James Campbell says:

    The quote isn’t merely over-simplification; it’s wrong. England was never Anglo-Saxon; Scotland was never Anglo-Gaelic; and NI was never Presbyterian-Catholic. Explaining reality in terms of unreality is infantile, serves nobody well, and is disrespectful to the American visitors – are they really historically illiterate?

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