Islands always have troubled stories that are difficult to understand for who live on the other side of the sea.
My first unconscious encounter with Ireland took place during the 1990 World Cup: Cagliari was chosen to host the infernal group (in the stands but not less on the pitch) with Ireland, England, Holland and Egypt.
I faded memories, reinforced by the many videos seen later, of the fans with Irish tricolors kept at a distance (but not always successfully) from those with union jack.
At school it has always been difficult for me to understand the links between Ireland, Northern Ireland, Eire, Ulster, the United Kingdom, independentists, unionists, loyalists, Catholics and Protestants.
This is why Ireland has always been in my travel list.
And Ireland for me has always been the island, in its entirety. But I’ve always looked at Belfast with more attraction than Dublin.
But just going there I understood his story, made of tears and a lot of bloody, that flooded some streets, and not just the Sunday.
Meanwhile, let’s see the meaning of the various words:
Ireland: geographically it is what nature shows us: an island without borders, very green to the point of being called the Emerald Isle..
Politically, instead, it is a much more complex subject since the island would be divided into Eire (or Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland: separated from the Free State of Ireland in 1921, its population was composed mostly of Protestants descendants of the settlers from the United Kingdom, and therefore loyalists to the kingdom of origin.
Formally, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is composed of four nations: England, Scotland, Wales and precisely Northern Ireland.
But the words “Nation”, “State” and “Country” imply a self-determination that Northern Ireland never had.
The term “province” would not be good because the real province would be Ulster, which however also includes territories under the sovereignty of the Republic of Ireland.
“Region” could be the name that, even if incorrect, could better identify Northern Ireland.
Irish Free State: in the British elections of December 1918, the Irish independence party Sinn Féin won 73 of the 106 seats due to Ireland in the House of Commons in London. The elected members refused to recognize themselves into the United Kingdom and proclaimed the independence of the Irish Republic.
So, on 21 January, start the Irish Independence War.
IRA, the Irish Republic Army made up of Catholic volunteers, mainly used guerrilla to attack judges, British soldiers, police (Royal Irish Constabulary), paramilitaries (Black and Tans, created by Winston Churchill) and burning barracks
The British Crown forces carried out a brutal campaign against the whole Irish population, considering it totally tied to the IRA and ending up actually enlarging the ranks of the enemy.
There were endless murders and injuries to unarmed people, arbitrary arrests, house-to-house raids, raids on private homes, looting in stores with subsequent fires, against Republicans and Catholics.
On 11 July 1921 a truce was reached which decreed the end of the war, which cost about 1,500 victims.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty recognized an Irish state with the name of Irish Free State (in Gaelic Saorstát Éireann).
The six counties of Northern Ireland were able to choose their destiny.
Being the majority Protestant and loyal to the United Kingdom, they did not join the Irish Free State.
Eire: The 1932 elections were won by the Republican and anti-British party Fianna Fáil and on December 29, 1937, a new constitution was promulgated, with which the Irish Free State became Éire.
Only on 18 April 1949, with the Republic of Ireland Act, Eire became a real republic, definitively removing from the sovereign of the United Kingdom every right and prerogative previously in its possession.
The Eire left the Commonwealth, joined the United Nations in 1955 and later, in 1973, to the EEC (now the European Union).
Ulster: is often mistakenly considered a synonym of “Northern Ireland”. Instead it is only the province that includes 6 counties under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and 3 counties under the Republic of Ireland.
United Kingdom: formally, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is composed of four nations: England, Scotland, Wales and precisely Northern Ireland.
In reality it also includes other territories around the world: Gibraltar, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory and the islands of Anguilla, Bermuda, Cayman, Turks, Caicos, Virgins, Montserrat, Falkland, St. Helena, Ascension, Tristan from Cunha, South Georgia, South Sandwich and Pitcairn.
We must also consider the Commonwealth realms, territories where the Head of State is the sovereign of the United Kingdom: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Jamaica, Grenada, Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu.
independentists, nationalists and republicans: these terms indicate the Irish who see the whole of Ireland as an independent republican nation.
unionist: Unlike what one might think, unionists do not want the union between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, but defend the union of Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom and the Protestant community.
loyalists: synonymous with unionists, it indicates precisely those loyal to the United Kingdom.
The term was used from the mid-1700s to refer to Protestants who opposed Catholics and to greater independence of Ireland from the United Kingdom.
Catholics:the Catholic Church is the Christian Church that recognizes authority to the Pope, the bishop of Rome, successor of the apostle Peter.
In the history of Ireland, there is a tendency to generalize Catholics such as the Irish independentists, nationalists and republicans.
But not all Catholics are such, and it is not only those who are Catholics.
Protestants: followers of the protest of friar Martin Luther in the early 1500s, do not recognize any authority to the Pope.
After the Anglo-Irish Treaty, in Northern Ireland the Protestant majority loyal to the United Kingdom had preferential and almost exclusive lanes for work, the allocation of social housing and domination of the elections thanks to electoral systems organized for this purpose.
WHAT TO SEE
I arrived at Belfast International Airport and after checking documents at customs, I was stopped by the police. Simple questions but repeated several times as a interrogation style. Brexit here puts more fear than anywhere else and I will understand it soon.
An excellent desk before leaving the airport provides maps and information on everything the Irish island offers.
Certainly there are a lot of walking or taxi tours to see the murals created by the opposing warring factions, both in memory of their respective dead and of the reasons that have bloodied the cities.
I came here just to live and understand this.
When you reach the central station, you can almost immediately see a large mural indicating the arrival inSandy Row. The murals in this street are all unionists and loyalists. Even more bitter will be those in the area of Shankill Road. Besides the group of “Shankill Butchers” became famous during the war and here, in July, it still celebrates the invoking of Catholic death.
The republican independent murals instead fill the walls around Falls Road. Alongside the images of those who gave their lives, there are the separatist links (dedications to Basque country e Catalonia) and left (Palestine, Cuba, Africa).
Belfast seems really divided into two opposite parts and constantly at war.
The dead in the city were over 1,500 and the hatred does not close in a coffin, but from there it comes out with greater arrogance.
To confirm this, the two communities are still separated by a high wall. Nothing to do with the remains of the Berlin Wall, this is still “working” and perhaps indispensable.
So much so that from 8.00pm to 6.00am the gates are closed preventing access to anyone. Only the almost constant rain makes you see the colors of a peace far from being reached.
Beyond that, Belfast was the world center specializing in shipbuilding. From the Harland and Wolff Shipyard also came out Titanic.
Visiting the museum is therefore not to be missed even if perhaps I came out a little disappointed.
I would have expected to find a faithful reconstruction of the environments but everything is centered on its construction (beautiful the path in the train that makes us understand the working conditions) and on its only journey, ended at the bottom of the sea.
Think to the city that you most hate and imagine to write that name before your city name.
This happens to the Catholic nationalist inhabitants of Derry. In 1613 the British called this city Londonderry and so they continue to call it the Protestant unionist loyalists. The name Derry/Londonderry appears on some road signs before the name London is deleted from the paint (or added when it’s missing). There is also a daily war for the name.
This city has become the symbol of UK violence on 30 January 1972. That Sunday, during a peaceful demonstration by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) against detention without trial, the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment, considered the elite of the British Army, fired on the unarmed crowd, striking 26 protesters
13 of them, including 6 minors, lost their lives on asphalt. 4 months later the fourteenth victim died, due to injuries sustained that day.
That Sunday has gone in history as The Bloody Sunday.
The Bogside is the neighborhood where you breathe the air of those years, both in the murals that tell the story, and in the people who live there and who are happy to make their war understood.
Derry is one of the oldest cities in Ireland. In 1613 the British colonists began to build the city inspired by the urban plan of London, calling it for this Londonderry.
The city walls were built in 5 years and still today it is possible to walk on it, thus making a tour of the city center and descending at the 4 access doors. After over 4,000 years they are still completely intact and never scratched.
Useful and incredibly beautiful!
In the area beyond the river, obviously, there is protestants and loyalist neighborhood. As in Belfast, the murals are dedicated to the British armed forces and the United Kingdom.
Giant’s Causeway is a network of over 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns, the result of intense volcanic and geological activity.
Science teaches us that over 60 million years ago an underwater volcanic explosion brought to the surface incandescent lava and a huge mass of basalt.
In contact with the sea and the wind, its temperature fell quickly and solidified, giving rise, with the pressure, to these columns up to 25 meters high.
But obviously a similar place could not but give life to legends in which the Giants are the masters, also giving the name to this magical site.
History, traditions and culture can only manifest themselves in sport.
For the Good Friday Agreement, signed in Belfast on April 10, 1998, a Northern Irish citizen can choose his or her nationality (irish o british) and which sporting selection represent.
Derry City is the only team from the north to play in the Irish league.
The Northern Irish league is obviously characterized by the basic diversity of the two communities, which often leads to heavy fighting on and off the field.
Linfield FC, the most titled team in the league, is the symbol of the protestants, unionists and loyalists of Belfast. It was founded in Sandy Row in 1866.
In the team, although not officially, only Protestant players are registered.
Glentoran is the historic city rival. The other Protestant team in Belfast could have had its young fan in its ranks George Best.
However, he was rejected by the club because it was considered too small.
The Best wore the green shirt only on the occasion of the centenary of the club, in a friendly match against Manchester United.
Belfast Celtic it was the team that from 1891 represented almost all the Catholic nationalists of Belfast. Inspired by Celtic Glasgow both in its name and in its social colors, it was excluded from all the championships in 1949 after violent clashes on and off the field against Linfield and Glentoran’s enemies.
Cliftonville is Belfast’s Catholic team and the oldest club in Northern Ireland.
Although they are not Irish, there are two other teams that occupy the hearts of their respective supporters, and the reason is easily imaginable.
Celtic Glasgow is the Catholic team of the Scottish capital. The green-and-whites play in the first Scottish division since 1888, the year of their foundation.
In 1967 he managed to win all the competitions in which he participated, including the European Cup, with a team made up entirely of Scots raised in the nursery and born within 30 miles of the Celtic Park stadium.
The other half of the Old Firm, Glasgow Rangers, they are obviously followed by Protestants. Absent for four years from the first Scottish division due to the bankruptcy of 2012 and the consequent restart from the fourth series, the blue bears are the most titled team in the world thanks to 119 trophies, including 54 championships, 33 cups of Scotland, 27 League cups and 1 Cup of Cups.
Eire and Northern Ireland have different national team but both use the green uniform.
In this case the separation has a particular history.
Between 1882 ed il 1924, the whole island of Ireland was represented by the national organized by the Irish Football Association (IFA).
On 1920, after disagreements within the IFA and the division in Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, some members moved to Dublin and founded the Football Association of the Irish Free State (FAIFS), organizing its own championship and a new national representative.
In 1923, FAIFS was recognized by FIFA as a national federation of the Irish Free State.
The international debut took place at 1924 Paris Olympics, where on 28 May the Free State of Ireland defeated Bulgaria 1-0, with striker Paddy Duncan’s historic first goal.
The home debut took place on June 14, 1924, with a 3-1 victory over the United States at Dublin’s Dalymount Park, with Ed Brookes hat-trick.
On February 25, 1934, the Irish Free State debuted in the World Cup, drawing 4-4 against Belgium.
On September 21, 1949 they beat Liverpool’s Goodison Park 2-0, decreeing the first internal defeat of the English national team.
From 1936, FAIFS adopted the name Football Association of Ireland, triggering a period of enormous chaos: there were in fact two Irish selections active and managed by two conflicting Associations.
IFA based in Belfast and FAI based in Dublin claimed their jurisdiction over all of Ireland, considering themselves entitled to select players from all over the island.
There were about 40 players selected to represent both teams, but most chose to defend the Republic of Ireland.
FIFA was forced to intervene when both teams found themselves participating in the qualifiers 1950 World Cup.
Players Tom Aherne, Con Martin, Reg Ryan and Davy Walsh played for both selections in the same tournament.
Born in the Irish Free State, they debuted for FAI before also representing the IFA national team.
The FAI asked FIFA to prevent the IFA from selecting players from their area of expertise.
FIFA resolved the situation by establishing that each federation could select players based on their political borders and neither team could have simply called itself Ireland, but the FAI team should have been called the Republic of Ireland while that of the IFA Northern Ireland.
National team represents the whole island of Ireland in the Six Nations and in all world competitions, adopting the clover as a coat of arms, often used in sporting events and also associated with the St. Patrick’s Day.
When National Team played in Belfast was ring the British “God Save the Queen”, while for the home matches played in Dublin was used the anthem of the Republic of Ireland “Amhrán na bhFiann”.
In away matchs no hymn was played.
From 1995 Ireland away is accompanied by the anthem “Ireland’s Call”, and, only in matchs played in Dublin, it’s anticipated from “Amhrán na bhFiann”.
This choice has obviously created opposite complaints: some players and supporters from the Republic of Ireland would like the anthem “Amhrán na bhFiann” even on the road, other players and fans from Northern Ireland would not like to hear the anthem “Amhrán na bhFiann” when playing in Dublin.
On August 24th 2007, when he returned to Belfast after 54 years for a friendly match against Italy, someone asked to have the song “God save the Queen” played next to “Ireland’s Call”.
The proposal was rejected by the federation because the game was considered to be away (played outside Ireland) and therefore only “Ireland’s Call” had to be played.
The national team represents the whole island of Ireland and the official anthem is “Ireland’s Call”.
Belfast Giants are one of the 10 participants of the Elite Ice Hockey League, the championship of the United Kingdom.
The national team represents the whole island of Ireland and the official anthem is “Ireland’s Call”.