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I just heard on the radio

In French: France Inter

I would like to know if there are some websites on M. Thatcher policy in Nothern Ireland and most of all, the Channel 4 reports on Ulster and the help of secret services to the Loyalist. This is a hot issue and I can't find any good website...

Any idea?

Jean Philippe

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Slightly off the track perhaps, but here goes…

I’ve been a frequent visitor to Northern Ireland since 1965 – my wife is from Belfast and grew up in one of the working-class communities most affected by the sectarian divide. I observed at first-hand the growth of the violent political movements in the late 1960s that set the two working-class communities against one another – the middle and upper classes have hardly been affected as they have always lived in “nice” areas where people don’t throw stones at one another. I was on the streets of Belfast in August 1969 as the bullets ricocheted off the cobblestones dangerously close to me, and I experienced sheer terror for the first time in my life.

I avoided visiting Belfast in the early 1970s when the “troubles” reached a peak – my English accent could have been construed as “suspicious” by either of the two communities – but I began to go back from 1976 onwards. Belfast was tightly controlled in those days. The city centre could only be accessed via metal gates and one was constantly subjected to searches by the police and the army. Terrible crimes were committed by organisations that had more in common with the Mafia than with organisations that supposedly had a “political” agenda. Of course, the British government does not have a clean record, but neither does the Irish government.

Things have improved immeasurably. Since around the mid-1980s Belfast has become a vibrant city. The metal gates around the city centre were removed many years ago. The city centre is clean, largely pedestrianised, full of great pubs and restaurants, and it has an excellent shopping centre. The music and club scene for young people is probably better than that offered by any city on mainland Britain.

My wife and I celebrated the dawning of the new millennium in Belfast, and Belfast was my first choice for the celebration of a special birthday for my wife in April last year. We began the celebration with a liquid lunch for the whole family in the Crown Bar, one of my favourite pubs worldwide:


We went back to Belfast in September last year to attend the “Proms in the Park” concert – a great selection of music played by the Ulster Orchestra in the open air outside Belfast City Hall, including guest appearances by Julian Lloyd Webber, playing Elgar's Cello Concerto, and Paddy Maloney of The Chieftains, who played a moving rendering on the uillean pipes of the haunting ballad "My Lagan Love".

I suppose that I’m saying it’s time to look forward. The future of Northern Ireland looks bright. The old politicians are beginning to look anachronistic and have failed to inspire young people to exercise their right to vote. I see more and more evidence of young people, regardless of their religious differences, coming closer together and sticking two fingers up at the politicians.

For an offbeat look at the working-class divide, see the Web pages of the BBC’s TV series “Give My Head Peace” and watch the video clips. You may have a bit of trouble understanding the dialect: “Dis yous think I came up the Lagan in a bubble?” See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/gmhp/

If you get a chance, see the film "Divorcing Jack" (1998), which is based on Colin Bateman's novel of the same name. It's rude, funny and - like "Give My Head Peace" - takes a sideways look at the sectarian divide.

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Slightly off the track perhaps, but here goes…

Not at all Graham. Being French, every single testimony on Ulster is just great.

What I now about Belfast today is related to the visit my wife did three years ago. She described the same thing for the city centre but not for the area around.

Moreover, I worked also on spatial segregation today on Stephen Roulston website Geographyinaction

Have a look at 'Ethnic diversity' and 'Urban Structure'. It is quite interesting.

Cain also is such a great website.

I read something about Peter Taylor's interview after his documentary on Ulster and his book 'The Provos'. He was (in 1999) very pessimistic about what could happen in Ulster...the culture of war seems not to be over for many IRA's members. It may be the same for the Loyalists...

Have a look (in french or in german) to his interview.

One question:

What are the examples of mutual relationships in Belfast today?

Thank you also for the film. I ordered it just after your post ;)

Jean Philippe

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I am inclined to agree with Peter Taylor that it will take at least another generation (25-30 years) for the militants on both sides of the divide to give up their weapons and abandon their militant tactics. This has been part of working-class Northern Irish culture for so long that it won’t disappear overnight. There are (and have been) an awful lot of weapons around for many years. When I was caught up in the street battles in Belfast in August 1969 I was astonished at the number of guns that suddenly appeared on both sides of the divide – obviously having been concealed in private houses for such an occasion. It was also evident during the daytime that whenever a minor incident arose lots of young (unemployed) men suddenly appeared on the streets and the minor incident would turn into a street battle, which the police of the army had to break up.

One of the deep-seated roots of Northern Ireland’ problems has been unemployment – lots of young, energetic people with nothing to do except fight. As a visitor in the 1960s, I was surprised to find that the social class system, with its inherent divisions, was much more marked in Northern Ireland than in England. It seemed to me that the middle and upper classes (and the politicians) just didn’t really care enough about what was going on in the working-class areas. As my wife used to say, “The politicians in Stormont make the balls of xxxx and the people on the Shankill Road and Falls Road fire them.” Things have changed, albeit slowly. The province is wealthier and this has undoubtedly made a difference.

As for the paramilitary organisations, it has proved difficult for journalists to penetrate them, but the leaders (now elected to parliament) were well known to the police and to the army from the earliest days of the troubles. It is common knowledge that the British Army was involved in undercover operations as early as the 1970s – not just during the Thatcher era – and that they worked in liaison with the pro-British paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, although there were occasions when the British Army ended up shooting at Loyalists too. It was always an uneasy relationship. Now the Loyalists are fighting one another, with the UDA/UFF on one side and the UVF on the other side.

Regarding mutual relationships, now that there is more money around young people tend to go out more, visiting the pubs and clubs that have sprung up in Belfast city Centre, and on Botanic Avenue and the Lisburn Road. Each time that I go back to Belfast there seems to be a new, lavishly decorated pub or club, built at huge expense and full of young people almost every night of the week. Such places are, as far as I can ascertain, mostly non-sectarian – one can tell from the mixture of names that one hears: e.g. Robert, William, Susan (Protestant) alongside Patrick, Sean, Niamh (Catholic).

There has also been a growth in “integrated schools” in Northern Ireland, where Protestant and Catholic children are educated side by side. I believe the first was opened in 1981. There has been resistance to integrated schools from church leaders and extremist politicians, but many of the new schools have had to turn new entrants away because they have proved so popular with parents. These schools are still in the minority, but they probably point the way ahead. Education may be the answer to Northern Ireland’s problems. See:


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Thank you so much Graham for these precisions.

I found somewhere some statistics about differences between Catholics and Protestants: unemployement, birth rate, vote rate etc etc

I don't remember where...(if somebody knows....could be great ;) )

I was thinking, seeing at these statistics, that the gap between the communities are in a way too important to fulfill... But, reading your post make me sligthly change my mind. I have to find some ressources for my students to avoid this vision of a total division between the communities. Perhpas a forum with students from Ulster?

Jean Philippe

Edited by JP Raud Dugal
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For statistics relating to Northern Ireland, see the NISRA website:


There is no question that Catholics were prevented from working in certain industries, e.g. ship building, in the bad old days, and the old electoral system (based on property ownership) operated in favour of Protestants - which led to the (legitimate) protests in the 1960s, finally escalating into the violence of 1969.

There are still differences in evidence, but rather than dwelling on the gap between the communities it makes more sense to look at the enormous progress that has been made in reconciling their differences in recent years.

Furthermore, relations between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland have also improved considerably. The border between the 26 counties and the 6 counties is no longer as obvious as it used to be and many of the unsightly army checkpoints and watchtowers have been removed. In fact, I have driven across the border many times without being aware of it.

Ulster, by the way, is not synonymous with Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland consists of 6 counties of the province of Ulster: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry (Derry), Tyrone.

The remaining 3 counties of the province of Ulster are in the Republic of Ireland: Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan.

Interesting Fact No. 1: St Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, is closely associated with Roman Catholicism, but he is also the Patron Saint of the Church of Ireland, which is Protestant. St Patrick's grave - which he shares with St Colomb and St Bridget - is located in the cemetery of the Protestant Church of Ireland Cathedral, Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. I've been there - beautiful place!

Interesting Fact No. 2: There are separate national football teams for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland but only one rugby team representing the whole of the island. With the Ireland rugby team representing both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, a new anthem, "Ireland's Call", was written to help cross sectarian and national divides and adopted as the rugby anthem in 1995. However, at home matches in Dublin the Irish national anthem, "The Soldier's Song" ("Amhrán na bhFiann"), is also sung.

As you have probably gathered, I love Ireland - North and South. I have visited the country at least 40 times.

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There has also been a growth in “integrated schools” in Northern Ireland, where Protestant and Catholic children are educated side by side. I believe the first was opened in 1981. There has been resistance to integrated schools from church leaders and extremist politicians, but many of the new schools have had to turn new entrants away because they have proved so popular with parents. These schools are still in the minority, but they probably point the way ahead. Education may be the answer to Northern Ireland’s problems.

About 'Integrated Schools' I had a look to the website you gave. In 'Histroy' I read that:

"There is segregation in housing, sport, the media and education.

The reality of segregated education is that, in the main, Catholic and Protestant children do not meet each other. Catholic children attend Catholic schools and Protestant children attend state schools which are mainly Protestant.

In Northern Ireland over 90% of all schools are either Catholic or Protestant in ethos and practice.

We believe that, irrespective of shifts in power base or political compromise, unless the children in Northern Ireland meet and learn about each other's traditions at school, the odds are against a peaceful and secure future in their own country."

Do you have any example, forum etc where people are speaking together about the segregation and attempt to overthrow it?

BTW, I understood that you were found of Ireland :lol:

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There is segregation in housing, sport, the media and education.

That's true from my experience.

Segregation in housing tends to be more marked in working-class areas, however.

As for sport, I mentioned rugby, which cuts across the divide, but you find, for example, that Catholics tend to favour the Gaelic games such as Gaelic football and hurling. Belfast, like Glasgow, has two soccer teams, Linfield Rangers (Protestant) and Celtic (Catholic), and these are divided along religious lines. (Don't forget that Belfast and Glasgow are very similar in many respects regarding the segregation of Protestants and Catholics.)

The press is certainly divided - you get a different view of things according to which paper you read.

Education, as I said, is one of the roots of the problem, owing to the fact that schools are largely sectarian. So the children get a different view of religion, history and politics according to which schools they attend. There are only two universities in Northern Ireland: Queen's Belfast and Ulster - which are both mixed. There is a good deal of collaboration between universities in the UK and in Ireland as a whole (North and South). I have worked, for example, as an adviser to the University of Limerick on several occasions. Our higher educational systems are very similar. Last year's EUROCALL conference took place at the University of Limerick, and Limerick is now the headquarters of EUROCALL:


Do you have any example, forum etc where people are speaking together about the segregation and attempt to overthrow it?

I don't know of such a forum, but I'll see if I can find one. The Peace and Reconciliation Group's website may be helpful:


Unfortunately, dwelling on the past and opening old wounds have been features of Northern Irish life for a very long time. You only have to look at the slogans painted on the walls in working-class areas: "Remember 1690" (Protestant) and "Remember 1916" (Catholic). People have long memories!

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As I indicated in an earlier email, one should look ahead and think positively. See:


"For eleven days Northern Ireland becomes the music capital of the world.

Northern Ireland is to be the stage for a great line-up of top-flight musicians and performers, playing live to an audience of millions throughout the UK and beyond when it hosts the BBC's acclaimed live music festival - Music Live."

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