Veering West

Sinking feeling as our disconnect from those in North is of Titanic proportions

February 6th, 2023 11:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

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WE have a very strange relationship with Northern Ireland down south of the border.

I’ve always noticed this in myself when I go up for a visit. The surreal sense of otherness once you are on the streets of Belfast or driving the roads across the border. The odd road signs. The funny money. The red post boxes.

A different texture altogether, but at the same time so familiar.

And I suppose, we have buried the place somehow in our subconscious, perhaps driven by a sense of guilt and shame about the choices made during partition.

This disconnect was borne out in polling conducted in The Irish Times last week showing just how dysfunctional our relationship actually is.

Only 29% of us have taken a day trip to the North on numerous occasions in the last five years.

By comparison, 65% of Nordies have taken multiple trips south during that time.

And this pattern played out over a number of related questions, pointing to a pretty dramatic ‘meh’ from the Southern perspective, contrasting with much more engagement in a southerly direction, particularly by those identifying as Catholic.

It really underlines our myopic view of Northern Ireland, which is much closer to some sort of historical fairytale that might play out in some nationalist happy-ever-after, rather than a real engagement with the lived experience of its residents and the inconvenient things they might believe.

There are plenty down South, across the generations, who still wax lyrical about their proud belief in the 32-county republic to come, but couldn’t even stretch themselves so much as to take a trip to see the Titanic museum.

Funnily enough, I was on a business trip to Belfast this week, something I’ve done on numerous occasions in recent years, albeit without ever settling into a feeling of really knowing the place.

The games and screen industries are really flying up there, and it’s become a very fertile ground for cross-border collaboration in recent years. In many ways, it could be a sign of closer links to come.

Unfortunately, I was met with more procedural barriers than metaphorical or cultural ones last week. My 7.30 am train stopped somewhere in North Dublin, only to sit on the tracks for a good 50 minutes before another train came along to send us packing back to Dublin again to catch the next train. Having packed in a day with meetings with Belfast companies we hoped to collaborate with, we were forced to cancel the day altogether.

So, if last week’s poll begged the question ‘Why don’t residents of the Republic visit the North more often?’, one obvious response is ‘Maybe they tried to take the train?’

But cancelled trains is a temporary problem that can be solved. Our emotional distance, and real disconnect from our neighbours – there’s a problem we could all start working on.

A dose of the old Glenroes

LAST weekend, it was on one of those middle-aged men Whatsapp groups of which I am a member, that the following horrifying statistic was dropped. 

‘We are now closer to 2050 than we are to 1990’, said the text from an old buddy, landing into my Sunday night silence like a bad fart in a spacesuit. 

That’s the last thing you need to be hearing in the hours before Monday, I thought. It’s already the part of the week where we are known to suffer ‘the Glenroes’, that particularly Irish feeling of dread known to a certain generation when the weekend is over and you still haven’t done your homework. The theme music still sends a chill down my spine to this day.

And so, to add to the blues of having to get up for work the next day, I had to contend with the genuinely horrific reality that we are closer to having to achieve net zero emissions than we are to Nirvana’s Nevermind, as close to retirement than I am to secondary school.

A slap-up at the Oscars

IT seems like only yesterday when we were talking about The Oscars as some outdated throwback, especially in the context of Will Smith’s infamous The Slap.

But this year – all is forgiven! Yes, nominations are flooding in for The Banshees of Inisherin despite a disgraceful snub for Jenny The Donkey. And there are well-deserved nods for An Cailín Ciúin, and West Cork’s Paul Mescal.

I know he’s from Kildare, but he has a house here and if the Brits can claim him, so can we. Anyway, he qualifies under the Larry Tompkins rule.

With all those gongs in the offing, it looks set to be the biggest Irish party on US soil since Ray Houghton looped a ball in over Pagliuca’s head in Giants Stadium.

I’ve sung the praises of the Irish screen industries here before, and I am sorely biased given I work in the sector, but the consistent investment in Irish talent by Irish funding agencies and by the government via tax credits has paved the way for a broad-based, high-performing industry that returns to the exchequer in the form of real jobs and local spend, not to mention the soft cultural impact with all the diplomatic and touristic knock-ons that flow from it.

Oh, and here’s hoping Jenny The Donkey at least gets an IFTA. 

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