NI has a troubled and convoluted past, its hard to explain the culture to an outsider, quite simply the country is split into two, Nationalists and Loyalist/Unionists, outside larger towns and cities it is rarer that they will come into contact, they are separated into their own towns, but within cities, especially belfast they live within a much smaller, concentrated area. Old warring tribes are separated by by so called ‘peace walls’, where most modern country have gangs NI has paramilitaries. Although we supposedly live in a post conflict society, the conflict is pretty much non existent, contentious issues still manage to bubble to the surface regarding culture and identity.
An interesting example of this is the issue I had when deciding how to describe this exhibition. The term Northern Ireland is in itself contentious, especially in nationalist/ republican circles. Many people dispute the existence of an independent country and deny the boarder exists preferring to refer to it as the North of Ireland. The North of Ireland is then seen by many loyalist/unionists to be against the sovereignty of UK. It took me a while to canvass opinion asking friends and family (I’m from a mixed catholic and protestant family).
The consensus was that Northern Ireland is perfectly fine to use in reference to where we live, but the term ‘Northern Irish’ in describing nationality is not. So ‘Northern Irish culture’ became ‘the culture of Northern Ireland’. This may seem strange to outsiders, and believe me I agree, its pretty silly to me too. It was integral to have the word Northern Ireland, simply because Im describing the unique culture that happens here but those livinng there certainly do not all identify as ‘Northern Irish’, perhaps just Irish, or British but it is certainly far from accepted unanimously.