I have lived most of my life in Northern Ireland. I was born here. My parents are from here. My husband and his family are from here, too. You could say I’m kinda invested in this place.
But this place is complicated. Geographically, it’s complicated. Politically, it’s really complicated. Culturally, it spends most of its time confused and upset.
Because of this, and for a whole host of more personal reasons, I have always felt conflicted about good ol’ Norn Iron. (As the locals call it.)
It’s quite possible I’ll always feel a range of emotions about here, but what I have come to terms with is that this country – this land – is part of me, and I am part of it.
I used to see being in Northern Ireland as being the worst of two worlds, almost literally. And there is a little basis for that viewpoint even now, but you don’t need to be a genius to see how pessimistic that is.
As I have gotten older and discovered how much I don’t know (about lots of things, not just regarding N.I.), I have learned that the choices we make and the opinions we hold have power. If I stayed stuck in my previous mindset I wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but I would be worse off for it.
These days, I’m actively choosing to watch out for positives because, yes, they do exist if you look for them. Not everything has to be doom and gloom. And being aware of positive things and appreciating them helps to encourage further positive things.
Prime example: the literary community, like all of the other communities, is divided in a lot of ways. There are opportunities open to the UK, and there are opportunities open to Ireland. This used to frustrate me, because my heart would pull one way, my head would push the other, and I never knew which way, if either, I was actually supposed to go. I was caught in the middle, foolishly thinking I had to pick a side, wholeheartedly dedicate myself to it, and cut myself off entirely from the other.
And here’s what I took way too long to figure out: I don’t have to be either/or, I can be both!
That’s liberating. That’s revolutionary. That… probably should have been way more obvious than it actually was, but that terrible mindset I was talking about had blinded me like it blinded – and still blinds – so many others.
All of that to say this (because, yes, I am coming to a point here and it will explain the photo I’ve picked to accompany this blog post): back in the day if you had asked me to take part in a project celebrating Northern Ireland, I may not have said anything, but internally I would have cringed. Now, though – with my new found acceptance of this place and my place in it – I am more than happy to take part in such a project. Ecstatic, even. And asked to take part I was!
When lockdown first started and ‘social distancing’ was still a relatively new term, Angeline King – the lady currently at the helm of Women Aloud NI – hatched a plan to give WANI members a project to distract ourselves with.
“Let’s write a book!” she said, and we only went and bloody did it!
North Star is an anthology of short stories and poems that celebrate the six counties of Northern Ireland, and has a specific section for the city of Belfast, too. I am in there and I am proud to be so.
Again, national pride can quickly become a thorny issue, but this isn’t about that. This is about representing the best of our communities and pulling together to make them even better.
From here on out, that’s certainly what I’m hoping to achieve. Who’s with me?