August 19, 2015

Nick Laird on the Protestant-Irish identity

Nick Laird, poet from Northern Ireland, said:
"The complexities of being a Protestant, in that you’re Irish when you’re in Britain, but you’re not Irish when you’re in Ireland. You’re a bad fit everywhere."
He added:
"For a Northern Irish prod, this is how it goes: in England you’re Irish, but not really Irish. In Ireland you’re British, but not really British. In America, where I live at the minute, you’re Irish, but when you qualify that you’re from Northern Ireland, you get the little glimmer of (mis)understanding. Then they say, pleased with themselves: “So are you Protestant or Catholic?” Cathestant or Protholic?… I hate this question, as the interlocutor thinks the answer will explain everything about you, about whether you’re the oppressed or the oppressor."
And said:
"If you grew up Protestant in Ireland, of course, at least in the twentieth century, there was always a contingent that would never really consider you Irish. Meanwhile in Britain you’d never quite be considered British. You fell into a gap in the definitions.”
He also said:
"I’m still angry about Northern Ireland. I’m angry about what’s happened there and what’s still happening there. Angry about friends I know who were killed and angry about this long drawn-out process that should have brought a greater peace much sooner. The people of Northern Ireland have been let down on various sides, and of course we let ourselves down, too. In my poetry I’m trying to get that anger—and that sadness, and that hope—out in some way. I think all writing is an attempt to complicate and subvert the dominant narrative. Writing personalizes statistics. It puts a face and a name on a number. I suppose in that sense it’s always political."
Nick Laird said:
"I have a British passport and an Irish one, and travel on both, but to be labelled a beast of a single nation leaves me uneasy."
He made reference to his poetic predecessor:
"I have always looked to the poet John Hewitt’s manifesto in order to salvage a coherent identity."
He also said:
"If someone calls us British we rankle slightly. If someone calls us Irish we do the same. We are both and neither. It’s not quite as simple as making a choice and sticking to it regardless. Our nationality is always qualified. We live in County Tyrone, specifically in the townland of Orritor outside Cookstown. Tyrone is one of the six counties of Northern Ireland, which itself makes up two-thirds of Ulster, one of Ireland’s four provinces. I could go on, like a bored child writing his address on his schoolbook: Ireland, the British Isles, Europe, Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way. I have always looked to the poet John Hewitt’s manifesto in order to salvage a coherent identity."
And said:
"Where Northern Ireland is concerned, the diagram is Venn, and there are many, many circles overlapping."
He observed:
"Even the words I use betray my upbringing: Derry or Londonderry?"
And said:
"By dint of accident of birth, I’m stitched into a single-coloured coat I can’t take off."

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