De omnibus dubitandum
24 Jun 2010
Since I moved to Northern Ireland I’ve tried to make this wee country my new home. I’ve gotten to know many new people, I’ve read up on local politics and culture, and have tried to understand the country’s national identity.
The latter, however, is something I’ve failed horribly at. Not only that, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with what seems to be an utterly schizophrenic sense of nationality that reigns not only within Northern Ireland, but the UK as a whole.
First some basic background on which is which, as many people outside of the UK get confused (actually, a lot of people inside the UK get confused too):
The UK refers to the “Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. Great Britain, in turn, is divided in to three countries: England, Wales, and Scotland. You can read a great illustrated explanation of the whole structure here: the difference between the UK and Great Britain.
Adding to this, different names are applied to different collections of the 4 countries that make up the UK. There’s a superb diagram on Wikipedia that tries to explain the whole complicated nomenclature in one glance: British Isles terminology.
Then, when it comes to sports, things start to get ugly. In football, all four countries of the UK have a separate national team: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In rugby, however, there is no Northern Irish team – instead they play as part of the Ireland national rugby team.
In the Olympics, there is a ‘Team GB’, which if the name was accurate would mean it includes only athletes from England, Scotland, and Wales. But, wait a minute, there are Northern Irish athletes in Team GB as well, so it should actually be called Team UK.
It gets worse when you look at national anthems. When Wales and Scotland compete in a sport, their own national anthems are played. When England competes, however, it’s not the English national anthem that gets played but the anthem for the whole of the UK (“God Save The Queen”). Apparently England has no anthem of its own, so it opts to use the UK’s anthem. But this doesn’t always sit well with the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish, as England doesn’t represent the whole of the UK so it shouldn’t necessarily be allowed to use the UK anthem.
The Northern Irish situation regarding national anthems isn’t straightforward either. In rugby for example, depending on where the match is being played you’re likely to hear at least two different national anthems for the Ireland team. And in football Northern Ireland often uses the UK’s national anthem, except in the Commonwealth Games, where Northern Ireland uses a different anthem (“Londonderry Air”).
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales each have different bones to pick with the English when it comes to the appropriation of the UK’s national identity – each country, to varying extents, wishing to be seen as separate but also as part of a greater whole. Referring to the UK as ‘England’, that consistent error foreigners make (myself included before I moved), doesn’t help.
The somewhat nauseating focus of British politics and media on England tends to make matters worse. It often seems as if the English have forgotten that the UK is more than just England, something which is an endless source of ire for the Scottish, Welsh, and (Northern) Irish.
So I’ve decided to give up on the whole national identity thing. There are limits to what I’m willing to endure for the sake of integration. I’ve come to realise that it’s much easier for all involved if I’ll just stay totally and irrevocably Dutch. I may even enhance my Dutch accent.
Zo dere joo haf it. Ai em a dutsjman in nortern airlant.