|What is a Unicorn?
Well in the strange world that is Northern Ireland it seems a ‘unicorn’ is a term that was coined to describe a catholic unionist (please note lower case ‘u’ – that matters!)
I’m a pretty typical unicorn. My parents were from working class backgrounds, but well-educated and upwardly mobile. They have left me and my siblings with what, I suppose, is typical unicorn stock. That is generally middle class, graduate in a profession.
Politically, I must confess I was an obnoxious teenage unicorn. I remember telling my Dad “I refuse to take part in a sectarian headcount” when asked if I would vote when while I was an A level student. But I’ve grown up to realise what a stupid arrogant thing that was to say.
As an adult, a husband in a mixed marriage and a father to 2 great kids I came to see that avoidance of politics isn’t a sane or defensible position to take if I want my kids to have a chance to stay here.
So why am I a unicorn?
Well, my parents are both nationalists, my Dad especially, and they will, if asked, still tell of personal experiences of overt discrimination and bigotry which makes their stance perfectly understandable. They are also the son and daughter of parents who lived through partition and felt a sense of betrayal and entrapment in what they saw as a foreign state.
As I went though our segregated schools system it was not until I was in my 15th year before I had regular contact with protestant kids my age. And surprisingly they didn’t have horns, in fact some of the girls were really nice. I had never liked my Grammar school, but by the end of my time there I felt it incredibly restrictive and conservative. I also had a strong sense that we were getting a very one-sided view of the Northern Ireland situation.
University was a great freedom for me. I formed close friendships across religious, class and ethnic boundaries. Despite it being shortly after the Anglo-Irish Agreement and with several major flashpoints and atrocities, I relished the chance to debate and explore the issues of the day. I also was lucky to meet my girlfriend and now wife, a border protestant. We share a love of folk music, film, history, food, each other and our wonderful kids.
Work also was a mixed environment where I could find my own way. It is a neutral working place but not unpolitical. We are allowed to discuss and explore the issues of the day and there have been plenty of those. Over those years I have seen a large proportion of my friends and colleagues who have simply opted out of politics and even voting. They are sickened by the language and childish behaviour of our local politicians and frankly their ignorance and, in too many cases, the downright lack of intellect.
Identity is usually described by politicos and commentators in NI as ‘them and us’, ‘orange and green’, ‘Prods and Fenians’. The truth for me, my wife, my friends is that it is far more complex and multifaceted. I am Irish. I am British. I am European. None of these identities are mutually exclusive. I enjoy the wealth of culture and warmth of a pint with my brother in Co Clare. I love the history and mannered environment that is home to my brother-in-law in the Thames valley. I relish the multi-cultural ‘world city’ that is London and my default radio station is Radio 4.
In the end I am Northern Irish first and the other identities second. But Irish or British? I don’t think it is either or – that is why the flag waving incoherent mobs on our streets sicken me as do their incompetent petty, political ring-masters.
My Northern Irishness is rooted in a sense of home and family, but also in the knowledge that there are so many good people here who do the right thing and keep their heads down.
My experience of Britain is that it is, by and large, moderate, polite, multi-cultural, intelligent, mercantile, and full of humour. That is a nation I am happy, indeed proud, to identify with. That does not diminish my Irishness, but instead enriches it. Whereas so many of the baying mob last night are to me the antithesis of what it means to be British.
I will blog later about how this unicorn votes (and yes, I ALWAYS vote)