Some of the more awake of you will have noticed that I have used the names Londonderry and Derry in the previous post, they both refer to the same city but it’s how we Norn Irish practise our racism. In other countries racism is a piece of piss, you can tell relatively easily who is Jew and Arab, black or white but in Norn Iron we all look the same, so gradually over the years we have become experts at dumping fellow Norn Ironers into strict Protestant or Catholic groups, it doesn’t matter whether they’re Buddhist, Atheists or Martians, they still get lumped into Proddy or Catholic.
We do this automatically and it’s built in, a reflex. As a test, I have sat with a bunch of friends and watched the news and we have all called out ‘left footer’ or ‘right footer’ in unison as different reporters and interviewees come on screen to talk, left footers means Catholics and right footers obviously means Protestants, so if you are at a party chatting up some woman it wasn’t unusual to hear someone say “oh she kicks with the left foot..” meaning she’s Catholic… not like it really mattered to any of us, we were much more interested in whether there was any possibility of us actually getting the leg over.
We can tell if anyone is Catholic or Protestant with other subtle clues, their name of course, Sean, Patrick, Caitlín are obviously Irish and therefore ‘most likely’ Catholic where-as Tracy, Jonathan, Edward are predominately English names and ‘most likely’ Protestant. There are other clues, even without having a name, as a generalisation, Catholics have this slight lilt that Protestants don’t have..
All my generation were, and I dare say still are, well versed at picking up these clues and automatically adjust our speech so as not to offend anyone but it has caused the BBC some headaches when it has to refer to places like Londonderry/Derry. The BBC is charter bound to respect both sides of the political divide and therefore when there is a news story from Londonderry it will be referred to as Derry in as many times as Londonderry so as to maintain bi-partisan, and when the Norn Iron weather comes up after the news sometimes the name is Derry and sometimes Londonderry.. Poor poor BBC, what the BBC hasn’t figured out is that whilst there may be a very small minority that do get offended no matter whether they refer to Londonderry as Derry and another very small group that are equally offended when the BBC calls Derry Londonderry, what in reality is happening is that frankly most people don’t give a shit, we are too busy going out earning money, chasing woman and getting drunk.
I grew up in a reasonably mixed area of Norn Iron and had a good mix of friends, my parents didn’t approve of all my friends but I realised that we all did this differentiation between Catholics and Protestants right from an early age, all my friends could correctly identify the two religious groups almost as a reflex and I came to realise that this was a protective reflex, when I started going out to pubs and clubs with my mates in my late teens we would wander further and further from our home turf and if you found yourself in an area that seemed a bit rough it was always good to be able to tell if it was a Catholic area or a Protestant area and you would adjust your behaviour so you didn’t stick out and become a target. Mind you, it wasn’t really that hard to tell if it was a Protestant enclave or a Catholic enclave, there were murals painted on some of the walls and the pavement kerb-stones would be painted either green, white and orange (Republican area) or red, white and blue (Proddy area).
As an Irishman living in London, most folk here make assumptions about me as well, I sound Irish ergo I must be Catholic. On the rare occasions when I come into contact with priests they also make the assumption that I am Catholic and talk to me in conspirational tones like I know what the fuck they are talking about. I went to a wedding last year at a Catholic church and my friends looked to me to take the lead but I had no clue as to what to do, all this Praise Be With You’s and up/down like a fiddlers elbow, and crossing yourself, as I said to my friends, just think -spectacles, testicles, wallet and iPod and you’ll be alright..