To make a personal comment on the nature of cultural identity is never easy. To do so in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing is particularly difficult. That atrocity has once again raised questions about the role that ideology and political allegiance plays in our lives, and of the importance we give to our culture and history.
The label of 'Ulster Protestant' has never sat comfortably on my shoulders. Maybe its because I grew up in an area where Protestants were the minority, and my childhood friend of many years belonged to a famous republican activist family.
Not wearing the 'Ulster Protestant' label has always surprised, confused and alarmed my family, who all seem to wear the label with pride. Many a time I have seen my family look at me, wondering where they went wrong in my upbringing!
So why do I feel that I don't fit in, and what does typical Ulster Protestant Culture mean to me? In short it's the following:
The Orange Order
The Red Hand of Ulster
Cabaret singers at weddings
Neat gardens and clean cars
You have to be 'Saved/Born Again' (Protestant style) before getting to heaven
Portstewart on a Sunday night
The harvest festival
Of course this is not what Protestantism represents in total, but is it not how we appear to people from other cultures, to Catholics in Northern Ireland? I can honestly say that I not do like to be labelled as a Protestant. The sad fact is that I am not proud of my culture. I feel it has let me down, and today of all days I believe this even more strongly.
I saw signs of our shallow cultural activities at a recent cross community event in my village. Both sides of the community were asked to organise entertainment. The Catholics organised a harpist, Irish dancing and folk singing. The Protestants organised a pianist and two soloists. The songs and music did not represent their culture, they were English in origin!
But I am not Catholic either. So where do I fit in, and what cultural identity do I persuade my young children to adopt? To allow them to experience Irish Culture, I take them to Irish dancing lessons. It's obvious that I am the token Protestant parent, because I have to ask questions about the difference between a jig and a reel, and a feis and a fleadh! I didn't even know how to spell these words! Here too it can be hard to fit in.
I have so many questions on the subject, but no answers. Therefore I have to look at my role model. To me it seems that Jesus also struggled with the same dilemma. Was he a Jew or wasn't he? On various occasions he crossed mainstream barriers and went into places where 'his sort' didn't go. He socialised with the other side, and challenged the people of his culture in their old traditional ways, ways that often took pride in rejecting people who didn't belong. Is it so important to fit in? Being a child of God is all the identity that I need.
Lesley Macaulay - member of the ECONI Steering group. She lives with her husband Tony and two daughters in Magherafelt, where they belong to the local Methodist Church. She is a consultant in Rural Development, Personal Development and Fund Raising.
This article by Lesley Macaulay touches on a number of things I have written about in the series on Culture Matters and some that I have yet to address. Therefore I will let the article speak for itself and make just a few observations.
- In this article Lesley Macaulay displayed a very shallow understanding of the cultural wealth and rich tradition of the 'Ulster Protestant' community.
- She seemed to have an aversion to what she described as her own culture: 'I can honestly say that I not do like to be labelled as a Protestant. The sad fact is that I am not proud of my culture. I feel it has let me down.'