Thursday, September 29, 2005

No surrender

There's dangerous talk on some blogs, and from some politicians, about the IRA having surrendered. It's inflammatory and very harmful.
As I said in my last post, violence feeds off desperation and humiliation. The very last thing Unionists need to do now is humiliate Republicans and make them think there's nothing they can do to make amends. Think about it. The Republican movement has done something we all wanted it to do: decide between the ballot box and the armalite. They've done it. They've chosen democracy. The last thing we need is for them to feel despised and rejected.
If you feel an urge to rub their noses in it, please consider what good you might do if, instead, you choose to jump over your inherited prejudice, your hurt, your fears and your mistrust, and simply accept that Republicans now want to live with the rest of us in peace.
Come on! This is a never-before opportunity to create a new Ulster for ourselves and those that come after us. Please don't blow it with triumphalism.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


I see Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair, the ruthless UDA gangmaster who fled from Belfast to live in Bolton last year, has admitted committing a common assault on his wife Gina whilst walking on a common near his home last night.

Thankfully I live very far away from this common assaulter, but strangely enough I was sitting at my PC yesterday morning when the silence was pierced by the unmistakeable sound of a woman being beaten up by her partner. I had never heard that sound before. She was weeping, begging, howling and squealing - all at once - as the bangs thumped. It was the most distressing thing I've ever heard. Some neighbours called the police who took control.

Violence, apparently, is committed most by people who are desperate, who have run out of words and can't argue their cases in any way other than to vent their spleen by rupturing the spleen of the person they're at odds with. They're so caught up in their own feelings to see that it solves nothing, it just creates other problems. Not that that matters, because the 'men' who do it aren't bothered about logic. They just want to beat the shit out of their partners - who stay with them because they get convinced it's really their fault. God forgive them.

I hope Gina Adair has the presence of mind to walk out. Which won't be easy - she has cancer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The real 'seismic shift'

The key to the next 10 years in Northern Ireland lies in the hands of Rev. Dr. Ian R. K. Paisley, an octogenarian who will probably not survive them.

No doubt Republicans would prefer to be dealing with David Trimble, the moderate Ulster Unionist Party leader who accommodated Sinn Féin into power but fell from grace when its terrorist alter ego, the IRA, committed the UK's biggest-ever bank heist and gouged Robert McCartney to a slow, agonised death in Magennis' Bar last December. The subsequent polarisation of political sympathy has propelled Paisley's right-wing Democratic Unionist Party to unprecedented popularity. And with votes comes power.

The Protestant people whose fathers, brothers and sons have been shot to death and blown up by the IRA for 30 years are naturally fearful that the leopard's spots have just been temporarily airbrushed, convincing though its political leaders look before the cameras. However, as Paisley contemplates his medium-term response to IRA decommissioning, the question is: does he want to represent his voters' fears, or does he want to represent their best interests? There's a difference.

Anyone who has lived in a divided society - be it Northern Ireland, South Africa or Alabama - knows how awful it is, and what sustains it is fear. Fear of being exploited, fear of losing control, fear of the pendulum swinging too far the other way. But fear is unproductive and, in Christians, shows a lack of trust in God's ability or willingness to give protection. Christian teaching and Biblical history show that God rewards his people when they step out in faith. That opportunity is now wide open.

The best interests of Northern Ireland's Protestant and Catholic populations lie in a united Ulster where people choose to mix freely and to take pleasure in each others' cultures. We're a long way from that, but what a goal! The first step towards it is to seize the moment and stop playing broken records.

The truth is: the real groundbreaking, historic event will not be IRA decommissioning - they should never have terrorised us in the first place - but rather a new tone of Christian reconciliation from the DUP. Because those are real people out there, Ian. People who have a right to be heard and respected and to sit alongside you in governing Ulster.

Late in your political career comes your greatest chance. Let your legacy be one of reconciliation, not harsh words. Let your legacy be a new, inclusive, peaceful Ulster.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Be Big, Ian

Today's DUP press conference following IRA disarmament was achingly predictable, with Ian Paisley swooping like a buzzard on General John de Chastelain's twice-proffered admission that, in contending that all the IRA's weapons had gone, he was in fact relying on the IRA's own assurance to that effect. (I covered de Chastelain's unpolished media performance in my last post, below).
Be careful, Ian. Even to the most cynical observer, Gerry Adams was very credible today when he said there was no Plan 'B', that disarmament wasn't a stunt. Indeed, that has to be the case because - as I said before - if the IRA ever did fire one more shot, all their credibility shoots out the window with it.
So you have Republicans just where you want them - disarmed, undangerous and ready for democracy. And - ironically but brilliantly so - that's exactly where the broad Republican movement wants to be. You have that much in common. Don't kick them when they've moved into peaceful territory like this and stuck their necks out.
They're committed. Are you?
Do the Big Thing, Ian: Show forgiveness and a willingness to include Sinn Féin in government. Today. 

Credibility is everything

Substance aside, John de Chastelain's task at this afternoon's IICD press conference was to convince the public that the IRA had truly disarmed.

This is one job he did not do well. He refused to give any figures. He admitted during questions that, although the quantities were huge, he had had to take the IRA's word for it when they said they'd given him all they had. And twice, after saying the individual quantities were "within" the ranges estimated by the British and Irish governments, he corrected himself saying the numbers were "consistent" with those ranges.

Drained after a busy week, de Castelain put up a nervous, unsure image which I fear will not produce half as much certainty and reassurance as he, the governments and the IRA had hoped for. Unfortunately, this specialist detail-man who had inspected every single weapon destroyed failed to master the press-pack - as a more outgoing man would have done - and was seen to be choosing his words with such precision, and repeating himself so often in order to get them right, that many viewers will have been asking, "What was he at pains not to tell us?".

The answer, of course, is the quantities. The very thing that would have dispelled fears. A Big opportunity missed.

Personally, I believe the IRA has disarmed. Even if there were to be the odd side-arm lying around, the IRA knows full well that if it ever uses a weapon again it will lose all credibility everywhere. But trust is not enough, yet. What counted at the Culloden Hotel this afternoon was credibility and persuasion. Whereas de Chastelain should have played the statesman and put out masterful vibes of being in control, his responses and demeanour were often shambolic.

Frankly, he looked like he was a student at the Dawson Bailie School of Media Management.

And that's bad for everyone, because he's given the DUP more room for prevarication than they had this morning.

Decommissioning, anyone?

If, before the sun goes down tonight, I hear anyone - ANYONE, but particularly Gerry Adams or Tony Blur - use the words historic, ground-breaking or that new in-word cusp, I'm going to scream.

Look, guys, you said you were thinking of doing it, and we applauded. You said you decided to do it, and we applauded. Now it's time for you to deliver. For the first time, not the third.

We'll breathe a collective sigh of relief, yes, because a lot of people didn't think you'd do it. But we won't cheer. You murdered and terrorised for 30 years. Would anyone cheer a child molester who cut his own willy off?

Expect us, rightly, to work with you, to respect you, to share equal rights with you, to include democratically elected representatives in government and to build a new future in partnership with you. But don't expect us to cheer you, even though we're relieved and thankful.

It's time to take the press release out of Irish politics.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Go for it, Tyrone!

As a Protestant, I was never taught to play Gaelic football. Pity really, looks exciting. I see, with interest, that Trevor Ringland, an Ulster Unionist councillor, has urged the Protestant people of Ulster to forget their cultural differences and support their Gaelic team to the hilt at tomorrow's final in Croker, saying sport can "transcend sectarian barriers". He goes on, "Everyone should rally behind Tyrone and show solidarity with our fellow Ulstermen. The red hand of Ulster is Tyrone's symbol and should be a symbol of pride capable of uniting Ulster people of all traditions". Well said, Trevor.

Looks like the GAA has been Big too. Apparently it recently lifted its silly rule forbidding police officers from being members. I have to say I didn't know this one had been ditched. Although it's great news, I'm hacked off because I have, half-written and lurking in my "drafts" folder, a mighty tome of a post dealing with that very matter and subjecting the GAA to a stiff virtual "e-pummelling" because of it. Have to can that one now. Ah, what the heck. Well done, GAA.

And well done, Tyrone, on putting Ulster in the final again. Do your best and make us all proud.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Poacher turned gamekeeper?

I see Big Ian is hacked off at the IRA for not seeing an invitation to a Protestant churchman to witness the big upcoming oxyacetaline party. Maybe he'd already got a six-pack ready to take with him.

Interestingly - lodged way down at the bottom of a BBC news item today is ... "Mr Adams said if the DUP wanted to nominate a witness it should have talked to his party". Beg pardon? You mean the IMC, don't you? Has Sinn Féin appointed itself referee? After all, it's the IRA's party.

Or is it?

How the other half doesn't live

Listen, I've just come off holiday and there's so much to catch up with I think I'll leave it to next week because my brain's still inert. Anyway, it's Friday and time for a bit of light relief. Obituaries are usually snoozingly boring, but here's an entertaining one I found yesterday of an Anglo-Irish gentry-chappie, normally a rather stomach-churning brigade in my humble opinion, but not so this guy.

Any Republican readers tempted to click off in disgust can take solace in the fact that this guy's ancestors were Catholic, pre-English invaders (oh, that's all right then!), and Ulster Protestants may wish to note that they built Carrickfergus Castle. Yes, my Orange pavement-pounding friends, the great granite aircraft carrier was built by (gasp) one of them ...

The 35th Lord Kingsale (by his own reckoning; by others the 28th or 30th), who died on September 15 aged 64, was Premier Baron of Ireland; his varied career included spells as a kitchen fitter, film extra, silage-pit builder, white hunter, plumber, proprietor of a dating agency in Brisbane and bingo caller in Birmingham before he retired on invalidity benefit to sheltered housing in Somerset.

While many daydream of grandeur and riches, John de Courcy's misfortune was to have sprung from a line of noblemen stretching back to at least the 13th century, yet to spend most of his life scrabbling for change down the back of the sofa.

"My main line of work is odd jobs," he admitted in 1985. "I am prepared to lend my hand to absolutely anything, however dirty or unpleasant." But he genially accepted the disparity between his background and his fortunes. For many years he listed "self-deception" as a recreation in Who's Who, "because I consider myself important and nobody else does".

The de Courcys had been a force in Ireland since Miles de Cogan took a leading part in the Norman invasion of Ireland and was granted (with Robert fitz Stephen) the Kingdom of Cork by Henry II.

Lords Courcy of Ringoane and Kinsale sat in the Irish parliament as late as the reign of James VI and I. But the family had a knack of backing the wrong side; its fortunes declined inexorably until, by the beginning of this century, the principal asset of Lord Kingsale was the right (unique in the peerage) to keep his hat on in the presence of the sovereign.

John de Courcy was born on January 27 1941, the son of Lieutenant-Commander Michael de Courcy, who had been killed in action before his son's birth. Young John, though his family estates amounted to a lighthouse in Kinsale which brought in £180 a year in rent, and the remains of a castle which was around a foot tall at its highest point, was not brought up in crushing poverty.

His mother came from a Yorkshire lanolin oil-distilling family, and he was sent to prep school with the intention that he should proceed to Eton. When he was 12, his half-brother Michael was killed in a flying accident, and John became heir to the barony, to which he succeeded on his grandfather's death in 1969.

In the event, he was educated at Stowe and the Universities of Paris and Salzburg, before taking a short service commission with the Irish Guards. He would have liked to remain in the Army, but the oil business went bust when he was a lieutenant. "When I joined the Brigade of Guards you needed a substantial private income to keep up with your fellow officers in the mess," he later explained. "I felt compelled to leave."

Aged 25, de Courcy drifted into odd jobs as "the easiest way of making money". He worked as a bingo caller in Birmingham, as a lorry driver, and played an Egyptian peasant in Cleopatra, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's film.

The cold snap of 1965 brought him 17 burst pipes and, with no money to pay for a plumber, he was obliged to learn how to fix them himself. It became a reliable standby, and he also did turns as a digger of silage pits, and as a kitchen fitter. His best gig, he thought, was as a "white hunter" at the Duke of Bedford's safari park. He paid Woburn Abbey £1,000 and made £2,000 on the first bank holiday, but then the contract was brought in-house.

Kingsale was fond of Benson & Hedges cigarettes and, though he lived in Somerset, drank Black Bush whiskey, explaining that cider burst the veins in his nose. He occasionally turned up to his local, The Lamb Inn at Upton Noble (where he had installed the lavatories in exchange for meals), wearing his ermine-trimmed crimson robes. "I'm a very fat man and they conceal that," he said.

Kingsale once undertook a sponsored slim (losing four stones) in the hope that it would give him a better chance of picking up a wife. Securing a spouse and heir was a constant ambition, consistently thwarted. In 1965 the Daily Express announced that he had become engaged to Caroline Graham Porter, a debutante whom he had met at Cowes Week, but nothing came of it.

After that, Kingsale frequently declared his eagerness to wed but, despite being, as he once put it, "the only middle-aged heterosexual bachelor in a 30-mile radius, which has made me a must for any dinner party", matrimony eluded him. He advertised for a wife on several occasions, and got a letter a day from candidates. In 1989, while working as a wine-waiter and butler for hire at £25 a night (including washing up), he became optimistic about a "40-plus, leggy blonde of Hampshire naval stock", but was disappointed again.

By the 1990s, his arthritis had curtailed his ability to work, and he was living on income support of £30 a week, topped up by a mobility allowance. But a book devoted to nouveaux pauvres brought him attention, and work, from newspapers and television. "I have suddenly got a career as a knockabout noble. I find I don't suffer from nerves at all," he said. "All I am concerned about is getting paid."

A French genealogist assured him that he held some 18 titles, but it was a continual source of annoyance that, as an Irish peer, he missed out on sitting in the Lords (and the attendance allowance which went with it).

His most successful enterprises included a dating agency in Brisbane called Banaid, which insisted upon an Aids test from those signing up. It did well (though it could not find Kingsale a bride), but his visa expired after six months and he returned to Britain. He also did reasonably as an online journalist, writing a column called "View from the Peer".

In 1994 he moved into sheltered housing, in a flat which had no telephone, but was dominated by a coal-effect fire, a portrait of Jet from Gladiators, and an aerial photograph of the ruins of his castle. Continued efforts to sell it to a golf club came to nothing.

He voted for the Referendum Party, and was chairman of the National Association for Service to the Realm, which advocated the return of National Service. Just before his death, he signed a contract to write his autobiography.

Lord Kingsale is succeeded by his cousin, Nevinson Mark de Courcy, born in 1958, whose father was a municipal drains' inspector in New Zealand.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Not in my name

I remember clearly standing outside the small country church on a hill near my home one afternoon each summer for the "Orange service". The accordion band would play a hymn as it paraded beneath rustling trees on its way up to the church followed by twenty or so men (mostly farmers) wearing suits priced at the very limit of their means. The banner would be lowered, and we'd all walk into the church to sing snail's-pace hymns and hear a sermon on being faithful to Jesus and loving our neighbours. Up on our feet again for "O God our help in ages past" - even more slowly than last year - then we'd file outside to see the small group disappear down the hill again before meeting up for tea and buns in the musty old church hall. The most anyone had to fear was being force-fed too much sandwich cake by the Mothers' Union.

Around 6pm the farmers would go back home where their Catholic neighbours had milked their cows for them, a favour they would return on Hibernian parade days. And they'd share a Black Bush together too.

In many places east of the Bann, quiet solemnity has given way to triumphalism, modesty has yielded to brashness, shared hymns have been ditched for sectarian party songs, saved-for suits replaced by stolen-for football strips, unspoken neighbourly love replaced by screamed hatred.

Shame on you.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Nowhere to go

Terrible riots in Belfast at the weekend. And understandable anger on the blogs today. Is it Orangeism in disarray, drug-dealers in turf-wars, Loyalists in meltdown? It's all of those, but far more frightening - and not just for Catholics.

Sure there's organised crime, sure there's poverty, but those things don't bring an evil mob of 700 "Loyalists" out on the street shooting live rounds at the police force appointed by their beloved Queen.

Working-class Protestant ghettoes in Belfast are breaking down because political unionism and die-hard Loyalism have no future, and the people know it. They are 18th and 19th century ideologies, and they belong to the past. A 300-year past which - with the armed republicanism it spawned - got us where we are today.

Even moderate Unionists - the peaceable country folk I grew up with - see the writing on the wall. The British government, so long a benign uncle of an inequitable Stormont, now wants a united Ireland. Not in those words, but Unionists aren't stupid. They know their British days are numbered as the Catholic population grows. On top of this come years of terrorist killings and unchristian rabble-rousing from many Protestant pulpits which have joined to make Belfast's working-class Protestants bitter and besieged. Orangemen are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

There's nothing more dangerous than people without an achievable goal.

But there's an answer. There is a future. We may be Protestant and Catholic, but at the heart of both traditions is belief in Jesus Christ, a great unifier and promoter of peace. We have to start allowing that to unite us - if not a personal faith, then at least the cultural heritage which doesn't actually differ as much as some people would like us to think.

In practical terms, Unionism must change from unionism with the English to unionism with northern Irish Catholics. Because we both belong here.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Soft & Gentle

The Big Ulsterwoman bounded in through the front door a few weeks back with a glint in her eye that I'd seen before. Like just before I had to take up landscape painting. And the time I was dragged into town for an image makeover to rescue me from 1985.

"I've been to the chemist's", says she, lobbing a blue box in my direction. I opened it with dread and ran my eyes over the plastic tube inside. "Facial moisturiser for men".

"Everyone's using it", she enthused, "David Beckham, for example". "Oh", says I, "would that be the David Beckham who has both ears pierced?". "And Zinedine Zidane", she added breathlessly.

"If I want moisturising," says I, "I'll use water. After all, it's 100% moisture". But I didn't stand a chance. I knew all resistance was useless, so I closed the curtains, entered the bathroom and, within minutes, became a closet male moisturiser.

Oh gay abandon! Innocence evaporated. I had eaten from the tree of knowledge. And do you know what? It didn't feel that bad at all. No woofy smell, no pink haze, just a face that didn't feel it was about to crack like the Grand Canyon every time I think of Reg Empey's hairdo. And three weeks later - I swear it's true - I have less wrinkles, and my skin feels as tight as Michelle Gildernew's cardy.

My point? It's not which Northern Ireland politicians could do with a good moisturising, although one or two spring to mind. It's that sometimes your prejudices can surprise you. Sometimes things aren't as bad as you think - if you step outside your preconceived ideas. Sometimes you discover other people had a point you were intent on missing.

So, politicians (and bloggers), do the Big Thing: Next time the "other side" says something, resist the stock answer. Step back, understand why they're saying it and show them you take them seriously.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Glow up!

Visiting Belfast today, Éire President Mary McAleese told Shankill schoolchildren: "I think one of the great sadnesses is that we can... almost live next door to one another, and yet we do not get the chance for the kind of friendships that would make our lives really, really glow".

Hear, hear. When we get more personal friendships across the divide, we'll be half-way to a solution.

That's the great thing about Irish political blogs (or "Bloglaigh na hEireann" as Chris Gaskin puts it with a smile on his face) - that we can have the kind of open exchanges our segregated education and social systems stop. Long may it continue, and may mutual respect flourish.

The English, the English

There's surely no one in Ulster this morning not happy to see our soccer stars trouncing England. Crumbs - every single one of the England players has a transfer value higher than the entire NI team put together. Or should I say "had" - Mr Healy certainly did his career no harm last night. A cracking goal.
Ironic, isn't it? Soccer in Northern Ireland is mainly a Protestant thing (the Catholics are having a lot more fun playing Gaelic), but yet we love stuffing it up the English. If an image consultant were called in he'd probably tell us to cool it a bit so as not to destroy the image, in Catholic eyes, that we love the English so much we want to be in their pockets, worshipping their every move.
The truth is, however, that Ulster Protestants are very sceptical of the English. Unfair as it may be to tar everyone with the same brush, we tend to regard them as fickle, superficial, arrogant and untrustworthy until they prove themselves otherwise.
At the political level, Ulster Protestants have long been sick of English people coming over here, thinking they know better than anyone. Which was one reason Tony Blair appointed Glaswegian John Reid Secretary of State for NI some years back. Protestants breathed a sigh of relief (until they found out he was - gasp - a Catholic, but I digress). Mo Mowlam thankfully also ran counter to this stereotype.
There's an important distinction - and I mention this for the benefit of non-Irish readers - between English and British. Most Ulster Protestants are happy to belong to the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", that uneasy (and - many would say - unnatural) grouping of English, Scots, Welsh and northern Irishfolk, but are equally uneasy with the economic, social and political dominance of England within the confederation.
Which goes some way to explaining why Northern Ireland is revelling this morning in a well-earned victory at Windsor Park. That and the fact that England are justifiably one of the best teams in the world.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Home visit

I see the President of Éire, Mary McAleese, is due to visit her home town of Belfast - the Shankill Road, of all places. Not the most Éire-friendly of places, mind, but all the more opportunity for bridge-building.

You'll recall this visit was rescheduled from a while back when the President compared Auschwitz and Nazism with hatred of Catholics in Northern Ireland. Unionist politicians accused her of being anti-Protestant and spat their dummies out for weeks after.

She said it in a radio interview and - within hours - issued the most contrite apology I think I've ever seen, apologising unreservedly for not balancing the statement by mentioning the ill-will that just as often goes in the other direction. I thought she showed great humility and feeling, and I'll never cease to admire her for it.

As Big Ulstermen we have to understand that, as a Falls Road Catholic, it was the ill-will from Protestants that she felt first-hand as a child, not the other way around, and when - in the heat of a radio interview and the emotion of the Auschwitz anniversary - she reached for an Irish comparison, it was that which came to mind first.

I'm glad her visit today is a second attempt. Because if it had been arranged in the wake of the faux-pas it would look like a sop to Protestants. But the fact is: she's coming home to Belfast and reaching out, literally, to the "other side". Welcome home, Mary.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Soldier's Song?

When I was 17 I went on a multi-school exchange trip to Europe. It was the first time I met Catholics my own age. And you know what? They were good craic. Thank Goodness because I was one of only 4 Protestants, and it would have been a right bore otherwise. That experience, more than anything, laid the foundation for my conviction that - scrape away the labels and we've all got the same stuff in the tin.

However, our final evening had an uncomfortable moment when, at the end of a concert given for our hosts, it came time for the national anthem. Not the one I'd been brought up with. One, offically, of a different jurisdiction (and not the country bearing the cost of the trip either). The exchange organiser told me, "Well, John, if you and the other three want to get up and sing 'God Save the Queen', that's OK". Fine words, but I felt the underlying resentment against Britain and opted to watch from the wings while 30 of my co-visitors sang a song I'd never heard in a language I couldn't understand. Pity, because I actually wouldn't have minded joining in.

It's taken me until now to get round to looking at the words of Éire's national anthem, "The Soldier's Song" (English translation). Here's a sample:

In valley green, on towering crag,
Our fathers fought before us,
And conquered 'neath that same old flag
That's proudly floating o'er us.
We're children of a fighting race
That never yet has known disgrace,
And as we march, the foe to face,
We'll chant a soldier's song.

Why is it so violent? So full of hatred, so 17th century? OK, the Gaelic, Viking, Norman and English invasions of Ireland were outside intrusions that begged resistance, but the Irish have to stop seeing themselves as a fighting race, downtrodden by overlords. It may have been like that in the past, but those days are now over. The Irish - north and south - are a race of friendly people, welcoming, accommodating of each other at a personal level, creative and alive. It's unhealthy to prize yourself as "a fighting race", and it's time to stop fuelling this "victim-type" self-image by enshrining it in the national anthem. I may not live in Éire, but as a northern Irishman I'd like to be able to "sign up" to its anthem.

For the record, there's a lot of old codswallop in British patriotic songs too. Britannia certainly doesn't rule the waves (that's George W. these days in case you hadn't noticed) and no, those feet in ancient time most certainly did not walk on England's mountains green (what was William Blake smoking?).

But back on topic for today's Big Thing: the Republic of Ireland should adopt an inclusive national anthem praising its superb cultural heritage, not how violent it used to be.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Ulster Identity

A lot of blogs this week have featured varied tones on a site called "Love Ulster", e.g. this excellent write-up on Everything Ulster. I agree - the last thing we want is another website promoting division.

Why should Loyalists corner the copyright on "Ulster"? Ask your average Loyalist to name Ulster's counties and he'll probably leave out Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan (and Louth for rugby men).

Let's remember: Ulster is more than the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland which has existed a mere 80 years. It's one of the four ancient provinces of Ireland and is populated by two cultures which, arguably, have more in common with each other than with their neighbours.

Today's Big Thing is: Remember Ulster belongs to us all. Be proud of it for that reason.