Ah Northern Ireland. She’s rarely mentioned without the big T. Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley are two other names rarely not spoken about. Sinn Féin, DUP, UVF, IRA – what’s with all these names and what the heck do they all mean? Heck what does ‘Northern Ireland’ even mean (this question will have even more significance if you ask it just after asking a native what the name of the country is – ‘Norn Iron’)?
Ya see, ‘Northern Ireland’ and ‘Southern Ireland’ are misnomers. ‘Southern Ireland’, i.e. The Republic of Ireland, when distinguished from ‘Northern Ireland’, contains most of the island including all of the west. So shouldn’t it be called ‘South Western Ireland’? Well, I then just think of the province of Munster, and you’ll also be leaving behind my sweet county of Donegal.
Ah Donegal, now there’s strange, yet artistic and inspiring aunt that you seldom see. (Yes, still more about names:) In Irish, it’s officially called Dún na nGall, but it’s older more suitable (as Dún na nGall originally referred to simply one settlement) name is Tír Chonaill, the Land of Conall. Anyway, Donegal is Ireland’s most northern county. But it’s not a Northern county. What?! Yes, strangely, the most northerly county in Ireland is actually ‘in the South’. If you’re not Irish, that’s a surprising and frustrating idiom.
On a similar note, the most easterly county, Co. Down, is actually in The North as well. Ah, come on! This is causing too much trouble! Can’t we rename things? Ok, we’ll call ‘The South’, ‘The Republic’. And we’ll call ‘The North’…
‘The Plantation’? ‘The Six Counties’? Yeh, that seems suitable but it’s not much of a name for a country, now is it? “Well, then leave it as ‘Northern Ireland’, why don’t you?” Well, because we’ll be running into the same problems again. “Ok, then Ulster…”
This is my main grievance. ‘Ulster’ is, if I’m correct, what the Unionists call it. Paisley’s always recalled relentlessly saying ‘Ulster says ‘no’!’ In this context, the name ‘Ulster’ originates in the Ulster Plantation. ‘Ulster’, then, is the area or community of the Unionists, i.e. the descendents of those planters.
Woah, woah, woah! Stop! Right there! Stop! ‘Ulster’ has always been one of the four provinces of Ireland. Before partition in 1922, Ulster comprised of 9 counties. And the province of Ulster still does. Donegal is in Ulster. Monaghan is in Ulster. Cavan is in Ulster. Remember that! When people refer to Northern Ireland as ‘Ulster’, they neglect these three counties and offend them by either adding them onto Northern Ireland or excluding them from the ambit of the name ‘Ulster’. So then, the three counties live in liminality – not in any province at all. Unity by this, they are grouped as their own kind of province: ‘The Border Counties’.
No! My province isn’t ‘Borderland’ or anything like that. I live in Ulster and I want people, in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, to stop regarded the name ‘Ulster’ as a synonym for ‘Northern Ireland’. Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan are in The Republic…
And they didn’t say ‘no!’