I am feeling oddly nostalgic this morning. In part it is because I as replying to a comment from “An Sionnach Fionn”.
Three years ago, I gave a lecture on Norn Iron to a group of post-grads at Texas State University. As I was ending it, I was asked “how do young people in Norn Iron feel?”. I gave a flippant answer that I did not understand anyone under forty. But it is a good question and deserves a good answer.
In the lecture I referenced seeing the American Civil Rights struggle just a few years before the Norn Iron Civil Rights campaign. And I think a good answer would have been that I was (then) a 60 year old Belfast man and that i might see things in a similar way to a 65 year old black man from Selma, Alabama.
Basically I hear two things from young people. Sometimes I am told that “nothing has changed”. Sometimes I am told that “everything has changed”. The old man in Selma and the old man from Belfast know that the answer is somewhere in between.
Back in the early 1970s, my father had a serious heart problem. He was in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. And he would mention the young nurses. “She is from Newry”, “the wee blonde one is from Dungiven”.
He was expressing delight that there were Catholic nurses in the RVH. Ten years later, he was even more amazed. “She is from Wexford” “the ginger one is from Galway”. Even more shocked that the RVH was (thanks to the European Union and fair employment legislation) employing nurses from the Republic of Ireland.
To a man of his generation, who had several serious health problems all his life, this was a major change.
I had cousins…siblings…who trained as nurses in Manchester, England. It would have been impossible to be trained in Norn Iron. Many young women stayed in England. Some like my cousins came home. One was compelled to leave nursing when she married. The other stayed single into middle age and reaped the benefits of a fairer system in 1970s and 1980s and had a very successful career.
Yet almost as soon as I started working in the early 1970s, I heard the old saying “yer own’s the worst”. Certainly it was a phrase that Catholics used to point up thatit was much better to have a Protestant boss than a Catholic one. Dont expect any favours…I often wondered if Protestant workers felt the same way …that they would get few favours from a Protestant boss….one of “their own”.
Certainly it is a phrase that seems to have jumped the gender gap. I have often heard women say that they get few favours from female bosses.
We now have the situation were Catholics can aspire to reach the top of the tree in public service jobs. And get to drive the fancy cars and li e in the best houses.
And the other day, a woman I have known since we were teenagers was telling me about the successful and well-known daughter of a mutual friend from the old days who had completely “forgotten where she comes from”…And apparently this young woman is a real hot-shot barrister. The kinda person who has “an account at House of Fraser”
Should I be pleased?
My father …and my cousins …would wonder at these changes.