“Yer Own’s The Worst”

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.


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11 Responses to “Yer Own’s The Worst”

  1. Sinn Féin Supporter in Tyrone says:

    You get a “queen bee” problem in which a female boss likes to be *the* successful woman and hence does not help others who might challenge that position.

    • That is a very revealing comment.
      Is Sinn Féin adopting a formal policy of stereotyping women?

      • Sinn Féin Supporter in Tyrone says:

        No and it would of course not be a problem within Sinn Féin where women are promoted very much to high posts.

        Look at Mary Lou and Michelle O’Neill for example.

      • Well it is a very stereotypical attitude…and I am surprised to hear it in 2016 from a supporter/member of a progessove party.
        You would obviously not support the way that SF treated Michelle Gildernew, who screwed up in Fermanagh-South Tyrone and could not get an Assembly nomination in the first selection convention.
        And you would obviously take this opportunity to condemn the treatment of Mairia Cahill at the hands of Sinn Féin.

      • Sinn Féin Supporter in Tyrone says:

        Regarding Michelle Gildernew I note that Sinn Féin has her on the ticket.

        Regarding Maria Cahill, Gerry Adams himself said that he was horrified by her allegations, and I think that nobody in Sinn Féin would be other than horrified by them.

      • Does that mean Gerry Adams is condemning himself?

    • Sinn Féin Supporter in Tyrone says:

      It sounds horrible what happened to Maria Cahill so I don’t want to say that she was other than badly treated.

  2. zig70 says:

    I was told that pre1970, young men and women from S. Armagh where trained up in the college in Bessbrook with the intention to send them to England. They trained as brickies and typist and refused from any local work. Sorry it is sketchy, I’ll need to talk to my Dad again and flesh it out. A lot has changed in s armagh since I spent my summers there. I often heard the line about Catholics being worse to their own and though rarely hear it now. I think it was a product of having to compete in a small pond and not having the family history of running business’. I think with women it is a natural instinct to be preoccupied with threats, which makes them protective and can appear closed. Men are too dumb to worry.

    • I think there were semi-official links between one girls school in Belfast and some legal firms in the city. I think the nuns did talent spotting of a type of girl….people used to say “girls of good character”.
      For some odd reason a lot of young people in West Belfast ended up in Rochdale near Manchester.

      • zig70 says:

        Asked my Dad again about it. The accusation was that Bessbrook tech in the 60s refused to let Catholics train to be Electricians or Plumbers. They were restricted to plastering and brickies and eventually led to protests by the students though I couldn’t find anything on it on the web. The girls were trained in typing and given application forms on completion for the Civil service in England.

      • I think my father referred to this as “high trade” and “low trade”.
        Certainly major industry….Mackies, Sirocco etc. were closed to Catholics. Periodically in the 1960s, there were lay-offs at the Shipyard and my father and/or uncle tended to greet such news ironically “sore hearts on the Falls Road”.
        Trade unions were complicit. There were “black trades” …unions notified vacancies to Protestants…the old NILP was useless at dealing with it.
        Catholics tended to into local civil service. But the reality was that the numbers were concentrated in lower ranks.
        I worked briefly for old Belfast Corporation were masonics were in control (fairly blataantly) and Orange Order was more influential at manual level.
        Worked even more briefly in NI Civil Service at Dundonald House. There it was very grammar school orientated and had a 1950s/ cricketing image.
        I joined “imperial civil service”for 32 years. Wont be specific but really only two major Depts in NornIron
        In one, Protestants putnumbered Catholiics and vice versa in the other. Without being spcific…if you think that thru its obvious. 😉
        I certainly saw episodes of “favouritism” but it was very very fair. And not related to religion or politics.

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