This piece of writing was shortlisted for a writing competition as one of 50, out of thousands. The theme was Irish identity. The competition is run by Hot Press magazine in conjunction with Dublin City Council. More info: http://www.hotpress.com/writeherewritenow/finalists.php
My niece is two weeks old. She’s my parent’s first grandchild. The first link in a new generation of the Noble family.
She forces me to acknowledge that I and my brothers are actual grown>ups. I’m 22. Skylah’s dad is 24 and my younger brother is 20. I think it’s the same for my mum; Skylah sleeps in the Moses basket we all did. Mum couldn’t bear to give it away.
Skylah is only two weeks. She knows no hurt or pain yet. She is so fragile and innocent.
I wonder at what age she will realise that she lives in a sectarian society.
I was 10 years old.
It was meant to be a fun day out, playing games and sports with other primary schools at a local secondary school. Except we were the only Protestant school, out of four, there. In a Catholic secondary school too.
And by God we felt it.
Dirty looks in the toilets from the senior girls. Several of the primary school kids asking if we were Protestants, repeatedly.
Though I don’t believe it would have been any different, if there’d been three Protestant schools and one Catholic.
I never want Skylah to feel that unease, but I expect she will. She will most likely go through segregated education. So much of her friendships, where she socialises and her notions of who she is, will be formed out of the denomination of Christianity she happened to be baptised into.
Some of my happiest childhood memories are the 12th July: ice>cream, sun (if you’re lucky) – a day out with your family. I had a picture of Prince William and Kate’s wedding on my bedroom wall for years.
I now see myself as Irish. I no longer go to the 12th. I no longer can reconcile my wish for a more equal world with support for the monarchy.
University years in Belfast enabled me to be educated with Catholics for the first time. My mixed friendships made me challenge all my views and the narrative of the unionist community.
My generation are the lucky ones. No memories of bombs and bullets. But we feel it in the air: history and hurt. See it, in our deeply divided society.
I want better for Skylah. It fills me with sadness to think she will grow up in a province with not much less division, hurt and hate, than I did.
In 2116, I hope for this disputed small corner of Ireland to cherish all the children of the nation, equally. Where integrated education is majority, where no one can assume your religion by your name, where women have abortion rights and where LGBT citizens aren’t second class.
Where a baby can be born without the weight of history waiting to divide into “them and us.”