Being Irish Part Four—Micks and Proddies continued

Until I read Colin Broderick’s book That’s That I didn’t know how little I know about the subject on which you might suppose I’d be an expert. I didn’t even know whether to call myself a Prod or a Proddy (Proddie? I believe the name appears only in the plural in Colin’s book, so he was no help.) I knew to call him and his people Micks but I didn’t know what they called me. How could I, when we had nothing to do with each other? Not a conscious decision we ever questioned, more something bred in our bones.
Unlike Colin, I was born in Belfast. He was born in Birmingham, England, although his parents moved him back to their Northern Irish home when he was two months old. Discovery of where he’d been born was enough for his schoolboy fellow Catholics to accuse him of being one of the hated English.
I could fill a book with what I don’t know about Northern Ireland, the place I lived until I got out when I was 17. Until recently I thought the Battle of the Boyne, a victory by William of Orange which Ulster Orangemen celebrate with an inflammatory parade every July 12, took place in Holland! Until I read Colin’s book I didn’t know that Northern Ireland measures roughly only 60 by 60 miles. I thought it was quite a large country, almost none of which I’d ever visited. (How in God’s name could I have so little curiosity about the place where I grew up? One reason: I was trying to forget it.)
Until I read Colin’s book I didn’t know not only quite the extent to which Northern Irish Catholics’ hatred of the Brits consumed them, but also how Northern Irish Catholic nationalists despised Irish Catholic nationalists from the south, responsible for abandoning them to the Brits. (We Prods didn’t hate the English, we just thought they were sissies. On the first of my only two visits back to see my family, they melted into puddles of embarrassment in the drizzle at the airport because I’d got into the habit of carrying an umbrella. Real Ulstermen didn’t carry umbrellas. Though I could write another book listing the ways in which most of the men I grew up with didn’t and don’t fit my notion of what a real man is.)
I’m not entirely stupid. I have a summa cum laude degree from Columbia and two master’s degrees to prove it. I have perfectly logical—almost perfectly convincing—explanations for why I’m so ignorant about a topic on which I should be an expert. And I can explain at least one of the reasons I assumed Colin Broderick and I must have a lot in common. We are agreed on the truth about the topic on which Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants so bitterly disagree. I, a Northern Irish Protestant, had no right to be in Northern Ireland. MORE TO COME

Being Irish Part Three—Micks and Proddies

I meant to begin with a few sentences written by another author, and briefly fool you into thinking I’d written them. The author is Colin Broderick; his book is That’s That, a memoir of growing up in the Northern Irish Troubles. My purpose was to prove that despite the differences you may see in us—the overriding difference being that he’s Catholic and I’m Protestant—we were more similar to each other than to anyone who wasn’t raised in Northern Ireland. But although I read That’s That with the express purpose of finding those sentences that would prove our similarity, I couldn’t find them, not on any of Colin’s 359 pages. Not a sentence that I could honestly pass as entirely belonging to me. There were too many differences, almost all created by how our country raised us.
Maybe I haven’t thought this subject through sufficiently (or ever could). Which is what I was taught by the country where I grew up: Thinking strongly discouraged, but if you must think, don’t talk about what you think. Or write about it. Not if you were a Protestant from the North. If you were a Catholic from the South, you could at least churn out masterpieces. All you risked was being banned or sent to hell.
Yet on a personal emotional level Colin Broderick and I are as similar as twin brothers raised under the same roof (except for minor differences such as sexual preference and the 30 years’ age gap). We grew up giving the finger to the British government -controlled education system that prohibited us from learning the history of our country. Our Irish mothers stuck to their traditional role of cooking and cleaning, talking to us only to issue mostly empty threats about what would happen if we didn’t stop doing what they said it was wrong to do. (At the end of Colin’s book his mother finds her voice at last, rather too conveniently for the shape of the memoir, I thought. Colin’s Dad is a silent unexamined presence; mine was that depressed skeleton in the corner after he retired as a postman.)
Colin and I took it for granted that a blackout binge was a rite of manhood to be sought out as early as you could fool the bartender about your age, not that they ever much worried about checking. (I spent the first few pounds of the advance on my first novel Aubade sampling every drink my best friend and I could think of at a pub on the Bangor seafront.) Colin and I early discovered the joys of jerking off, and indulged frequently despite the punishments we assumed were inevitable: he feared eternal damnation, I thought I’d grow an extra testicle every time I had an orgasm. And we’re both angry little buggers. But more of that later. MORE TO COME