Northern Ireland – or phonetically for its natives “Norn Iron” – became famous throughout the world for the lengthy Troubles and for being a divided society. While this is of course the case, there is a distinct and growing culture that spans the divide and one to which both tribes can lay claim and share. Its mix of native Irish, Scottish and English influences make it unique, but it’s the little things that can tell you if you’re really from Norn Iron.
...Your most thrilling childhood memory was a trip to Barry's
No Northern Irish childhood would have been complete without a visit to Portrush to take on the rides at Barry's Amusements. Disneyland it may not be, but the junk food, garish prizes and stomach-churning, head-spinning rides make it a must for any self-respecting child. It remains a stalwart in Northern Irish culture.
...At least one of your uncles has friends “you wouldn’t mess with”
This probably applies outside Northern Ireland too, but it carries particular meaning in these six counties of Ulster. The recent conflict that lasted for 30 years means lots of people’s families were “involved” or knew those who were. Most people have a slightly shady uncle, but most people in Northern Ireland have one who claims he can “make a few calls” and “get it sorted.”
...You tell people the 11-plus either “worked” or “didn’t work” for you
The school transfer test that was scrapped in England, Scotland and Wales in the 1960s remained in Northern Ireland until 2008. The score you got in this test determined whether you went to grammar school or not, but many critics argued age 11 was too early for such a life-changing exam. If you passed it “worked,” if you failed it didn’t.
...Every summer you think you’ll get a tan. You don’t.
There’s nothing more alluring to a pasty-skinned Northern Irish man or woman than the promise of a tan. However, you can’t change your genes and so each year red-skinned holiday-makers emerge twitching in pain off planes returning from Spain. Anyone who can get a tan “must have Armada blood” in them – referring to the Spanish sailors washed up on the coast of Ireland after the failed invasion of England in the 16th century.
...Anyone who comes from a smaller town than you is a cultchy
There is a strict but simple hierarchy when it comes to the term “cultchy” – a word used to describe a backwards person from the countryside. Someone from Belfast may dare to call someone from Derry a cultchy, only for the Derry person to use the word to describe someone from Limavady. As the proverbial poo only rolls downhill, the trend continues until, presumably, the end of the line is reached with a person living on their own at the top of a mountain.
...Drinking is your hobby
On CVs it can be read as “socialising,” but in Northern Ireland it is rare to socialise without drinking. Often to excess. It ticks all the boxes of a hobby – you do it regularly, with friends, there is an element of competition, it takes you to new places and you spend a lot of your spare cash on it. If you thought you didn’t have a hobby, think again.
Related: Best British drinking games
The language used in Northern Ireland is a complex and fickle beast and can seem impenetrable to the outsider. This is mainly because of a complete disregard for the normal rules of grammar in many linguistic colloquialisms, but if everyone knows what they mean then what does it matter? The word “children”, for example, has morphed through “little ones,” to “wee-ones,” to “wains.”
...You took your PE kit to school in a blue plastic carrier bag
When the Northern Ireland Assembly brought in a rule in 2013 banning the free distribution of plastic carrier bags in shops it marked the end of an era for the humble blue plastic carrier bag. It has been spotted blowing around the streets of Norn Iron for decades, clutched by people emerging from off-licences and corner shops, and by children going to school on PE day.
Although peace now reigns throughout Northern Ireland it remains a divided society with the vast majority of residents belonging to one of the two tribes. Many towns and areas are seen as one or the other and people’s names can often reveal which tradition they belong to. Anyone who grew up in Northern Ireland has an inbuilt ability to do this.
Related: What is the IRA?
...Every time the sun comes out you have to have a barbecue and beers
The weather isn’t great in Northern Ireland so any time the sun peaks out from behind the clouds is cause for celebration. It doesn’t matter how cold it is or whether you’ve got work in the morning, you’re having a barbecue and beers if the sun’s out. A heat wave of any more than a week can leave entire communities keeling over with liver failure and heart disease.
The Titanic, the DeLorean, George Best, Alex Higgins. All are revolutionary stand alone products of Northern Ireland, but all of their successes are tinged with tragedy and disaster. But it’s not all bad news. People from what is now Northern Ireland (having only been created in 1920) punch above their weight in their contribution to history, particularly American history, where a quarter of US presidents have been able to trace their history back to this part of Ireland.
Every year it seems that the traditional summer months of July and August are washouts for the people of Northern Ireland. Instead, we get a false dawn for a couple of weeks in May when it seems the good weather will last all summer. This is quickly dampened by rain that lasts for months until September when another little nice spell often comes along out of nowhere.
...Halloween is your favourite celebration
It’s not just for children in Northern Ireland. Halloween is very much a time for adults to don weird and wonderful costumes and invade town centres across the land and go mad. People plan their costumes up to a year in advance and there is no limit to the imagination. By the end of the night there are nuns passed out in doorways, Jesus is arm in arm with the devil and Pat Sharp is getting off with the Queen. It truly is the very best festival of fools and good times.
...You love a good bonfire
Used by people of both traditions to mark important dates in their calendar, bonfires have come to epitomise celebrations unique to Northern Ireland. Usually towering infernos of pallets and tyres, local authorities and the fire brigade don’t interfere, despite the rules and regulations surrounding the lighting of fires. If you’re from Northern Ireland you’ll have been to a bonfire at some stage.