Ethnicity in Northern Ireland

In my previous post, I argued that the terms “Protestant community” and “Catholic community”, as used for fair employment monitoring in Northern Ireland, are merely proxies – it is not your personal faith (or even your personal political beliefs) that are being monitored, but your ethnicity. And the only words we have that accurately describe these ethnicities are the pejoratives “Hun” and “Taig”.

But what is an ethnicity, and how does this apply to Northern Ireland? From Wikipedia:

An ethnic group (or ethnicity) is a group of people whose members identify with each other, through a common heritage, often consisting of a common language, a common culture (often including a shared religion) and/or an ideology that stresses common ancestry or endogamy.

The “two communities” in NI obviously qualify in terms of self-identification, religion and endogamy. Common ancestry was also a key component of the Gaelic revival, as was the restoration of a dying common language.

But here we see a key difference between Taigs and Huns – while the former have a clear sense of their own ancestry, the latter sometimes appear to struggle. This may be due to the eclectic origins of Huns amongst English and Scots planters, Huguenot refugees and Penal Law converts – groups who have historically shared little in common except the Reformed faith. Contrast this with the older roots of Taigs in the Gaelic population, whose origins are shrouded in mist, spiced only by the Anglo-Norman aristocracy and the occasional Viking, both well-integrated come the time of plantation. Thus Taig identity draws heavily upon language, legend and location, while Hun identity focuses more on religion and politics, with King Billy being the closest approximation to a founding mythology.

But there is another native people who pass the ethnicity test, and that is Irish Travellers or (since I am decrying euphemisms) Pavee. Long neglected, there is an increased awareness of their distinct identity, with the census in NI now counting them as a separate ethnic group. Although Pavee are mainly Catholic and probably descend from Gaelic ancestry, they are strongly endogamous and maintain a nomadic culture equally alien to both Huns and Taigs.

So with this in mind, perhaps the next NI census form should read:

□ Hun
□ Taig
□ Pavee
□ English
□ Scottish
□ Welsh
□ Polish
□ Chinese
□ Indian
□ Black
□ Mixed
□ Other

And maybe instead of “Mixed” we should be allowed to tick more than one box? But that’s an argument for another time.


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