Everybody Wears a Mask, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Poppy

On Sunday mornings my wife and I are like the couple in Up, sitting side by side in huge Ikea wing armchairs, reading frivolities on Twitter or Instagram while caffeinating to a level where we can face the real world. I'm in my customary repose with coffee in hand when she enters the room and makes a beeline for the Sonos. The internet-connected speaker can be controlled through an app, but it's faster to push the button on the top to reactivate its last remembered state. What it unfailingly remembers, and what I have forgotten, is that the last person to use the Sonos was me. Continue reading...


The cult of death

The cycle of death in Ireland will not stop until we stop teaching the cult of death that sustains it. If political murder is wrong today, then it was wrong in the past. If killing a fellow human being in cold blood is unthinkable today, then it must always have been unthinkable. If we cannot commit ourselves to this simple moral truth, then we condemn future generations to the same cycle of violence and hypocrisy that our generation and every generation before it has suffered through. Continue reading...

A wee trouble

Maybe it's just because I've been away or maybe it really has become more common. But my subjective, unscientific experience is that "wee" has reached epidemic proportions. It has always been used in its literal sense, and has long been part of the charm of the Ulster dialect. But it is increasingly often being used as a verbal tic, a piece of filler that says less about the text than it does about the subtext. Contiue reading...

Biscuits and gravy

We have all heard the aphorism that Britain and America are two great nations divided by a common language. Gas, fall, biscuits, fanny packs. When we hear the accent we automatically run the words through the universal translator, and then hold them up to ridicule as appropriate. But we often forget that even though the Irish and the British are linguistically closer to each other than to their transatlantic cousins, there are still entries in the dictionary, particularly in the ethnopolitical section, that remain false friends. Continue reading...

The great Shibboleth

I have a confession to make. As a card-carrying letsgetalongerist and liberal Eurotrash it feels like an admission of failure, even treason. But after reading this article in the National Geographic (an advertorial, but even so), the spirit moves me. I despise "Derry~Londonderry". Not the place, of course. I have nothing against the buildings, streets… Continue reading The great Shibboleth

Deconstructing “Unionism”

I have long maintained that the terms "unionist" and "Unionism" as currently used in Northern Ireland are an obstacle to discussion and understanding. Because there is much more to unionists than Unionism. Indeed, there is much more to Unionism than Unionism. What have tray bakes and soda farls got to do with the constitutional question?… Continue reading Deconstructing “Unionism”

And man created the nation in his own image

When we say we belong to a particular ethnicity or nationality, we are implicitly saying that we share traits in common with the other members of this group. Or are we saying that the other members of this group share traits in common with us? There is a subtle but important distinction. In the popular… Continue reading And man created the nation in his own image

Shibboleth and sibhialtacht

The Irish-language issue is back in the headlines again. Despite the best efforts of campaigners such as Linda Ervine, it is still the case that most ethnic-unionists define themselves at least in part by their rejection of the Irish language. Never mind that some of their ancestors must have spoken it, as evidenced in many… Continue reading Shibboleth and sibhialtacht

The limits of transactional politics

Contract law is a vast subject, but at root, it is the process of making and enforcing agreements between two parties that do not fully trust one another. Any mutual mistrust is compensated for by mutual trust in some other mechanism. This could be a dispute process set up by the contract, an authoritative third… Continue reading The limits of transactional politics