A shoulder charge to the media's tragic image of emigration
Far from suggesting that Belfast’s the Irish Paper served an emigrant community, however, O’Connell used the publication to illustrate how the old certainties of tribal identity were seemingly changing north of the Border. The Irish News, traditionally the newspaper of the northern nationalist population, had thrived in the digital age in part by appealing beyond its bailiwick: the former UDA commander Frankie Gallagher said the newspaper had given more coverage to the “loyalist story” than the traditionally unionist press.
At the same time the paper was still regarded with lingering suspicion by some republicans for its pro-SDLP editorial line during the Troubles. Danny Morrison characterised the paper’s “pro-British and anti-Sinn Féin” stance as “a drag on the development of the peace process”, though he generously added, without any apparent hint of irony, that he was “not holding them responsible for the conflict”.
Such conversations revealingly highlighted how some old sectarian fissures have gradually blurred even as tensions within each community remain. Whether the Irish News thus speaks to a “growing Northern Irish identity” was less clear. Eamon Phoenix, a columnist with the paper, noted that when many southerners looked north their view stopped at the Border, while most northern Catholics still saw themselves as part of the Irish nation, “whether the Irish nation wants it or not”.
Home News was thorough in execution, thought-provoking in tone and illuminating in content. And while its implicit view of the North as a foreign land may have chimed with Phoenix’s analysis, it provided a reminder that the inhabitants of the Republic are not the sole custodians of Irishness.
Moment of the week: Man behaving well
Neil Morrissey, the English actor best known for the laddish sitcom Men Behaving Badly, cut a more reflective and sympathetic figure when he talked to Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday) about his upbringing in a children’s home, after his Irish parents’ inability to cope with their duties. Morrissey spoke with admirable honesty – he had been “quite feral” as a child – and without self-pity: “You’ll always feel like you’ve been ripped from your family, but you have to have a positive attitude.” But when Morrissey recalled how he and his late brother were separated from each other after a custody hearing, it brought a lump to the throat. “He was taken out of one door and I was taken out of another,” he said matter-of-factly.