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‘You feel more pressure to declare your allegiances’

Rosemary Jenkinson is an award-winning writer from Belfast. She has a play about loyalist bonfires, Billy Boy, and a short story collection called Marching Season due out this year.

Rosemary Jenkinson at the Lyric theatre in Belfast. Photograph: Jim Corr Photography/Rosemary Jenkinson

Northern Ireland is my home. I feel it’s good to celebrate the centenary. But of course you have to be aware there’s another side of people who don’t like it. It’s complicated. Culturally it should be celebrated. We have an amazing roster of writers. The most important thing is to celebrate the present and not the divisiveness in the past.

I call myself British-Irish to acknowledge that I have two sides and two passports. I have Irish publishers so I’m different to many Protestants in that I do have that link to the south. I would say British is my first identity – it’s been my longest identity, the one I’m most comfortable with. I grew up watching British TV, reading British history.

I have felt more Irish as time has passed. Returning in 2002 (after many years abroad) I met a lot of republicans and learnt more about their culture. Traditional music sessions make you slide more into that culture and change your identity a bit. I’m very happy to go to a loyalist bonfire one day and an Irish language play the next.

The constitutional question has become so much bigger. You now feel more pressure to declare your allegiances. In a (hypothetical referendum) I would probably vote for Northern Ireland to stay in the union. But that may change. A united Ireland is not going to harm me personally.

 

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