Behind the curtain

The brutalising experience of growing up in Northern Ireland

13th November 2017

If like they say, Washington exists only to sustain itself, then Stormont only exists to sustain what the North used to be.

The Troubles hang like a translucent curtain that’s always obscuring the full picture of what sits beyond the window.

Only those who grew up in the most affluent of neighbourhoods and circumstances could say that their life had not in any way been imprinted by the heavy hand that conflict laid on the rest of the population.

More fortunate than those who went before us, most millennials have missed the day-to-day conflict.

Nowadays, we’re stuck behind the curtain and behind those who are reluctant to lift it, living in the aftermath of a war and paying the price for a situation we did not make ourselves.

In what could be seen as a cruel irony, two formidable women in Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster, a beacon in itself of a society moving on, are deadlocked going over a ground so old and worn that the carpet would be threadbare should it exist.

Religion, the all-encompassing parasite that seems to bypass most of the young population in their day to day lives, reigns supreme in the politics of the state, impacting any new hope of moving forward.

Meanwhile the young march on for rights that already exist for their peers in the mainland: The right to be bound forever, or for some women – the right to not be.

Young Protestant men deemed the most likely to fail are starved of opportunity, while young women no matter what creed or colour, book flights in their droves to seek medical treatment for the hapless condition of being from the North.

IRA Image
Illustrations: Catherine Amos

Growing up in the ceasefire brings a slew of issues that don’t even seem to register as they happen.

Unlike the conflict zones of our parents, our conflict arises in any attempt to live a life beyond our unfortunate geography.

These conflict zones materialise in anything from first time meetings with people for whom the curtain hangs heavier, a slipped word or phrase or a casual comment can offend or lend comfort, knowing that you are as far as society tells you, cut from the same cloth.

Or that certain streets or areas or jobs or boyfriends or girlfriends or football teams or schools or songs or gyms or taxis – are no-goes. The ability to politicise the most benign is one of the few talents bestowed on the most thriving geographical example of “divide and conquer”.

It’s often been said that children in the North of Ireland grow up quicker than their mainland peers. Only when they undertake the inevitable emigration for opportunity do most even realise that they will spend regular time explaining the political status of their birthplace to ignorant or oblivious strangers from more peaceful lands.

Bored of the old ground, millennials are pulling away from the forefront of the Northern Ireland “situation” in droves. For the older generation, it’s a sign that young people are unwilling to follow the traditions of the past.

Who can blame them? A cynic would surmise that this, for some, is the exact purpose.

Original illustrations by Catherine Amos. See more of her work on Instagram.

13th November 2017