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DAN SHIPSIDES - On being English in Northern Ireland (Vacuum- The English issue).


On being English in Northern Ireland (Vacuum- The English issue)

I have a distinctive surname – even in England I get the piss taken out of it – but here in Northern Ireland where most names follow certain genealogies it’s even more apparent and tale tellingly indicative of “not really from here”. Shipsides, is (so I’m told) a very English name – which usually indicate ancestral profession or relating to place names or geographic location (in my case actually not boats, shipping or water front working, that came later, but sheep on the hillside or sheep hides). As my accent is not fully assimilated into the local dialect, my name spoken over the phone possibly could sound foreign – I mean continental or beyond - foreign. After spelling SHIPSIDES out a few times to the listener its obvious spelling might seem quite comforting and “Oh - just how it sounds then!” can often carry a tinge of relief. It could be much worse though, a Greek hotelier once managed “Chipsidees” and an Indian call-centre worker once sent a letter to a “Denjip Sydes” so despite its defining aspect I’m pleased to have it easy here.

I’ve been living in Northern Ireland for over 10years now and I married a Belfast born girl and so can claim to be reasonably naturalized. However problems for my allegiances arise when at Northern Ireland international football games. The reason I started to go to watch NI play on a regular basis is that David Healy played for Preston at the time - as did Colin Murdoch but unfortunately nobody really knows about him. So I could go and see a bit of my foot balling hometown in the flesh and sing “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head. The stars in the sky looked down where Healy! Healy! Healy! Healy” with the 19,999 Northern Irish fans and me. Incidently, the only major game I missed was the recent and historically famous NI victory over England. I was in Switzerland; my wife went in my place with my £120 worth of ticket. Watching in Switzerland – trying to explain to other people of varyingly confused national allegiances – that I was English, supported England really and truly but was going ape crazy about this brilliant win – was difficult. My English brothers still give me shit about it.

I suppose there’s something in me which is a little humble about being English living here – well in fact being in most places in the world, except in the context of sport. I’m very proud to be from Lancashire (for some reason which probably wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny) and I’m nostalgic about the rocks and quarries in the Pennies – the best rock climbing in the world blar blar blar... And in truth I qualify my Englishness with saying I’m from the north. I probably feel or hope there’s more in common between Northern Irish - Belfast people at least - and northern English people. That, better education standards aside, the playing field might be more level. It's not that I really dislike people from the south of England (in fact some of my best friends...)it's just that, pitifully, I maybe think people might accept me more if they know I'm from northern England? Maybe it’s to do with red brick.

This of course says more about me and the dynamics and prejudices of people in England. I learnt a bruising lesson in Belfast about my pathetic prejudice. It happened during my first few months in Belfast before my subconscious north/south attitude compass had readjusted. I was heading home late, after a few drinks too many, past the Hatfield bar on the Ormeau Road, blathering away to a friend. A youth past me and hearing my "un-local" accent asked, "you from the south mate?" presumably wanting to be friendly towards a free-state patriot, but to my shame (it was the whiskey), my instinctive jousting reply - defending my northern as apposed to (English) southern-ness - was "Fuk off no way maite I'm from the nourth". And so he lamped me in the face.