Before I begin this, I'd like to first say that I am currently writing this article after having woken up at 6:00 in the morning and couldn't go back to sleep. Some of my writing may seem to be written out of ignorance, and if any should find it offensive (particularly those of the Emerald Isle), I wish to extend my profound apologies and hope you understand that I mean nothing but the best and stand for cultural equality and peace between nations.
I've had several memorable conversations in the past with several people of different ancestries, backgrounds, and nationalities.
Granted, before I go any further, I should preface myself and state the obvious - regardless of whether or not you and I are the closest of friends or the newest acquaintances, it's hard to have a conversation with me without having some mention of Ireland. I am not one given to subtlety. This is not always a welcome trait.
I have had some reactions which surprised me. Very early on in my Irish obsession, someone very close to me asked which Ireland I was in love with - Northern or Republic. At the time, I had either only just known that there were, in fact, "2 Irelands," or had not known that fact at all. Trying to regain credibility in my new-found community, I said, "Whichever is home to the "Irish culture" we know and love." While that may seem like a suitable answer for me at the time, it proved to be somewhat childish and dangerously ostracizing to whichever side I did not pick.
The person, who meant nothing more than the best for me, mind you, responded, "You probably mean the Republic of Ireland - and if you place your loyalties there, then you place your loyalties with the IRA (Irish Republican Army)." I had known very little of the Troubles then, and know not that much more today. He continued, "The Irish Catholics screwed over the Protestant Irish a long time ago." I should note here, that the person I was talking to was what I called "an agnostic Christian," (certainly not Catholic, by any means) whereas I was/am a Presbyterian. I should also note that said person was not saying I should side with Northern Ireland, either. "Northern Ireland has had a lot of violence lately, too." This statement was true - bombings had recently happened in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but the source of said bombing was unclear. It could have been neo-IRA members or terrorists having nothing to do with Ireland or the Troubles.
I had a conversation with another friend of mine. He claimed he was "Scots-Irish," and when I said "Me, too," he said, "Well, I don't mean your Ireland. I'm Northern Irish. I don't care for the other Irish. They persecuted the Northern Irish Protestants." I had heard similar sentiment for the Republic of Ireland from people from England, saying they didn't think too fondly of those "Paddies from Ireland." I should note here, that though I know that part of my ancestry (however small or large) is Irish, I do not know whether it is Northern Irish ancestry, Republic ancestry, or both. I have yet to see the family tree which is kept by a grandparent who lives far away from me.
Do I care if my ancestry is Republic or Northern? Only by the fact that I want to know what part of Ireland I come from - not to find what "side" to be on.
After talking to several people, Irish and non-Irish, I have come to some conclusions regarding my entrance into Ireland.
1) If someone asks you your religion, say, "Christian," or politely decline comment.
2) Don't parade your opposing views in public - be courteous about your views and people will generally leave you alone.
3) The Troubles are long over - Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are generally at peace with each other, yet talking about some tender subjects in a manner other than respectful is a good way to get punched.
My message to people who bring up the old conflicts in Ireland - the ancestral victims who cry, "Your ancestors persecuted my ancestors," and the like is this:
Judge a person by his own actions today, not by the actions his forerunners did years ago - those are not your burdens to bear. Protestants and Catholics all worship the same Christ.
My Ireland is not an Ireland defined by the IRA, or the Troubles, or misplaced nationalism. My Ireland is the warm, friendly community, musical by nature and by proud choice, within a setting of surpassing beauty and forty shades of green. Never meeting a stranger, the newest acquaintance is always deserving of a round of the finest drinks, and tall tales being told with cheerful tongues in cheek. Blessings of good health and fortune are upon everyone from hello to goodbye.