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Speak Your Piece
Exploring Controversial Issues

A Guide for Teachers, Youth and Community Workers


Kelt, Briton, Saxon, Dane and Scot
Time and this island tied a crazy knot.

from Ulsterman by John Hewitt

John Kelly offers home thoughts from abroad on the complex issue of identity. In Jerusalem identity is visibly expressed through dress and custom. In Belfast things are not always so obvious.

In the studio debate young people say who they are and how they think others see them. Young people express a range of views about perceptions of their own identity in Northern Ireland.

The drama introduces the central characters of Ken, Pat, Anna and Peter, telling us something of their lives, friends and immediate concerns.

Once a prod, always a prod. This is Ulster and Ulster is British!

Before viewing...

Each person should complete the 'Coat of Arms' (Worksheet 1 on page 8).

  1. In pairs, each partner should briefly describe his/her shield to the other.
  2. Each partner should then introduce the other's shield to the small group.
  3. Each group should then create one large shield which represents what members of the group have in common. These could be presented to the whole group and be displayed.  

How do we define our identity?

  • Everyone wants to know who you are and what you are. And as we all know there's any amount of answers to questions like that. (Kelly describing Jerusalem)

  • I identify myself as British, and wouldn't identify myself as anything else. (male)
  • If you live on this island you should identify yourself as Irish. (male)
  • I'm British and Irish. I'm British because I live in part of the British Empire, but at the same time I'm Irish because I live in Ire land. (female)
  • Why don't you all forget about the Irish thing and the British thing? Why don't you just say I'm the type of person that likes to go out and meet people and have a good time? (female)

Activity one The quotations from the studio debate identify four positions.
  1. Which of these are closest to your identity? Provide a statement of your own.
  2. When might other aspects of your identity be more important?
  3. Is your identity any different when you are applying for a passport, travelling abroad, watching sport, buying CDs or tapes, attending youth clubs or discos?

What shapes our identity?

  • In Ireland identity is a matter of choice - Irish, British, Northern Irish, Ulster, Ulster Scots, Gael, Celt, European. . . (Kelly)
  • I'm a prod and proud of it. My Da always says "Once a prod, always a prod. "(Ken)
  • My Ma says "they took Ireland away from us ". Our Frankie gets all excited aye, and we'll have to fight to get it back. "(Pat)

  • I think anybody identifies himself on the basis of everything they believe. Faith, politics, religion, the things they enjoy day to day, their profession. They all come together to make your own personal identity and everyone's entitled to their own identity. (male)
  • You can 't help noticing you're Irish. I couldn't help noticing it as I grew up because of the contradiction of British troops walking Irish streets. (male)
  • I think that imposing a feeling on someone of their nationality is wrong. No one can tell me I'm Irish because I don't feel it. (male)
  • For years we've been classed as British because of the partition of Ireland and we've been cordoned off from our own Irishness. (male)
  • I am a student, a female student. I find my influences coming from all over the place and not just in terms of nationality. (female)
  • There are issues of identity which can connect people such as what music they like, what other political issues they are interested in. (female)

Activity two The quotations highlight the complexities of identity.
  1. List factors which have shaped your identity.
  2. Discuss which factors you can or cannot change?
  3. What have been the most dominant influences in shaping your identity?
  4. Do you accept Kelly's statement 'in Ireland identity is a matter of choice'?

How should we express our identity?

  • Identity defines how you live, where you live and what kind of life you lead. Who you are and who you are not, has got everything to do with everything. (Kelly)
  • This is Ulster and it will stay Ulster for ever. If they don't like it they can go back to the Republic where they came from. (Ken)
  • I'd work with anybody so I would. I need a job. (Billy)

Four Corners The following activity is called Four Corners. It often generates considerable emotion. It is important that facilitators take account of the principles outlined on page 4. The activity works best with two facilitators. One can play 'devil's advocate' should a particular position not be represented. A concluding evaluation session is essential so that individuals can discuss and reflect on the issues raised.

Activity three Label each corner, agree, agree strongly, disagree, don't know.

1. Each participant must move to one of the corners in response to a contentious statement. For example, statements such as the following could be used:  

  • people in Northern Ireland choose what identity they want
  • all street signs should be in English and Irish
  • Catholics and Protestants are all Christians
  • having a job is more important than who I am, or what I am
  • everyone should have the right to march where they want
  • the political problems of Northern Ireland have nothing to do with me

2. The facilitators should ask participants to explain their position and debate the issue. Participants have the option during the debate to move to another corner.

3. The facilitator suggests alternative labels for each corner and the activity is repeated. The following sets of labels might be used:  

  • Irish, British, Northern Irish, Ulster
  • Gaelic, British. European, Irish
  • Protestant, Catholic, Atheist, Other
  • Nationalist, Unionist, Republican, Loyalist
  • United Ireland. Integration within the United Kingdom, Independent Northern Ireland, Devolved Government within the UK.

4. Participants may not be comfortable with these labels. Discuss why not and suggest an imaginary grid with positions anywhere between the four corners.

Where would participants now place themselves on the grid in response to each set of labels?

Worksheet 1

On the numbered sections of the shield draw:
1. How you see yourself.
2. How others see you.
3. How you see your future. 
4. Your hopes and fears.
5. Design a logo that represents you.
6. Write a motto which sums up your attitude to life.

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