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Ireland: An Island Divided (2:46)

Northern Ireland

Ireland is split between the Republic of Ireland (predominantly Catholic) and Northern Ireland (predominantly Protestant). When a powerhouse like England plants settlers (like Scottish Protestants) to claim land, centuries of troubles ensue. Visiting Northern Ireland helps visitors sort out — and learn from — this sad story.

Complete Video Script

Northern Ireland is part of a group of islands called the British Isles and part of a political entity called the United Kingdom. The Emerald Isle is comprised of the independent Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Northern region is also called Ulster. From the capital Belfast we travel to fun-loving Portrush, to the rough and tumble city of Derry, and enjoy attractions along the Antrim Coast.

Here in Northern Ireland, sightseeing makes more sense with a little background. All of Ireland was once ruled by Britain. But the Irish didn’t assimilate quite according to plan. While Britain was Protestant, most of the Irish were Catholic — and with these religious differences came a deep-seated cultural divide. To help bolster its control, London planted settlers — Protestant settlers mostly from Scotland. These people became the Scots Irish — the dominant ethnic group in North Ireland today. But centuries of British rule led to strife. In the 1920s after a bloody war, most of Ireland became an independent country — Catholic…and ruled from Dublin. But the North — with its Protestant majority — opted to stay with Britain. And the island remains divided to this day.

You’ll see symbols of that division throughout Northern Ireland. Protestant Orange parades are common. Several thousand a year during marching season — between Easter and early September — fill the streets with sectarian pageantry. While 90 percent of these parade through Protestant towns and are therefore peaceful, a few are antagonistic — marching through Catholic towns and neighborhoods. Far more political than your average parade, these are like pep rallies for the cause of continued Union with Britain…a chance for parents to share their political passions with their kids.

The long-established Orange Order works to defend the union with Britain — so their political philosophy is “Unionist.” Orange is the team color and the Union Jack is its flag. This is countered on the Catholic side by Nationalists and Republicans — people who want the entire island to be one nation. Their color is green, and they fly the Irish flag.

In the Republic of Ireland, there’s no question — Catholics rule. But here in the Protestant-dominated North, the Catholics — with over a third of the population — are just too big a minority to ignore. In order to maintain control, Protestants employed policies which were tough on Catholics. This escalated tensions which led to “The Troubles” which have filled headlines around here since the late 1960s. As Protestants and Catholics clashed, the British Army entered the fray, and they’ve been here ever since. Thankfully real progress toward peace has been made recently and — while you still don’t want to sing Protestant songs in a Catholic pub like this, or vice versa — Northern Ireland has become a great place to visit.