I spend a fair whack of time thinking about business in Northern Ireland.

More specifically, I think about the kind of business that will make ME money.

Unfortunately, I'm rather short on ideas but on occasion I have the odd brainwave.

Most brainwaves revolve around the underdeveloped front of the Northern Irish tourism market.

In particular youth hostels and tours.

I only say this as I have staggered out of manys a hostel from Bangkok to Zagreb to Prague to Kampala to Sydney and sucked in all the tourist tat that they have to offer.

To think of tourism is to think geographically so for example Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia make way in one's mind for 'bits of the aul' Yugoslavia', Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are pretty much indistinguishable to your average Anglophone, and most people from the UK care as much for the differences between Germany and Austria as they do the difference between North and South Yorkshire.

German Barmaid
Austrian Barmaid
So, in that respect, Northern Ireland and the South should (and indeed usually are) be seen just as 'Ireland'.

Fair enough, says I.

Until I see what 'Ireland' is.

According to the badge of Paddywagon tours from Dublin, Ireland is defined by green, white and orange.

(And as a southern based company, that's fair enough, those are the colours of the flag of their country, but things are different 'up north')

To my mind, green, white and orange is a relatively recent advent but it is a dominant one.


                                                              "Old Irish?"

So, what exactly is 'Irish'?

No matter what way you look at it, Jamie Bryson, Willie Frazer, Nigel Dodds, Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley are 'Irish'.

They're certainly not the kind of Irish people that Board Failte highlights, more like the mad relative in the attic kind of Irish, but they are Irish nonetheless.

Think of the Irish men that adorn the walls of Irish pubs around the world:

Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Bernard-Shaw, Swift, Lewis, Beckett, Day-Lewis, Guinness...

Yet very few of them were represented by the modern day version of 'Irish' (maybe Yeats but the jury's out on that one).


So what was Irishness before the advent of Paddywagon and their green, white and gold badge on the side of their mini-buses?

And how did Irishness survive in places like Bushmills and Carrickfergus in the ways that the modern form can not?

Or indeed why can't 'Irishness' be tolerated in parts of Ireland?

Is there something wrong with the Irishmen there or is something distorted about the Irishness that they are expected to adhere to?

"Old Irish?"

In County Antrim there are villages where they play unadulterated forms of 'traditional Irish folk music' that haven't changed for centuries.

The sticking point being that this form of Irish music is given its geography very Scottish in nature.

Bloody typical McDonalds, I mean McDonnells, I mean McNeills, sorry, 'O'Neills'...

So, if these Irishmen, who haven't changed much of their culture in a long time reject Irishness, then what is it they reject?

Is it perhaps wrong to expect some northerners to accept the tricolour as the Irish uber-flag?

And if not, why not?

Surely the tri-colour has as much right in Bushmills as the Union Flag has in Convoy Co Donegal?

Maybe we should all take a step back and ask what it actually means to be Irish.

And I don't mean in the American sense.

Throughout my travels the idea 'Irishman' conjures hard drinking, red haired, rural Catholic men yet when we talk about Irish legends and their accomplishments in Irish bars in places like downtown Brussels, Paris, Gdansk, Kampala, Chicago, Boston etc. we refer to anything but (well, apart from maybe Paul O'Connell. Just thought I'd mention him in case he catches wind of my statement and decides to break my legs).

So why the disparity?

And if the modern phantom of Irishness is so unappealing to many northern citizens then how can the dream of a united Ireland ever be truly realised by the majority population?

I've often wondered how regularly Paddywagon tours takes its patrons to some the fine pubs in Bushmills.

Maybe they do it regularly.

If they do, then hats off.

But I struggle with the idea of seeing that particular brand of green, white and gold Irish van happily parked in a red, white and blue Irish village (without being on fire).

Why is there no 'other' kind of Irish any more?

What happened to the Irishness of the men listed above?

Is there any way to bring it back?

I also recall a few years ago going into a tourist store in Belfast.
In the corner there were a few Ulster flags and Union flags unlovingly stashed there (I suspected a strong worded letter or two had made their way to the manager).

I thought the Union flags were a bit out of place from a tourist point of view e.g. who goes into a tourist store in Scotland or Wales to buy a Union flag?

Ditto Northern Ireland.

But then, I felt very little relation to a lot of the other green, white and orange tat that was there too, to me it is kinda 'foreign' (but not in a rabid Jim Allister way!!!).

(I think I settled for a De Burgh style Ulster flag key ring bottle opener....)

De Burgh Style Ulster Banner

Some one over on www.sluggerotoole.com said that in the same way that the northern Irish Prods are becoming more 'British than British' so too might the northern Irish Catholics become more 'irish than Irish'.

The problem for me is that once you cut away the flegs and nationalistic baggage they are both as Irish and as British as each other but they can't see it.

To say some one is 'more Irish' than me on account of how much they love the tricolour or nationalism is as ludicrous as saying Willie Frazer is more 'British' than Boris Johnston.

Once both sides accept their true (neither completely green nor completely orange) colours then Northern Ireland can start to cease its immolation.

Till then, it's Paddywagon, wee plastic Union flegs, non-offensive key-rings and the usual conflict of cherry-picked identities that once upon a time used to be one and the same.