Last-modified: 25 Sep 99
Part one of ten.
Frequently Asked Questions on soc.culture.irish with answers.
Send corrections, suggestions, additions, and other feedback
1) What is the newsgroup "soc.culture.irish" about?
2) Where is the Irish culture?
3) I found a lot of nastiness here. Are real Irish people like that?
4) Could you please send me the Irish FAQ?
5) What is netiquette?
6) What is a troll? What should I do when I see one?
7) What are the basics I should know about Ireland?
8) What are the basics about the Republic?
9) What are the basics about Northern Ireland?
10) I'm a bit confused by all the names. Please explain.
11) What about Irish-Americans?
12) Why is there a conflict in the North?
13) Where can I find more information about the flags of Ireland?
Subject: 1) What is the newsgroup "soc.culture.irish" about?
soc.culture.irish was created by a vote of 539 to 21 following
the usual process (see news.announce.newusers for more
information on this process). The result was announced in
news.announce.newgroups on 12 May 1995.
The vote approved the following as the charter of the newsgroup.
The soc.culture.irish newsgroup will be open to discussion of
all subjects specifically referring to Ireland or Irish
culture. This newsgroup will be created for reasons including,
but not restricted to, the following:
* To encourage understanding and discussion of Ireland and Irish
culture, in the many ways people wish to define it.
* To act as a focus for the Irish diaspora (Irish people,
including emigrants and their descendants) and to draw
together the global threads of Irishness.
* To act as a resource for Irish people who wish to use the
Internet and for people who wish to encourage the development
of the Internet in Ireland.
* To provide a forum for the use and support of the Irish
The following exceptions should be noted:
* Matters referring to the broader family of Celtic nations
should be posted to soc.culture.celtic.
* Matters referring to Irish folk music should be posted to
[ At the time the charter was written there was no separate
newsgroup for Irish family names. Now there is
soc.genealogy.ireland, which is more appropriate for this
than soc.culture.irish .]
Like many newsgroups, soc.culture.irish is slowly developing a
culture of its own. For a guide to what's _really_ going
on, try Gerard Cunningham's informal guide to the newsgroup
Subject: 2) Where is the Irish culture?
Usually this question is a complaint. Many people are
disappointed when they read soc.culture.irish and find it
isn't quite what they expected. The newsgroup is not just for
discussions about Irish culture (unless you broaden the word
"culture" to encompass almost all things Irish). This is for
the very good reason that soc.culture.irish is the only Irish
newsgroup with worldwide distribution. (Other newsgroups, such
as those in the ie.* hierarchy are not available everywhere.)
It does not pay to read too much into a name when that name is
fairly arbitrary (as is the case with most Usenet newsgroups).
Having said that, there is most likely a place in the newsgroup
for Irish culture as you define it. If you don't see what
you want to discuss, you should post an article on the subject
yourself. If you express yourself well, you'll probably find
that people will respond positively. On the other hand, it is
not productive to complain about what's there if you have made
no effort to contribute yourself.
If you need inspiration, take a look at Gerard Cunningham's archive
of poetry postings (http://www.wwa.com/~abardubh/poetry/)
and various other cultural items
Finally, remember that, as in most news groups, the interesting
articles are often hard to find until you get to know the group.
There are discussions going on all the time about things other
than politics: you just have to look beyond the current flame war.
You might want to read for a couple of weeks before you pass
judgement. As always, good news reading software helps a lot.
(This is particularly true since the newsgroup has become more
busy, with upwards of 200 articles a day.)
Subject: 3) I found a lot of nastiness here. Are real Irish people like that?
No. You cannot generalise from soc.culture.irish to "real"
Irish people (whatever that means to you). You can't do it
for any of the other soc.culture groups either. People often
do not behave on newsgroups like they would in real life.
A newsgroup is a great place to get on your hobby horse, make
a lot of noise and get yourself some attention without paying
the consequences you would if you did it in a pub. Again,
it pays to look beyond whatever rudeness offends you for
quieter discussions that may be taking place in the next booth.
(See also the question about trolls.)
Subject: 4) Could you please send me the Irish FAQ?
You might not get all the parts of the FAQ or you might just want
the current version. Please try to get it yourself before
asking me. If you have access to the web, use the web
There's also a FAQ archive which lets you search for keywords at
the Internet FAQ Archives (http://www.faqs.org/faqs/).
If you don't have access to the web, but you do have ftp access,
use rtfm.mit.edu (log in as anonymous). You should find all
the FAQ files in the directory
If you only have access to mail, send a message to
email@example.com with no Subject and just the following
two lines in the body
You can retrieve a list of the files using the index command
Subject: 5) What is netiquette?
It's politeness on Usenet. People reading your articles
appreciate it if you follow certain guidelines. Some of the
guidelines are listed here. If you are not familiar with them,
you might want to check the newsgroup news.announce.newusers.
Summarise or quote (briefly!) what you are replying to.
Don't assume other people see articles in the same order you do.
Read all replies and don't repeat what has already been said.
Check the headers when replying and remove irrelevant newsgroups.
Don't criticise people for their spelling.
Cite your references if you have any.
Don't overdo your signature.
Try to keep your lines less than 80 characters long.
If you reply by mail _and_ news indicate that the reply is public.
Subject: 6) What is a troll? What should I do when I see one?
A troll is an attempt to start a prolonged flame war, a fierce
argument with rude, personal insults. Usually, a troll is an
article that is so outrageous, insulting and stupid that you
feel you _have_ to reply. You can often recognise it because
it is crossposted to several groups (very few articles posted
to more than three groups are worth reading). If it is posted
by someone you never saw posts from before (especially if they
are using an anonymous account), that's a good sign of a troll.
Often, it will flagrantly violate basic netiquette.
If you see a troll, don't post an angry reply. If you do, the
troller will have succeeded. It's better to ignore the troll.
(A humorous putdown is another option, but one that might
backfire.) If you have a killfile facility in your newsreader
(sometimes called a filter), you can set it to ignore future posts
from this person. A good newsreader can also be set to "kill"
a subject (ignore future posts with that subject line).
There's also a FAQ about trolls
It's perhaps worth mentioning that not everything you
personally find offensive is necessarily a troll.
Subject: 7) What are the basics I should know about Ireland?
Ireland is an island in north-western Europe with a temperate
climate. Much of the coastline is hilly and large plains cover
the middle and southeast of the country. It is inhabited by
around five million people. Thousands of years ago, Ireland was
covered with deciduous forests, but now fields are the
dominant feature of the landscape.
There are two cultures to be found in Ireland. Historically,
the island has been politically dominated by the people of its
eastern neighbour, Britain. One culture, found mostly among
those whose ancestors came from Britain (usually hundreds of
years ago) values its connections with Britain: people of this
culture see themselves as British (though not always and not
always exclusively) in the same way that the Scots and the
Welsh are. They are called unionists. People aligned to the
other culture see themselves as Irish and put great value in
being independent from Britain. They are called nationalists.
While members of both groups will value the indigenous heritage,
such as the Irish language, nationalists are apt to claim it
as their own. Unionists are mostly raised as Protestants,
nationalists as Roman Catholics. (Unsurprisingly, nationalism
and unionism both run in families.) The two cultures are often
referred to as the two traditions, communities or identities.
This is a generalisation, because many (maybe even most) people
have connections to both cultures.
There is a border between the north-eastern part of the island
(which is still united with and ruled from Britain) called
Northern Ireland and the larger south-western part (which has
been independent since December 1921 and is governed from the
largest city on the island, Dublin) known as the Republic of
Ireland. Unionists form the majority in Northern Ireland and
nationalists form the (overwhelming) majority in the Republic.
Subject: 8) What are the basics about the Republic?
Between Three-and-a-half and four million people live in the
Republic (3.621 million at the time of the 1996 Census). It is
divided into twenty six counties:
Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Dublin*, Galway, Kerry,
Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Leitrim, Limerick, Longford, Louth,
Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary,
Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.
[ * The counties do not necessarily coincide with
administrative units any more. For example, Dublin has at
least _four_ councils, Fingal on the northside, Dublin City,
Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown and South Dublin on the southside. ]
Dublin, with a population of over a million, is the most
important city. The government has tried to slow emigration
from rural areas to Dublin using measures ranging from grants
to relocating government offices, but with limited success.
Irish is the official first language, but is spoken mainly in
areas located along the western seaboard known as Gaeltachts.
Irish is a compulsory subject at school, but English is the
language generally used in every day life. There are also a
lot of Irish speakers in the cities (particularly Dublin),
but they are less concentrated there than in the Gaeltachts.
By the way, in Irish, Dublin is called Baile Átha Clíath
(often abbreviated to B.A.C).
Until recently the Republic had a high "dependency ratio",
meaning that the number of people working was relatively
small compared to the number of people they had to support.
As the children of the baby boom of the early and mid-seventies
comes of age, more and more of them will be entering the labour
force, making this less of a problem. With the extraordinary
economic boom of the nineties, unemployment in the Republic
has fallen from nearly a fifth to a single percentage figure
below the European Union average.
Ireland celebrates its national day on March 17th, the day of its
patron saint, Patrick, who introduced Christianity to the country.
The day is celebrated in the U.S. almost as much as (some would
say more than) in Ireland.
The republic has a bicameral Parliament (Oireachtas) consisting
of an upper house or Senate (Seanad Éireann) and a lower house
or House of Representatives (Dáil Éireann). Members of the
Dáil (known as Teachtaí Dála or T.D.s) are elected directly and
this house has the primary legislative role. The Seanad (whose
members are not elected by the people at large) has limited
powers and can in general be overridden by the Dáil.
Chief of State:
Uachtarán (President) Mary McAleese
Head of Government:
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern
The national flag is divided into three equal vertical bands of
green (hoist side), white, and orange. The green symbolises the
nationalist culture, the orange the unionist culture, and white
Subject: 9) What are the basics about Northern Ireland?
Between one-and-a-half and two million people live in the North
(1 577 836 were counted during the last Census in 1991).
It is divided into six counties:
Antrim, Armagh, Londonderry (usually called Derry by
nationalists), Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone. These counties were
abolished as administrative units in 1973 and replaced with
26 "districts" [draw a deep breath]: Antrim, Ards, Armagh,
Ballymena, Ballymoney, Banbridge, Belfast, Carrickfergus,
Castlereagh, Coleraine, Cookstown, Craigavon, Down, Dungannon,
Fermanagh, Larne, Limavady, Lisburn, Londonderry, Magherafelt,
Moyle, Newry & Mourne, Newtonabbey, North Down, Omagh and
Belfast is the most important city in Northern Ireland and the
second biggest city on the island. It has traditionally been the
most industrially developed city in Ireland and is famous for
its shipbuilding, particularly the Harland and Wolf shipyard.
The shipyard has survived but is not nearly as important an
employer as it once was. It is a city starkly divided between
nationalists and unionists: victims of violence can (and are)
often be identified merely by the area they come from: someone
from Ballymurphy is nationalist; someone from the Shankill is
unionist. Divisions are at their worst in working class areas,
where it's often possible to label areas on a street by street
basis: middle-class suburbs are more integrated.
Unemployment is a serious problem just as it is in the south.
It is also very unevenly distributed, as in the south: you will
come across housing estates where the overwhelming majority of
people are unemployed, often for more than one generation in the
same family. Up until the late sixties there was open
discrimination against nationalists and many claim that this
discrimination continues today, although there are now strict
laws against discrimination.
Northern Ireland is ruled from London: there is a Northern
Ireland Secretary (currently Mo Mowlam) who is in charge of
the Northern Ireland Office and hence the civil service. The
parliament in Stormont has not been active since the start of
the Troubles in the early seventies, when "direct rule" was
Currently 18 out of 647 constituencies represented in the
House of Commons in London are in Northern Ireland.
Chief of State:
Queen Elizabeth II
Head of Government:
Prime Minister Tony Blair
The Good Friday Agreement created an elected Assembly
and Executive Authority for Northern Ireland. The First
Minister of this Executive is currently David Trimble;
his Deputy First Minister is Seamus Mallon.
The flag of Northern Ireland is that of the United Kingdom:
the crosses of Saints Andrew, George and Patrick overlaid on
each other. (There is also flag for Northern Ireland alone,
a red hand superimposed on a cross of St George.)
Subject: 10) I'm a bit confused by all the names. Please explain.
Different people use different names.
There are two more important terms: "republican" and "loyalist".
A republican believes in an extreme form of Nationalism, a
loyalist believes in an extreme form of Unionism. Both terms are
used to describe groups who advocate the use of violence to
achieve political aims.
Unionists tend to call Northern Ireland Ulster, even tough this
is technically incorrect (Ulster includes three extra counties:
Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal). Republicans (here meaning
nationalists who sympathise with violent attempts to force union
between Northern Ireland and the Republic) often call Northern
Ireland "the Six Counties" and the Republic "the Twenty Six
Counties" (or, worse, "the Free State", a reference to the
original Irish state with limited independence created in 1921).
British people often call the Republic Éire (possibly
because it was the word used by the BBC for years) but this
is not popular amongst Irish people. The word is grating to
many Irish ears when used in English. "Éire" is the name
of the state in Irish, "Ireland" is the name in English.
The Constitution says as much (but also contains the phrase
"We, the people of Éire" in its preamble, arguably a case
of mis-translation). Some Irish don't mind the mix and even
use it themselves, however if in doubt, you call it "Ireland"
if you are speaking English.
"Ireland" is ambiguous: it may refer to the island or to the
part governed from Dublin. You may want to say "the island of
Ireland" to avoid this ambiguity. "The North" and "the South"
are often used as shorthand for Northern Ireland and the Republic
There is sometimes a subtle difference in whether the word is
written with an initial capital or not, e.g. 'unionist'
indicating a general connection with the idea, 'Unionist'
implying a more direct political involvement especially relating
to one of the Unionist political parties.
Finally, you cannot tell someone's political allegiance reliably
from what names they use: these are all generalisations. The
safest terms are "Northern Ireland" and "Republic of Ireland".
Subject: 11) What about Irish-Americans?
What about them?
But seriously, "Irish-Americans" are a topic of heated debate,
repeated misunderstandings and a flame war permanently threatening
to break out as soon a newcomer says something inapposite on
To summarise the problem, some Irish people don't like it
when Americans refer to themselves as Irish or act in a way
that implies (or seems to imply) that they are "really" Irish.
There's not much that can be usefully said about this problem
except perhaps that people should keep an open mind and try not
to apply preconceptions based on words on a screen. The word
"Irish" can be specific, referring to nationality or it can be
vague, referring to ethnic background or "identity". There's a
whole range of meaning, which may not be immediately obvious.
Subject: 12) Why is there a conflict in the North?
(There is some hope that the Troubles in the North may be
coming to an end and conflict will be of the more usual
political kind, not involving the kind of violence that
has made Northern Ireland infamous for three decades.
Nevertheless, this answer refers to the Troubles.)
This is a difficult question and one that is impossible to
answer without offending some people. There are two easy
answers, each favoured by one side: because of the border;
because of the IRA. Neither is satisfactory, because both just
raise more difficult questions: why do the border and the IRA
exist today? There is an attempt to answer the first in the
History section of the FAQ.
This is not a war between the Irish and the British: it is not
a private war between the IRA and the British army; nor is it
a war between catholics and protestants. It is a struggle over
the political future of Northern Ireland, one where some people
have resorted to violence (as well as the IRA there are various
loyalist groups who have a U for Ulster at the start of their
acronyms). An overwhelming proportion of nationalists and
unionists reject violence (though they are usually most strident
in their rejection when this violence is committed by the "other"
To explain the conflict you must explain the IRA. It has little
popular support in Ireland (but considerable support in parts
of Belfast, Armagh and Derry). It is (despite claims to the
contrary) a deeply political organisation with a well-developed
ideology that justifies continued killing. This is the ideology
of British oppression. Perhaps the most significant icon is
the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry when British paratroopers
shot dead unarmed protesters. It is events such as these that
recruit members, not the low-level harassment of republicans or
the border itself (both existed long before the Provisional IRA).
A FAQ answer is not a real answer to the question: you need to
read a book (preferably several). "The Troubles" by Tim Pat
Coogan (Random House, London 1995 ISBN 0 09 179146 4) might be a
start. (He also wrote a history of the IRA called, surprisingly
"The IRA: A History".) "The Edge of the Union" by Steve Bruce
(ISBN 0-19-827976-0 ) takes a different point of view of the
Subject: 13) Where can I find more information about the flags of Ireland?
Vincent Morley has a web page about various Irish flags
End of Irish FAQ part 1