May 22, 2008

Good fences make less homicidal neighbors

From the Washington Post:

Despite peace, Belfast walls are growing in size and number
The Associated Press

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Lee Young, 8, and Cein Quinn, 7, live barely 200 yards apart, but they have never met, and maybe never will.

Lee is Protestant, Cein a Catholic _ and their communities in Belfast's west inner city are separated by a wall called a peace line. It's nearly 40 years old and 40 feet high.

Ten years after peace was declared in Northern Ireland, one might have expected that Belfast's barriers would be torn down by now. But reality, as usual, is far messier. Not one has been dismantled. Instead they've grown in both size and number. … Instead, for dozens of front-line communities of Belfast, fences still make the best neighbors.

"The Troubles" began at these sectarian flashpoints in the late 1960s, and survive today in a legacy of mutual fear and loathing. The rate of sectarian killings has fallen to virtually zero thanks to cease-fires underpinned by IRA disarmament, and the feeling on both sides is that the barriers help keep that peace. …

In this city of 650,000, roughly half Catholic and half Protestant, only the university district and upper-class streets, chiefly on the south side, bear no clear-cut tribal identity.

There's something quite similar in Beirut, where the one street open to all ethnicities runs by the American University.

A lot of ethnic struggles aren't driven so much by mass hatred as by thugs, most of them young, who get into scrapes with the other side. In the meritocratic uplands, it all seems irrelevant. But down in the lowlands, where social ties are less determined by having unusually high IQs or particular talent, but by blood and neighborliness, the young thugs are nephews and cousins and neighbors' nephews and cousins. While they may be sons of bitches, they're our sons of bitches.

Catholic colleagues on occasion have invited him across the wall for an after-hours pint at their pub. He won't go. "You'd be afraid that they might recognize you're from the other side. Am I too tight in the eyes?" he said, referring to a stereotype of Protestant eyes supposedly being closer together.

That's the first stereotype I've heard of Belfast Prods and Taigs being even theoretically distinguishable by sight. I've always described the Northern Irish troubles as a classic racial struggle between two partly inbred extended families. They haven't been separated long enough to undergo much selection for different looks, but so what? Thinking of them like this helps you understand the situation better.

People tend to look at me like I'm crazy when I say this because everybody knows that race is only about skin color. So therefore, the Troubles have to be about religion (even though most of the active participants in the Troubles are too hung over to make it to church on Sunday morning).

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Catholics tend to be descended from the Irish population, Protestants from the Scottish (and English) so they are slightly separated. However these are populations that overlap already. Also there are plenty of Catholics with Scottish/English surnames & Protestants with Irish surnames. So there has been past cross-breeding one way or another.

The persistence of these barriers only confirms to me that a viable solution to the Northern Ireland conflict would be re-partition on a large scale. Partition of Cyprus has been a success that we could all learn from.

Anonymous said...

Lee Young, 8, and Cein Quinn...

Are you sure these are Irishmen...children? Phonetically they could be Chinese.

Anonymous said...

When you're a Jet you're a Jet till the end (or was it Shark?)

Didn't Dr Suess have a story about the 'Sneeches'?

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of visual cues that help you distinguish the two groups by sight if you grew up there - enough that I would expect to correctly identify background from just a photo about 75% instead of 50% of the time. But they aren't the sorts of thing it would be easy to explain, and I doubt outsiders could see the difference without years of residence.

Anonymous said...

Hatfields vs McCoys

Anonymous said...

The Protestants generally have English or Scottish ancestry (usually Lowland Scottish or Northern English ancestry, which is typically a mixture of Brythonic Celtic, Anglian, and Scandinavian.)
Highlanders by and large did not take part in the Plantation of Ireland. Many Highland clans had ties by marriage to the Catholic Irish clans of Ulster, and Clan Donald had branches in Antrim.
In the 16th century, Highland Scots frequently served as mercenaries in Ireland. At the time, clans such as the MacDonalds, Camerons and MacNeills remained Catholic, like their Irish relatives.

Anonymous said...

Easy solution to "the troubles": encourage third world immigration a la the rest of Europe. The Catholics and Protestants would find themselves to be allies in very short order. They would also discover the true meaning of "troubles".

Anonymous said...

"Many Highland clans had ties by marriage to the Catholic Irish clans of Ulster, and Clan Donald had branches in Antrim"

My mother's family are Protestant McBrides from Donegal; the McBrides are a branch of the MacDonalds. Overall there is no clear distinction between NE Ireland Irish and SW Scotland Scots; the two areas were historically usually part of the same geopolitical entity (eg Dal Riata, Lordship of the Isles, United Kingdom). Most families have links across the water.
The Englishness of the Ulster Protestants is often exaggerated, even by us Ulster Protestants.

Anonymous said...

"There are a lot of visual cues that help you distinguish the two groups by sight if you grew up there"

I grew up near Belfast. I can distinguish Dublin Irish from northern Irish easily enough, but Protestant vs Catholic Ulster folk is much harder. I guess Protestants tend to look a bit bluffer and rounder faced, but most differences are in demeanour not physique.

Anonymous said...

john craig:
"Easy solution to "the troubles": encourage third world immigration a la the rest of Europe."

My friends in Ulster tell me this is well under way.

Anonymous said...

Put me down as one who buys the "stereotype" about eyes being close together as being legit; those sorts of sayings rarely are conjured randomly out of thin air.

A few years ago I'm having beers with my fellow clueless young Canadian fellow citizens after an NGO conference. French Quebec guy says to me, in one of those rare and beautiful moments when a member of the grievance cohort is straight with a white anglo male: "Do you know why we call you guys Squareheads? Because your head, physically, it looks square to me."

Compare with the slightly less forthcoming definition from Urban

"1. Tête carrée
26 up, 7 down

An English-Canadian bigot, an obtuse and arrogant person convinced of his/her innate superiority over anyone who isn't white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Someone nostalgic of an era when British colonial rule had spread worldwide. Clusters of Tête carrées can be found in Montréal (West-Island) and more specifically the borough of Westmount.

Origins remain vague.

Regarde-le donc, un autre tête carré."

Anonymous said...

A lot of these ethnic struggles are racial, and people fail to recognize that. The Serbian Croatian fight is also a racial struggle. People tend to think that's also driven by religion, but there are Catholic and atheist Serbs, and Orthodox Croats. Changing your religion doesn't grant you membership in the other group. I don't know how easy it is for Serbs and Croats to recognize each other on sight, though. Actually probably easier now than it would have been in Yugoslav times.

Anonymous said...

After seeing how much trouble a relatively small difference in race and religion has caused, the UK has been busy installing a much bigger difference:

STARTLING new figures reveal that Oldham appears to be moving backwards in its efforts to improve community cohesion among the borough’s youngest citizens.

The statistics obtained by the Advertiser show that more local primary schools than ever are now divided along racial lines – with a total of seven schools made up entirely of children from ethnic backgrounds, and many more dominated by pupils of either white or Asian heritage.

Still, it's not all bad news. The Marxist "race expert" Professor Ted Cantle (not himself of native British stock, you may be unsurprised to learn) gets to issue instructions again:

Professor Ted Cantle, who wrote the ‘parallel lives’ report five years after the riots, believes Oldham Council may have to take a firmer approach in promoting the benefits of mixed schools.

He said: "We want children to grow up with children from other backgrounds. It’s part of their education living in a multi-cultural society.

"Everybody knows enforced mixing is counter productive, but on the other hand you can’t just leave things as they are. The alternative is to try and make multi-cultural schools a more positive choice for parents. We have to make this an attractive alternative for parents and actively encourage them."

Anonymous said...

Growing up as a Protestant in Belfast in the 1980s, the stereotype we had about Catholics was that *their* eyes were close together. But I agree with Simon Newman, it's hard to tell the two sides apart by looks (unless they're wearing Celtic or Rangers jerseys). Speech is a more accurate indicator, especially the famous shibboleth concerning the pronunciation of the letter H: I can remember a boy getting beaten up because he said "haitch" instead of "aitch".

Anonymous said...

I was looking at a book once by an Irish-American writer (it may even have been Angela's Ashes, which I have never read but have flipped through, but I'm unsure since McCourt was from nowhere near Ulster) in which an elderly Ulsterman shocked the narrator by claiming that, through "years of practice," he could distinguish a Catholic from a Protestant by sight.

Anonymous said...

Patrick: At the time, clans such as the MacDonalds, Camerons and MacNeills remained Catholic, like their Irish relatives.

The Scots were Irish peoples - they [and/or their culture] replaced the native Pictish peoples [and/or the Pictish culture] in what we now call "Scotland" [formerly "Pictland"].

Cf Columba and Dál Riata; also, from the Wikipedia entry on the Picts:

In the reign of Cínaed's grandson, Caustantín mac Áeda (900–943), the kingdom of the Picts became the kingdom of Alba. The change from Pictland to Alba may not have been noticeable at first; indeed, as we do not know the Pictish name for their land, it may not have been a change at all. The Picts, along with their language, did not disappear suddenly. The process of Gaelicisation, which may have begun generations earlier, continued under Caustantín and his successors. When the last inhabitants of Alba were fully Gaelicised, becoming Scots, probably during the 11th century, the Picts were soon forgotten. Later they would reappear in myth and legend.

Demography really is destiny, folks!

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that a 'shibboleth' test was applied in Northern Ireland until very recently.

Look up 'H' in Wiki for the details.


Anonymous said...

I've always described the Northern Irish troubles as a classic racial struggle between two partly inbred extended families.

This is prolly right.

The Plantations of Ulster in the early seventeenth century involved the migration of something like 120,000 Lowland Scots and English settlers to Ulster -- men and women (i.e. families). The population of the island at the time was probably around 1 million -- so the Ulster settlers amounted to 12% of the total population. (Compare that to the numbers of immigrants we have today in the Republic of Ireland alone: 13-15%.)

The key thing was that wives were brought over from Scotland/England. Unlike say the Vikings who married (or carried off to Iceland) the local girls, the rather large Planter population was, from the outset, a separate group.

It's not clear to me that there has been that much intermarriage. There certainly has been some, however as recently as 1971 just 2 per cent of marriages in Northern Ireland were "mixed". By the 1990s, those numbers were more like 6 per cent -- and in some areas as high as 20 per cent. On the other hand, in some areas inbreeding has actually increased (don't know which areas).

And, there do seem to be physical differences between the two (or three or four, depending on how you want to count) groups. One study has found that craniofacial measurements differ in NI depending on religion and county of birth. Another study has shown differences in ABO and Rh(D) blood group frequencies in the Ards Peninsula (Presbyterians in the north and Catholics in the south) that "could be traced back at least to the early seventeenth century."

Would be great to see more genetic research done in the North.

Anonymous said...

All northern Europeans look the same to me.

Anonymous said...

"I've always described the Northern Irish troubles as a classic racial struggle between two partly inbred extended families."

Then you are obviously extremely ignorant as to irish affairs. The war in the north (the troubles if you prefer) are about politcal and military occupation by one country of another - Ireland by Britain. It is about denial of self determination of the Irish people as a whole

Anonymous said...

It's best to leave the walls up. It will be a pain in the butt to rebuild them, having taken them down!

Anonymous said...

Growing up as a Protestant in Belfast in the 1980s, the stereotype we had about Catholics was that *their* eyes were close together

I'm also Protestant from Belfast and I was told the same thing growing up. The reporter has got it wrong.

I've noticed for years now that foreigners, usually reporters, often get the most basic facts about NI wrong or they fall for obvious bluster or made up stories from the locals. I recall a Belgian university professor of mine telling the students that most people in Belfast had never met someone from the other religion - in part because of the 'peace walls' mentioned in the AP report. Surely even a foreigner should know how ridiculous such an assertion is for a mixed city like Belfast.

Needless to say you can't tell a Hun from a Taig just by looking at their eyes. But having always worked in mixed workplaces I can tell you that usually you know every one else's religion even if you've never spoken to the person. There are so many markers from their names - particularly their Christian names - to the football teams they support to the bus they get on after work and, as mentioned, the pronunciation of 'H' and a few other words.

BTW I've never heard any local suggest tearing down the peace walls no matter how liberal they may be. Only outsiders think it would be just swell to remove the barriers between the communities.

Anonymous said...

Of course the differences in the two groups are easy to spot visually. The Catholics are the handsome ones! :)

Anonymous said...

John Beddoe (a Welshman) wrote a very systematic book about physical anthropology of the British Isles in the 1800's. His view was that the countries were less important than the districts within the countries. West Country English different from those living on the east coast, West Irish in the mountainous areas of Roscommon and Sligo different than those in Dublin, Scottish varying from place to place.

Also no reason to assume Irish are the "most" Gaelic people around. Mountain areas are always refuges for remnants of the vanquished. Lots of West English have classic British looks, craggy faces, pale skin, dark hair. Abe Lincoln was one of these, and he openly spoke about how he differed in temperament from the broad faces, flaxen-haired men.

Beddoe's work is well worth a read for those interested. Far better than any poorly informed generalizations we Americans can imagine stateside. And to be honest I don't find the Brits or Irish particularly insightful about their own differences either.

Good example of a dubious pop yarn would be someone's observation (not Beddoe's) that red hair is really a Viking thing more than a Gaelic thing. Lots of flaming red hair in portraits of the Dutch masters that goes unnoticed because it doesn't match the "red=Gaelic" meme.

Anonymous said...

One also sees red hair among Ashkenazi Jews (especially the Hasidim, it seems). Usually the more depigmented folks in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Near East are redheads rather than blonds.
Red hair is not unique to the British Isles; maybe it is stereotypically associated with Irish and Scots because those are the regions of the British Isles where it is most common.
I wonder about the age and distribution the red hair gene(s) vs that of the blond hair gene(s). The latter seems to have a more northeasterly distribution than the former, and I wonder if it arose later? Razib has written about that.

Anonymous said...

Patrick, be careful of Americanisms. Irish and Scots probably have much more red hair than say Germans or Poles or Italians. That is the American experience talking. Be wary of the big gaps in American experience here.

Do Irish and Scots have more red hair than the Dutch or Icelanders? That is a better question, but Americans have no pop culture data to address it.