Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland - The People—Their Customs and Manners

Source:A Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland [.mobi (Kindle), .epub (iPad, etc.)]
Author:War and Navy Departments, Washington, D.C.

THE people of Ulster, whether of Gaelic, Scottish, or English ancestry, regard themselves as Irishmen. They are proud of their lineage and tremendously fond and proud of either native land. They will talk to you freely about it.

Before you have been there many days you will hear all about Ireland’s long history, the beauty of Ireland’s scenery, the extraordinary goings-on of Irish fairyfolk, the prodigious roll call of Ireland’s great men. Your role is to listen. You may have seen more exciting scenery, you are undoubtedly used to more bountiful living—but you are on their home grounds.


The old-fashioned fireplace in a County Antrim farmhouse.

They may expect you to brag about New York’s big buildings. Don’t do it. There are Irishmen who emigrated to the United States as boys and who have returned, near the end of their lives, to the little villages they left long ago. Some of them are unpopular because they talk about sky-scrapers, express highways, modern plumbing; they boast about the wonders they have seen and shared. The Irish, being proud people, resent comparisons in which Ireland seems to come off second best.

Getting along with people in Ireland is pretty much the same job as getting along with people in America. Consideration, courtesy, friendliness will take you just as far in Ireland as they will at home. The Irish will like your frankness if it is friendly. They will expect you to be generous, high spirited, robust—but they will not appreciate any effort of yours to impose your code of conduct or values upon them.

A visitor coming to America wins few friends if he makes a point of telling Americans how much better his country is than theirs. It doesn’t make any difference that he honestly believes he is right. The Irish like their own way of life and you will be wise, if, during your stay, you fit yourself into it as well and as comfortable as possible.

The people of Ulster are, in general, serious-minded and hard-working. They are independent in their beliefs and stubborn in their opinions. The heavy infiltration of Scotch blood may have something to do with the fact that they are exceedingly thrifty. But they are thrifty also because Ireland is not a rich country and a living is difficult to come by. The Ulsterman likes to drive a hard bargain in business affairs and he thinks a spendthrift is a dope.

Yet, at the same time, Ulster is a most hospitable place. If you pause at a farmer’s house, you are likely to be invited in for a cup of tea. Tea is now rationed, but recently an American soldier speaking on a short-wave broadcast said he had drunk more tea during his first 2 weeks in Ireland than he had in his whole life before. You should be warned on one point: if you are invited to the farmer’s dinner table, don’t accept too many helpings. Food is not plentiful, and because the Irish are hospitable, the bustling housewife may have cooked most of the week’s supply of meat.

Ulster cottage

The male social center in Ulster is the tavern or public house. While there are temperance advocates and a few prohibitionists in Ireland, you won’t see much of them. Irish whiskey is famous, but the price is now so high that you will find most people drink stout, ale, and porter, which they call “beer.” The American-type beer (which is, of course, really German type) comes only in bottles and is known as “lager.”

Up in the hills you may be offered an illicit concoction known as “potheen.” This is a moonshine whiskey made out of potato mash. Watch it. It’s dynamite … The beer and ale served in the “pubs” is usually heavier and stronger than ours. Don’t expect ice-cold drinks. The Irish, like Europeans generally, are accustomed to drinks served at room temperature. They like them that way.

The Irish don’t go in for the Dutch treat system. If five men enter a pub, each will stand a round, and etiquette demands that all stay until the last of the five rounds has been bought. If you are invited to join such a group, and do so, remember that you will give offense by a refusal to treat and be treated.

Belfast street 1940s

You won’t see any tenements in Belfast. Instead, you will find rows upon rows of factory workers’ homes like these, usually kept very neat and tidy.

You’ll probably miss the soda fountains, the hot dog stands, and hamburger joints of America. Ireland has nothing remotely like them. There are no sodas, few sweets, and very few soft drinks. If you want a sandwich, you’ll have to make your own; the Irish serve and eat their meat and bread separately. As a matter of fact, when on furlough you may have difficulty in getting a hot meal just when you want it. Most “pubs” don’t serve food. In the country it is quite all right to approach a farmhouse and ask to buy milk, eggs, bread, and tea… .

Milk, eggs, bread, and tea usually serve the Ulsterman both at breakfast and supper. (Supper is often called “high tea.”) Dinner is the only meal that includes meat, potatoes, and other vegetables, and, except at the big hotels in the cities, it usually comes in the middle of the day.

The war has made it necessary for Ireland to rely on her own produce for food, and there is not much variety. Potatoes and cabbage are the inevitable vegetables. There is little seasoning in the food, and the beef or the bacon may be a bit on the tough side, but it satisfies a hungry man. There are various Irish specialties that you will find delightful—the oat cakes and potato bread are excellent and the scones (baking powder biscuits) are the best in the world.

The pre-war tourist frequently remarked, in criticism of Ulster, that there is nothing to do there. It is true that the Irish do not go in for organized sport as much as the English do or as much as we do. But you’ll rarely see anything more exciting than a football (soccer) game between two tough Irish professional teams; tempers rise and the police are frequently on hand to keep order. Both dog racing and horse racing are popular; all field sports are popular, and you might be able to get permission from a farmer to shoot over his land or to trout-fish his brook, but make very sure you get permission—poaching isn’t popular in North Ireland.

Golf is not a rich man’s game in Northern Ireland and there are links everywhere. Your commanding officer undoubtedly can arrange for you to play the nearby Irish courses. There is boating and bathing on the “loughs.” And you will be interested in watching a cricket game even though you find it slower than baseball.

There is virtually no night life. Pubs close early, and the floor show and juke joint are nonexistent. You will find motion-picture houses (cinemas) in all the larger towns; many American films are shown. The theatres are closed on Sunday. In fact, everything is closed on Sunday because of the devout church-going habits of the population and the strict blue laws.

In the matter of Sunday closing, in other matters of morality and personal conduct, the Irish may seem puritanical to men used to American’s free and easy ways. You will do well among respectable householders to avoid even mild profanity: what passes for idle swearing among Americans may strike the Irish as real blasphemy and, therefore, offensive. Anything which borders, however faintly, on the indecent is better left unsaid.

The church is an important social institution in Ulster. Often a town of 10,000 will have 15 or 16 churches, and even those not members of a church make a point of attending Sunday service; besides feeling the need of spiritual uplift they know they will meet their friends and neighbors there. In the small towns some church groups often add an open-air Saturday night meeting to the calendar of services. You will be interested in these Saturday night meetings; country people who have come to town with their produce wander from one shop to the other while cornets and drums play gospel hymns in the main street, and the preacher speaks from a well-placed soap box.


You are more than welcome in the churches. Nothing will establish friendlier relations between you and the Ulster people than going to church with them.

Freedom of worship is guaranteed everywhere in Ireland and Britain, just as it is in the United States. In America—as you know—we usually take it for granted that some people go to one church and some to another. The Irish, where religion is concerned, take nothing for granted. Church affiliation is a serious thing.

There are 430,000 Roman Catholics in Ulster, 390,000 Presbyterians, 345,000 members of the Church of Ireland (Protestant Episcopalians), 55,000 Methodists, and 60,000 of other faiths.

Religious differences and political differences are inseparable in Ireland; they have been made one and the same by years of internal bitterness, strife, and violence. You will discover that Protestants usually do not mingle with Catholics nor Catholics with Protestants. They move in quite different circles socially, and they have few contacts even in business. Don’t try to bridge this chasm. Wiser and better equipped people than you have discovered that Ireland is one place where intervention is not blessed, however well intended.

July 12—known simply as The Twelfth—is an important date in Ulster. This is the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne which, as you know, established Protestant kings on England’s throne. Celebration of the day is led by the powerful Orange Order, a Protestant political and fraternal organization, and there are parades and demonstrations throughout the six counties. Political feelings run high and clashes between Protestant demonstrators and their Catholic fellow-countrymen are not uncommon.

Summing up: Religion is a matter of public as well as private concern in Ulster and you’ll be wise not to talk about it. In America we ask, “Where do you come from?” In Ulster they ask, “What church do you belong to?” If the question is put to you, tell the truth and then change the subject.

Yanks: British Views on America during the Second World War

This book comprises a selection of articles from the (British) Army Bureau of Current Affairs' WAR and CURRENT AFFAIRS pamphlets, all relating to America and, more particularly, to the relationship between the British and Americans during the Second World War.

"Our enemies are trying to make trouble between the British and the Americans during the war; they are certain to try it after they have been defeated, in the hope of escaping once more from the consequences of their crimes against humanity. It is our business to understand and work with the United States now and in peace-time; that means for us all at least to like and understand the Americans we meet."

ISBN: 978-1910375518