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Fifty years ago, to mark our centenary, the Belfast Telegraph ran a competition called ‘The Kind of Ulster I Want’. Back in 1970, young people were invited to pen a short essay detailing their hopes and dreams for Northern Ireland in the future. Here we reproduce what some of the winners wrote all those years ago...
By Valerie McCambley
I recently toured around Northern Ireland and was deeply moved by my experience. For a few, too brief, hours I was proud of Ulster.
Proud of the acres of cultivated land, laboured by the skill and care of my fellow country men. Of their farms and the fine products they yielded. Proud of all the other industries which have gained a well-earned place in commercial trading today.
As I looked about me, I felt, how fortunate I was. For this was my country, and therefore part of me.
There was so much potential here: room for new housing, and more factories to increase employment and the economy of Ulster. But returning to Belfast, pride was swept away as quickly as it had come, replaced by sadness at the ugliness around me.
Wrecked houses spelling homelessness and hopelessness for many, the burned-out little shops mocked the humble ambitions of ordinary men. Armoured trucks - as heavily armoured soldiers - created a silent tension. There was still the stench of tear-gas, blood and death, although the shooting and the screaming were all over - for a little while anyway.
Where have we gone wrong? The answer, for some time, eluded me, for it is the simplest answers which are often hardest to find!
We have gone wrong, not in what we have done, but in what we have not done!
The rioting and the bloodshed have been caused by the bigoted, tunnel-visioned extremists who call themselves loyal Protestants or Catholics but who are without faith or honour, not knowing what either stand for. For both teach Christianity and Christianity is understanding, tolerance and love.
These people are not to blame. They are ignorant, blind and bitter. Why have we allowed this minority to create such havoc, that has received world-wide headlines, smearing our country and attributing to all of us a violence which is alien to the majority?
We must wake up now and become as active, more active, as this minority, who are trailing us in the mud of public opinion. We must realise now, before it is too late, that we are tomorrow’s Ulster.
We must affirm that 1690 is now for our history books, but 1990 is for us.
If we want immigrants not emigrants, new houses not hovels, new factories not unemployment we, where our parents and grandparents failed, must prick the lethargy and complacency which will destroy our hopes for the opportunity to prosper in a happy community relationship.
Only when we realise that those of other religious and political beliefs can find the same satisfaction as we do, through our own particular ideals, can we see the uselessness of persecution and hostility.
How can we agree to disagree? The word ‘Christianity’ is, to some, denominational and the word ‘politics’ made to mean almost anything, so the only answer is integration.
We must harangue our Church leaders, political and educational leader, to stop ‘reaching’ and ‘beseeching’ us not to panic but live in peace - while riots explode around us!
We must get the Church and State to create an integrated society where we can work, play and compete in amiable rivalry for non-political, non-denominational awards.
We must, as lay people, help them in this task, and learn that integration does not mean agreement but promotes the airing, agreeing and disagreeing of the views of many.
It is when many voices can freely debate a lot, a little may be learned, and from what we learn, pray God, we will have that Ulster of communal prosperity for all that, for our parents today, is merely a dream.
By Jeffrey Nelson
I would like to see an Ulster where there were no riots.
I would like to see an Ulster where all people live together in peace without fighting.
I would like to see all children no matter what religion going to the same school. This way they could grow up together and understand each other, understand that there is no difference between them. The children would become friends and when they left school would continue their friendship.
I would like to see Ulster with its cities and towns looking bright and cheerful. I would like to see all the old and rotting houses knocked down and cleared away. I would like to see bright new ones built in their place. I would like to see new space for children in towns to play safely instead of having to use dirty and busy streets.
I would like to see an Ulster full of happy people who have nice homes and who live in peace with their neighbours.
I hope I don’t have too long to wait for the Ulster I would like to see.
By Stefana McClure
Ulster is slowly deteriorating. The people in it lack solicitude. Is Ulster habitable? In my mind I only see it as a stark, sad silhouette and I want to change that. The people, the politicians, the police. None seems to understand Ulster is demoralising itself.
Poor Ulster rambles on as if it only wants to live now and could not care about the future. I want Ulster to develop peacefully, not to be devastated.
I want a vivacious, alive, happy and advancing Ulster in which both children and grown-ups will enjoy life.
Do away with the Battle of the Boyne celebrations. Do away with the Easter Rising commemoration. Forget about the wrongs and differences of the past and look forward to the future.
I will, I hope, grow up in Northern Ireland and so will my children after.
Ulster is a beautiful province. Many people from overseas come each year to enjoy its beauty and the hospitality of its people. Is all this to be destroyed? When will they ever learn?
Why can’t Catholics and Protestants be friends? We were most of us born and reared in Ulster and yet we have to make foes of each other. That was not what God intended when He created us.
I was born in Ulster and if anyone wants peace why march and shout and fight? I want to change Ulster but I want to do it spontaneously. Ulster at the moment is ill. Who will cure it? Does anyone know how to cure it? So many people talk about good relations. What do they really do about it? Too many people talk. In my Ulster so many people would have to stop talking!
Why must people live all the time afraid of losing their homes? It’s not right.
Why are people killed? Why are banks blown up? What will the end be? I do not understand, but in my Ulster none of these awful things could happen. Ulster has every right to carry the weight of disgrace and it never stops even to think of the bad example it is giving to other countries, countries where years ago Irish saints and scholars taught people how to live!
My Ulster would be a place of love, great love, that would make so much difference. Our Lord said: “Love thy neighbour.” I want an Ulster where everyone is truly my neighbour.
Ulster will change - at least I will pray that way. A pen and paper mean a lot but could they change Ulster’s bitter days? My pen and my white wall of paper have made me think and wonder. Everyone must stop and ponder. And is this essay succeeds, remember to pray!
By Una McClements
Today’s Ulster makes me sad. It is definitely not the Ulster in which I want to live when I grow up. There is too much religion preached and talked about and not enough practised.
It does not matter to me if a person is Protestant or Catholic, but what is important is a person is kind and good. Throwing stones and petrol bombs at each other or still worse at the Army is not the way for grown-up Ulster men and women to behave.
I am just beginning to realise how beautiful our Ulster is. I have visited many lovely corners of it like Whitepark Bay, where the great white waves come rolling over the golden sands; the little lake behind Fair Head with its 2,000-year-old crannog in its centre: the lovely coastline twisting around from Larne to Magilligan.
When I look at these and many other beautiful places I am indeed proud that I was born here and am part of it. There is nothing wrong with this land of ours, but what of its people? The fault must be with them.
I want everybody to work hard for the good of our province. I want tourists to visit it and discover its beauty. I want industrialists to come here and build factories knowing that Ulster people can be relied upon to do their best.
I want the swimming baths and swings to be opened even on Sunday, for I won’t pray any less if I can play a little more.
I want an Ulster where children can play happily together even if they go to different churches or schools. I want all the slogans scrubbed off all the walls of the shops, houses and on roadways. I want more new houses to be built so that families do not have to live in old done houses with no bathroom or garden.
I would like more boys and girls to learn Irish dancing. I want more boys to join the Cubs and Scouts because they will be trained there to be better boys.
These, then, are my wishes for Ulster — free from ‘Troubles’, prosperous and happy.
I hope that some day soon my Ulster wishes will come true.
By John Browne
The Kind of Ulster I want. Sounds a simple question to answer, but is it? It would be easy to say I want an Ulster where all would be peace and tranquillity, but surely this is just day-dreaming at present.
What I do know is the kind of Ulster that I do not want and that is Ulster as it is today, where conflict and rioting is rife, where bigotry is common and where curfew and even semi-martial law is used.
So this is progress? Is this really all we can expect in the 1970s. I hope not.
I have not too long to go before university or a career. I ask myself: What will I be? Where shall I go? Already I feel that I shall not stay in Northern Ireland. Why? Why should I, not yet 14, be thinking of living and working somewhere else? Is it because of the lack of opportunities? Is it because of the Troubles? It is many things and certainly the present eruption in our province is one of the main reasons.
So what changes do I want? I want an Ulster where a school boy could look forward to a reasonable career and future without the fear of either political or industrial upheaval. I want an Ulster which would be a community of tolerant, sensible Christian people, where one’s politics and religion were matters for oneself.
I want an Ulster which could encourage and entice industry where new firms would be glad to come, and where old firms would expand. I want an Ulster where I could expect employment, where I would be willing to settle, purchase land or a house, and be able to enter into community activities without fear.
I want an Ulster where sports of all kinds could be enjoyed and played without outside interference. I want an Ulster where visitors are welcomed, where they could come year after year without fear of bombs or bullets.
I want more than anything an energetic, lively, industrious, politically mature, religiously free Ulster, where I could be sure that if I ever have children they should not know the kind of Ulster that I have known to date.
By Sally Mountjoy
When I think about the kind of Ulster I want, I would like some things to be changed but there are many which I would like to remain as they are.
The most important of these is the Ulster countryside. I love the Mourne Mountains, where you can go for a long day’s walk and see nobody. The hills are wild and empty and no motor cars are allowed. They have lots of wildlife, especially in the forest parks.
I enjoy the Glens of Antrim and Portballintrae. For history there are old castles like Dunluce and Londonderry with its ancient walls. For adventure what about Carrick-a-Rede with its swaying rope bridge eighty feet above the sea? And I don’t forget that other part of Ulster beyond the border. Especially I like Donegal with its hills and beaches.
I am also attracted by the friendliness of the Ulster people. I came to Ireland four years ago from England and not one person has held it against me in spite of what the English have done to them.
My family say that the same thing has happened to them. If you are out anywhere you can easily make a lot of friends. In a shop you will probably see the staff chatting to the customers.
Now for the things I would like altered. The most important by far would be an end to all the bitterness, hatred and fighting between Catholics and Protestants. When it started I was astonished as in all the other places I have lived there has been no trouble between people of different religions. They live happily as neighbours.
Maybe because of this it all seems so senseless. I do not know how to stop this hatred but I think it might help if there were more mixed estates and schools instead of areas which are of one religion only.
The next thing I would do would be to demolish the slums. These are ugly, uncomfortable and unhealthy. Many have no bathrooms and no hot water. Very few have gardens, so the children have to play in the streets which is very dangerous.
To solve this problem, I would build more parks, playgrounds and swimming pools.
Another problem is unemployment. Lack of employment leads to poverty and unhappiness and this causes strife. This leads to less work as factories and shops get burned down. The less there is the more people are at home during the day and the more they fight. This is a vicious circle that must be broken somehow.
Although I like the country I feel that some improvements could be made to it. I would like to see more footpaths and less barbed wire. Barbed wire makes it almost impossible to wander on the hills surrounding Belfast.
I feel that something should be done about the zoo. In summer it is alright but in winter it is very cold and ugly. I think that the animals should be given more space. It is very distressing to see a wild animal cooped up in a tiny cage. If the zoo is moved, which I think it should be, I hope the animals will be allowed to wander freely.
This is the kind of Ulster I want and if other children think the same this is what it will be like when we grow up.Visit our anniversary hub where we celebrate 150 years of the Belfast Telegraph