Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Let's forget all the poisonous whataboutery and focus on what makes us great instead

Sickened by politics, Fionola Meredith celebrates another Northern Ireland, one full of creativity and free from bitter rivalries

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in Ordinary Love
Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in Ordinary Love
Fionola Meredith

By Fionola Meredith

Have you ever noticed that there are two Northern Irelands? We're well acquainted with the familiar one: the endless, bad-tempered tussle between orange and green, which seems all the more pronounced in this election season, exacerbated by the tedious complications of Brexit.

It's nothing new. Every Northern Ireland election is a re-run of this eternal cultural war. I know it's meat and drink to the highly politicised ideologues on both sides, as well as to the geeky nerds who love to do complex mathematical calculations about slightly varying voting trends in lower Magherafelt or somewhere, but it leaves me stone-cold.

More and more people are disconnecting from politics, simply not bothering to vote at all, because they are so profoundly sickened and alienated by the pointless sectarian-flavoured squabbling.

We're bored, you see. Bored out of our brains with the whinging and the whataboutery, which shows no signs of ever changing.

That's the obvious external face that Northern Ireland presents to the world. At first glance, you'd think that's all we were: a big fat gurn of political discontent.

But there is another Northern Ireland, untainted by bitter party rivalries, dirty tricks allegations and counter-allegations and the low background drone of boring old men speculating about obscure election results. It does exist, you know.

I was reminded of this heartening fact on Saturday evening, when I was fortunate enough to watch a showing of a new Northern Ireland-made film, Ordinary Love

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Directed by Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn - the film-makers who made the magical Good Vibrations, about the redemptive powers of the 70s punk scene in Belfast - this is a deeply affecting film about a local couple who, having lost their only daughter, find themselves struggling to cope when the wife is diagnosed with breast cancer.

Ordinary Love, which will be released early next month, was written by the playwright Owen McCafferty and the two central characters are played, with exceptional insight and empathy, by Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville. The beautifully understated score is by Belfast musician, composer and producer David Holmes.

The film is extraordinary in its very ordinariness: it shows, with subtlety, warmth, sensitivity and unsparing candour, the reality of how a normal couple react when they are flung into an abnormal situation, yet one that so many people find themselves confronting.

This other Northern Ireland that I'm talking about is a place of tremendous creativity and talent. And while Ordinary Love is an outstanding example of what we're capable of, it's not an isolated one.

For instance, artist Helen Cammock's film The Long Note, which celebrates the role of women in Northern Ireland's civil arts movement, has been nominated for the Turner Prize. It's one of just four final artworks in the running for the prestigious prize.

Look around and you see that people are making great art and music and taking part in all sorts of eccentric creative endeavours right across Northern Ireland.

According to a new UK industry body report, music tourism in and to Northern Ireland generated £90million of spending in 2018.

The report said that 294,000 music tourists - by which they mean both local people and visitors from abroad - attended a festival, show or gig in Northern Ireland last year. Now, it's by no means all about the money - it's also about the pleasure, the wellbeing, the life enhancement - but those figures should give you a good idea of how much fabulous music is being made, heard and enjoyed in this small place.

The Atlantic Sessions, a brilliant initiative which brings more than 50 of Northern Ireland's finest musicians to the wild and wintry causeway coast during November, performing live in cafes, hotels, restaurants and bars, has just achieved another sell-out success.

From traditional, bluegrass and Americana to electronic, indie and acoustic singer-songwriters, these performers light up the dark, cold nights before Christmas with their talent - and make a lot of people feel happier by doing so. Good things are happening here. Surprising springs of life are bubbling up everywhere.

Earlier this month, I was blown away by a performance by the 20-year-old Belfast rapper Jordan Adetunji, who is the first urban artist from Northern Ireland to be recognised at the Urban Music Awards in London.

Adetunji is an amazing force: young, charismatic, bursting with exhilarating energy. People suffering from that sick, depressed feeling which comes from a politics overload should go to one of his gigs for the perfect antidote.

You know, I've decided that I'm going to move to the other Northern Ireland. We could all have a much happier life there. Come on, who's with me?

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