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Why are we reluctant to use Northern Irish?

Belfast Telegraph letters to the Editor
Belfast Telegraph letters to the Editor

The first time I noticed it was three or four years ago in this newspaper, but now it's commonplace in the media - even though it's gross in print and speech.

 It's 'Northern Ireland' used as an adjective as in, 'a Northern Ireland person', 'a Northern Ireland couple' or 'a Northern Ireland woman' etc.

If someone was heard referring to 'a France woman' or 'an Ireland man' we might suspect the speaker to be foreign. I can think of no other example of a country's name being used in this descriptive way.

In former times one might have referred to a 'Chinaman', but that's now considered ignorant.

Presumably the popularity of the expression in the local media is attributable to sensitivity about identity in this part of the province of Ulster even though most of us, whether Irish or British, can tolerate being referred to as Northern Irish.

Of course, another reason for the adjectival infelicity might be that, strictly speaking, Northern Ireland is not a country but a region and in that sense its use would be quite normal, as in, 'a Munster man', or 'a Yorkshire lass'.

wes mackey holmes

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