Borders and boundaries have been blurred and sharpened over the last century by a range of political, social, cultural, and economic issues.
Sport can bring different people and communities together, but it is also often linked with national identity, which can pose challenges within divided societies. Issues like choosing to represent a national team, the singing of national anthems, or flying a certain flag can be contentious. Therefore, while sports in Northern Ireland have at times created and maintained connections across different boundaries, in some cases, it has reinforced these divisions.
From 1920, sporting bodies in Ireland had to navigate the creation and implementation of the Irish border. Most sports, like boxing, rugby, and hockey remained governed on an all-Ireland basis. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which manages native Irish games like hurling and Gaelic football, also continued to be a cross-border institution. However, due to the GAA’s long-standing association with Irish nationalism, Gaelic games continue to be predominantly supported and played within nationalist communities, although there has been some progress made, such as the establishment of a GAA club in East Belfast, a predominantly unionist area of the city. The Irish Football Association split at the same time as partition, but internal rifts within the association contributed to the divide more so than constitutional politics. There are two separate leagues and two separate national teams for football in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Literature and the Arts
Borders and boundaries in Irish and Northern Irish politics and society have been an inspiration for many writers, poets, and other artists. The various tangible and intangible borders and boundaries which manifest in Northern Irish and Irish history and society have been depicted in prominent works, such as Brian Friel’s Translations, a play about cultural and linguistic boundaries in nineteenth-century Ireland, Seamus Heaney’s The Other Side, a poem about social divisions, and Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls, a television show which portrays living close to the border in the 1990s, among many others.