There have been so many elements that make up this journey. Here are a few key inspirations that have fed my creative endeavours.

A short history of Ireland in 250 Episodes – Dr Jonathan Bardon
Made me aware of a whole host of history I had never heard of. “The plantation of Ulster”, “The Flight of the Earls”, “The 1798 uprising” to name but a few…

The Ghost Limb: Alternative Protestants and the Spirit of 1798 – Claire Mitchell
The metaphor of a ghost limb resonates with me deeply (see the lead cartoon!). This book talks about Protestants learning Irish – and explores Ulster Scots too. This book is a book of awakening.

The Irish Passport – podcast by Naomi O’Leary and Tim McInerney
I’ve really enjoyed tuning into an Irish perspective that I’m not used to hearing. Grounded in history and extremely interesting.

Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster – Guy Beiner
This is the sort of book I would never read – its quite academic. But I simply can’t leave it alone because the events it talks about happened in and around where I grew up – yet I knew absolutely nothing about them. A disremembered history. It’s an astonishing piece of literature – with so many jump off points to other rabbit-holes…

And let me not forget the conversational Irish lessons I take at my local Irish Centre in London. Even though I’m a rotten linguist, I’ve really enjoyed every single lesson.

The Tiny Rebel

This journey started when my friend at school was supporting Rangers by default and I didn’t like the fact that we didn’t get a choice, so I said I supported Celtic because everyone knew that they are the only two anyone ever supports.

This journey started when I went to see Ireland play Scotland at rugby and I bought an Irish flag in Edinburgh and hung it in my room in Glasgow. The Irish flag that used to mean down south and the free state and the IRA and you don’t belong here. And it hung in my room and my flatmate didn’t like it.

This journey started when I went to Cork with my brother and his friends and the pub was full of old people who brought old songs as gifts for each other to hear and I knew that all this time I’d missed these old songs of an Ireland that my head said I wasn’t part of, but my heart told me otherwise.

This journey started when I was in Dublin watching the All Ireland final on a TV in a Hotel front room with a crowd of people and a man from the Ardoyne (Ard Eoin ‘Eoin’s height’). I knew to be afraid of the word Ardoyne and anyone connected with it. Yet it didn’t seem to matter to this man – who wore the word Ardoyne with pride – that I’d lived in Ulster all my life but didn’t even know the rules to Gaelic Football.

This journey started when I was in Athlone and I was getting to know some educators in a pub and I mentioned the Irish Potato Famine in passing, as if it happened to some other people, and it was all the fault of the potato. “Bryan, here we just call it the famine” she said, and I saw my words for what they were.

This journey has been a long time starting.

By the time I was born, Ulster had become an extremely polarised place. Schools, housing estates, language, tray-bakes, kerb-stones – all one one side of the fence or the other. It’s a pretty big fence and I was completely unaware of how it got to be built.

I’ve been ignorant of the ingredients of the turmoil I witnessed. Ignorant of the peoples and families that came before me and the lives they lived.

These comics are a result of my own journey to understand what has gone before, and somehow to make sense of and make peace with an Ulster that creates in me such mixed emotions.

Tá céad fáilte romhat. (You are very welcome!)

Bryan Mathers

Cartoonist at Visual Thinkery

People tell stories and stories paint pictures – Bryan speaks at TEDxGalway
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