I don't want to be a 'Protestant'

Oct 15th, 2008 | By | Category: Ireland

The surgery this morning took longer than expected; forty-five minutes while the surgeon dug a lump of fatty tissue he described as being “the size of a saucer” out of my upper back.  It took far longer than he had anticipated, requiring a second local anaesthetic to be administered.

The time was shortened by the banter.  The surgeon complaining that he had only gone into the trade because he thought the nurses would be good looking, and they responding that the good looking nurses were all with the good looking doctors.  There was then a discourse on neurosurgeons being poseurs.  I told him that they all frightened me, because most people I knew who had died had had some contact with a doctor, and that the correlation between contact with a doctor and dying seemed disturbingly high.

Getting on to what I did for a living, he commented that there seemed to be an awful lot of red blood across my back, shouldn’t Protestant blood be orange?

“No”, said one of the nurses, “Protestant blood around here is blue”.

“Not mine”, I said, slightly concerned about the reference to a lot of blood, “my family were Labour Party through and through – our blood is deepest red”.

Never having had surgery before, I wondered if such conversations were typical.  The surgeon then said that it might have been better to have had a general anaesthetic, but having started the job, he might as well finish.

More serious, we talked about sectarianism and the North.  “I wasn’t a Protestant until I moved to the North in ’83”.

“What do you mean”, said the surgeon, “you weren’t a Protestant?”

“I wasn’t an anything”, I said, “I’m English, I lived in England.  No-one ever asked; no-one cared what you were”.

One of the nurses, a Belfast woman joined in, “No-one asks in the North.  They just work it out.  They ask you what school you went to and other stuff”.

She was right.  The first indicator is a person’s name.  Sharing a Christian name with the arch-protestant himself, my label was always quickly applied.  A friend who comes from an evangelical Christian background has an Irish name more typically found in the Roman Catholic community, he has gone through life with people making assumptions.  He says he knows he has lost work at times because of his name.

The banter is good for exploring prejudices, for laughing about perceptions, but sometimes a world without a need for banter seems attractive.

I winced as he hit muscle with whatever implement he was using.  “Sometimes”, I thought, “I just want to be a person.  I don’t want to be a Protestant”.

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  1. When I was still young, many thousands of years ago, RCs. were those that went to the church down the road or to the big church up the High Road, other than that no difference, as far as I am concerned there is still no difference , and yes I am still an old fashioned Labourite.

  2. Ouch! Ian

    That all sounds like it might be rather painful once the ‘local’ wears off! I do hope it heals up fine and the result is good.

    How well I know the banter that goes on around an operating table. It’s fine until they all start being a little too ‘nice’ and then you know you’re really in trouble!

    I agree with you about labels and I feel Ireland specialises in attaching significance to names.

    Take it easy tomorrow – you’ve got two excuses now! 😀

  3. Ian

    I bet you are glad that is all over. Mind the needlework!

    As Steph says, take it easy tomorrow!

  4. Wow, I think that’s a very Irish thing. I’d never associate someone’s religion with their name. Although here for instance, if you are of middle eastern appearance, the assumption is that you’re a muslim, when many are in fact Christian! Hope your hole heals. Sounds a bit dramatic, I’d have put my hand up for the general I think!

  5. When we lived in America and owned an ‘Irish’ pub most of our staff were Irish. Whenever I was hiring new people (mostly chefs or bar staff) the employees would always inquire after the interview where the person was from in Ireland, or which county – I would look at the person’s CV and answer “I don’t know, it doesn’t say, but he went to X or Y college”. The staff would be outraged that I hadn’t inquired, it would be the first question out of their mouths if they were doing the interviewing. As time went on I decided that just to please the gang I would ask the question at the next interview. The time came and a nice young guy fresh off the boat came for an interview. “Where are you from in Ireland” I enquired “County Meath” was his reply. It meant nothing to me, but I duly noted it on his resume to updated the others later.
    As soon as he left one of the bar tenders approached me, “So, where’s he from?” “ah ha! I asked him” proud of myself with the information “he’s from County Meath!”
    “Where abouts in Meath?” came the cry from 4 other members of staff behind the bar.
    I couldn’t win!

  6. In the sixties here both at work and in a C. of I.
    group my maiden name was presumed to be Catholic,most
    people with it would be. This led me to hastily telling my boss I was Protestant one day when he started to say something very uncomplimentary about Prods!
    I found out years later from someone that because the leading light of the Protestant group I was in assumed I was the Catholic girlfriend of another Protestant member,that is why my offers of help there were never accepted.
    I brought my own two up in the seventies only knowing that all the churches in our area were Christian, like ours,never mentioning our denomination or that of our neighbours, or that of each church building, or the differences in branches of the Christian faith.
    There had been enough of that kind of dividing people by category of religion in Ireland by then for me,the
    Troubles between sides going on in the North then too.
    Have we not moved on yet from still categorising others here by denomination?

  7. Just read your post Ian, hope all is OK and you heal up quick, All the best Les.

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