Once obtaining a solid grounding for myself in journalism working with the BBC, like so many other young Irish people, I fled for pastures new.
After two years of living and working in Thailand, I returned to Ireland equipped with a ballsy Dublin blade (nordie for girlfriend), ready to take on the world.
A few days spent in the capital and it was time to return to the land of miles rather than kilometres. As we turned off the M1 and into Banbridge, the question came.
“Corry, why the f**k are there Union Jacks everywhere?”
“Welcome to the North!” came my rapid response.
On we go through Banbridge and onto the home straight for Lurgan. As the car swung into Kilwilke estate on the northside of town, a similar question was lobbied from the driver’s side.
“Corry, why the f**k are there Tricolours everywhere?”
“Once again! Welcome to the North!”
You see, we’ve got a deep affiliation with flags (or ‘flegs’ if you are from Belfast) in the North.
Our deep-rooted division begins with the two for starts. One representing Ireland, the other Britain.
For many, it’s representative of their beliefs and core values. The direct result is that it becomes territorial, it lets you know where you stand. Over time it comes to represent hate. Hate for the ‘other side’.
Hate is a strong word but that’s what it’s like to grow up in a divided area. You are separated, you go to different schools, you learn different things, you hear different stories, you don’t know each other from Adam and far as you’re aware, they are the ones that are different, not you! It’s hatred and it is bred into you.
That breeding ground doesn’t necessarily come from family either. You don’t have to be a republican or a loyalist to absorb the hate. Apart from one great uncle who I’ve met sporadically, none of my family was involved in the Troubles. Better yet, my father has devoted his life to brokering peace.
But therein lies the reason that so many leave. You can have the best of upbringings but the issues of the North are always going to get you down at some point or another.
And more often than not, a flag has got something to do with it.
Is that any way to live?
The majority of northerners both Catholic and Protestant would have been blissfully unaware that the FAI Cup final was taking place on Sunday afternoon. The greatest league in the world is almost as relevant to casual fans north of the border as it is down south.
However, it was hard not to sit up and take notice once news filtered through of Alan Mannus’ apparent refusal to respect the Irish national anthem.
While 21 players turned to face the Tricolour for Amhrán na bhFiann the former Linfield goalkeeper stood straight with his head held high.
His stance, as you would expect, has been met with some colourful responses.
A silly move all things considered but not deserving of the vitriol that has been launched in his direction.
Why can’t we just live and let live?
They say there’s no lonelier position on a football pitch than that of a goalkeeper.
Mannus has had a long and quite distinguished career between the Island of Ireland and Scotland, two of the world’s most sectarian countries. You wonder how often the man was subjected to vile abuse while playing in places like Solitude and Parkhead because rest assured he was.
Of course, he’s apologised for any offence caused claiming he did not mean to make any political statement, religious or otherwise.
While I am calling bullsh**t on that one (it looks pretty blatant), the abuse being levied his way is nothing short of hypocritical.
James McClean’s poppy situation is obviously very different (something British people refuse to acknowledge) so we won’t go there, although there are shades of hypocrisy.
The story may have been debunked by now but Ronan O’Gara was lauded in many circles for his apparent refusal to shake the Queen’s hand ten years ago. Turns out it was nothing more than an opportunistic photo but that didn’t stop us jumping all over it.
What about Cliftonville FC’s decision to bow their heads during the playing of God Save The Queen in the Irish Cup final? Rest assured the same people defending Cliftonville are the same queuing up to kick Alan Mannus.
In the end, all it does is highlight the visceral hate we have for one another.
We love to deride other countries for their politics, their laws and their cultures while painting ourselves as some sort of beacon of craic. In truth, we’re no different than the rest.
Alan Mannus had every right to do what he did. So does James McClean. Why can’t we just respect each other’s opinions and move on?
Live and let live.
Moral of the story… You should have stayed in Thailand.