Andrew Trimble has earned praise for his moving documentary on Northern Ireland and cultural identity, which aired on RTÉ on Monday night.
Trimble played for his home province of Ulster for 14 seasons during a stellar playing career, and earned 70 caps representing Ireland.
Born in Coleraine, County Derry, the issue of Trimble’s simultaneous identity as an Ulsterman, a Northern Irishman, and an Irishman was something he grappled with throughout his playing career and beyond. He sought to tackle the issues of Northern Irish cultural identity in For Ulster and Ireland, which aired on Monday.
Ulster and Ireland Rugby star #AndrewTrimble explores his Ulster-Scots roots and considers how traditions, loyalties and cultures can co-exist peacefully on this island in this fascinating documentary
— RTÉ One (@RTEOne) February 9, 2024
Explaining his reasoning for putting the documentary together, Trimble said:
People down south would look at me and think, ‘there’s a very obviously Ulster Rugby Christian Protestant.’
It’s obviously way more nuanced than that.
The last couple of years I’ve been a little bit more vocal about this. It’s my generation and I think there’s a growing middle ground in Northern Ireland.
It’s led me to go back and think, ‘right, what is my identity and where did I come from?’
It’s a really interesting time to look at all of this in Northern Ireland. The continuing fallout from Brexit has re-exposed the old tribal divisions. We used to add religion and national affiliation to the binary political and North-South split.
I want to know if people still think about identity in this way today.
After it aired on Monday night, For Ulster and Ireland has earned widespread praise from Irish viewers for its moving take on a challenging topic.
Andrew Trimble earns praise for moving Northern Ireland documentary
Andrew Trimble: For Ulster and Ireland enlisted the help of an extensive list of major Northern Irish personalities to delve into what it means to be an Ulsterman.
Among those interviewed were the children of John Hume, Ian Paisley, and David Trimble, as well as a hurling star and an Orangeman, pulling in perspectives from across the political sphere in Northern Ireland.
The hurler in question was ex-Antrim captain Neil McManus, who said that his identity was “mixed,” having come from the Glens of Antrim. He and Trimble shared a laugh at the expense of their positioning on opposite sides of the spectrum in Northern Ireland:
McManus: I feel like “Ulsterman” has a lot of connotations around it which will be much more heavily linked to the Unionist community, probably.
Trimble: Did they steal that from you?
McManus: I don’t know, I don’t think they’re going to be claiming Monaghan, Cavan or Donegal!
Trimble: But, ‘For God and Ulster’ – it’s the Red Hand…
McManus: It’s synonymous with Unionism. But I don’t think the differentiation has been made between Northern Ireland and Ulster. They’re in some ways still viewed as one and the same.
Trimble: So you stole hurling from us and we stole Ulster from you? So it’s even!
McManus: I would say we won, to be honest!
‘So you stole Hurling from us and we stole Ulster from you.’#AndrewTrimble and former Antrim hurling captain Neil McManus talk cultural identity.
Andrew Trimble: For Ulster and Ireland | Monday | 9.35pm pic.twitter.com/vPolSIj1GK
— RTÉ One (@RTEOne) February 11, 2024
The documentary set out to give an insight to people south of the border as to how complex and tricky the line is between Ulster identity and Irish identity and, judging by the reaction on social media, it has certainly made its mark.
Many took to X (a.k.a. Twitter) to thank Trimble and the producers of the programme for taking a mature stance on a challenging topic, and allowing a conversation to flow between two sides often erroneously understood to be naturally antagonistic.
This Andrew Trimble documentary on RTE is very very good. Really interesting and impressive interviewees.
— Matt Cooper (@cooper_m) February 12, 2024
I really enjoyed Andrew Trimble’s “For Ulster and Ireland” last night.
Brilliant contributions from Vicki Trimble. Kyle Paisley and Mo Hume all who seen themselves at least in part Irish.
Comic moment courtesy of the man who is 100% British except on match days !
— Annie McGinley (@annie_mcginley) February 13, 2024
Lads …an adult conversation about Northern Ireland has broken out on RTE 1 …notably so far not a politician in sight #andrewtrimble
— Urlofcork (@urlofcork) February 12, 2024
— Stephen James Smith (@SJSwords) February 12, 2024
Andrew Trimble show tonight was the kind of national conversation we need….considered, enlightened & thought provoking. Something for so many to reflect on……well done @andrew_trimble 🏉☘️
— Shane Cassells (@ShaneCassells) February 12, 2024
One user summed it up perfectly by saying, “Excellent programme. More of this please. Ignorance of each other leads to fear and tribalism.”
Andrew Trimble and RTÉ deserve huge credit for a brilliant and fascinating deep dive into Ulster identity – one can only hope it can contribute to sparking positive conversations in the long run.