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The British Council commissioned a number of writers to explore the relationship between Britain and Ireland. A selection of these articles have been republished in openDemocracy. Links to the full British Council volumes are below:

Britain and Ireland: Lives Entwined: Volume I

Britain and Ireland: Lives Entwined: Volume II

Britain and Ireland: Lives Entwined: Volume III

Britain and Ireland: Lives Entwined: Volume IV

Editorial Partnership

This project is an editorial partnership with the British Council. Read more about openDemocracy's editorial partnerships programme.

I first came across the Lives Entwined project when I was based in Baghdad in 2006: I was reopening our operation there after the war. On arriving in Iraq I had been struck immediately by the resonances with Northern Ireland in the 1970s. It’s too simple to say – for Protestant/Catholic read Sunni/Shia. But there were echoes: not least the same depressing facility of mankind to find and home in on deep malevolent feelings of resentment and mistrust, and their close cousin, violence...

Essentially, what struck me then, and stays with me still, is the profound human need for dialogue – to test and share beliefs – and the consequences of ignoring that need – conflict, hatred and violence. That dialogue, and the consequent building of trust and engagement, is what the British Council means by cultural relations and it underpins everything we do.

Reading Lives Entwined back in 2006 – in a sense it seemed the opposite of conflict. There were contrary views, of course, but the project was underpinned by the worth of dialogue, of views expressed and listening done. When I returned to Northern Ireland last year to take up my current job, one of the first things I did was to reread Lives Entwined I, II, and III. That was when I started thinking about a Lives Entwined IV. My initial question was how have our expectations, hopes and fears changed in the years since the last volume in 2008?

… Are our lives still so entwined? Do we still define ourselves through our historic relationship or have the tectonic plates shifted? Where does the relationship go from here in the context of the pressures outlined above? And what of the future? The writers were given a brief and the freedom to write in their own authentic personal voice. The outcome, we hope, is a new definition of the relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland brought right up to date for 2012.

David Alderdice, Director, British Council Northern Ireland, from the Welcome to the fourth edition of Britain and Ireland: Lives Entwined. October, 2012.

Cross-talk and mermaid-speak

Anyone familiar with the story of language in Elizabethan Ireland can only feel impatience – if not despair – at the latter-day triumphalism of works like Melvyn Bragg’s best-selling The Adventure of English.

Britain and Ireland – lives entwined

Postcolonial nationalism is a strange phenomenon. Brought up to despise everything British (as Jonathan Swift put it two centuries earlier, ‘burn everything English except their coal’), we were also imbued with a sneaking suspicion that British was somehow better.

No Passports

Complexity needs a voice (this also applies to newer emigrant groups on both islands). Politics and autobiography, politics and culture, can drift too far apart. Gaps in the public discourse of the UK and the Irish Republic allow ethnic assertion to punch above its weight. And then there is poetry. ( 5,000 words)


Given a choice, most people prefer a decent life to national or ethnic purity. Given a choice, most people like to get on with their neighbours, to fit in with their communities, to carry on with the business of going to work and raising a family and hoping for the best. 

There is no such thing as ‘bad blood’

I’ve never met either of my parents and I don’t know my father’s name. She was a Catholic from over the border he was a Protestant from Belfast and they chose to give me up for adoption in Manchester rather than face the respective wrath of their families.

Irish Blood English Heart

In which we are introduced to excerpts from the transcript of a memorable programme on Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Ireland in May 2011, presented by Joseph O'Connor, produced by Rachel Hooper, for BBC Radio 4.

Three Headliners essays

Laoise, 13, Tarah, 15, and Fionnuala, 15, attend a youth media organisation called Headliners in Belfast. It is not easy for any young person to encapsulate what it means to be who they are but here their views hold a mirror to the rest of us.

Friendship our weapon of choice

One could argue that it has been the ordinary person who has actually best embraced the spirit of the Agreement. While hatred is taught, it can also be untaught. 

Who we are, and where we’re going

The springtime honeymoon period is over, the cherry-blossom and confetti has blown away, and we are now living in the day-to-day reality of post-conflict Northern Ireland.


The British government has shamelessly covered its tracks in relation to abuse of its authority in Ireland, and continues to do so. It is time to talk about what happened to us all during those long, dark years of conflict and hatred, when we lived in the same houses, but in different worlds.

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