North Ireland

Traditions and customs of Northern Ireland

What traditions and customs are there in Northern Ireland?

We review the customs and traditions of Northern Ireland.


Food in daily life

The diet is quite simple. Porridge or oatmeal is often eaten for breakfast. Mid-morning one stops for a cup of tea or coffee with biscuits or biscuits. Most people eat their main meal at midday. This meal is usually meat-based, with beef, chicken, pork, or lamb.

Fish and chips are eaten for a quick meal, and rich soup with lots of bread can be bought in taverns at lunch time. Potatoes are a staple food, but onions, cabbage, peas, and carrots are eaten just as often. The Irish stew combines the main elements of the kitchen with lamb meat, potatoes and onions.

Bakeries carry a variety of breads, with brown bread and white soda bread most often served with meals. White sliced ​​bread is called sliced ​​bread in Irish. Belfast soda bread enjoys an excellent reputation; made from flour and buttermilk, it is found throughout the country. In the evening, families eat a simple meal of leftovers or eggs and toast.

A drink usually means beer, whether it’s lager or strong beer. Guinness, brewed in Dublin, is the most widely drunk dark beer. Whiskey is also served in pubs, and coffee is also available.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

The food customs of the Northern Irish are not really different from the practices of the Irish in the Republic of Ireland. Christmas dinner includes meat such as chicken and ham, followed by plum pudding.

Being a strongly Catholic country, the ban on meat on Friday nights is observed by Catholics. Since fish is allowed, Friday dinner usually includes trout or salmon.


Premarital chastity is valued by both religions, especially in rural areas. Young people are expected to refrain from sexual intercourse until after they are married in a religious ceremony in a church. Marriages are often brokered by a matchmaker, as the economics of marriage require experienced calculation.

In the 1920s, post-famine marriages were infrequent, with many young people refraining from marriage; there were more singles than married in the age range of twenty-five to thirty. Farmers who had small parcels of land wanted to keep it and discouraged early marriages of their children to avoid the need to subdivide the land.

In the 1970s, marriage rates rose, but Ireland joined the West in adopting the nuclear family model. As more marriages occurred, married couples had smaller families. By 1977, the birth rate had dropped by a third.

This trend toward nuclear families applied to both Catholics and Protestants, although Catholics still had larger families. Even after marriage, contraception, which is prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church, cannot be obtained legally in much of the country.

Since the 17th century, when the Scots and English arrived, very few intermarriages have taken place between these ethnic groups and the original Irish inhabitants. However, it is said that up to a fifth of marriages in Belfast today are between Catholics and Protestants; this figure may be exaggerated.


Etiquette rules are situational and are affected by status and class. While political conversations in pubs can be intense, political discussions occur only between friends and like-minded people. People are reluctant to discuss their political, religious, social and economic views with strangers.


Religious beliefs

For Catholics, Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas are the holiest days and are observed by attending church services and spending time with family. While the Catholic-Protestant conflict has worsened in the last century, the religious and political history between the two groups goes back centuries.

In 1534, King Henry VIII of England established himself as the leader of a new Protestant church that he tried to impose on Ireland. He offered to increase the estates of the Irish nobles who would recognize the new church. However, few Irish, and none in Ulster, took up the offer.

In 1541, Henry declared himself King of Ireland and banned monasteries. In 1547, Edward VI, his son and his successor, declared Protestantism the official religion of Ireland and sent troops to enforce the new law. Those troops arrested Irish nobles and seized the property of those who refused to convert.

Edward gave the confiscated land to English Protestants who were settling there. Elizabeth I continued with that policy and imposed Protestantism. In 1560, she was appointed head of the Irish Church and insisted that English, not Gaelic, be used in church services.

Religious professionals

The Catholic clergy provide a link between God and Catholic parishioners. This represents a significant difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Catholic clergy participate in the civil rights movement in an attempt to equalize the volatile conflict.

However, Protestants complain that the Catholic clergy are exacerbating the situation by interfering with politics when they support nationalist candidates and take part in demonstrations against the British army.

Rituals and sacred places

The seat of the Catholic and Protestant churches is in Armagh. Each religion has a cathedral named after Saint Patrick, a 5th-century missionary who brought Christianity to the island’s Celts.

Death and the afterlife

Protestants believe that the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is found only in their religion, which means that Protestants are heretics doomed to eternal damnation. Catholics killed in “the Troubles” are venerated as martyrs.

Secular celebrations

Patrick’s Day is the most celebrated secular holiday and is characterized by its vigorous parades. New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 1. The controversial annual Orange Order Pride Parade is held on Orange Day on July 12 to celebrate and commemorate Prince William of Orange’s victory over King James II.

This Protestant organization had around 90,000 members in the 1990s. The parade and public celebration evoke tension in Belfast, often provoking nationalists to violence.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

Since the partition of Ireland is artificial, there is no real distinction between the two cultures.

Established in 1962, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the main distributor of public support for the arts. Its mission is to develop and enhance the knowledge, appreciation, and practice of the arts; increase public access and participation in the arts; and encourage and assist artists.


Most Irish literature has been written by authors from and around Dublin. However, Northern Ireland produced the Nobel Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney, who has published many collections of poems. His career parallels the violent political struggles of his homeland, but he is primarily fascinated by the land and the history found there.

His verse incorporates Gaelic expressions as he explores the themes of nature, love and mythology. His poems use images of death and dying, and he has written elegiac poems to lost friends and family in “The Troubles.”

Northern Ireland is also the birthplace of C. Day Lewis, who wrote novels and verse and taught and translated classical literature. Lewis was named UK Poet Laureate in 1970.

Graphic arts

Celtic designs can be seen in artistic and everyday images. Celtic influence appears in lettering on signs, letterheads, jewelry, and tombstones.

Performing arts

Irish music incorporates fiddles, bagpipes, drums, flutes, and harps. Folk music is performed in pubs and parades. Belfast’s Ulster National Orchestra and the Philharmonic Society are the leading classical music groups. Irish traditional music has become very popular outside the country in the last decade.

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