This month, what America—and many other places, too—routinely refers to as the “British” Open is not being played in Britain at all, Great or otherwise. Take my word for that. But where then, is it being played?
In Northern Ireland, at Royal Portrush in County Antrim, for only the second time in the championship’s 159-year history and for the first time since 1951.
So what is Northern Ireland?
Depending on whom you talk to, it is either a region, a province or a country. But what it is not is “Ulster.” That term refers to a collection of nine counties within Ireland, six in Northern Ireland (Antrim, Down, Armagh, Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone) and three in the Republic of Ireland (Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal).
Still, what is for sure is that the land of Rory McIlroy’s birth—and that of Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke—is one of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom, along with Scotland, England and Wales. I know this to be true because, on the front of my passport (I am from Scotland), it says “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
So, by that logic, we now know that “Great Britain” is made up of three parts: Scotland, England and Wales. (Which is why a British Open played in Northern Ireland isn’t really a “British” Open.)
Hang on though.
Northern Ireland—which came into being as part of the U.K. in 1922—does, along with the Republic of Ireland, make up the island that is Ireland. There is no hard border between the two (at least until the mess that is the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, or “Brexit,” is sorted out). But the two are separate politically and use different currencies.
In Northern Ireland, the British pound is legal; in the Republic, the Euro is valid. And, while the citizens of Northern Ireland vote for members of parliament who attend the House of Commons at Westminster (the British Parliament) in London, those down south in the Republic elect members to the Irish Parliament—the Dail Eireann, which translates into “Assembly of Ireland.”
Then there’s the expression, “British Isles.” Just to add to any confusion, that collective term refers to all five countries: Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
And there’s one last thing.
Because Ireland plays as one nation in golf (and rugby, but not soccer), drawing players from both Northern Ireland and the Republic, the likes of McIlroy, Clarke and McDowell, and anyone else born north of the border, are eligible to represent either Ireland or the United Kingdom in the Olympics. Hence the controversy over McIlroy’s participation (and eventual non-participation) in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, although he has already announced that he will represent the Republic of Ireland in Tokyo next year.
Got all that? I hope so. But, as someone once said, “as soon as we solve the Irish question, they change the question.”