In the latest of our Northern Roots series, where we speak to people originally from Northern Ireland but currently living elsewhere, our interviewee is Charlotte Donnelly.
1. Tell us about yourself. When did you leave Northern Ireland, and where did you go? What do you do now?
I was born and grew up in Belfast. My parents are both from rural Tyrone. I studied Law at Queen’s University Belfast and then did a Masters in International Human Rights Law in Galway. I moved to London in September 2014 to go to law school and am now a trainee solicitor in GowlingWLG, a Candian/British law firm. I visit Belfast every couple of months. All my family and some very dear friends still live there.
2. What do you think when you see the Northern Ireland of today, in the news and on social media?
I love being from Northern Ireland and I’m proud of where I come from. When I see inspirational ‘Visit Northern Ireland’ advertisements it always makes me smile. We come from such a beautiful part of the world and I am always encouraging people to visit.
However, I have found it difficult in the past to explain Northern Irish politics and its intricacies to my American and English colleagues. A recent example is explaining who the DUP are and why they hold the political views and values they have.
I find it difficult to relate to a lot of people in Northern Ireland and the politicians that represent them. This is something that has become clearer to me after having left. I see one part of Northern Ireland as new, vibrant and welcoming and another side which leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
3. Are you hopeful for Northern Ireland’s future? Will Brexit make a difference?
I’m always hopeful, whether or not it’s realistic. I’m hoping Brexit won’t be for the worst for Northern Ireland. The EU has played an important role in helping to bring peace. I was firmly in the Remain camp and I’m glad NI voted the same.
Brexit brings a further layer of complexity to Northern Ireland due to the border. No one wants to go back to what it was like during the Troubles and I can’t help but feel NI might be hung out to dry. Despite what they say, NI is unlikely to be a priority in Westminster.
It was refreshing to see young people both inside and outside of NI debating Brexit. More young people need to realise how they can steer politics in the future.
4. Do you think you will return to Northern Ireland? What could convince you to come back?
If I were to move back to Northern Ireland it would be in the distant future. I want to retire somewhere in Ireland but I’m not done exploring the world yet.
Being in the legal sector, NI doesn’t have a lot to offer right now for my career but it is definitely improving. Several international law firms have opened in Belfast in the last few years. If I were to move back to NI I could see myself having to commute to Dublin for work. A job and career opportunities as good as my current one would convince me to move back.
5. What can Northern Ireland learn from the place you live now?
Despite only being an hour-long flight, London feels like a world away. I really enjoy living here a lot more than I thought I would. London always has something weird and wonderful to offer. This is due to the melting pot that is different people and cultures, and the great transport links.
My older sister, who lived in Scotland, Norway and Germany recently complained that Belfast needs an evening culture. I believe she’s right! Royal Avenue is deserted come 6pm. Belfast also has a serious lack of taxis. This frustrates me every time I’m on a night out in Belfast. This is a problem you rarely have in London.
6. If Northern Ireland had a president with sweeping powers, and it was you, what would you do?
This is an easy one for me;
- Equal marriage;
- Reproductive rights for women; and
- Increased funding in schools and the health service for mental health.
7. What would you like to see more of on Northern Slant?
I think this is a great segment. I especially love learning about what other young people have done with their lives.
8. If you could ask Northern Ireland politicians (past or present) to dinner, who would they be? And why?
This is a difficult question. I’m not sure who I would pick. But I’d happily have people round for a cheeseboard if it meant we could get the government up and running again.
9. Do you have a favourite quote, or mantra?
“Life shrinks or expands in relation to one’s courage.” I’m continually learning to embrace this. My mother always says that Northern Irish people put themselves and each other down. We need to be kinder to each other and believe in ourselves more.
10. What’s your message for people back home?
Please don’t forget about me. I miss you and visit as often as I can.
Also published on Medium.