Andrew Trimble: For Ulster and Ireland – A journey into identity that could land differently on both sides of the Border

Television: ‘What is my identity? Where do I come from?’ asks the former Ireland rugby international

Andrew Trimble is a former Ireland rugby international who has stood to attention for Amhrán na bhFiann on dozens of occasions at the Aviva Stadium – and in Croke Park when the team temporarily relocated to the spiritual locus of Irish sport.

But Trimble also grew up in Coleraine, Co Derry, in the heart of the North’s Bible belt, studied at Belfast Bible College and met his wife at a prayer studies group. That is a complex mix, which he puts under the microscope in his engaging documentary, Andrew Trimble: For Ulster and Ireland (RTÉ One, Monday, 9.35pm).

“What is my identity? Where do I come from?” Trimble wonders. “I want to know what I think about identity. Is it possible for different loyalties and affinities to exist not just in states and communities but in individuals?”

The documentary will doubtlessly land differently on either side of the Border. In Northern Ireland one gets the sense these are questions with which many people – though obviously not everyone – engage with on an ongoing basis. Down South, however, they can feel like grandiose navel-gazing.


Trimble is aware of that gap in understanding. He meets his friend, former Munster rugby player turned musician Barry Murphy, who expresses his surprise at a 2021 appearance by Trimble on RTÉ's Claire Byrne Live to discuss a united Ireland.

“Can you see how mad it would be, knowing you so well? I see you go on the TV show with Claire Byrne, and so much of the conversation is about your national identity and the politics, flags, and religion ... does that seem weird to you now?”

Trimble gets it. “His [Murphy’s] take was: what’s going on up there? Why do you get so bogged down in religious identity or national identity? It seems like you’re overthinking it. When you think about it objectively, it is weird.”

The pair travel North to get a deeper sense of the issue. On the Larne coast in Co Antrim, within swimming distance of Scotland, local historian Mark Thompson talks about the Scottish influence on the North – how people say “wee” instead of “small”, for instance. You can see his logic – though, if speech patterns determined where you belonged, then – OMG! – South Dublin should have been annexed by southern California a long time ago (they could give us Disneyland in return and everyone would be a winner).

Trimble also travels to the Glens of Antrim, where hurler Neil McManus talks about the connections between hurling and the sport of shinty in Scotland.

He also meets Vicky Trimble, daughter of the late Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, who had to marry her wife in Scotland because same-sex marriage was not, at that time, possible in Northern Ireland. “My sexual identity is only part of whom I am. Nobody is just a protestant, just a lesbian,” she says. “Some people love putting themselves in a box.”

Andrew Trimble is curious and open-minded, both useful qualities for a TV presenter. He is proud to be from Ulster – though in the nine-county sense rather than the six-county one that is so beloved of unionists – but he never quite arrives at a definitive conclusion regarding his Irishness.

Still, for viewers south of the Border, the message is hard to miss. We may all share an island, but when it comes to identity, the gulf between North and South is vast – and closing it will take a lot of work on both sides.