THREE OF THE UNITED KINGDOM’S so-called home nations have qualified for the 2016 European soccer championship: England, Wales and, for the first time in its history, Northern Ireland.

This will be Northern Ireland’s first major tournament in decades, and it’s spurring a ton of enthusiasm around the national team.

“You’ve got people putting out flags outside their houses. You’ve got people putting stickers up on their cars. It’s the talk of the town in all the bars,” said BBC journalist Chris Page.

However, not everyone in Northern Ireland backs the national squad.

“There is a political division here,” Page said. “You do have plenty of people in Northern Ireland and in Belfast who will support the Republic of Ireland team.”

The population of Northern Ireland is divided into two politically. You have Unionists who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, and they tend to be Protestants. On the other side, there are the Irish Nationalists, who believe that Northern Ireland should become part of the Republic of Ireland, creating a united Ireland, and they tend to be Catholics.

“In this tournament you will still have most Catholics saying that they will support the Republic of Ireland first; most Protestants saying that they will support Northern Ireland first,” said Page.

However, over the years, it has become common for fans and public figures from each side to wish the other team well.

The deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, said that in this tournament he will “support anyone who’s wearing the green of Ireland.”

By Daniel Ofman, PRI’s The World
This article is syndicated from PRI’s The World.

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