Ireland: land of hard knocks and long held grudges…

I’ve not managed to get hold of a copy of the latest version of LIves Entwined, the British Council sponsored assay of relations within and between these islands. For us nordies it is likely to be the most compelling read of all three, since it teams with names familiar to Slugger readers. Indeed it includes work by some of the best journalistic talent including Olivia O’Leary, Mary Fitzgerald, and David McWilliams. Davy Adams has a fulsome piece based on his own contribution as his regular fortnightly op ed in the Irish Times today. He notes at the outset:

….we already know what the British think of us: they have only positive things to say. The real question is whether this friendliness is now being reciprocated. I’m afraid the answer is, no.

He continues:

Self-evidently, relations are a lot better than they were, but genuine goodwill seems still to be flowing largely in only one direction. On this side of the Irish Sea, the past is not so much being put behind us, as being put to different use.

Forgiveness rather than outright hostility is now the official Irish attitude to Britain, and this is reflected throughout the Lives Entwined series. But it is forgiveness of the self-serving kind.

That may(or indeed may not, I haven’t read had the opportunity to read the latest volume in full) be true, but he goes on to make a point about the past that usefully bears repetition. Particularly now at a time when the Republic is adopting a foreign policy of what some have called ‘active neutrality’ through the agency of the EU:

The hard historical truth is that Ireland was, at best, every bit as much coloniser as colonised, it being part of the then United Kingdom (of Great Britain and Ireland) on whose behalf the British Empire was founded and maintained. Whether it suits or not, it is nonetheless indisputable fact that it wasn’t only the English who sailed around the world laying claim on behalf of the UK to wherever and whatever took their fancy, but the Scottish, Welsh and, yes, the Irish as well.

It should hardly need pointing out that, unlike elected representatives from Ireland, there were no gentlemen from India or Africa or any other colony able to take seats in the British House of Commons.

Does anyone truly believe that Ireland would not have created, just as anyone with enough military muscle did, an empire in its own right had it been able? Ireland is indeed exceptional, though, in at least one sense.

It is somewhat ironic that most of the nations who were former British colonies long ago discarded the comfort blanket of colonial victimhood (though God knows they had every right to cling to it).

Although some have been independent for less than 50 years, virtually all now welcome with open arms periodic visits by British dignitaries of every kind, including royalty.

Compare that with the situation here.

After almost a century of independence, Ireland is congratulating itself no end on now being mature enough to stage a rugby game against England at Croke Park for the first time, with the British national anthem played without fuss. By any standards, hardly the mark of maturity.

It’s a typically robust analysis from Adams. Although it’s interesting to note that the research that kicked all of this activity off was a survey amongst the under forties in the Republic. The de facto truth about the East West relationship amongst the mass of ordinary Irish citizens of the Republic, is that the relationship between the two is unremittingly positive.

It may take a little time before our ‘intelligensia’ catch up with Myles na gCopaleen’s ineluctable Greek chorus, ‘the plain people of Ireland’.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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