Picking up from Brian… Peter Murtagh with a paean to the largely unspoken verities of the English. Yet strains of anti English sentiment persist, not just in Dublin but in Belfast (and on both sides of the communal divide), and in Scotland, where 7% of the population is made of English people (there’s a must see Newsnight Scotland report here), the Moderator of the Church of Scotland has likened it to sectarianism…The substantive hook for Murtagh’s piece was Noel Browne, a thoroughly modern Irishman who was possibly 30 or 40 years ahead of his time:
Noel Browne grew up with an understanding of the English their likes, dislikes and societal values. As a young man, he returned to Dublin where, funded by another generous benefactor who paid his medical student fees, he became a doctor, eventually specialising in psychiatry.
It was as a doctor-politician, of course, that he made his greatest contribution when, as minister for health in 1947, he began the process that all but eradicated TB from Ireland, thereby saving hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives. He crashed in flames in 1951 when he attempted to bring in universal free healthcare, particularly for mothers and their children, and fell foul of the Roman Catholic Church.
But all those years later in Against the Tide, Browne remembered to say thanks to the English. He wrote of their essential decency and generosity and, if memory serves me right (because I dont have his memoir to hand), their tolerance. When I read the book while living in London, that point struck me as being absolutely true.
According to Douglas Robertson, an academic and author of The English in Scotland, these warm sentiments that are not widely shared in what used to be known as the Celtic fringe. So just what is our problem with the English, now the political balance appears to be shifting back towards the fringe? ONe quotations stands out from the others in that Newsnight Scotland clip that’s worth putting down here:
“The whole notion of outsiders; although on the surface they like to think of themselves and quite welcoming actually they find it very difficult to deal with?”
It strikes me as being cultural as much political conditioning. For instance, I don’t particularly perceive it, in Northern Ireland at least, as particularly a Nationalist problem. So are we just conditioned, on some level or other, just to repel all boarders? Is it the unbearable burden of history?
Or are we still, as Robert Cooper might put it, culturally jammed between the pre modern and modern eras, waiting for the waters to rise sufficiently to take us into a more open, tolerant and Cosmopolitan world view?
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