The Irish in Britain no longer need to think of themselves as emigrants

This acute essay by Niamh Mulvey is the first I’ve read to question directly the very idea – very politely – that young Irish who come over here to GB for a job should classify themselves as emigrants.

I am an emigrant, I suppose, but often that feels far too grandiose a term for a white girl who works in a shiny office in central London and can afford to come home a couple of times a year.

Yes I know the rich literature of the emigrant experience ranging from desolation to wistfulness and almost imperceptibly, into integration; , the agonising over the identity of the second generation; President Mary Robinson’s candle burning to welcome the wanderers home; and then  the traumas at the collapse of the Tiger and it all starts over again….

But in these days of the young mobile well-educated, not road builders drinking to blank out their loneliness, or frightened virginal girls with green eyes standing isolated  on the pavements grey, the typical experience is far closer to Ann Enright’s sassiness than John McGahern’s indelible marks of abuse. Terminal 1 is not like the Staten Island or Liverpool docks of a hundred or even fifty years ago. Sure, we all come from somewhere. I from Derry can bang on about it until they shut the gates again. And sure too, those of the unionist tradition scorned the idea of emigration on principle as they nervously asserted their right to belong, unsure of the reception. . But isn’t it time to fess up to the secret of our time? Identity in diverse London is about the narcissism of small differences. Today’s Irish were integrated before they got here.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London