Little Englanders at the BBC

Apr 2nd, 2008 | By | Category: Cross Channel

A woman I knew in the North came from Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde. Blessed with a wonderful sense of humour, she would tell a story of the minister on Great Cumbrae who would stand in the kirk on the Sabbath and pray for the islands of Great and Little Cumbrae and for the offshore nations of Scotland and England. He sounded the sort of minister I would have loved to have met, someone who knows that God has a sense of humour.

It reminded me of a question alleged to be on an Irish examination paper in the 1980s.

“What is the biggest island off the coast of Ireland?” it asked.

I scratched my head, my Irish geography was not great, maybe Achill, I thought. The answer was, of course, Britain.

The question was a small response to the little Englandism of much of our neighbouring island.

A friend told me a couple of years ago of a telephone conversation with a London colleague that week.

The woman in London said, “You know the way they have a parliament in Scotland and an assembly in Wales, what do you have in Dublin?”

My friend, somewhat annoyed, replied tersely, “The Houses of the Oireachtas”.

“The what?” said the voice in London. “What would you call that?”

“I would call it the Government of Ireland”, said my friend, “I’m not sure what you would call it”.

“Oh”, said the London colleague. “Do you have your own government?”

“Yes, since 1922. Hadn’t you heard?”

There is an insularity in England sometimes captured in the apocryphal newspaper headline, “Fog in the channel: Continent cut off”, but still expressed in many ways, none more so than in the BBC website’s inclusion of the decision of Bertie Ahern to resign under United Kingdom news:

Even when one clicks on it as a world news item, it still links to United Kingdom: Northern Ireland news. Ninety-two years after the Easter Rising, eighty-six years after independence, and it still hasn’t sunk in that Ireland is not part of London’s dominions.

If Cumbrae still has a minister who prays for the offshore nations, perhaps he would consider coming to our aid.

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  1. I do miss RTE 1 now it’s been taken off of MW. I can only listen in when I’m home now.
    You are right Ian the reporters havn’t a clue.

  2. It’s a shame isn’t it. At least I have an excuse, I’m a day in the future and 12,000 miles away but my ignorance about Ireland has only been improved frankly through the blogging community and talking to Irish people via email and Skype. We hear all about the North and it’s shenanigins but little about the Republic. It’ll be interesting to see if thismorning’s news has anything about Bertie resigning . . I doubt it, we’re rather Americancentric over here and they probably think he’s a muppet with a friend called Ernie.

  3. As an Englishwoman, I am embarrassed (though I have to admit I didn’t know the word ‘Oireachtas’ before I moved here, though I at least didn’t think the Republic was still part of Her Majesty’s dominions!) But the people who write the papers aren’t just little Englanders, they are little Londoners. It was annoying when we lived in York, and really annoying when we moved to Scotland. The Guardian reported the Labour Party conference taking place in ‘distant Dundee’, as though the Labour Party had retreated to the back of the north wind to deliberate far from civilisation. As we lived a twenty minute drive from Dundee at the time we found this pretty infuriating.

  4. Les,

    The reporters are paid to have a clue!


    Do you never watch The Muppets? That’s Bert not Bertie! I wondered though how the Chinese coped when the taoiseach and foreign minister went there on an official visit – Mr Bertie Ahern and Mr Dermot Ahern.


    The conversation was taking place in a quasi-political context, but you’re right there is a Londoncentric worldview.

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