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.