A few years ago, I complained that there was an inherent racism in the Church of Ireland’s programme to welcome those from beyond these shores. A nationality which accounted for four times as many newcomers as Nigeria was never once mentioned. The complaint was met with polite laughter.
Driving through Ballybrack this morning, the car in front had a sticker in its back window,
Keep Ireland Tidy
Throw Your rubbish in England
It hardly seemed an attempt at humour worthy of repeating around a pub table, let alone worthy of print on, presumably, hundreds of car stickers. That such inanity is considered appropriate of public display is a mark of the deep bigotry in some quarters of Irish society.
Coming home, I turned up my friend Patrick Comerford’s column in the August edition of the Church Review. Patrick was a journalist with the Irish Times before switching to full time ministry. In his column, he rounds on the Anglophobes:
Over the years, I have been stimulated and excited by my commitment to and involvement in programmes to combat racism in Ireland and internationally. These have included the Discovery programme in the Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough, the publication of Embracing Difference by Church of Ireland Publishing, work on interfaith dialogue combating antiSemitism, and, in previous decades, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and work with people engaged in the World Council of Churches Programme to Combat Racism.
But for some time I have had a little problem about racism that worries me. I don’t know whether I’m right about this. But if I am, I wonder how I should deal with it. Because for some years, I have been worried the one form of racism that goes unmentioned and unchallenged – even in polite circles in Ireland is anti-English racism.
Walk into any bar or pub in your town or city on a night when big name English clubs such as Manchester United or Liverpool are playing, and you will find the place crowded with roaring, shouting full-grown men, dressed in team shirts and colours, all identifying with the team they’re cheering, and speaking in terms like “we” and “us:’
Walk into the same bar or pub when the English rugby or soccer team is playing an international match, and you’ll find that the same men – some still wearing English club shirts – will inevitably cheer any country from any continent that is playing against England. The fact that England failed to qualify Euro 2008 appears to have brought pleasure to many Irish soccer fans.
When I hear not just schoolchildren, but mature, sophisticated adults talking without qualification about “800 years of English oppression” or “occupation;’ I wonder who they think we are descended from. After all, no-one whose family has lived in Ireland since the days of at least their grandparents or great-grandparents can be without English ancestors, even if they came from England over 800 years ago.
I listen with pained embarrassment when I hear people in polite company telling jokes in which English people are the butt of humour.The joke-tellers are often unaware that similar jokes were told in England until the I 970s, with the Irish as the pilloried victims. The same people would cringe if they those jokes were retold with the English characters replaced by Poles, Latvians, Romanians or Nigerians.
How has this sad situation developed? Why haven’t we changed our attitudes to the English in recent years? After all, we Irish are now seen as chic in England, and most of us have countless strains of English ancestry. We can hardly blame it on the situation in Northern Ireland – after all this, was primarily an Irish problem, not an English problem, and we have all grown up a lot in many other ways since 1998.
I don’t want to be put in the same category as some over-zealous, over-conservative newspaper columnists who present their Anglophile views in an extreme fashion that often irritates Irish readers. But why don’t we love England in the same way we love Italy, France, Spain or Greece, even when it comes to holidays? Why don’t we welcome the English in the same way as they welcome us?