The class were considering historical figures that they might regard as “good.”
“Michael Collins, sir,” replied one.
“Yes,” I said, “Collins was considered a hero in my family, my grandmother worked with his sister in London in the post office. But Collins was a man responsible for cold-blooded murders.”
“He only killed Brits, sir. They don’t count.”
What if he had said Collins had only killed Africans or that he had only killed Asiand and they didn’t count?
I scrolled back from the archives here to find a piece that my one-time colleague Patrick Comerford had written in 2008 and that I had posted here.
Patrick was a journalist with the Irish Times before switching to full time ministry. In a column he wrote, he rounded on the Anglophobes:
. . . 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.
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?
More than a dozen years later, attitudes have not changed.