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‘I’ve met with anti-English sentiment in Ireland’

Anti-English sentiment scrawled on a wall at Croke Park in Dublin

IF you were born in a town in England, Scotland or Wales to Irish parents, can you call yourself Irish?

When our columnist Rob Brennan put forward that question, based on his personal experiences growing up as a London Irishman, you, our readers, responded in their droves.

Last week, Niall O’Sullivan continued the deabte outlining why he’s proud to be called a Plastic Paddy.

More News:

This week we delve further into the second generation conundrum….

THE first thing that struck me after reading the feedback from Rob Brennan’s article was that I got off quite lightly.

Me, a second generation Irishman growing up in a London suburb in the early ’90s? It could have been a lot tougher.

There were some hard tales in those comments. Stories of people who were, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, judged not by the colour of their skin but the strength of their accents.

Like Rob’s story, the origins of a split along family lines for me took root in sport. It was one of my earliest memories.

My brother Liam, six years old, cranks his head over the bunk bed. “Who do you support?” asks Liam. “No one.” I was five at the time. “Who do you support?” I asked, with growing curiosity. “Arsenal,” said Liam. To which I replied: “OK. I’m going to support Man U then.” We had that kind of relationship.

And one day soon after the nationality question came up. I’d always assumed I was English. Having been born here, going to school and growing up here too. Apparently, I was wrong. Something which, to my surprise, was backed up by my dad.

To be fair, we’d had a fairly traditional Irish upbringing in our corner of South London. We went to Catholic school, along with second generationers from places as far away as Italy, Korea and the Caribbean. We were confirmed. And I’ve always felt pretty Celtic, having inherited the taste for a pint as well as a spot of premature hair loss (thanks for that, dad).

Our family, like most, has a complex lineage: my dad was born in Tyrone, while my mum’s side are from Kilkenny.

The English/Irish question would normally reappear during big sporting contests. Me being me, I’d often favour England just to spite my brother. Fortunately since the World Cup in ’94, the age when I could appreciate my first major football tournament, the consistent incompetence of both countries has kept them apart.

But during the Six Nations, each year, I come unstuck. The annual Ireland v England fixture fills me with an irrational dread when all around me — brother and dad especially — are relishing the occasion.

And it wasn’t until a birthday trip as an adult to Galway city many years later that I experienced something stronger than what at the time for me was a mere sporting decision.

On two occasions, I met with anti-English sentiments — one in a pub and one at our hostel — including the use of the dreaded term ‘Plastic Paddy’ and a few worse.

To be fair to the folk of Galway, those two incidents paled into insignificance in comparison with the great hospitality we received during the rest of our trip, including a memorable encounter with an official at the boarding gate of the airport who seemed far more interested in how our trip went than even opening my passport, never mind looking at its colour.

But now having lived for 26 years in the capital I’m quite content to go about calling myself a London Irishman.

You can call me a fence-sitter, or one of the undecided, or worse if you wish. And while during my time in London I may have acquired an over-priced arts degree and can on occasions be spotted in a scarf — whatever you do please don’t call me a European. And surely that’s something which may unite a fair few from England and Ireland.


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12 comments on “‘I’ve met with anti-English sentiment in Ireland’”

  1. KhublaMcCann

    "IF you were born in a town in England, Scotland or Wales to Irish parents, can you call yourself Irish?"
    If you don't identify as Irish, you let the piggy-eyed bigots who were too lazy to leave the country in search of work to dictate who owns 'Irishness'. James Connolly was born in Edinburgh, does that make him less Irish than some six-fingered shleeveen born in the Free State who's never had to question his own identity?

    • Fintan

      AM What a horrible bitter comment. Noble prize winner Seamus Heaney has just passed away? Is he a piggy-eyed, lazy bigot?

    • Dan22

      Well said KhublaMcCann

  2. Liam Devine

    The photo illustrating this story does not, as the caption claims, depict 'Anti-English sentiment'. It would seem to be calling for the removal of British authority over the six counties. That is a very different thing.

  3. Dan Gleballs

    Just chuckling to myself thinking about 'The Polish Times' running a similar article in 10 years time written by a lad called Miroslaw (who speaks with a Dublin accent) bemoaning the lack of respect he receives on trips to his motherland.

  4. W Campbell

    I wouldn't worry about it as a Northerner living in the Republic I have been told on a few occasions to go back to my own country.
    I must stress my birth home is only 40 KM away but I just laugh and 99% of people are fine.

  5. Dee Cee

    Ireland has always exported its people. Thousands of those who were bright but with limited educational opportunities or employment opportunities in their homeland have, over the last 150 or so years , saw no option but to emigrate, usually to Britain or USA. Many put up with lower status jobs and prejudice , carving out a life for themselves , raising their families , and more often than not, sending money back to their families in Ireland.
    Those of us who are children of the dispora have always been caught between loyalty to the country where we were raised and educated, and the homeland of our celtic family.We should be proud to be the children of those who got off their backsides and made lives for themselves in a new country whilst maintaining their own culture and moral standards.I was in Ireland lately listening to a young woman bemoaning the fact that so many young Irish were finding that emigration was the only option ....she clearly hadn't studied modern Irish history, or she'd know that this is nothing new. So , call us plastic paddys if you like...but know that the next generation of plastic paddys could be your children or grandchildren.

  6. shaunthebrummie

    the ones who planted the bombs in the pubs in birmingham....are irish enough.....JUSTICE FOR THE 21.....

    • Dan22

      Justice for the Ballymurphy victims of the Paras

  7. Letz

    "Our family, like most, has a complex lineage: my dad was born in Tyrone, while my mum’s side are from Kilkenny."

    Being from Liverpool, where most of the people of Irish descent have deeper roots in England, having one side from one place in Ireland and another from another place would be the height of simplicity. Try having twelve great great grandparents who were all from different places in Ireland. And that's without considering the four others who weren't from Ireland!

  8. Ian

    You were called a name a couple of time?
    Consider yourself very lucky. What about how Irish men are treated in London? Being insulted in a pub is nothing compared to being abused by Police as it forces you to be a criminal yourself. Surely you understand that being abused by the state is far worse. I was attacked by police, racially abused and thrown out of my residence because I was falsely accused by a female housemate of slapping her.

    There's nothing like an English man to kick you when you're on the ground you should have respect for Irish men anyway they're always honest as to what they think.


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