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What have the Brits ever done for us?

There is something dispiritingly similar about Irish nationalism and Scottish nationalism. This is no doubt because the one frequently supports the other. Most Scottish nationalists would cheer if Irish nationalism achieved its goal of uniting Ireland, while I strongly suspect quite a lot of Irish people would delight in seeing Britain partitioned. It is rather contradictory to think that uniting one island is good while partitioning another is also good, but then again if your main goal is getting even with the Brits you just don’t much care if it happens by means of uniting or dividing.

Cú Chulainn brings peace and democracy to ancient Ulster by means of rustling cattle.

The Republic of Ireland has a long term goal of uniting Ireland. I think it would be better if they left this up to the people actually living in Northern Ireland. Personally I regret that Ireland was ever partitioned, but it was a direct consequence of Ireland seeking independence from the UK. If the Irish had decided to remain in the UK, their island would not have been partitioned. This is self-evidently true, but stating it immediately leads to hostility from both Irish and Scottish nationalists.

It might or might not have been possible to force what became Northern Ireland to leave the UK along with the South. But the majority of people living in Northern Ireland at the time did not want to leave the UK. The British army could perhaps have forced them to join the South, but then again it could equally have forced the South to remain in the UK. Partition was not an ideal solution. It led to decades of terrorism. But would forced Irish unity have led to peace?

Anyway we are where we are. I would have no objection at all if the majority of people in Northern Ireland ever chose to join the Republic, but let’s leave it up to them rather than try to force the issue by turning the border in Ireland into a way of loosening the ties between Northern Ireland and the other parts of the UK.

The Irish PM has been pushing his luck lately. The Republic of Ireland has a national interest in trying to maintain a close trading relation with the UK. We would like the same. But there may come a time when ordinary British people lose patience with the Irish. We have, on the whole, remained friendly towards you. We have been happy to buy your beef, your butter and your beer. But we don’t have to do so. We have a national interest too. We are trying to leave the EU in such a way that we can maintain an open border in Ireland, maintain more or less free trade with all EU members, while regaining our sovereignty and the right to make trade deals with the rest of the world. If the Irish are seen to be trying to damage the UK national interest, there may well come a point when ordinary Brits cease being quite so friendly and may discover that we can buy what we need from elsewhere.

The essence of the problem between Ireland and the UK is that while the Brits tend to look kindly on Ireland, the Irish tend to view Britain with hostility. It is this that is fundamentally behind the diplomatic difficulties at the moment. If there were good will, the border would not cause much of a problem, but there is very little good will at all coming from the Republic.

The reason for this was very ably illustrated to me the other day, when I pointed out on Twitter that if it had not been for the Brits, the Irish today would be speaking a language (Irish), that could be understood nowhere outside of Ireland apart from perhaps in the Outer Hebrides. This was met with fury, even though it is self-evidently true. Irish people overwhelmingly speak English as natives, because for many centuries they were ruled from London. If you don’t think it’s an advantage to speak English as a native speaker, then by all means cease doing so. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if the whole population of Ireland spoke Irish and only Irish, but it might hinder your trade rather more than Brexit.

No doubt great wrongs were done in Ireland. But frankly great wrongs were done in Britain too and throughout Europe. The nobles conquered and the peasants suffered. Kingdoms expanded and contracted. Wars were fought.  But you weren’t the only victims. It wasn’t Irish people alone in Europe who suffered from famine. The ordinary Brit had no more say in who ruled him than the ordinary Irish person. Each could die for a stupid reason or because it was the whim of someone more powerful. We are not at a fault for every bad thing that ever happened in Ireland. Get over it. No-one now was alive when the New Model Army crushed you.  We don’t even blame present day Germans for the sins of their grandparents, but you would blame us for what happened between 1649 and 1653 as if it happened yesterday.

Lots of Brits moved to Ireland during the period when we were joined together. But then again in prehistoric times Brits were the first settlers in Ireland, and you repaid us the compliment by first sending the Scoti to settle in Scotland and then during the nineteenth century moving here en masse. Many Scots moved to Ulster in the seventeenth century and their descendants still form a majority there. But if Scottish Protestants were planted in Ulster, is it equally correct to say that Irish Catholics were planted in Glasgow or Boston? We have been moving between our two islands since history began. When do we have plantation and when do we have the benefits of migration?

The failure of Irish nationalism is that it could never take with it the whole of Ireland. The reason for this is that it has zero appeal for Ulster Protestants, for the simple reason that they are still treated as if their presence is unwelcome. They are still settlers more than three hundred years after they settled. The Irish treat unionists as if they arrived on the Windrush fifty years ago and should jolly well go home. Until the Irish cease to hate the Brits they will have no chance whatsoever of having a united peaceful Ireland because those Brits live in Northern Ireland and why would they want to be part of a state where they are hated?

What have the Brits ever done for us? Well out of all of the most notable Irish people I can think of the vast majority were descendants of the British. That is what we did for you, even though you hate us for doing it.

St. Patrick (5th cent.) came to Ireland from Roman Britain. He was therefore a Brit. He gave you Christianity and you celebrate his doing so every March 17th forgetting that the man who got rid of your snakes was not actually Irish.

Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1783) the great idealist philosopher was from Ireland, but he wasn’t just from Ireland, he was Anglo-Irish. What this means is that he was a Protestant and was a descendant of people who were planted in Ireland.

Robert Boyle (1627-1691), the first modern chemist gave us Boyle’s law, but the law equally well expressed the fact that eminence in Ireland invariably was a consequence of being both Anglo and Irish.

The greatest general in Irish history Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852) was born in Ireland, but reckoning that if a man was born in a stable it didn’t make him a horse declined to consider himself Irish. Still he was at least as Irish as the vast majority of great Irish people, far more so than any number of American Presidents who find it convenient to discover, or else make up, some Irishness in their family tree.

If you go through a list of the greatest Irish writers, beginning with Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), continuing with Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900), George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950), W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), C.S. Lewis ( 1898 – 1963), Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), Iris Murdoch (1919 – 1999) etc. etc., you will find that nearly all of them are Anglo Irish. In fact the only significant Irish literature that is not Anglo-Irish literature is either written in a language that almost no-one can understand, (e.g. Táin Bó Cúailnge), or is written by James Joyce in a language that quite literally no-one understands (e.g. Finnegan’s Wake).

Modern roads in Ireland were designed by the British, so too were the railways.  We gave you the games that the world now plays (Football, Rugby Cricket), otherwise you would have been left merely playing with yourselves (Hurling, Gaelic Football). The most famous Irish products such as Guinness were created by the Anglo-Irish. Even those Irish politicians who campaigned most effectively for Irish independence such as Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) were doing so precisely because they were Anglo-Irish and had been brought up in the British political tradition.

Prior to Irish independence in fact it is hard to find anyone of consequence from Ireland who was not at least partly British. These people for the most part thought of themselves as being British. They saw no particular difference between themselves and those living in Britain. There, in fact, wasn’t much of a difference apart from an accent and the separation of the Irish sea.  We gave up hating people because they were Protestant or Catholic sometime in the eighteenth century. Unfortunately you didn’t, for which reason we received sectarianism as your gift. It’s the thing that most distinguishes those who have Irish descent from those who don’t.

None of the great Anglo-Irish people would have existed, at least they would not have existed in Ireland, unless British people had moved there because it was part of Britain. Hating Britain amounts therefore to hating the best that you produced.

Perhaps this is why you hate us. It must be tough to take when you find out that almost no-one of exclusively Irish descent was of any consequence whatsoever in the long course of Irish history. You all speak English, yet you hate us for teaching you to do so. We built your cities, brewed your beer and allowed you to come here to work when there was no more work in Ireland, but still you blame us for everything.

Not only this, Ireland in the 1920s had free markets, the rule of law and a functioning democracy with a civil service that was more or less free from corruption. It had these things only because it had been part of the political development of the British Isles that gave us all these traditions. None of these things existed in Ireland prior to British involvement. You didn’t have any sort of democracy before the arrival of the Brits, you had no free markets  and no freedom. You had only despotism and barbarousness. Irish civilisation happened because of Irish history, which includes the fact that for many centuries we were united. Even in Europe today let alone the rest of the world there are few places that are as prosperous, free and democratic as Ireland and the UK. None of this was automatic. It happened because of our shared political traditions, which were spread from Britain to all of the Anglosphere.

My family were from Ireland. Some of them are still there. My grandfather was Anglo-Irish and he found it rather tough to remain in the land of his birth because of the prejudice he encountered at the time of Irish independence. But he didn’t blame Ireland for anything, rather he always loved it. He made a successful life here in Britain. You see, when you spend your whole life blaming someone else it give you a wonderful excuse for failure.  If you give someone a reason to fail by always blaming someone else, do not be surprised when they grasp at failure and embrace it. It is this above all else that hinders Ireland.

Britain remained friendly towards Ireland even when you bombed us, even when you blame us and even when you hate us. Blaming us for everything damages you, not us. We moved on a long time ago. We find your hatred rather baffling, but we are used to it and quite indifferent to it. Most Brits no longer even notice you (did they really elect Dame Edna to be their Prime Minister? We shrug quite unaware of whether Fine this or Fine that or indeed Fine Fair is the party that you chose).

But your hatred of Britain damages not merely your relations with the UK. It means that you can’t quite join the Anglosphere. The “five eyes” of Canada, UK, USA, NZ and Australia, have a trust and friendship that means we cooperate in security. But Irish hatred of Britain means we could never quite trust you. To whom would you divulge a shared secret just to get back at the land that gave birth to Cromwell? It’s you that loses from this, not us.

Accept who you are. Every Irish person is to a lesser or greater extent a mix of the British and the Irish. Hating the British is simply a rather odd way of hating yourself.

The chippiness on the Irish shoulder has damaged relations between our islands for too long. Most Brits have Irish ancestors, most Irish have Brits in their family tree. We are the most closely related countries in Europe. Let us work together and accept that for all our faults we are what we are because of each other. If we could overcome the hostility we might just find a mutually beneficial way of living together.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: http://effiedeans.blogspot.co.uk/2018/05/what-have-brits-ever-done-for-us.html

About Effie Deans

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Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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4 comments

  1. Absolutely great article

  2. Being of Dutch descent myself, my family always thought we arrived in Ireland with King Billy, but in recent times it is thought more likely we arrived with Cromwell……Anyway,i have read your post with amusement, and it is pretty well composed and factual in many respects, but again like other contributors you totally miss the point. It is true that 11% of Republic of Ireland residents today, are British born, but they are not mistreated or abused, in actual fact they are received with open arms, and integrate swiftly, not, I must say, like the Irish abroad, who do not integrate, but form their own groupings. This perceived hostility,that the present Irish Generation is supposed to carry, died with WW2…Now back to your pronouncements, and to enlighten you somewhat to the actual causes of past hostilities,… were British attempts, to ethnic cleanse the native Irish, by Plantations, Penal Laws, Famine, Ban on Primary Education, total ban on Catholics attending Universities. and absent Landlords.. then followed the 1800 Act of Union, and during the following 121 years not a single Irish MP, was ever offered a Ministerial Portfolio, in Westmister, next came the Home Rule Bill, passed in U.K. Parliament, and immediately reneged on, which led to 1916 Uprising, then came along the 1918 British Gen Election, when Sinn Fein Parliamentarians swept the board, with a huge majority, the native Irish Populace had spoken, again Britain ignored the wishes of the Irish voters, and this action led to the Irish War of Independence 1919 – 1921, .. and we know the result of that war, and it lead to the beginning of the end of the British Empire…..
    No… it is not hostility the Irish bear, it is MISTRUST. The Irish cannot understand why the British are never happy with their lot, why they are constant whingers, and dont possess the virtue of becoming GOOD TEAM PLAYERS in any International field…..

    • Well said mike leyden

    • I imagine that your little mini history is totally tongue in cheek and always appreciate a good laugh. However I f you actually take yourself seriously, I would advise a little more rigour in your “study”.

      Try and refer to gosh, the maintenance of civilization and learning during the dark ages, the creation of the great famine (Irish starving themselves perhaps to get green cards???), parlementartians like Daniel O’Connell (definitely not Anglo Irish) and his Catholic Emancipation bill for Catholics throughout Great Britain and Ireland (and the Empire).

      The muse of partition has been the menas by which GB attempted to sort out its failure to extricate itself from generations of divide and conquer policies around the world, so not really an exclusively Irish predicament.

      Again as I remarked initially I imagine that the piece was simply tongue in cheek, as it is clearly so ill informed and flawed.

      Paul

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