Not Really Irish?

I’m taking a quick break for coffee and remembered an article I saw in the Irish Times at the weekend about British immigrants in Ireland. Being one such myself I find a lot of it rings true. You can read the article here (I don’t think it’s behind a paywall). I think it’s well worth a look.

I found quite a few things in it resonate quite strongly with my experiences since I arrived here a couple of years ago. Top of these was the realization of just how ignorant I was about Irish history, thanks to the almost total neglect of this topic in British schools. Lack of education inevitably leads to lack of understanding and more often than not leads to prejudice and one finds a lot of that in the attitude of British people, even senior figures (many of them “educated” at Oxford) who are supposed to know better.

Another point I recognize is how many people ask me to explain Brexit, as if being British means that I should be able to do that. I don’t understand the madness that has descended on Britain but I feel it in my bones that the United Kingdom is headed for very dark times indeed.

I was also struck by the “Not Really Irish” tag, which I think about rather a lot. It’s not really just a question of whether or not you have Irish citizenship or an Irish passport, it’s about the extent to which you belong. I spent over fifty years living in England and Wales so I’m missing a huge amount of cultural background. I won’t ever be able to catch up so I don’t suppose I’ll ever feel `really Irish’. Of course people speak English here but I’m very conscious that I have a funny accent. I suppose that means I’ll always feel like a stranger in Ireland. If there is predominant attitude towards the British over here, however, in my experience it is one of sympathy rather than hostility. And the general friendliness of the locals means that this isn’t a bad place at all to be a stranger.

One final comment: it was mentioned in the Irish Times piece that there are a lot of British TV programmes on Irish television. I do not regard that as a positive at all! In fact I stopped watching UK television long before leaving the UK and have not started again since I moved here.

I wonder how different it feels to be an Irish person living in Britain right now? That might make for an interesting complementary article for a future edition of the Irish Times?

2 Responses to “Not Really Irish?”

  1. “I won’t ever be able to catch up so I don’t suppose I’ll ever feel `really Irish’, so I suppose that means I’ll always feel like a stranger here.”

    It depends. Both my wife and I immigrated to Germany from far-away, non-EU countries and learned to speak German, both as adults. In day-to-day life, most people assume that we are not foreigners. Not looking foreign helps, but methinks you could pass for an Irishman. Of course, there are also immigrants who, for whatever reason, don’t want to assimilate. (That is not necessarily a negative comment. It is when it means “don’t want to respect local customs or even laws”, but isn’t when it applies to dress, food, etc (as long as those are not against the law), taste in music, jewelry, etc.) Just yesterday, I overheard a conversation in a lift where a woman told that someone was surprised to find out that she was fluent in Croatian, then even more surprised when she learned that Croatian, not German, is her native language.

    Someone we both know didn’t even try to make an effort, saying that it wasn’t worth the trouble since he would be a foreigner wherever he went.

    It’s not possible for everyone; not everyone wants to, and not everyone is able to (language abilities etc).

    Of course, some woke types will claim that it is impossible as a matter of principle. 😦

  2. Padraigin Ó Scolaidhe Says:

    I am a British born child of 2 Irish parents, born into one of the “Irish Heritage” families in UK, as they now seem to be called. We went to Ireland every summer to visit grandparents, and we still have a family home in Kerry. I moved to Ireland a year ago and apparently I annoy people at NUIG by them how things are done at the University of Manchester, so I try not to mention the M word now! It was bizarrely written into my end-of-probation report by the Head of School, which shocked me somewhat, and led to technicians telling me I wasn’t to use the M word, it was now forbidden!

    I wasn’t expecting that talking about where I came from to be such an issue, as I had always felt Irish in UK. So I have an Irish name but a British accent.

    Brexit isn’t a problem, we all have the same view that the UK is bonkers!

    I felt between caught two cultures with the wrong accent. Growing up in a small market town, we had no relatives nearby, and my aunts and uncles, also Irish emgrants to UK, lived all over the UK. Now, when out and about, I get asked if I am enjoying my holidays and where I am from, to which I merrily answer, “Galway!”. “So where are you really from?”, and I say “Near Manchester”, to which I get a discussion of the football or the Trafford Shopping Centre!

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