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Ireland's an amazing place for a holiday, but as a place to live, you really need to be Irish

When Englishwoman Sarah Franklin came to live in Ireland, her friend told her: ‘The Irish feel a far greater sense of kinship to the English than the English ever do in reverse.’ She discovered it to be true.

Sarah Franklin

EDITORIAL CONSULTANT Sarah Franklin lived in Ireland for three years until returning to her native England a year ago. Inspired by David Kenny’s column last Friday on the Irish reaction to beating England in cricket, Franklin writes about what she learned about Anglo-Irish relations from her time here:

We’d been in Ireland about a month when someone told me the truest thing I ever learned about the country.

“The thing is,” he said, “the Irish feel a far greater sense of kinship to the English than the English ever do in reverse.”

I thought of this reading Dave Kenny’s fantastic piece about the cricket, or more specifically, about the Irish glorification of the win. I’ve been back in England a year now, after three in Ireland (living in the west Brit heartland of Dalkey, natch). I’ve left a lot of friends behind in Ireland, and my Twitter feed – where the majority of my news comes from in this digital age of juggling – is split pretty equally between the English and the Irish. But the only way I know that there was a cricket match this week that had some kind of exciting result for the Irish is because of the Irish.

Why be concerned by a fluke win?

I’ve done my time in the stands at Lord’s and The Oval; there was a time when I could explain the principles of bodyline with the fervour usually reserved for the offside rule (don’t tell Andy Gray). So cricket comes onto my radar.

But this cricket match? It may have been an astonishing victory if you’re Irish. If you’re English, it’s a bit like being beaten by your five year old. A bit of a shock, maybe, but not something to really worry about.

As Dave says, cricket isn’t exactly a game the Irish are renowned for playing, so why be concerned by a fluke win? It ranks somewhere alongside the 8-seconds-in San Merino goal against England’s footie team in 1993; a bit of a shocker, but nothing that we’ll really be losing sleep over.

Imagine if an English team beat Ireland at hurling. It’d be a sting, sure, but in the long run, would you take it personally?

I get properly cross with the English about this.

Actually, you possibly would, for all the reasons of deep-seated historical and cultural grudge that Dave details. For my part, I get properly cross with the English about this. We should pay better attention to our closest neighbour. Leaving aside all the centuries-of-oppression stuff for a second, the Irish have generations-worth of layers of familiarity with Britain, be it involuntary or (a consequence of emigration) voluntary.

How this familiarity translates into everyday life, it seemed to me living in Ireland, is as follows. Many Irishmen (and women) actively support Premier League teams (though I’ve yet to meet any Vauxhall Conference die-hards). BBC programmes are watched interchangeably, if not more frequently, than RTE ones – when we were in Dublin, there was genuine outrage and consternation about the migration of the BBC to an all-digital service, which would mean that the Irish would have to start paying for the BBC rather than picking it up via the English transmitters.

Everybody you meet has been to England, usually to visit relatives/close friends and often for a few years. The Guardian was cheaper for me to buy in Ireland than in England (go figure) – and available everywhere the Irish Times was sold.

At the same time, and this is where I think the English are often genuinely surprised, Ireland’s got its own thing going on. Bear with me for stating the bleedin’ obvious, but it most definitely isn’t an outpost of England. When I commented once that, with all the consumption of British media, it was as if we were standing on the edge of Ireland leaning towards the UK, an Irish friend said, “Just don’t start referring to Britain as ‘the mainland’.” Noted.

Ireland’s still finding its feet.

Nor, though, is it a twinkly-eyed jewel of a country standing by with a pint of Guinness and a couple of ‘begorrahs’ to welcome its English neighbours.

I said it when we lived there, and I stand by it: Ireland’s an amazing place for a holiday, but as a place to live, you really need to be Irish. That nearly a quarter of a million English and Welsh folk are resident in Ireland is astounding to me; I’d love to know how many have ventured beyond the Pale. In many ways, and oddly for a country with such deep roots, Ireland’s still finding its feet, and the Celtic Tiger mess is that of a teenager let loose with a credit card.

Religion, despite a generation that claims to be beyond it, is still pervasive (just try getting your unchristened kid into school, even a Protestant school). Family ties are strong in an utterly exemplary way; but that makes it harder to belong if you’re not part of an Irish family.

Then there’s the preventative layer of the language; both Gaelige, which still sounds like someone talking through a mouthful of Jameson’s however long I twist and turn with it, and the Hiberno-English vernacular, which is glorious, but takes a while to come to terms with. ‘The day that’s in it’; ‘the guts of a week’; ‘messages’ and ‘press’ and the difference between ‘your man’, ‘your one’ and ‘yer wan’ – don’t try and emulate it if you’re an outsider. You won’t get it right.

I feel protective of the view of the Irish as reported in the British media currently.

I left Dublin before things got truly bad and for entirely personal reasons; simply put, our roots are in England, and a sum total of seven years abroad felt like enough.

Given our utter lack of regret at leaving Ireland, I’ve been taken aback at just how protective I feel of the view of the Irish as reported in the British media currently. The English just don’t care about the myriad differences between themselves and their country cousins. If they think of them at all, it’s in cliches.

Still; all the front pages depicting Ballymun slums and piebald ponies; the co-opting of Michael Flatley as spokesperson for Question Time (not yet, but surely only a matter of time); the fundamental indignation that Britain’s helping to bail out Ireland, a eurozone country; it all speaks to one, slightly sad, truth.

Namely: though a strong percentage of the Irish people could take Britain as a Chosen Specialised Subject on ‘Mastermind’ and ace it, the odds are that the average punter in any English town wouldn’t know the name of the Taoiseach if you stopped them in the street. It’s peculiar, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me as odd before the years spent in Dublin, but now it makes me angry at my fellow Englishmen.

What Ireland needs is to take all that bitterness towards England and channel it instead into pride in itself.

I know Britain’s far bigger than Ireland, and the history runs deep but still. The USA is bigger than them both, and the Americans, even on the Scandinavian-dominated West Coast, all seemed to know heaps more about Ireland than the British do.

What we need now, from this Englishwoman’s perspective, is for Ireland to take all that bitterness towards England and channel it instead into pride in its own country. God knows it could do with a little love at the moment. And who knows – maybe another cricket win next
World Series.

Read David Kenny: “The xenophobic ‘Ould Enemy’ cack spluttered over a cricket game shows how immature a country we can be”>

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Sarah Franklin

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