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Column Our obsession with ‘insults’ against Ireland is a waste of energy

There was anger when Katie Taylor was ‘claimed’ as British – but such a reaction exposes our insecurity, writes Aaron McKenna.

EVERY COUPLE OF weeks, there is a story – or four – that rubs some salt into the national shoulder chip. This week we had a British newspaper briefly steal Katie Taylor from us and some Australian Olympic commentators offered the advice that we’re basically British, so should be competing for Team GB. Meanwhile, the nation was plastered as a bunch of piss heads by a different Australian newspaper and to cap it all off, someone started sticking rather pointed “Welcome to Northern Ireland” signs on the border.

The Taylor gaffe was just that: a silly mistake from a British press that was also claiming the Dutch dressage team as their own in a collective photo editor SNAFU. I doubt the Dutch minded very much, as most who saw it took the opportunity to poke fun at normally jingoistic tabloids mistaking bright orange collars (not to mention the wrong colour medal) for homespun British fashion.

Of course, we do claim more than a fair few successful people with Irish roots – no matter how tenuous – while complaining how implausible it is that every American we meet has a great great aunt from Mayo. If Katie Taylor were English and her father Irish (instead of her Irish and he a Yorkeshireman originally) we might be hamming up the link. Just saying…

The Aussies have been more churlish in their separate but related comments. For a nation so proud of itself and sharing a colonial history (though of a different tenor to ours) you’d think they would more sensitively consider such comments. But you can’t make a nation account for every rude eejit in the world.

Monkey see, monkey do

A piece in the Australian newspaper The Age offended with “For centuries, Guinness and whiskey have sent the Irish off their heads. Now all it takes is a petite 26 year old from Wicklow.” To be honest, this one didn’t offend me quite so much considering that the first place we send visiting heads of state after the Áras is a pub on top of the Guinness Brewery. The official Irish hospitality area at London 2012 also features a Father Ted themed area in the bar.

It’s Monkey See, Monkey Do – and if you don’t want a reputation as a nation of drunkards, consider the face we put forward to the world. We play off the craic-agus-ceol-with-a-drink-in-hand-by-the-warm-hearth to attract folks to Ireland, and should probably question what role this has to play in our being lampooned abroad as drunks.

“Welcome to Northern Ireland” is a story that, were the Olympics not in full flow, would probably be getting a few bigger headlines in this, the political funny season. We have a happy relationship with the UK where our border is concerned – in that for all effective intents and purposes we don’t have one. Since the end of the Troubles you can cross the border without taking much notice except for the speed limits.

Indeed, Ireland has stayed out of the EU border system so that we can remain ensconced in our happy union. If we entered the Schengen Area Agreement, we’d need to check passports going to and from the UK, something that would be a big no-no.

Perceived slights

Now the frontier is being marked in about the same way that a dog urinates on a tree, mainly to tell the other dogs he’s there and – in our case – irritate people of a certain persuasion.

One theory of Irishness is that to be Irish is to not be British. They give us 12 points in the Eurovision, we give them two and we’ve always got our eye on them. But the Brits have a bigger national inferiority complex than we could ever claim to muster. The end of empire hasn’t ever really sat well with them, and Britain seems to be a nation focused on past triumphs a lot of the time.

Watch them cling to the ‘Special Relationship’ with the US, a much bigger affair than our yearly tribute of a bowl of shamrock – compare it to the wars and treasure they’ve endured for the pat on the head. Meanwhile, English national football commentary seems to be a lot of words surrounding the date “1966” over and over and over again.

My point is that every nation has their ‘thing’. And while these incidents may fall into the class of #firstworldproblems, our national obsession with our nationality feeds right back into our place in the world, and its place for us.

You may not be as young as you feel, but you are certainly only as confident as you think. Constantly looking over our shoulders for perceived slights, or reacting to pointed insults, is a waste of time and energy.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for You can find out more about him at or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna.

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