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'I’ve always hated the term 'the UK'. I find it an insult to me as an Irish person'

So will you have a little think about that cute little teddy bear island that you call home and think of what those little letters really imply, writes Michael Fortune.

Michael Fortune Folklorist and filmmaker

I SPENT TWO DAYS in England last week presenting at an art conference and every time I heard those two little letters – “UK” – mentioned my blood would boil.

I returned home and no sooner did I stick on RTÉ news, there was a short report from the Carlow Arts Festival and nearly every second phrase out of the Irish person speaking about it was “The UK”. “So and so are a UK company, they travelled over here from the UK to perform” etc.

Now, if you are a Unionist, ie someone in favour of the “Union of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland” you’d have some sort of excuse to use the term, but if you are not, I think you need to ask yourself a few questions.

What are you really saying?

As an Irish person what are you really saying when you say “UK”? What are you implying politically to anyone from the North of Ireland, Scotland, Wales (or England for that matter) who don’t want to be part of this great union anymore either.

Why aren’t we content in saying someone is “from England” or “I was over in Scotland at the weekend?” Is it grandeur or are we being subconsciously influenced by the external pressures of our colonial masters?

Do you think John Smith in Birmingham says he’s going to “The EU” when he’s flying over to Cork or Madrid? Like shite he does. Yet poor old Paddy feels somehow obliged to refer to it as the “The UK” out of ignorance or fear of upsetting a few Brits.

And don’t forget it, the whole British and UK identity has been formed by the English, via their Parliament and their Monarchy. And low and behold was it also the will of the majority of English voters who voted Brexit and brought Scotland and the north of Ireland with them.

I find it an insult

I’ve always hated the term UK. I find it an insult to me as an Irish person and to any fellow Irish friends and relations living in Counties Down, Derry, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh and Antrim as it implies and accepts the continued British interference in Ireland.

It’s that simple.I also find it an insult to the Scottish, Welsh (or English for that matter) who don’t want to be part of this great union anymore either. A glorious union put upon us in Ireland in 1800, straight after the 1798 Rising in Ireland: a Rising led by United Irishmen, Catholic and Protestants from Wexford to Antrim, who had the vision to embrace the political enlightenment of the French and American Republics and cut off our ties with England and its monarchy.

In Wexford alone, exactly 220 years ago, it is claimed that one fifth of our population, some 20,000, were killed during the conflict.And considering how long we spent afterwards (and many still are) trying to break our links with this union, why in the name of jaysus do we as Irish people use this term “UK” so freely now? Especially when you hear it from someone who in the same breath is singing ‘olé, olé, olé’ and crying into his Tri-colour when a young lad from Derry scores a goal for the Republic of Ireland.

It’s hard to get away from it

It’s hard to get away from it. Our national broadcaster uses it, our commercial media, our online and printed media, our local authorities, our political parties, our sports organisations, our national arts and cultural sector; they all use it without question.

In fact most use it so nonchalantly, as if boasting. “Oh I was in the UK for a wedding,” ie they were in Bradford for a stag night or “I’m now living in the UK,” ie I’m living in a dingy little flat in Croydon. Will you cop on.

I first noticed it creep into use in Ireland the late 1990s via the pop music industry when Irish boy and girl bands would return from a tour of “the UK”. Which was followed second by those in the arts world who seemed to thinking that having a show in “Leeds, UK” rather than “Leeds, England” offered some sort of gravitas on their CV.

A vested interest

I’ve also noticed it’s become far worse since Brexit, as those with a vested interest in “the UK” are pushing it more (ie the English) as it reinforces their “Brand UK” in a post-EU world.

Sure we all know how the Tory party in Westminster gave our northern Unionists/Conservatives a bucket of money in a bid to buy their votes and stay in power. While at the core of this are the Brexiteers and Tories wishing to hang onto as much old colonial real-estate as possible in their post-EU adventure.Only a few weeks ago Prince what’s-his-face was awarded the title of Baron of Kilkeel in Co Down. Again, more of it.

And imagine, some of ye sat down in your thousands and watched the wedding on RTÉ. How many of you would sit down and watch a similar royal wedding in Spain or Norway? Ask yourselves that.

And yet, when I wanted to sit down recently and watch Kilkenny rob Wexford in the hurling on Irish television, I couldn’t do it, unless I pay money to Sky and to quote Wikipedia ‘Sky plc are a pan-European British media and telecommunications company headquartered in London’. Irish people having to pay money to an English company to watch Irish young lads play the Irish national games of hurling or football in Ireland? Again, another big sigh.

Teddy bear island

So will you have a little think about that cute little teddy bear island that you call home and when you’re feeling all Irish and proud, think of what those little letters really imply.

And when you are at it, think of all those young lads and young ones in Antrim or Derry who don their county and club jerseys and play “the national game” of hurling or football every other day or those from Armagh and Tyrone who travel down to Dublin to entertain you in Croke Park. Have a little think about them and ask yourselves the question, how many of these would include “The UK” in their postal address?

Michael Fortune is himself. If you want to follow him visit: facebook.com/michael.fortune.wexford.

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About the author:

Michael Fortune  / Folklorist and filmmaker

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