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Kevin O'Brien celebrates his record-breaking century during the Cricket World Cup match against England PA Images/ Kirsty Wigglesworth

The xenophobic 'Ould Enemy' cack spluttered over a cricket game shows how immature a country we can be

The Ireland team who excelled at cricket should be applauded. But the Brit-bashing celebration of their feat is hypocritical for a country that is, in many ways, becoming ‘more British than Britain itself’.

I’VE ALWAYS ASSOCIATED cricket with acute pain. My first memory of that association dates back to winter 1977, when I was dozing through fourth class at the Harold Boys. Mr Halpin was winding the day down by reading us a newspaper report about freak weather conditions in Australia.

“It says here that ‘Brisbane has been battered by hail-stones the size of cricket balls’. Think about that boys.”

Half-asleep, my hand shot up, almost involuntarily. “I didn’t know crickets had balls, sir.”

Thwack. Bamboo cane. Cricket equals pain.

The second memory is of a freak accident with a cricket bat while playing rounders. My friend ‘Chun’ – a huge, Sumo-wrestler-shaped boy of 11 – decided to do some batting practice while I was sliding, heels-first into final ‘base’. Whenever I see anyone playing ‘paper, rock, scissors’, I am reminded of the ‘CRUMP’ sound his bat (the rock) made as it smacked into my crotch (the open scissors). My howls could be heard several roads away. I still wince when I hear the sound of a wicket being knocked over.

Recalling my time as a sports hack with the Irish Press also brings back memories of cricket and pain – the pain of having to watch it. It’s so boring it makes pitch-and-putt look like ice hockey.

I didn’t give a Rubberbandit’s curse when I heard Ireland had beaten England at the Cricket World Cup. ‘West Brits beating the actual Brits at a boring garrison game,’ I thought. Big deal.

It’s not like Ireland just found €100bn down the back of the couch

It turns out, it IS a big deal. Ireland is suddenly full of cricket fans (and they’re not all west Brits). The newspapers were full of it: ‘Cinderella story… greatest sporting achievement by anyone, anywhere … just what the country needed …’ Not since Mary Byrne lost X-Factor has there been a greater “shot in the arm” for Paddyland.

I don’t buy into that, but I can understand it. The players excelled at their sport and should be applauded… EVEN THOUGH IT’S ONLY CRICKET.
It’s not like Ireland just found €100bn down the back of the couch.

Along with the applause there was another response: the ‘any excuse to give two fingers to the Brits’ reaction. Across the twitterverse and in the bars of Old Erin, there was an indulgence of the ‘acceptable’ racism we sometimes display to our nearest neighbours. The ‘800 years of oppression’ crap spouted by Six-Pint-Republicans. One correspondent told me he “disliked all sport, but liked seeing English people getting upset”.

I find this attitude even more tedious than watching cricket. This wasn’t the normal rivalry of neighbouring teams. This was stupid and childish. You’d swear the Black and Tans were still rampaging around the countryside.

Many people tend to forget that when they rant about the English they are referring to our largest ethnic minority. Census 2006 shows that 204,746 Irish residents were born in England/Wales. The Traveller community, by comparison, numbers only 20,000.

The Six-Pint-Republicans conveniently forget that the Irish are one of the biggest ‘ethnic’ groups in Britain

They tend to forget that the Brits/English are our biggest trading partners and also our top tourists. According to Tourism Ireland, 52% of 2009’s foreign visitors came from across the Irish Sea. The English like it here. (After 800 years, they’re bound to, I suppose). The Six-Pint-Republicans also conveniently forget that the Irish are one of the biggest ‘ethnic’ groups in Britain. We make up 1.2% of the population (Census 2001).

Emigration is forcing that number up. We’re welcome in the home of the Ould Enemy. The Irish are at the forefront of British business. We speak the same language and share the same culture. Relations have become so normalised that the Shinners are in power with the Brits. The Queen is coming over for her first visit.

Here’s a question: how many Irish people will be glued to their tellies for that visit and the royal wedding? Yet, there are still those who profess a hatred for the ‘Ould Enemy’.

I’d love to bring the Queen on a tour of Ireland. I’d take her down the High Street. We have ‘High Streets’ now, according to our fashion writers. Irish towns always used to have ‘main streets’.

We could go window-shopping in some of our traditional Irish clothing outlets: Top Shop, River Island, Next, Debenhams, Marks and Spencers…

“Where are the flat caps and tweed waistcoats?” Ma’am might ask. “You Paddies dress just like my lot.”

“Begob, I never noticed that before, Ma’am.”

Later, we could grab a ready meal and head home to watch some telly. “Marks and Sparks or Tesco, Ma’am?”

“What? You eat the same food as us?”
“Yes ma’am. We even call your ‘Great English Breakfast’ our ‘Great Irish Breakfast’. And we love fish and chips.”

Over supper, I’ll channel hop. “X-Factor, Coronation Street or EastEnders? Perhaps some Paxman, ma’am?”

“You watch the same TV as us?”

We retain an inverted snobbery towards a country that is our best friend in Europe

I will explain that Christmas wouldn’t have been Christmas without Morecambe and Wise. I’d list the comedies we’ve enjoyed down the years. How we laughed, like the English, at Basil’s exploits with David Kelly in Fawlty Towers. How we blubbed at the death of Victor Meldrew. I’ll even explain how we identify with English soap characters.

“Because we share the same day-to-day problems as them, Ma’am. Now, stop clipping your toenails, like a good woman, and pass the gin.”
The irony of this week’s Brit-bashing is that Ireland is, in many ways, becoming more ‘British than Britain itself’.

We enjoy its popular culture, while at the same time retaining an inverted snobbery towards a country that is our best friend in Europe.
Look around: we asked an Englishman, Ian Ritchie, to design the Dublin Spire – the symbol of our capital city. We even follow the same soccer teams as the English, referring to Liverpool etc as “we”. We hired an Englishman, Jack Charlton, to lead our Boys in Green to soccer glory. Most of his ‘Irish’ boys – Cascarino, Townsend etc – were Brits. We’ve asked an English company, LexMC, to do half of Foras na Gaeilge’s new Irish dictionary. ‘Brit’ influences are everywhere – although we’d like to deny them.

If you put the past behind us, the English are the closest thing we have to cousins. They can be annoying, but they’re still family. The xenophobic ‘Ould Enemy’ cack spluttered over a cricket game goes to show how immature and hypocritical a country we can be. “We stuck it to the Brits. At cricket!! Remember 1798!!”

Racism is racism, however mild it may seem

This wasn’t Euro ’88 – only seven years on from the Hunger Strikes. This was cricket, a sport which only reached maturity here after the Celtic Tiger period.

Racism is racism, however mild it may seem. We (correctly) complained about it for years. The kind of ‘acceptable’ racism we aim at England won’t lead to pogroms of people named Nigel and Doris – but it’s still prejudice.

The odd thing is that the English don’t get this. They actually LIKE us. The Germans and French are sick of us, but the Brits still want to be friends. They’re even lending us money. When, after 90 years of independence and peace in the North, will we forgive them for the past?

Somewhere in our national psyche, the cricket victory may have stirred up echoes of ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’. Perhaps, in our subconscious, this has been changed to ‘If you CAN beat them, you won’t have to re-join them’.

With the current state of affairs, re-joining the Commonwealth may someday be on the agenda. I’m not suggesting it, but who knows?
It might be worth considering that the next time someone asks “what have the Brits ever done for us?”

Hang on, didn’t they teach us how to play bloody cricket? There goes that pain again…

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