Scots crowned chief Brit haters after Ireland cedes throne
A YEAR has passed since some posh lady in a hat caused a commotion by staggering her way through a few words of the national language. In the late spring of 2011, columnists (quite properly) made much of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Republic of Ireland.
A million years of discord had been put behind us. Ned Flanders embraces Homer Simpson. The Road Runner shares Acme Brand cordial with Wile E Coyote. You remember how it was.
Pop-cultural boffins had been aware of the thaw for many years. Consider a peculiar incident that occurred last weekend. Poor old Engelbert Humperdinck – the singer from Leicester, not the composer from Siegburg – did not cover himself with glory at the Eurovision Song Contest.
As the counting moved into its later stages, it looked increasingly likely that the great man representing the United Kingdom would finish dead last. In the end, only four countries delivered votes for Engelbert: Belgium, Estonia, Latvia and, yes, Ireland.
Nothing remarkable in that, you might say. The United Kingdom is our nearest neighbour. All those made-up east European countries vote for one another. The Greeks stand up for Cyprus and that island nation always returns the compliment.
But, until relatively recently, the Irish jury (such a thing existed in the days before public voting) made it its business to offer two fingers to the UK entry. Heck, we only gave three votes to Save Your Kisses for Me, and that was a Eurovision classic. The following year, 1977, offered a classic example of the feud’s lopsided dynamics. The Irish entry, which finished third, took the full 12 points from the UK. The British tune, which grabbed the silver medal, was awarded null points by the Irish jury.
Fans of “sport” tell me anecdotes about English friends who complain that, whereas they always support Ireland when that team are playing any nation other than England, their Irish pals insist upon urging anybody (even the Germans) to defeat the supposed old enemy.
Until the current defrosting, a similar rule applied during the Eurovision.
We hardly need to list the reasons behind the antagonism. I dimly remember history lessons concerning some sort of forced occupation (still going on, according to some commentators). By turning our backs on the likes of Lynsey De Paul and Mike Moran – whose contribution to the colonial atrocities was limited at worst – we reasserted our independence and put the brakes on one, relatively insignificant school of British hegemony.
Football fans will continue to wish England ill. But the volume of the booing has declined. Meanwhile, the Eurovision freeze-out has been entirely reversed: the British can now count on a sympathy vote from their new pals across the Irish Sea. It’s not a big thing. But the change does – in spite of recent economic reversals – speak of confidence and maturity.