Why is it so hard to accept an Irish man can be British?
As I went through Dublin Airport last Saturday evening, on my way home from a visit to northern Syria (more on which at a later date), the garda on duty at passport control returned my (British) passport with the words, “Thank you, David. Welcome back”.
This happens every time at Dublin Airport: and not just to me, as my Ireland-based, English travelling companion was quick to point out. The police officer had only extended a simple courtesy, I know, but where else would you get it? Certainly not at any other airport I’ve ever been through.
Usually, if a passport controller deigns to even acknowledge a traveller, it is with an air of studied disdain or barely disguised menace.
Going home in the car, for the first time in years I was able to listen to a copy of the Sounds of the New West CD, which had been very kindly sent to me by Phil Lawlor, after I mentioned in this column that I had lost my original version. (Many thanks to Phil and to the other people who offered to send me a copy of this much-valued musical compilation.)
These are only a couple of snapshots from a virtual portfolio of thoughtful gestures that I have benefited from during my time in the South. Admittedly, I encounter incidental courtesies and deliberate kindnesses wherever I travel, but it is only in respect of Ireland that these could be said to amount to a national characteristic.
It is one of the things I love most about this country and about being Irish. At this point, most readers will be checking to see if I did indeed mention earlier that I travel on a British passport, which brings me not very neatly to another frequent experience of mine.
Although more of an attitude than a characteristic, there appears to be a widespread belief in the Republic that it is simply not possible to be both Irish and British – as if these were mutually exclusive concepts. According to this school of thought, identity must be singular, although it is never explained how such a notion can be applied to the many millions of people who happen to be Scottish, English or Welsh and also British.
Yet Ireland’s (until quite recently, enthusiastic) membership of the European Union suggested some degree of public acceptance that identity need not be narrowly defined. Moreover, the ready acknowledgement of Irish Americans as fully fledged members of the so-called diaspora also runs counter to the idea that Irish people struggle with the notion of dual or even multiple identities.