Why is it so hard to accept an Irish man can be British?
Does simply being British bar one from also being Irish, then? Not really, seeing as there is something of an eagerness to include famous British people of Irish descent (Irish-Britons) in the wider national family. And not just those capable of augmenting the national football team.
So what is it that has even some of my Southern friends raising a quizzical eyebrow when, on the odd occasion, I have stated that I consider myself to be as Irish as they are, and British as well? Is it only me? Not quite, but possibly people of my ilk. It seems that only those from Northern Ireland who claim to be British are, to many Southern minds, automatically excluded from being Irish. But even that isn’t strictly true. Consider the furore there was in some sections of the media in the South when Northern golfer Rory McIlroy let it slip that he had always considered himself to be British, and indicated that he intends playing for Britain rather than Ireland in the next Olympic Games.
It was obviously assumed that as someone raised a Catholic, McIlroy should have declared for Ireland. The issue of who the North’s other two famous golfers, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, might choose to play for was never raised.
That Clarke and McDowell are both from Protestant backgrounds was the obvious difference. McIlroy was considered something of a traitor; the other two were not even considered relevant to the question.
So, it would seem that Americans, UK-based Britons, and virtually anyone else from around the world that feels inclined to, are permitted to claim an Irish identity, while the northern British Protestant is not.
It would be easy to attribute this attitude to conscious sectarianism, but my experience of people in the Republic tells me that, except in a tiny minority of cases, this is decidedly not the case (sectarians do not greet members of another religion warmly at the airport or send them gifts), although I do believe it stems from the sectarianism of times past.
Over centuries, it has become ingrained in the Irish Catholic psyche that a Protestant born on the island cannot be considered authentically Irish. And since partition, that a Northern Protestant can’t be Irish to any degree.
A majority of the population of the Republic appears determined to create a secular society. Central to achieving this will be an acceptance that every person born in Ireland fully belongs here, and is the sole definer of his or her identity.