Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Everyone loves the Irish, even the Brits

The Irish are welcomed by the overwhelming majority of people in the UK, and we shouldn’t let the actions of an extreme minority obscure that fact, writes Shane Fitzgerald.

Sat, Jul 21, 2012, 06:45


The Irish are welcomed by the overwhelming majority of people in the UK, and we shouldn’t let the actions of an extreme minority obscure that fact, writes Shane Fitzgerald.

This week Generation Emigration featured an article by Brian Whelan suggesting that significant anti-Irish feeling still exists under the surface of polite English society. As an Irish graduate who moved to London over three years ago, I was intrigued by this suggestion. I began to wonder if I had been living in ignorant bliss and had completely ignored the signs of subtle racism and hatred that may have been directed towards me by my English hosts.

I currently work as a researcher in the House of Commons, Westminster, alongside many politicians who experienced first hand, some tragically, the IRA bombing campaign in the 1980s. Never once have I encountered prejudice, discrimination or ill will against me at the heart of the British establishment but maybe I hadn’t dug deep enough and read between the lines where the apparent racism still lurks.

What did the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, really mean when he voluntarily offered Ireland a bi-lateral loan worth £7 billion in 2010 declaring “Ireland is a friend in need and we’re here to help”? The Queen opened her speech at the state banquet during her historic trip to the Republic last year with the words “A Uachtaráin agus a chairde” (President and friends). Did she really intend to greet us so warmly in our native tongue or did some diplomat mess up the translation? Even the man many believe to be the face of the far-right in the UK, BNP leader Nick Griffin, had some strange words to say to the Irish, telling us that we, unlike other immigrants, are welcome to stay in the UK (based on his own perverse logic admittedly).

Having now scratched beneath the surface till my fingernails started bleeding I have come to the conclusion that no, anti-Irish prejudice no longer exists here in the UK. No doubt there still are a small number of racists living here such as the recent EDL protestors in Liverpool but did Dublin not see a pathetic protest by a handful of so-called republicans during the Queen’s visit? How would we have reacted if a British newspaper used this example to write a piece proclaiming that anti-British sentiment is still alive and strong in Ireland? Thankfully both nations have moved on and such sweeping generalisations are simply not true. Let’s not hark back to the 80s. No blacks, no dogs, no Irish is as extinct as the fashionable leg-warmers and dodgy haircuts sported at the time.

I have talked about Irish emigration many times over the past three years, including a number of articles for this paper, and I can confidently say that everyone loves the Irish, even the Brits. We have a reputation of being charming, friendly, witty, hard-working and easy to get a lot with. It is important to bring these traits with us wherever we go across the globe.

Our former President Mary McAleese, spoke beautifully when she said: “The immigrant’s heart marches to the beat of two quite different drums, one from the old homeland and the other from the new. The immigrant has to bridge these two worlds, living comfortably in the new and bringing the best of his or her ancient identity and heritage to bear on life in an adopted homeland.”

The drum of an emigrant’s new life does not have to drown out the sound of their old life back home. It is not a betrayal of our roots to embrace new cultures and thinking you are not welcome in a community can be a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy. I do hope that any young person planning to emigrate knows the wealth of experiences that stand to be gained from living in a new country.

Not every country will be the land of a thousand welcomes but rest assured, that the best people at putting down the Irish are the Irish themselves.