‘In Canada, people constantly think I’m British’
Irish emigrants share their experiences of repeatedly having to explain Irish history
Irish emigrants shared their experiences of having to explain Ireland’s status as an independent country while living abroad. Photograph: Alberto Pizzoli/ /AFP/GettyImages
Have you ever had to explain the history of the relationship between Ireland and Britain while travelling or living abroad?
Yesterday, Irish Times columnist Jennifer O’Connell wrote an article referring to a recent Channel 4 video which featured people on the streets in England trying and failing to draw the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“Irish emigrants spend too many waking hours explaining that no, Ireland is not actually in the United Kingdom or Great British and that no, the British Isles is not a political entity; no, we don’t feel the need to carry guns when we visit Belfast; no, she’s not our Queen; and no, we don’t eat Lucky Charms or corned beef on St Patrick’s day,” she said in the article.
Irish Times Abroad posted this extract on our Facebook page, generating a huge response from Irish emigrants, who shared their experiences of having to repeatedly explain the relationship between Ireland and Britain, and Ireland’s status as an independent country while living abroad. Below is a selection of these comments.
I’ve lived in the UK on and off since I was 19. Most people in the UK feel positively towards Ireland and the Irish. Yes, there is some ignorance on the part of some about the politics and history involved, and a very small minority who have arrogant colonial attitudes towards us, but it’s very rare. We are generally seen as separate but closely related. You can choose to find offence in that attitude, or you can choose to see the positivity in it. I find some of the ignorant bile that is spewed out in the comments section towards the British says more about us at times than the British.
I lived in the Czech Republic for two years. We had a lot of students during summer camps from ex-soviet countries. They told me they were taught in school that Ireland is currently part of Britain. You should have seen the look of confusion on most of their faces when I told them that’s not the case. It is so frustrating to have to explain this constantly, and even more frustrating that children are being taught that we are not independent of Britain.
Jen Ní Dubhsláine
I’m in Canada. It’s so multicultural, and I’ve met people from countries I havn’t heard of, or have no idea about their politics or customs. I’ve learned a lot. I do spend most days giving some sort of Irish history lesson to people but so what? People have done the same for me.
Susan Coughlan Kweskin
I’ve lived in California for 30 years. I came here from Dublin. Yes, you come across this often but as long as we know who we are and educate as we go along that’s all you can do. It’s up to us after all. I take pride in explaining it to people who don’t know.
I live in Australia and have had to explain those exact questions numerous times over the years. I believe Option 2 (as mentioned in the article - continuing “to rail loudly against those who seem blind to our interests, oblivious to our cultural identity, and insensitive about our past”) is best. We need to stand up and not be pushed around when it comes to Britain’s Brexit issues. That hard border will divide and after years of hard fought-for peace it should not be brushed under the carpet. Let’s hope the right choices are made for the greater good of all in Ireland.
Alma O Connor
I live in Miami and a lot of South American locals haven’t even heard of a country called Ireland. They say, “You mean ‘England’?” Eh no!!
Fan of Words
I’ve lived in Canada for the past couple of years. Take my word for it, the vast majority of Canadians think Ireland is part of the UK, and that people from Ireland are “British”. You just have to put up with it, and gently correct them, if you are so inclined. It does make you wonder what the point of more than 95 years of independence was, if a western, English-speaking country like Canada still assumes we’re part of the UK.
I live in Canada and I get this constantly. People either think Ireland is part of Britain, or I’m British or whatnot. However, I was always proud that the Irish are pretty good at not whining and complaining about this sort of thing. It’s more effective to politely correct them and move on with your day than getting pissed off about it. Discussion has a more positive effect than argument.
In my experience, the Scots see the Irish as cousins and friends. I can’t speak for England or other areas of the UK. Also, in the west of Scotland at least, there is a high awareness of Irish culture, history and politics (this goes for the North of Ireland too), but this seems to be lacking in other parts of the UK, as has become evident by newspaper articles I’ve been reading since the general election. People in England seemed to have no idea who the DUP was, for one! And now there is this ignorant Ireland bashing by the usual uninformed (or misinformed) Brexit crowd, who refuse to go away. I find this all a bit perplexing in this day and age of Google. We should be more informed, not less.
Some Facebook comments have been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.