Is it possible to be posh and Irish? Anthea McTeirnan finds out

‘Class exists in Ireland as it exists elsewhere.. we just deny it’

So, the Great British tradition of class obsession rocks on.

The Riot Club (at a cinema near you now) is a romp through the lives of members of the infamous Bullingdon club, the Oxford University dining club that famously included amongst its members David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson. More disturbing than jocular, the movie has pointed up the continuing class divide in Britain, where two-thirds of the present British cabinet are millionaires and 54 per cent of Tory MPs went to public school.

Of course by “public” we don’t mean they went to the local community college, which is where our first taste of Ireland’s interface with class struggle begins.

Here in the Irish capital, the world is inverting before our eyes as luxury grocers Donnybrook Fair announce plans to open a sixth store on, whisper it, the north side of Dublin.


But can you take the quinoa and quail out of D4 and repackage it for a northside clientele? Hey, wait a minute, the new store will be in Malahide. There are exceptions to every rule.

So can you be posh AND Irish?

Dr Mary McAuliffe, a historian at UCD, thinks you can.

"Absolutely you can. Class exists in Ireland as it exists elsewhere. We just deny it. It can be different because we don't have the aristocratic families here. In the 19th century being Anglo-Irish was posh. There's fewer of those sort of people now.

“Being posh now is very much down to what school you went to, what your accent’s like; who you are connected to. So we do have posh in Ireland. Posh people have social, cultural, educational and, obviously, financial capital. Although money is not always the defining feature; sometimes poor can be posh.”

British social commentators are having a justifiable conniption over the spike in Eton alumni who have made hay in the current Tory regime. David Cameron and Boris Johnson are, of course, old Etonians, and so is Cameron’s chief of staff and George Osborne’s chief economics adviser. The Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin is too, along with the Tory chief whip, George Young, and the chief of the Downing Street policy unit - Jo Johnson, younger brother of Boris.

Recently, 83 per cent of the Dáil had been to non-fee paying schools, so a little more egalitarian than in Britain. Of course most of those schools were boys’ schools. Co-education and a levelling of the gender playing field may yet change that.

When pressed to name some "posh" schools in Ireland, Dr McAuliffe mentions Clongowes Wood, Blackrock and Belvedere for boys, Loreto on the Green and Mount Anville for girls. They are mostly in Dublin, but she mentions boarding at Laurel Hill in Limerick and Colaiste Ide in Dingle, Co Kerry as "well-appointed". Although she says the list is a tentative one and firmly open to additions.

She notes that some schools send 95 per cent of their pupils to third level, while some school send a fraction of that number, proving that in spite of our egalitarian points system, the road to further education is easier for students from certain backgrounds.

So what's the poshest university? "I presume Trinity," laughs Trinity College Dublin graduate McAuliffe.

Some quick questions we all want to know the answers to…

Is Posh Spice posh? “I don’t think so. I think she’s thin but not posh,” says McAuliffe.

It’s super hard to say who is actually posh in Ireland, though, she says.

Is Ross O’Carroll-Kelly posh? “No, I think he’s just an idiot. He’s ‘rugger posh’.”

Is the President posh? "No, but some of our previous presidents may have been. Certainly Mary Robinson. I think Michael D Higgins is a classy person but a classless person."

The “merchant princes of Cork” think they are posh, says McAuliffe, but she acknowledges that being posh is a different kettle of anchovies beyond the Pale.

“In rural Ireland class is done a little differently,” says the Kerrywoman. “You are living cheek by jowl with everyone, so that’s a leveller. Land is also an indication of poshness - how much you have and how long you’ve had it.”

Ultimately being posh in Ireland is all about access to power and influence, says McAuliffe.

“Can you get in to see a Minister or the Taoiseach. Getting an audience shows your social capital. Who do you know in the media, the theatre or on the radio? Ireland is a small country, so people who are posh know each other.”

The class divide still reigns here it would seem. On Twitter this morning I passed through the following exchange…

“Who are these 200,000 people who go to the ploughing championships? I’ve never met a single one”

“I worked there a couple of times. It’s like Bloom in the park with more flat caps.”

“I see. I went to Bloom with my dad, it was the most middle class place in the world.”

Bloom and the National Ploughing Championships. Now there's posh.

Take our quiz to see how posh you are….