“You can be anything in Ireland now, as long as it’s not English”, was the title of a panel discussion which took place in the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) earlier this week.
The British ambassador to Ireland, Paul Johnson, speaking in a personal capacity at the event, expressed a curiosity about the inclusion of the word royal in some Irish organisations’ titles, and pondered if perhaps the continued use of the term was an indicator of Ireland’s “maturity” about independence.
But are English people who live in Ireland experiencing a maturity of attitudes? Or does a current of anti-English sentiment run deeper than some Irish people are prepared to admit?
Laura Mahoney, born in Leicester, has been living happily in Ireland for over 27 years, and is an Irish citizen now. She is executive director of engagement at Dublin City University (DCU), and former CEO of the RIA and ex-head of public service reform at the Department of Public Expenditure. She says “it is highly unusual for me to go a day without my accent being commented on” and that she’s “very attuned” to being English in Ireland.
‘I think Irish people know as much about England… as English people know about Ireland. It’s pretty disgraceful both ways... British people come to Dublin to go on the piss and they go home again’— Laura Mahoney
“England is imploding and Ireland is doing quite well and there’s a gentle, mild, bit of glee about that,” she says. Brexit has emphasised Englishness as distinct from Britishness, Mahoney feels.
In all Mahoney’s time here, one thing she notes is that “you’d still never watch a football game”. “Most of the time I’d never, ever watch sport in public. I once made the mistake of catching it, I think it was the European’s [European Championships]… and it’s in order to cheer whoever England are playing. And I sit very quietly. There is an anger. There is a vitriol. When England lose, there is such [pleasure]. It’s so intense.”
She stresses the importance of not generalising. “But to speak in broad brush strokes, I think Irish people know as much about England… as English people know about Ireland. It’s pretty disgraceful both ways ... British people come to Dublin to go on the piss and they go home again. And Irish people who go to England, go to London and shop and see a show and come home again. They don’t know the country. I’m not sure the countries really know each other.”
Mahoney believes that being English in Ireland “will always be harder, or treated differently than almost any other nation. Or any other nationality. It just will forever. I’m here more than half my life and my Englishness will still be the first thing people notice about me.”
“No one would ever ask where you’re from in England. Ever. Maybe that’s Ireland being perceived to be friendly, but actually it’s because they want to place you.”
‘When working in a bar I would have the regulars singing Come Out Ye Black and Tans when I’d walk in to start a shift. Ironically, I had no idea what they were on about at first as there was no mention of Irish history in British schools’— Alan LaCasse
Alan LaCasse grew up in Oxfordshire. He moved to Ireland in 2005.
LaCasse says on an individual basis, most people when they hear his accent will ask where he is from and share stories of their own families living in England. He has occasionally had different experiences in the workplace, however.
“When working in a bar I would have the regulars singing Come Out Ye Black and Tans when I’d walk in to start a shift. Ironically, I had no idea what they were on about at first as there was no mention of Irish history in British schools, except maybe for the Famine.”
Like Mahoney, LaCasse has noticed the pleasure some people here take from supporting the opposing side whenever England is involved in sporting occasions. He doesn’t believe attitudes towards English people have “changed much either way, over the years”.
As for the idea of it being okay to be anything other than English in Ireland at the moment, LaCasse disagrees. “I think it’s more acceptable to be white English than any other foreign nationality in Ireland at the moment. People still have the anti-English undercurrent, and will be blatantly xenophobic to your face. They keep the anti-immigration racism [for other nationalities] confined to their social media in the main”.
Huw Leggate says he finds Ireland to be very welcoming and does not think it’s difficult to be English in Ireland.
“I think one of the things is coming over here, you do realise as an English person, your education very much excludes Irish history. You have a very plastic view of Ireland and its culture. And when you come over you need to accept that and realise that.”
“I know initially when I came, I certainly would have had a few people tell me to stop being so English, because I was ‘oh well, you know this isn’t how we do things.’ Or, ‘why is everyone late?’ There is a big difference to the way people approach life here. People are a lot more willing to accept different ways of doing things. As long as you take that on board, everything is absolutely fine. The only time I’ve been given out to for being English is when I’ve been ‘being English,’” Leggate laughs.
Leggate feels a lot of English people “don’t recognise the reality of British history”. While he says he can see how some English people could come to Ireland and feel they’re not welcome, “that would be down to your own personality and the way you’re speaking to people, and the way you’re viewing Ireland as a kind of colony”.
“I know people who would come over here and say about some aspects of society or law, ‘oh, I just expected it to be the same as in England.’ And I say ‘Why? It’s its own country.’”
‘There’s a lot of reasons why people in Ireland don’t like English people. I don’t know if I’m more sensitive to it now, but since Brexit I think there’s a lot more real hate towards English people’— Amanda Webb
Leggate also sees the anyone-but-England attitude to sporting events, but says “it’s not directed at the individual. One of the things I really like about Ireland is that people generally view people as individuals and take someone as they are as an individual. They don’t attach baggage to them. Now if they bring that baggage with them, that’s up to them”.
Amanda Webb is a digital marketer at Spiderworking.com. From Essex, she believes the very first thing people hear when she speaks is that she’s English. “There is a lot of banter… and it’s not like people just go ‘we don’t like English people’ – there’s a lot of reasons why people in Ireland don’t like English people. I don’t know if I’m more sensitive to it now, but since Brexit I think there’s a lot more real hate towards English people.
“I have an English accent and I’ve lived here for a long time and I’d love to just sound Irish, because I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived in England. I don’t particularly feel Irish, I don’t particularly feel English any more. I did feel European, so Brexit upset me in a big way.” Webb says she’d love to reach a point where some people don’t automatically rush to explain to her how things are done in Ireland, because of her accent.
Webb says English people can be very sensitive to banter, “because we do a lot less banter ourselves. Just sometimes it goes a little bit too far, and you feel, ‘that was close to the bone.’”
“There are people here, there are people in England, there are people around the world that are going to treat you different because of where you’re from. I don’t think English people are treated any worse than people that come from other nations in the world and I’ve seen racism against people of colour in my town. And part of me has always been glad that I can just shut my mouth, and nobody knows that I’m from somewhere else.
“I don’t think having an English accent makes a good first impression. But people get over that pretty quickly. My second impression is pretty good, I think.”