Fintan O’Toole: Why we should welcome the new tribe of Anglo-Irish people

Up to half a million British people are becoming Irish citizens. They help us to recognise our own past

John le Carré: the writer took out Irish citizenship, which he was able to claim through his maternal grandmother, at the end of his life. File photograph: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)

John le Carré: the writer took out Irish citizenship, which he was able to claim through his maternal grandmother, at the end of his life. File photograph: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)

I never liked the term Anglo-Irish. Particularly when the subject was Irish literature, it functioned as barely coded sectarianism. It was a way of cordoning off Protestant Irish writers from the “real” Ireland. As Brendan Behan put it: “The myth of the Anglo-Irish” was an “attempt to drag Irish writers (particularly those who happened to be Protestants) after the fox-hunt and the royalist inanity.”

Yet, listening to Philippe Sands’s terrific BBC radio documentary on John le Carré on Saturday evening, it was hard not be moved by the recollection by le Carré’s son, Nicholas Cornwell (who writes as Nick Harkaway) that “On his last birthday, I gave him an Irish flag, and so one of the last photographs I have of him is him sitting wrapped in an Irish flag, grinning his head off. He died an Irishman.”

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