Time to ditch the term ‘Anglo-Irish’?


Sir, – I enjoyed the Irishman’s Diary by Frank McNally (February 17th) about sibling rivalry in Ireland’s revolutionary years. I wonder, however, if he is correct to refer to the leader of southern unionists, the Earl of Midleton, as “Anglo-Irish (with emphasis on Anglo)”.

Certainly Midleton was a strong unionist, but most unionists saw themselves as Irish, while also loyal to the British crown. The term “Anglo-Irish” was not normally used at this time by unionists, or indeed, by their opponents.

After 1921 the term did come into common use. In 1926, Stephen Gwynn, a former Protestant home rule MP, wrote: “I was brought up to think myself Irish without question or qualification, but the new nationalism prefers to describe me and the like of me as Anglo-Irish”.

Lily Yeats, sister of WB Yeats, expressed her annoyance at this development: “We are far more Irish than all the saints and martyrs – Parnell – Pearse –Madame Markievicz – Maude Gonne – de Valera – and no one ever thinks of them as Anglo-Irish”.

The Irishwoman’s Diary by Lara Marlowe on May 30th last year carried an article on the famous architect and designer Eileen Gray. It quoted her from her biographer Jennifer Goff: “We call her ‘Anglo-Irish’, but she corrected everyone and would say: ‘No, I am Irish’.”

In a lecture in 1933, the Trinity historian Edmund Curtis rejected the term “Anglo-Irish”, because it “seemed to separate them in some way from the Irish nation”, which implied they were not wholly Irish.

Of course, this was the purpose of the use of the term. Increasingly, from the early days of the new state, the “real” Irish came to be seen as those who were republican, Catholic and Irish-speaking. This use of the term “Anglo-Irish” served to help to exclude others who were Protestants or former unionists or gentry.

Today, the term Anglo-Irish still appears in the pages of The Irish Times. Perhaps, in light of recent efforts to create a more inclusive sense of Irishness, it is a term which should be dropped. – Yours, etc,