ANOTHER IRISH QUESTION
In the 40’s, you would have thought Ireland was nearer Australia than Britain for all the majority of the residents of Britain knew about the place and, I’m afraid, I fell squarely into that category too, when I was dispatched there by the Navy in ’42. In fact I knew more about France, which is about the same distance off-shore, than I did of Ireland. When I was sent, I had some vague idea I was going to the green and pleasant land I had seen depicted in the cinema.
One person who had helped to confirm the British concept of Ireland was Barry Fitzgerald with his portrayal of the Irish as slightly oily, very obsequious, forelock tugging, guileful little folk, who, in a minute, would bite the hand that fed them while smiling into the other’s eyes, or perhaps, dotty eccentrics. The myths, too, perpetuated in song and on canvas, of thatched cottages and donkeys with their panniers in the peat cuttings, of this nirvana across the pond with its 4 million population, have been fostered in the minds of its 50 million ex-pats in the USA. In actual fact one has to search the wilder extremes of the country to find this idyll, which ironically is shrinking with every pound or punt poured in by the same ex-pats..
Now of course, the media reports during the seventies, eighties and nineties, of the internecine war, so euphemistically referred to as ‘The Troubles’, have changed all that, but only marginally. The real Ireland is none of these, it is better and it is worse, it is beautiful beyond belief and in places it is an anachronism, held solid in the aspic of its own myths and prejudices; but above all it is a contradiction.
To make the point, take the phrase itself, ‘The Troubles’, a euphemism if there ever was one, and so at odds with what the ‘Troubles’ really represent. It is certainly an interesting reflection on an absurd sense of propriety when one considers that working class women used to refer to their gynaecological ills in the same terms, perhaps they still do – the comedian, the late Les Dawson, used to make great play of womens’ ‘troubles’ in his Northern sketches.
When one lives in Northern Ireland, in spite of every attempt to be liberal and non-biased, one soaks up the political atmosphere unknowingly because it enters the pores, like the sun on a Costa beach, until the whole of one’s perceptions become coloured. It may not affect one’s outlook, nor one’s attitudes to individuals, but it is there, like a third eye peering over the shoulder, looking for the bias in others and mentally countering every statement with the question, ‘is that really so?’ This conditioning starts the day one arrives and continues from then on.
ANOTHER IRISH QUESTION