Monday, 22 July 2013

It's a riot, an evening with the Irish. So why waste it rioting?

I hate expressing a view which is tantamount to racist, but I can’t remember meeting anyone from Ireland who I haven’t liked. Whether they’re from North or South of the border, when I think ‘Irish’, I think of a smile, of friendliness, of wit or more commonly, of both.

So it was wonderful to take advantage of the summer we’re enjoying by having two couples of Irish friends around for a barbecue and a balmy evening in the garden.

Both couples came from a sub-group of Irish people I find particularly amusing: the Irish brought up here in England.

The main thing about them is that you can’t tell they’re Irish. At first. One of the couples spoke in the accents of the English Home Counties; the other, had accents from right here in Luton, our town and theirs.

Those who may not have studied the fascinating subject of Englishness sufficiently to seize those nuances should think, for the first accent, of Michael Caine in Zulu; for the second, of Michael Caine in The Italian Job. If you don’t know either film, you have some entertainment ahead of you.

Neither accent sounds even remotely Irish, so it came as no surprise that both couples expressed a little disbelief about the Irishness of the other.

So they asked exactly where they were from. That triggered the inevitable wandering discussion around Ireland: four sets of parents between them covered eight counties, in a country where counties still count. They quickly identified villages they all knew, indeed pubs or churches or hotels they had all visited. I was a little surprised that they didn’t discover that they’d been at weddings that took place in the same place within hours, or at least months, of each other, or that they had cousins, even if only third cousins of second cousins, in common (and blood does run thicker than water).

At least one of our visitors was from Donegal
Clearly a place people are dying to get to.
Once they’d established the authenticity of their shared roots, the evening could really start and the conversation could truly flow. Because it doesn’t matter how long they’ve lived in England or how English they sound, that bond lets the Irish feel at home so they can let go of their inhibitions. And believe me, that’s worth seeing, since they don’t generally start with a lot of inhibitions in the first place. 

What we then had was that long undulating mix of well-lubricated anecdote and wit for which only the Irish have a proper term: craic. Inevitably, some stories required the repetition of dialogue from across the Irish Sea, and it’s at those moments that you find that English accents are only skin deep in the Irish: they can quickly produce a perfect brogue, far beyond the ability of any true Englishman such as myself.

So our friends retained an unquestionable Irishness despite being born in England and having lived here ever since. Which sounds like perfect assimilation: completely at home in this country, sounding like its inhabitants, without losing their distinct identities. What could be better?

That’s all slightly curious, though. After all, those four are all Catholics, in principle and even, to some limited extent, in practice. Yet they have no difficulty living under the shadow of the Union Jack – the baleful shadow, some of their more nationalist countrymen might say – in a nation whose monarch is still the head of the Protestant Church of England.

They do fine over here, as do those who eventually go ‘back home’, to a country in which they’ve never lived, and settle down just as comfortably under the Tricolour. An experience shared with many thousands of Englishmen who’ve moved across.

So here’s a question. If Irish and English can live under each other’s flags, their religions rubbing along together in general harmony, both here and across the water, just what is it that gets into the bloods of those tedious minorities who make all the trouble in the North of Ireland?

What on Earth does it matter which flag flies over Belfast Town Hall or for how many days of the year? Why should one Community get upset by another Community marching along its streets? Why should that second Community insist on marching along the street knowing that the first will be offended?

As happens nearly every year, when the Glorious 12th of July came, the riots started in Northern Ireland. Men and women, police and civilians have been injured, over matters no other country or community can begin to understand.

Belfast: what a waste of barbecue time
And a missed opportunity for craic
With absolutely no necessity. Believe me, this precious summer weather which we see so seldom, isn’t something to waste on Molotov cocktails and tear gas. Nationalists, loyalists: get the barbies out. Get the friends round – perhaps even some from the other community. Break out a few cans and let the conversation flow. Believe me, with people from anywhere in your island, it just works. And it’s a hell of a sight more fun.

As I experienced again this weekend, it
s a shame to miss the craic.


Faith A. Colburn, Author said...

My mother's mother and my father's father were Irish. I'm not sure if that means anything. It didn't happen in my family, but I've come to believe the most courageous people around are the ones who marry across those boundaries. Same with Palestinians who have the courage to marry Jews and the other way around. It happens, I know, but their lives must be very difficult.

Awoogamuffin said...

"What's the craic?"

"Erm... my crack's fine... and um... yours?"