Monday, October 31, 2005

Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen and ...

A recent survey across the water has shown that most people in Great Britain describe themselves as English, Scots or Welsh, respectively. Apparently British is a passport thing, not an identity.

I must have met thousands of our "big island" neighbours down the years, and I don't think I've ever known a single one that said, "Helloo, I'm Geoffrey Wadlington-Twigget. I'm British, you know". Or "See yew boy, me naem's Hamish McSplatyerface, an' A'm Bra-ish". I trust you get my drift.

Question is, where are these British? They're all in Norn Iron, that's where. In my experience, Ulster-Scots are the only ones to use that description, at least as an opener. Funny, then, that the only people to introduce themselves as British - say at an international gathering like the Oktoberfest - would do so in an Irish accent.

I don't have a special problem with this, but it's interesting to stand back and reflect on it. The reason, of course, is that by definition the British-Irish possess a hybrid identity which is not regarded highly in either source. Rubbing shoulders with a (variously) antagonistic, well-organised Gaelic culture encourages an entrenchment mentality, a kind of siege-unionism, and the desired delineation requires a contrasting label.

Indeed, I don't think it's an overstatement to say that, in more 'loyal' quarters, the Ulster-Scots regard themselves as the only remaining genuine, unsullied exponents of true Britishness - that timewarped romantic vision of some notional proud supremacy in the 1800's. Sad that. The rest of the UK, and Ireland, has moved on.


At 7:42 p.m., Anonymous maca said...

How would you describe yourself John? N.Irish/British/Irish/all 3?

At 9:53 p.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Hello Maca. I normally say I'm Irish and then add "from Northern Ireland". BU.

At 12:17 a.m., Anonymous beano said...

I would have imagined something similar among some in England/Wales (if not Scotland) as to myself, although maybe I'm being presumptuous.

If someone from the States or Australia asks me where I'm from I'd say that I'm British or Northern Irish depending on what kind of mood I'm in (and whether I could be bothered explaining what 'Northern Irish' is), whereas if it's someone from the British Isles I'd say I'm Northern Irish (they usually get it).

At 7:13 a.m., Anonymous maca said...

Thanks John.

This whole identity thing is a curse.
Perhaps we're better off re-naming the island Hibernia and just calling ourselves Hibernian.

At 12:01 p.m., Anonymous beano said...

Not sure about that Maca - it might conflict with my latent soft-sport for Hearts FC ;)

At 3:26 p.m., Anonymous maca said...


At 9:00 a.m., Blogger Parsifal said...

excellent analysis
someone please inform willow!

At 9:51 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi John. Personally I find the Unionists very confusing because you hear them say they are British but occasionally say they are Irish, or Ulster Scots and this is so confusing and sometimes annoying. I resent feeling that an attempt is being made to erase the Irishness of this island which is my home too.


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