But you don’t matter a damn

This is an absolute classic:

In every Irish classroom, children are reared on stories of oppression and rebellion. Every child understands the intricacies of Anglo-Irish relations. As a secondary English teacher, I can’t avoid plays, novels and poetry dealing with our complicated relationship with Britain. Irish students leave school with the historical and emotional weight of colonisation on their shoulders.

Compare that to Britain, where teaching English rightly involves texts focused on class, misogyny and injustice, often set around the second world war, but rarely relating to Britain’s relationship with Ireland, despite Ireland’s literary clout and proximity.

There are 5 million in Ireland. And 67 million in the UK. Britain looms very large in the Irish mind. And Ireland not so much in the British. For damn good reason too.

The one is vastly important to the other, but that relationship just doesn’t work the other way around.

The population of Ireland is about that of Greater Yorkshire. So, what portion of British education about literature, history or anything else should be devoted to that of Yorkshire?

Well, quite. The complaint is that for the British Ireland is trival. Yep, it is.

41 thoughts on “But you don’t matter a damn”

  1. And Ireland not so much in the British.

    I had an Irish girlfriend once, who complained about Britons’ ( and especially mine ) indifference to Ireland and its historical travails.
    She was most put out when she said “But it’s the next door country !”
    And I replied,”No it isn’t. Framce is.”

  2. Sir PTerry summarised Ireland quite succinctly with his “a place that merely exists so that people can come from it.”

  3. “Irish students leave school with the historical and emotional weight of colonisation on their shoulders.”

    Far more useful than shouldering the burden of maths and science. I mean, The Guardian wouldn’t be interested in you, would it?

  4. Like with the electricity:
    Interconnect to Republic of Ireland can carry 0.5GW
    Interconnect to France can carry 4GW

    Still lovely place and people.

  5. I’m reminded of the aphorism “The English remember too little history, the Irish too much”. To reflect the truth better, that should probably have “and most of it heavily romanticised” appended.

  6. Bloke in North Dorset

    “Irish students leave school with the historical and emotional weight baggage of colonisation on their shoulders.”

    What happened is also the history of hundreds of similar relationships between countries/tribes since time began. Its worth understanding but what happened but has to be kept in context and the Irish need to realise they aren’t exceptional.

  7. They learn easily checkable BS like this:

    But when the blight came, little was done to help them. The resulting Great Hunger brought the death or emigration of 2 million people…

    Erm…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Relief_Association

    And this classic:

    I told them about the infamous signs my grandfather saw while living in London in the 50s: “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.”

    Oops:

    https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/oct/21/no-irish-no-blacks-no-dogs-no-proof

  8. I can’t avoid plays, novels and poetry dealing with our complicated relationship with Britain

    Having taken less that a generation to effectively discard the religion and associated morality that have set their values for over a millennium moaning about the British is pretty much all that’s left. They’re hardly going to draw attention to any consequences of the recent introduction of the new-Irish are they?

  9. In every Irish classroom, children are reared on stories of oppression and rebellion. Every child understands the intricacies of Anglo-Irish relations.
    I can remember discussing Irish history with an Irish person who’d been through the Irish education system. At one point I mentioned the Irish Civil War of ’22 ( I wonder if Eire planned anything to mark the centenary he asked innocently) I got “What civil war?” No-one seems to have heard about the expulsion of the Protestants after the the creation of the Republic, either. Which, as many were of the mercantile class, deleteriously affected Ireland’s economic performance.
    Do you think we ought to rewrite English history as a story of oppression by & rebellion to the Saxons of Wessex? Then we could be proudly wearing chips on our shoulders

  10. Oh, unless you’re descended from the evil oppressors of Winchester of course. In which case you should be suitably humble & apologetic.

  11. I don’t remember us doing anything about WW2 in English at school. From memory it was what seemed to be the standard Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare, and early 20th Century American literature. Of Mice and Men, Leiningen Versus the Ants (ironically, originally German).

  12. Jonathan @ 7.37: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD0BcQTIr4c.

    Small country with no significant achievements (Dana winning Eurovision maybe) jealous of bigger, (once) successful country next door. Bit like Canada and the US. Or most of Europe and UK. Fuck it, the rest of the world and the UK.

    Better to have been great than never great at all perhaps?

  13. jgh

    My neighbour’s daughter has just done her A levels. For poetry in her Eng Lit classes she studied solely the lezzer who became Poet Laureate, Duffy.

  14. Having taken less that a generation to effectively discard the religion and associated morality that have set their values for over a millennium moaning about the British is pretty much all that’s left. They’re hardly going to draw attention to any consequences of the recent introduction of the new-Irish are they?

    Come In, Ye Blacks and Tans.

  15. We see it within England too. Regions from Newcastle to Liverpool to Cornwall have historical complaints about the overbearing rule of Westminster, whereas Westminster barely acknowledges such places (except during an election campaign).

  16. There is no Ireland, it’s just a minor satrapy of toytown austria-hungary, which is what the Irish appear to want.

    Best of luck paddy!

  17. Don’t matter a damn is incorrect – Eire matters to the UK in the same way the UK matters to the EU. It’s just not a symmetrical relationship (roughly similar population ratio RoI:UK as UK:EU, though not as close a comparison when it comes to GDP).

    If Ireland didn’t matter at all to the British state, the history of Ireland would be a happier one – sadly catholic Ireland mattered rather too much to a protestant Britain under constant threat of genocidal invasion and conquest by catholic powers.

    Problem with the EU post-Brexit from a British point of view is the same problem catholic Ireland always had with a unitary British state – you’re too small to be able to have a relationship of equals, too big and close to be comfortably left independent, and too independent and separate to be easily incorporated. Which is why (particularly given that Russia no longer credibly threatens to become Europe’s hegemonic power) EU delenda est.

    Ireland separated from the UK must inevitably have a difficult relationship with a unitary British state, and the UK separated from a European superstate must inevitably have a difficult relationship with that state.

    Hopefully it turns out that a European superstate continues to be an inherently bad idea, and it collapses under its own weight. A weakened Russia makes that more likely, I think (absence of a credible external threat to pull everyone together).

    Thankfully all of this is likely to lead to far less unpleasant consequences than the British colonisation of Ireland, which, when all’s said and done, did involve a lot of atrocities and even when judged by the standards of the times was – from at least the mid-18th century – morally wrong (yes, context, responsibility of others than the British, popular version of the Great Famine largely invented or misunderstood, etc., but still).

    To add to the two examples in Jonathan’s comment, I’m unconvinced by the claim that the British tried to eradicate the Irish language when the evidence is a link to an article about an Act passed over 300 years before the creation of the British state – an Act that doesn’t have anything to do with eradicating the Irish language. It’s not impossible that better evidence exists, but given that the English state sponsored the translation of the bible into Irish Gaelic (over a hundred years before the same was done for Scots Gaelic), it can’t have been the consistent policy of the English or British state to eradicate the Irish language. I imagine it would be seen as unnecessarily inflammatory to point it out, but it would seem unlikely that the Irish language would have survived without English taxpayers’ money.

  18. Dublin was a major slave-trading centre (biggest in Western Europe) where English, Scots and Welsh captured by Viking raiders were sold on to the continent. One of the things that led to the English getting involved in the first place – though ties across the Irish Sea didn’t start with that, the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata included parts of what’s now Ulster and Scotland while the Scandinavian kingdoms of Dublin and York shared the same king. Did the slave trade in Brits get covered in History of Irish Oppression lessons?

    Plenty of other parts of the UK suffered war, oppression and even pretty brutal ethnic cleansing: wouldn’t have wanted to be a Danish speaker living in the Danelaw when the Anglo-Saxons got it back, the Scandinavian raiders were really not pleasant people, and even collective terms like “Anglo-Saxon” or “Celts” hides how much bloodshed there was between different subgroups.

    Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland didn’t all start out fully-formed. They became what they are and occupy the borders they now do because a whole soup of people (and in all four cases that includes Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians and Normans, albeit in different proportions) fought over them, settled in them, and influenced the culture and law. If Northumbria, in its traditional wider borders that encompassed parts of what’s now Scotland and much of Northern England, had managed to become an independent state again, I’m sure they’d have plenty of tales of woe in their history lessons about their sufferings at the hands of Scots, rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Scandinavian raiders and then the Normans inflicting the Harrying of the North and Henry VIII’s Council of the North persecuting the locals for their Catholicism.

    It’s fair to say the situation in Ireland stayed bloodier for longer – had Henry VIII not sought a divorce and the Scots not embraced Calvinism, so the religious divide with Ireland hadn’t arisen, it’s conceivable that Irish-British relations would have taken a very different path. But there does seem a popular myth of Ireland as completely separate from Britain in the post-Roman to early medieval era, before the English/British invaded and inflicted unprecedented misery.

    “England” itself was barely post-embryonic at that time and its borders and culture were by no means fixed yet – a more successful conquest of Ireland might have led to it being as “English” as Cornwall or the bits of Northumbria that didn’t end up in Scotland, or at least as “British” as Wales. In retrospect we look back at the Anglo-Normans and Welsh-Normans as a bunch of foreign invaders (and therefore oppressors) of Ireland, but that’s partly because we know it didn’t work out. So we judge those same elites differently to their presence in England, where they were still foreign and still in many ways oppressors, but ultimately succeed at becoming “English” and setting what “England” means. Ireland’s current national identity is based on their failure there, and the compounded and bloody failure of their political successors. So I do understand Irish history lessons having the flavour they do, but for teaching the history of the British Isles more broadly the Irish experience is just one piece of a wider puzzle, and a difficult perspective to make much sense of the rest from. Particularly when looking at state formation in the pre-reformation era, unless teachers in eg Brum are to be encouraged to see things through the lens of Mercian independence and identity being crushed by the tyranny of the Wessex imperialists.

  19. I think I was in Rhode Island and saw a ‘memorial’ monument to the Irish Famine – suffice it to say my reaction was similar to a visit to the Yushukan Museum in Japan, where the selective interpretation of history caused me to actually laugh out loud. Of course the problem is people take this rubbish seriously. However, as Nick says, the idea that Ireland was largely irrelevant to England is tough to square with England in the 16th to 18th century. As Fellow Sputnik fixture Steve points out, John is spot on – modern Ireland is a thoroughly woke WEF testbed for every manor of fashionable idiocy. If you reincarnated Collins or De Valera the only thing they’d recognize would be the Anti-Englishness.

  20. As I keep saying, my Irish grandfather was of the view that “All Irish history is lies”.

    Here’s a question to which I don’t know the answer. ” … the religion and associated morality that have set their values for over a millennium”: is that true? By which I mean did Roman Catholicism have a continuous grip of Ireland from 1054 onwards (that being the year when the Roman Catholic Church flounced out from orthodox Catholicism)?

    I ask because it seems that the grip of Roman Catholicism in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland was not continuous. The RC church had become terribly feeble throughout Scotland which was why the Scottish Reformation was damn near bloodless. But the Kirk couldn’t train Gaelic-speaking ministers fast enough to reform the Hs & Is. The latter had essentially tumbled down into paganism. Roman Catholicism was eventually reintroduced to the Outer Isles and bits of the Inner Isles and west coast by Jansenist missionaries sailing from Ireland.

    So it occurs to me: did Ireland, or at least parts of Ireland, suffer the same fate? Did it need the Counter-Reformation to reconvert it to Roman Catholicism? If such a thing happened I’ve never seen it mentioned. But then it wouldn’t be mentioned, would it, according to the maxim of my granddad. Like the post-independence civil war, perhaps?

  21. Did the slave trade in Brits get covered in History of Irish Oppression lessons?

    Saint Patrick was an enslaved Briton, so it probably gets mentioned obliquely.

  22. This is probably true of every small country sitting next to a big country. Canadians and Americans jump to mind. Canadians think about Americans a lot, whereas Americans barely notice Canada. Finns probably think about Russia more than Russians think about Finns. Etc.

  23. Interesting how this thread dovetails with the one on Brasilian politics. Catholicism again.
    One could write an alternative history where Ireland adopted Protestantism the same way that the English did. Ireland would have been a fully functional part of the UK. Participated in its economic growth, the Industrial Revolution. And the UK would have benefited from not having the Irish millstone round its neck. The UK’s involvement with Ireland has always cost it far more than it gained.
    I should have put Ireland amongst the poor Catholic countries on that list over there, shouldn’t I? It’s probably the best example of why Catholicism keeps you poor.

  24. had Henry VIII not sought a divorce and the Scots not embraced Calvinism, so the religious divide with Ireland hadn’t arisen, it’s conceivable that Irish-British relations would have taken a very different path.
    For some reason my post above this one seems to arrived about an hour late (bloody internet here I would think) But we seem to have come to the same question from opposite directions. Point is, without the Calvinist influence would England have been the same country? I suspect the history of a Catholic England up until the C18th would have been more like France. So the American colonies played out differently? A later Industrial Revolution? If at all?

  25. They love a moan, don’t they, the Paddies? You’d think we only took the boot off their throats last Wednesday, rather than 100 years ago.

  26. @bis

    Interesting innit?

    “The UK’s involvement with Ireland has always cost it far more than it gained.”

    I think @Nick points out that it wasn’t just a land grab by the elites, although that was certainly a big part of why the Normans got involved – along with the Dublin slave trade, which peaked in the 11th century, so isn’t any more “ancient history” than the Anglo-Norman invasion was. Even if you view the slave raiding as a mere excuse for a land grab, you’d have to concede England had just been their mother of Norman land grabs, so it isn’t as if Ireland was getting unusually shoddy treatment from them.

    But once the religious realignment placed Scotland and England in isolation from much of the Continent, and left Ireland on the other side, then Ireland had the misfortune to become a potential threat disproportionate to its size, population (actually quite large, relatively – often about a third to a half of England’s) and wealth. Would be all too easy for the French or Spanish to use Ireland as a base to threaten Britain from. So after that point it became increasingly difficult for the British to let go of their grip. The fact that elites didn’t want to lose land holdings and Protestant solidarity meant there’d be an outcry if their co-religious in Ireland had been left to their fate would be factors too, but the Continental threat really concentrated minds. To a large extent, Britain’s “gains” in Ireland were really about security and the prevented What Ifs, rather than because Britain was extracting Ireland’s limited riches.

  27. Isn’t it time we ditched the Common Travel Area and mutual voting rights? After all they resent us. I still get mutterings from Irish niece who has been here fifteen years.

  28. I was shocked at how history was taught in so much of a narrower way when my son went to school and the focus on first half of 1900’s, it’s almost as if they wanted people to forget about the past so they could bring it back up and make them feel extra guilty as they could skip over the bits about abolishing slavery etc and just do the evil bits.
    Similar with moving to Canada when I found out knew more about the history as it related to First Nations and had a much broader view than many Canadians. That’s why they can raise so much outrage as this is ‘new’ to many people

  29. The population of Ireland is about that of Greater Yorkshire. So, what portion of British education about literature, history or anything else should be devoted to that of Yorkshire?

    Belgium has twice as many people as Eire, a considerably larger GDP and is almost as close, geographically. But the only thing I remember learning about Belgian history is Waterloo.

  30. “There are 5 million in Ireland. And 67 million in the UK. Britain looms very large in the Irish mind. And Ireland not so much in the British.”

    Ah. So that explains why Britain is so obsessed with India (population 1.3 billion).

    @Ottokring – ‘I replied,”No it isn’t. Framce is.”’

    Ireland has a land border with the UK. France does not, So Ireland is our nearest neighbour until either Northern Ireland switches to being part of the Republic, or King Charles reclaims Normandy.

    @Jonathan

    Of course a very significant cause of the famine was the Corn Laws which prevented importation of cheap grain. The repeal of the Corn Laws was of great benefit in preventing a repeat of the large number of deaths when blight returned in 1879.

    @bloke in spain – ‘I got “What civil war?”’

    Just like you would ask “What Brexit?”, I suppose. There was a film called “Michael Collins” starring Liam Neeson made in 1996 to which, acccording to Wikipedia, the Irish Film Censor gave a rating of PG because of the subject matter. And the civil war resulted in the political parties of Fianna Fáil (anti-treaty) and Fine Gael (pro-treaty) remaining rivals until the 2020 coalition government. It’s a bit difficult to learn anything of Irish government without wondering why two such similar parties remained opposed to each other for so long, and only a little research shows it’s a legacy of a civil war.

  31. @rhoda

    “Isn’t it time we ditched the Common Travel Area and mutual voting rights”

    At least British citizens in Ireland can vote in both general and local elections there. Unlike EU citizens, they aren’t allowed to vote in EU elections – which given the extent to which Ireland is ruled from Brussels, though not so much from the Parliament there, you might consider a bit of a glitch.

    To be honest I’d rather we got rid of right of Commonwealth citizens to vote in the UK, if those countries don’t allow British citizens to vote – Australia ditched in it 1984 for example (though grandfathering in the right to vote for Brits who lived there before), but they can vote here. Make it mutual or bin it.

    The UK getting rid of the right to vote for Irish citizens would create a lot of trouble with Washington and Brussels, since the Good Friday Agreement has locked the UK into allowing NI’s nationalist community to partake in civil life while rejecting UK citizenship. I’m not sure if you could claim you were sticking to the GFA if you accepted the voting rights for Irish citizens in NI but not for ones living in GB, but I imagine it’d still cause a row we could do without. What strikes me as odd about the whole set-up is that in a way the exemption for Irish to do things that otherwise UK (or Commonwealth) citizens can do, for example voting, joining the armed forces and taking certain roles in the Civil Service, is basically treating Irish as “little British” still. In that sense it’s rather patronising, and demeans the idea of the Republic of Ireland being a clean break from the British-dominated past. Nevertheless, Irish people would also dislike it if these exemptions were to be ended…

  32. Northern Ireland is in the UK and so Ireland is literally next door.

    I got the impression Ottokring was making a joke in relation to Tim’s point about relative importance. France is the house next door; Ireland is a patch of weeds in the scrubland over the back fence.

  33. The bitterness and hate of the Irish is a product of realising the mistake they made by murdering their way to independence whilst becoming poorer and less significant.

    Awful, spiteful, nasty people.

  34. Drybar comic Bengt Washburn puts it like this: “I married a practicing Irish Catholic. She gets drunk every weekend.”

  35. Ireland has a land border with the UK. France does not, So Ireland is our nearest neighbour until either Northern Ireland switches to being part of the Republic, or King Charles reclaims Normandy.

    For one definition of ‘nearest’, perhaps. On the same principle, Russia is the third nearest country to the US, because it’s only a few miles from Alaska, but most USians don’t think of it as such. For the majority of the UK population, France is physically closer to where they live than Eire.

  36. I’ve always lived in the SouthEast and so France has always been closer.

    🙂

    She was quite earnest and believed in “stuff” so I found her a bit too easy to wind up.

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