It is unsurprising that the right-wing English newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, should call Ireland’s ambassadorial female boxer, Katie Taylor, British.

Katie Taylor, plastic Brit!
Katie Taylor, plastic Brit!

They have a habit of doing that. Like the words they have made their own from possibly every known langauge in the world to make up the English language, the English take the success of other nation’s to boost their self-image.

Irish writers have been victims of this, Seamus Heaney being the most famous. When he was to be included in the 1982 Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry, he wrote the famous lines:

“Be advised my passport’s green/No glass of ours was ever raised/To toast the Queen.”

But the Irish have always been seen to be England’s court jesters. the nation who would entertain them, on TV – Terry Wogan, Brendan O’Carroll, Eamon Andrews – in music (I use the term advisedly) with Westlife, Boyzone and latterly Jedward – and the myriad of comedians that are plying or who have plied their trade across the water –  Dave Allen, Ed Byrne, Dylan Moran, Dara O’Briain, Ardal O’Hanlon, Graham Norton and many others.

(Did you know Jimmy Carr was born in County Clare, by the way?)

Now, I’m not in any way tyring to demean any of the above (apart from Jedward) – far from it, but the Irish seem to have a particular role to play in the English psyche –  if you can laugh with them or sing along with them, then you don’t fear them. and if you can laugh with them or sing along with them, then you can support them in their sporting endeavours, which is why the English so often support Irish teams in various competitions, often confusing the Irish and embarrassing them as they contrast the bonhomie with their own atavistic antagonism to all things English.

But the English have, with the onset of devolution, have had to look at themselves, ask who they are, what the stand for, how they see themselves in the future, in a “United Kingdom”  or as an independent nation.

I read a Scottish writer – I’ll give him credit when I get the source – who wrote that when the English look at themselves, they see the English Defence League because no-one else has come up with a more expansive definition of Englishness. The dominant tenets of Englishness are seen as exclusiveness, mistrust and, the constant companion of a superiority complex,  fear.

They see Britishness – a term I’ve never, ever  heard properly explained  – standing for inclusiveness, pride, forward-thinking. No wonder the English are so fond of it as a self-moniker.  They just want to be loved and will bond with anybody who can help their self-image.

John Terry beats Usain Bolt - not!
John Terry beats Usain Bolt - not!

We’ve all seen the satirical made-up pictures of John Terry taking part in various impossible victories, they are in a way a reference to the current state of the English psyche.

Little wonder then, the Daily Telegraph would turn Katie Taylor into a Brit, plastic or otherwise.

But the Sunday Independent is telling us we’ve moved on as a nation. We’re more mature now. Don’t we just love Britain’s wee queen and all her kith and kin, like the royalty we never had.

At least the Telegraphy doesn’t claim the whole of Ireland as British any more, just our Katie, so they’ve moved on too. Be thankful.

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  1. I remember the actor Samuel Jackson being interviewed and the interviewer refered to Colin Farrel as British. Jackson replied along the lines of ‘ that is the problem with you British, you have a habit of claiming things that are not yours’ – still doing it regard the North.

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