‘My Planter’s Burden’ – by Brian Spencer

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The Irish government recently published the ‘Global Irish – Ireland’s Diaspora Policy. This is an important and innovative document. It poses a question and perplexes. The question is this: what can we learn and apply from Ireland’s diaspora to Northern Ireland?

Here’s what perplexes. The people of this our shared archipelago are so much the same, yet are so much different. Never mind history, the two islands are split indivisibly by political philosophy – monarchists against republicans.

On the northerly corner of Ireland there exists Irish monarchists, perhaps not much more than half a million on an Ireland of 6.4 million.

Like oil and water, their political philosophy is radically incompatible with that of their fellow islanders. The two belief systems are political polarities, there is no middle ground. Like theism to atheism.

In spite of this political absolutism, throughout the 20th Century hundreds of thousands of Irish left the republic for its neighbour Monarchy.

In 1951 there were 492,000 Irish-born people living in Britain; In the 1981 there were 580,000; In 2001 it was 473,000; in 2011, 401,000. Between 2009 and 2014, when Ireland was haemorrhaging its children, 22% were exiled to Britain.

The British bound diaspora is Irish, are they British too? Do they become unionist? Do they lose the bellowing anti-British grievance and enmity that is inherited at conception?

Ireland played a friendly against England at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on June 7 2015. Wayne Rooney was asked if he ever thought about playing for or had any difficulty playing against the Republic of Ireland. He said that he is English through and through and has no issue with trying to beat Ireland. He added:

“I have Irish grandparents, so if they wanted to play for Ireland I’m sure they could have, but it was never something I thought about.”

Unionists in the Irish Free State after partition simply stopped being unionists, taking to “the posture of Larne Catholics.”

Did and do the waves of Irish to Britain become British? Do they lose their Anglophobia? With Rooney’s example, it seems so. They even lose that instinctive grievance.

A quick query on Twitter garnered this response: “You’d be surprised. Most of my dad’s family moved to London and became as British as can be.”

Are they just British, or Irish-Britains as Irish-Americans? Can you see why I claim to be perplexed? I am also perplexed by an arbitrariness and a degree of hypocrisy.

Like George Bernard Shaw, my forebears came from England. Like Shaw, I also grew up aware of an axiomatic antipathy to England and Britain, and an Irishness defined by how one is “Not British”.

I’m a Planter in Pearse’s Ireland, carrying the planter’s burden. Yet there follows three points.

One, as much as Ireland has been planted, the Irish have planted themselves around the world which has included the oppression, aggression and dispossession of others.

Two, those who have left Ireland have quite happily put themselves under the British crown. Not just Britain, think the Commonwealth realms of Australia, New Zealand and Canada – all full of Irish. Even when they have gone to America, they are living in an imperialistic republic; that character trait of the British the Irish hate so irreducibly.

Three, the Irish-born and Irish-descended in Britain and the Commonwealth realms – who vastly outnumber those on the mother island – appear perfectly able to accommodate themselves to life under British culture or the direct result of British colonialism. The anti-Britishness is suddenly soluble.

Michael D Higgins recently spoke about the future of ireland in strictly and irrefutably republican terms grounded in the 1916 event. This alienated me instantaneously. I cannot deny my inheritance. Does Ireland only value it’s republican children?

As stated, the two belief systems of monarchism and republicanism are political polarities, there is no middle ground. Like theism to atheism. Perhaps this is why the founder of Sinn Fein advocated a Dual Monarchy.

The lesson of the diaspora is that the Irish aren’t splenetically opposed to the crown and British history and customs. If we are to have an Ireland indivisible why do the most patriotic make the goal so difficult?

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About Author

Brian is a writer, artist and law graduate.

1 Comment

  1. Astonishing piece. Recently you told us you were Irish, and felt Irish, the while complaining – if I understood you – that “themmuns” – north and south – made this more difficult for you. Now you bristle at the word “republican”. What do YOU understand by the word “republican” – what does the word signify to you? I suspect that you – even you – may be, to misquote Keynes, one of those “practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence”, but are nevertheless under the influence of some defunct political propaganda.

    You may say, “Never mind history”, but you know what happens when it is “never-minded”! You must surely, if you are as honest as I believe you to be, know that the antipathies, antagonisms, hatreds, bigotries, racisms etc of this world are and were fostered in furtherance of political objectives, and that this is no less true in Ireland?

    Why were former allies of 1798 set at each others throats? Why do/did some (many?) of “planter stock” think themselves superior to those of “native stock”, north AND south? Why have us Irish never quite shaken off our famous inferiority complex?

    All these questions, and many more, arise in the political/military necessities of the Governments of the time – British governments, of course. It suited the British Government of the time to persuade themselves, their followers, and whatever other target audience they wished to influence that us Irish were dirty, ignorant, stupid, violent, and ungovernable. I daresay it made them feel better about the policies they were pursuing in Ireland, what do you think?

    After all, one cannot make a homeland so irremediably unattractive for a native population as for them to abandon it in their millions, and yet remain convinced of one’s own basic decency and goodness unless one has convinced oneself that “themmuns” deserved no better. Sadly, a flood like that, set in motion became in our case, a habit.

    To be sure the Irish abroad were not long in adopting some of the less attractive habits of their new homeland. One might also add that they were, where they deemed it necessary, quite as effective imperial/colonial oppressors as their masters at home.

    But not all, of course.

    Ps: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/apr/20/mutuallyexclusiveformsofth – interesting alternative view of an essential communal divergence in NI.

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