10 March 2008

Foreign Accents and Irish Hyper-Xenophobia

I was listening to Pat Kenny again this morning, and one of the items on the programme today was the ongoing protest against the M 3 project, attempting to build a motorway through the Skryne Valley close to the ancient Hill of Tara, a protected site and for centuries the seat of the Ard Ri, the High King of Ireland.

Despite the fact that the site is indeed protected, on a United Nations list of endangered heritage sites and under a preservation order from the Minister of the Environment, road contractors working in the pay of the National Road Authority (NRA) did last Thursday move heavy machinery close to Rath Lugh, the ancient fort that protected Tara, and tried to begin work on the esker (a rounded high ridge made up of ancient river sediments - mainly sand, gravel and small rounded pebbles, though boulders and thin layers of silt also occur - dating back to the last ice age) underneath. Would they do that, the sand from the esker would run out and the whole esker - with the fort on top - would collapse.

So thankfully protesters who are camping close to the site were making noise and alerted Meath County Council as well as the media. And thanks to them the fort still stands as I write this.

But what annoyed me this morning was a significant amount of comments from people who phoned, texted and e-mailed Pat Kenny in the studio, complaining that one of the Tara protesters, named Ciaran, has an English accent. So? What does that have to do with the matter at hand?

Maybe he is English. So what? But with a name like Ciaran he is more likely from an Irish family living in England. But it does not really matter. As far as I am concerned, he could be from Kells or Kaliningrad, Tuam or Timbuktu. What does matter is that he stands up for our ancient heritage, which is under severe threat from the current government and its friends in the construction industry.

There were more comments on Pat's programme, suggesting even that Seamus Heaney, our greatest living poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was apparently "not really Irish" (since he was born in the North). I could not believe my ears. Who are these little Irelanders? Are they 26-county-fetishists?
Their ridiculous racism and hyper-xenophobia does even exclude the population of the six counties, who are Irish by blood, heritage and by right. I would recommend that those who sent such silly comments read Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Constitution (of the 26-county Republic) of Ireland.

But I am not really sure if these comments were actually real, or just part of a subtle campaign against the Tara protest, orchestrated by some people who have a financial interest in building the motorway, no matter what the price for the nation and our heritage would be.

How come that some of our people have suddenly problems with a man with an English accent protesting against the M 3 motorway, when they are happy with English accents in all other areas of modern Ireland, from business and trade to music, art, film and sports. If you take out all players with an English accent, there will be no Irish Soccer team left.

I can understand that some, especially elderly people who might still remember the atrocities of the Black-and-Tans from own experience, might react a little allergic to English accents. But in general there is in my opinion no place for such petty-nationalistic hyper-xenophobia in Ireland.
Not seldom such expressions are completely misguided. Two of my neighbours have very heavy Cockney accents, and one could well think they were English. Nevertheless, they are as Irish as the shamrock. Both were born here, but had to emigrate as children with their parents to London. They spent most of their lives there, and of course picked up the Cockney accent. But as soon as the "Celtic Tiger" gave them a chance to come home, they did. So what would the 26-county-fetishists say to them and their accent?

It is also interesting that certain people's xenophobia seems to be limited to the British and - in some places - also the Germans. They seem to have no objections to Dutch and French, Italians and Spanish, nor any other nationality. No problems with hundreds of thousands of Poles and Russians, Ukrainians and people from the Baltic states who live and work here. And there seems not even to be any prejudice against the now vast number of Africans in Ireland, even though many of them can't speak English and have no links with nor understanding of our country and culture. The only reason they are here is our recently acquired wealth, from which they want a piece for themselves.

So why still this ridiculous xenophobia against people with British accents? Maybe some people need to re-read the history books and check out where many of our great national heroes were born. They will find that a large number of those we revere came from outside Ireland, but gave their lives willingly for our freedom and independence.

I was not born in Ireland myself, and two thirds of my life I spent abroad. But if anyone would question me or my credentials and loyalty, I would tell them that I am as Irish as St. Patrick, Countess Markiewicz and Eamon de Valera. If anyone has a problem with that, or with my accent (which is often thought to be Dutch, even though it isn't and really accumulates various accents I acquired during my lifetime), I would be happy to tell them a thing or two, and show them my very long family tree with Celtic pride.

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

The Wild Goose said...

I am an O’Neill of Tyrone, believe it or not, there’s still a living line of the family. It’s a long time since my ancestors left Ireland but my roots and over all my feelings are deep enough to be moved by everything concerning our original country. When I read your first entry about a motorway endangering the Hill of Tara I was really shocked and enormously sad about such bad news. It is for sure a heritage site I still hoped to visit fulfilled by strong emotions.

To the ones who did such comments to the English accent of one of the conscious citizens trying to save Tara I can only say I have no Irish accent but have always been more than concerned by the destiny of the Irish folks. For the ones thinking people who were born in the North are no Irish… Well! The English, who swept us away from Ireland, have really achieved a tragic target if some people don’t consider the Ulster citizens to be Irish.

To the ones trying to save Tara I can only say a sincere THANK YOU in my name and in the name of all the ancestors who gave their lives fighting to protect the ones living in the country. There were tears in my eyes when I heard of them. I can really appreciate what they are doing and so should everyone who claims to love Eire.

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