From the auld enemy to the best of neighbours
With so much discussion regarding Britain's exit from the EU taking place, it is perhaps timely to, yet again, evaluate our feelings about our nearest neighbours.
So what do you think of the British? In this day and age, that is perhaps a rather silly question as, let's face it, they are pretty much like us. Despite Brexit, we are all still Europeans and members of the same human race. You cannot say one is better than the other or generalise about a nation.
How many Irish have the genes of the French, Spanish and British in their bodies? More than you might think and when we consider that there are people living in the Burren who have undergone DNA testing which proves their Viking ancestry, it seems rather pointless to quibble about race or denigrate any other nationality. Who cares if someone is of Scottish or English descent?
Asking are they good neighbours and honest citizens is all that matters. The Brits produced some awful despots over the centuries but then so did the French, Belgians and Spanish and all other nations who successfully colonised and robbed the wealth of other countries. Like them, the handful of British who held power in past centuries were as hard on their own people as they were on the natives of the countries they invaded.
"The Making of Modern Britain" is a superb documentary series presented by Andrew Marr and is perhaps the best portrayal I have ever seen of how the British nation evolved.
All six episodes can be viewed on YouTube and Britain's relations with Ireland are presented in a very balanced manner, especially the mistakes the British made during the 1916 rising. It is a brilliant series and Marr excels with his very entertaining narrative which is accompanied by film of the time from 1901 onwards, starting at the point when Queen Victoria died and the political order began to change dramatically..
Popular perceptions about Britain and the English in particular have altered greatly since the late 1950s when I was first aware of adult conversations and what was printed in the daily papers. Ireland was a grim place then and no efforts such as An Tóstal could disguise the fact.
"Burn everything British except their coal" was a statement credited to De Valera but apparently it was first coined by Jonathan Swift in the 1700s. It came back in to common usage during the economic war of the 1930s and reflected the feelings of many of the Irish population at that time. In the 1950s, Protestants went to hell and good Catholics went to heaven.