Saturday 19 October 2019

Ed Power: 'Why it's easy being green in British show business'

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders, which is essentially British, but features a heavy Irish influence
Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders, which is essentially British, but features a heavy Irish influence

Ed Power

The most remarkable thing about Ireland's dismantling of Scotland in the rugby world cup last weekend was how matter-of-fact it felt. The Ireland team was in Japan to do a job and went about demolishing their British (for now) opponents with a minimum of sweat and tears. It really was no big deal.

Several days previously, at the Mercury Music Prize ceremony in London, Dublin-based post-punk band Fontaines DC rubbed shoulders with the great and good (and slightly shouty) of British music. Just like the rugby team they never looked less than entirely comfortable.

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The winner of the Mercury was announced by Dublin-born BBC presenter Annie Mac. She flipped the usual phrasing in describing the prize as honouring the best "Irish and British" record of the year. A few hours after Ireland v Scotland, meanwhile, Cork actor Cillian Murphy donned his flat-cap for the season finale of Peaky Blinders.

The world's biggest TV show that doesn't feature naked people and dragons, Peaky Blinders has this year cast Murphy opposite Brian Gleeson, Aidan Gillen and Charlie Murphy. The entire series was directed by Dubliner Anthony Byrne. Peaky Blinders is nominally a British success but its DNA glows emerald.

So it goes wherever you look nowadays. Cool Britannia has run aground on the rocks of Brexit. Instead, tastemakers both side of the Irish Sea would seem to agree that it's very easy being green.

As in music, so in literature, with Mayo's Sally Rooney toasted as the voice of millennials and contemporaries such as Sara Baume and Lisa McInerney basking in five-star reviews.

Consider, too, that the most exciting talent in 'British' comedy is Sharon Horgan. Close behind her is Kildare Town's Aisling Bea, whose recent This Way Up blended chuckles with poignant observations on quarter-life loneliness.

And then there is Derry Girls, the most quirkily quintessential Irish sitcom since Father Ted. Meanwhile, production has just wrapped on Series Two of the Adrian Dunbar vehicle Blood, which, when aired on Channel 5 in Britain, was acclaimed as the hot new 'prestige' drama.

"There is a definite sense of it being 'Cool to be Irish' in this country at present," says Irish Post editor Fiona Audley. "I might add that this is not a new thing, rather a growing phenomenon over the past 10 years or longer. You don't have to look very far in Britain to find an Irish success story - whether it is in the arts, entertainment, culinary, fashion, hospitality, business or sports worlds. There are definitely some trendsetters [there].

"There's also the second/third generation Irish in Britain who are relevant to this topic too - those who identify as Irish and are proud of their Irish heritage and/or support the Irish cause in Britain, who would often be seen rubbing shoulders with the above. Think Dermot O'Leary, Ed Sheeran, Roisin Conaty, Declan Donnelly, the Gallagher Brothers from Oasis."

Brexit has unquestionably contributed. Last year, over 200,000 British citizens applied for an Irish passport - very much in the manner of Titanic passengers who've just spied a spare lifeboat. The ripples are to be felt everywhere. We essentially won Love Island 3-0 with Maura Higgins and Greg O'Shea charming the proverbials off British viewers (though the lack of enthusiasm for Yewande, from Enfield, Co Meath, hinted at the fracture lines that still run through the UK when it comes to race).

There was also an Irish takeover at London Fashion Week, with Paul Costelloe and Simone Rocha praised for their shows (you will still hear Rocha routinely described as British). Even Downton Abbey, that bastion of Britishness, has learned to love the Paddy within, with Killiney born Allen Leech among the costumed romp's most popular actors.

There has been a flip side of course. Brexit has tapped the undercurrents of xenophobia in British society. You only have to look at headlines in tabloids such as The Sun and their astonishment that Ireland would dig in its heels over the Border backstop - and that the EU should support Ireland over the UK.

"The biggest change was when May called her election in 2017 and lost her majority and became dependent on the DUP," says Bernard Purcell, editor of The Irish World newspaper. "This caused them to try and demonise the Irish position. An awful lot of logic and common sense has gone out the window. Brexit has completely toxified political and public discourse over here."

Irish Independent

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