Friday 25 May 2018

"Puppy farms and squeaky fiddles" Why Paddybashing is back in vogue

Relations between England and Ireland have cooled over Brexit and - increasingly - Irish people have been the targets of criticism and insults

Brittle relationship: TV presenter Robert Preston said Ireland had 'undermined' British governments 'going back well over 100 years' in an interview with arch-brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg
Brittle relationship: TV presenter Robert Preston said Ireland had 'undermined' British governments 'going back well over 100 years' in an interview with arch-brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

To the English, during the good times we were the funny friends next door who came over to regale them with Woganesque Blarney.

But now, with Brexit coming at us like a runaway truck, we are in danger of being portrayed again as lying, thieving, rat-arsed villains who make too much noise.

Anglo-Irish relations were never warmer than during the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in 2011, when she condescended to speak Irish with the words: "A Uachtaráin agus a chairde".

And when President Higgins paid a return visit, even the English edition of the Daily Mail was gracious enough to acknowledge that relations between our countries had come a long way. That was only after describing our Head of State as a "a ripened pixie".

Those were the halcyon days of Anglo-Irish warmth, but the relationship has cooled since Britain decided to leave the EU, without pausing for a moment's thought about what might happen to the Border.

We have had an outbreak of Paddybashing, not seen since the paramilitary pals of Sinn Féin decided in the 1970s that it was a good idea to blow up English pubs.

The British current affairs presenter Robert Peston this week repeated a mantra that has frequently been heard in recent months.

He suggested this week that Ireland has "undermined" British governments "going back well over 100 years". With this Brexit rumpus, we are again seen as a damned nuisance in some quarters.

Peston made the remark while interviewing the blimpish king of the arch-brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg, who told viewers it was "deeply disgraceful that people who wish to keep us in the European Union are threatening the spectre of a return to terror".

Of course, we have not just been a bothersome crowd for over a century.

To Rees-Mogg and his ilk we have been a bloody awkward shower of malcontents for the best part of a millennium.

Back in the reign of the previous Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century, one of her officials Edmund Tremayne complained that the Irish "commit whoredom, hold no wedlock, ravish, steal and commit all abomination without scruple of conscience".

And in the 19th century, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli described the Irish race as "wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious… an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood."

Now, Hibernophobia seems to be coming back into vogue.

In the febrile pre-Brexit atmosphere, barely a day goes by now without an anti-Irish barb. The UK edition of The Sun recently labelled Taoiseach Leo Varadkar a "Brexit Buffoon" when he was insolent enough to question the British approach to quitting the EU.

The paper offered its considered opinion on the Border question - our elected leader should "shut his gob on Brexit and grow up".

'The weakest kid'

Gerard Batten MEP, current leader of UKIP, said:"Ireland is like the weakest kid in the playground sucking up to the EU bullies."

It is perhaps a sign of national self-confidence that rather than take offence at these unsavoury attacks, we have rather come to relish them.

I have to confess that I had never come across Country Squire magazine until it recently joined in the orgy of Paddybashing over our approach to Brexit.

The magazine described this sceptred isle as "a land of puppy farms, rain-soaked holidays, dingy bars, drugs mule celebs, verbal diarrhea and squeaky fiddles…"

With semi-literate zeal, the magazine continued: "Eire's history is basically British - before that it was a bunch of warring families and a corrupt church involved in an incessant spiral of gobshiteing and slaying - certainly not a nation."

One was reminded of the Hibernophobic rants of the columnist Julie Burchill, who once took exception to money being lavished on a St Patrick's Day parade through London.

She said the parade "celebrates almost compulsory child molestation by the national church, total discrimination against women who wish to be priests, aiding and abetting Hitler in his hour of need and outlawing abortion and divorce."

The columnist went on to describe Ireland's flag as "the Hitler-licking, altar boy molesting, abortion banning Irish Tricolour."

The spurious accusation of allegiance to Hitler has come up during Brexit discussions.

It was a theme raised by Rees-Mogg himself recently when he took exception to remarks by the Taoiseach. Varadkar had expressed regret that Britain was leaving the EU, and said he was conscious of "British veterans, very brave people, who fought on the beaches of France not just for Britain but also for European democracy and for European values."

Rees-Mogg took a swipe at Ireland's record during World War II.

"Mr Varadkar forgets that Ireland was neutral during the war, which implies it had no interest in Europe, and Éamon de Valera signed a book of condolence at the German Embassy in Dublin on the death of Hitler.

"Perhaps if Mr Varadkar knew his own country's undistinguished wartime history better, his views on our history would be more informed."

Quarrelsome and uppity

For much of our history of independence, some British politicians have treated Ireland as a quarrelsome and uppity province that should fall into line.

After the end of the First World War Winston Churchill saw "the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again".

He added: "The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world."

And to one British cabinet minister of the 1930s, Éamon de Valera was "the Spanish onion in the Irish stew".

In the tense pre-Brexit atmosphere there will be no end of far-fetched suggestions about what might happen to the Border.

The Labour MP Kate Hoey sparked outrage when she said that if a hard Border was put up between North and South, the Irish would have to pay for it. It was a plan worthy of Donald Trump.

We can expect a lot more lively barbs coming our way, as we come closer to the deadline in negotiations, and the Irish are seen to block the path to Brexit nirvana.

Perhaps, we are being too sensitive. As the Sky News presenter Adam Boulton put it in a Tweet: "Some of you Irish need to get over yourselves."

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