Thursday 23 November 2017

Love-in with British shuns vile history

Edmund Burke's ghost hovered over Westminster during President Higgins' landmark speech, writes John-Paul McCarthy

Conor Cruise O’Brien. Photo: Tony Gavin
Conor Cruise O’Brien. Photo: Tony Gavin

John-Paul McCarthy

President Higgins' dazzling state visit to the UK involved a trade-off. In exchange for the British accepting us as equals, we would formally embrace an idea first articulated at the nadir of Anglo-Irish relations in 1989 by Roy Foster in his transformational book, Modern Ireland.

"We are in water-colour," Professor Foster suggested, "what they are in fresco." Even though this exchange was well and nobly executed by the President and his wife, it had a distorting effect all the same if only because it gave the impression that ours has always been a story of Irish egalitarianism versus British prejudice.

Two other strands in the modern Anglo-Irish relationship were not mentioned, namely that vibrant tradition of Irish condescension towards the British, and the equally potent tradition of British romanticism as regards the more delinquent aspects of Irish patriotism.

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