Monday 19 November 2018

What's in a name . . . especially when you are Gaelic and free?

Kevin Myers

ENDA Kenny no doubt thought he was being daring when he referred to the Celtic and Christian nature of Irish life. Well, I for one vehemently dislike the ease with which the concepts of race and tribe are introduced into political discussion in this country. Behind such notions can too often lurk men with guns, banners and callipers for measuring racial purity.

One of the most fearsome catch-cries of Sinn Fein-IRA during the Troubles was Gaeilge agus saor, saor agus Gaeilge. Change that into Anglo-Saxon and free, free and Anglo-Saxon, or Deutsche und frei, frie und Deutsche, and soon you have torchlight processions, glinting eyes, and smashed windows at midnight.

As it happens, Enda Kenny does not come from the mainstream "Celtic" strand of Irish life. It is Fianna Fail which represents those people who see themselves as the descendents of the aboriginal peoples of Ireland before Henry II and his Norman-Welsh platoons arrived. For despite its utterly fanciful name, Fine Gael is no more "Gaelic" than the Macaris who own the fish shops. Its demographic base was the Anglo-Normans who remained true to the old church through the Reformation and the Penal laws, who allied with the Gaelic chiefs at Kilkenny, and who were probably, in the longer term, sorry that they did. For it was Anglo-Normans - both Catholic and Protestant - who perished in Cromwell's massacres at Drogheda and Limerick, not Irish-speaking Gaels.

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