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Hands off Paul Mescal, he's ours -and we're taking some Brit stars too

Emma Kelly


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Maynooth's Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones were all smiles as they were reunited at the Bafta Television Awards 2020, but they made sure that they were socially distanced at the TV Centre in London. They joined host Richard Ayoade where they presented the first award of the evening. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Maynooth's Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones were all smiles as they were reunited at the Bafta Television Awards 2020, but they made sure that they were socially distanced at the TV Centre in London. They joined host Richard Ayoade where they presented the first award of the evening. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

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Normal People's Paul Mescal. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Normal People's Paul Mescal. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

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Maynooth's Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones were all smiles as they were reunited at the Bafta Television Awards 2020, but they made sure that they were socially distanced at the TV Centre in London. They joined host Richard Ayoade where they presented the first award of the evening. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Ah, awards season. A time when parents finally get their payoff for years of paying for headshots and acting classes with a brief "I'd like to thank my mom and dad" before an ode to God and the production team. A film about a white saviour inevitably gets 10 nominations, and world history magically melts back by about 120 years to absorb Ireland back into the United Kingdom.

As sure as Ricky Gervais will collect a cheque for a 10-minute monologue that boils down to 'ooh, you're offended!', each awards season will inevitably feature an Irish star who is heaped with critical acclaim and given a badge saying 'British'.

This year, the dubious honour goes to Paul Mescal, who has proved he is the only person in the world having a good lockdown by being nominated at the Emmys for his breakthrough role as Connell Waldron in the adaptation of Sally Rooney's 'Normal People'.

It's a show that saw a thousand pearls clutched and the formation of fetishes for GAA shorts and silver chains the world over.

Minutes after the Emmy nominations were announced, articles popped up from the UK media, celebrating all of the British stars who had been honoured, such as Jodie Comer and Olivia Colman. 'The Guardian', 'The Sun' and 'The Mail' all referred to Maynooth-born-and-reared Mescal as 'leading the Brits' at the awards, conveniently forgetting that possibly the most Irish character of 2020 - he worked in Centra, for God's sake - is not British.

Poor Paul even had to take a break from celebrating to tweet "I'm Irish", causing headlines to be frantically edited and a show of patriotism last seen to mark the death of Jack Charlton - yes, someone we claimed as Irish, but that's beside the point - flooding Twitter.

Much like Andy Murray's nationality switching from Scottish to British dependent on how successful he has been on the tennis court, Britain's obsession with claiming Irish talent, whether that's Saoirse Ronan, Cillian Murphy or Chris O'Dowd, has become a running joke. Funnily enough, nobody's ever claimed Graham Linehan, even though he lives in England.

But with the Mescal palaver - an Irishman playing a character who could only be more Irish if he performed monologues with a breakfast roll in his hand - the joke is starting to get old.

I spent the last seven years living in and loving London, but my blood boiled every time I was asked (and it happened on multiple occasions) if I'm from "southern Ireland or Northern Ireland".

What used to be brushed off as laziness or carelessness is often just ignorance, with many people genuinely not knowing the basics of Irish history and Britain's less-than-glowing role in it. Often, those making the headline gaffes don't know why somebody would be so offended by having their nationality replaced. Others know full well, and don't care.

It seems like any time something from our tiny little backwards island of leprechauns and potatoes becomes popular or cool, it is taken away to be washed of what made it Irish. Earlier this month, a tweet from a US writer went viral after she excitedly announced she'd written a pilot about Gráinne Mhaol, the pirate queen of Connacht, but said it would 'make more sense' to call her Grace if the show was being made in English.

It's always brilliant for Irish art and stories to be recognised, but not at the expense of having them stripped of their Irishness. 'Normal People' wouldn't have been a success if their names were Chad and Courtney and a Sligo secondary school's debs was replaced with a Floridian prom night. Equally, a legendary pirate queen shouldn't have to change her name to be palatable to others.

So I say, if Paul Mescal, Andrew Scott and Fiona Shaw are to be touted as British success stories this awards season, it's time to do some claiming of our own.

Jack Charlton is just the tip of the iceberg. Time to post out burgundy passports to Noel and Liam Gallagher. Phoebe Waller-Bridge's former husband was born in Galway - passport. Daniel Radcliffe's dad was born in Co Down. Mad how Harry Potter was an Irishman, right? And Daisy Edgar-Jones - well, anybody with a Sligo accent that good is clearly one of us.

Fáilte romhat go léir.

Irish Independent