Fears of tan slam will fire up the micks
SLAGGING is a national pastime in Ireland and something the Irish tend to be pretty good at.
Paul O'Connell had a decent slag off Donncha O'Callaghan a few weeks back on the 'Late Late' before his second-row colleague and friend got his own back this week with his "no hair, no teeth" line.
Last summer, we had the privilege of being present to hear one of the great slagging contests between two other fine exponents of the art. This was an epic wit-off, Vader versus Skywalker with tongues for light sabres. Each alternate blow landed squarely and powerfully until one of the combatants (a Kerry man who, if memory serves, had just been accused of coming from a county that "hoors itself out to the Yanks") landed the show-stopper.
"Yerra," he responded. "Who are you to be talking? Your mother's people used to comfort the Tans."
The contest was over as suddenly as George Lee's political career, with comebacks equally as futile.
We are a complex little former colony. Yes, the Aussies and Kiwis have the whole Commonwealth thing going on (not to mention Union Jacks in the corner of their flags) while the South Africans feel obliged to supply England with a cricket team. But they are on the other side of the world, we are in the armpit of England and the legacy of living under centuries of English rule has had inevitable consequences for Ireland's culture and language.
The use of 'Tans' is a prime example. It refers specifically to the 'Black and Tans' (the armed force who wreaked havoc in Ireland during the War of Independence) and has also come to be used as a collective noun for the English. Although not an offensive one, apparently.
We asked an English colleague recently if he would be insulted being refereed to as "a Tan".
"Why would I mind being called that?" he asked. "You're only a thick Mick, after all."
And this causes further complications. For while it is impossible to contest either the 'thick' or 'Mick', a more regular label from fellow Micks is 'West Brit'.
This stems from a fondness for cricket, 'Zulu' (the ultimate cinematic story of British heroism), Prime Minister's Question Time and 'Brideshead Revisited' -- although embracing the story of Charles' love for Sebastian (and his teddy Aloysius) carries other connotations besides Anglophilia.
Then there is our tendency to use words like 'shall', 'pudding' and 'Mummy' -- as in "Mummy, shall we have some pudding?", rather than the preferred Irish vernacular of "Mam, where's the cake, like?"
Throw in an utter disinterest in the fortunes of Celtic FC and the belief that 'Ireland's Call' serves a useful purpose towards a 32-county game and Martin Johnson had a valid point in his red carpet stand-off and you have a pretty layered week when Ireland are down to play England in the rugby.
However, while accusations of Anglophilia cannot be dismissed out of hand, it would never stretch to a desire for English supremacy over the land of your birth -- quite the opposite.
Victory over England is always special and, though the 2007 win at Croke Park gets the most airplay, given its historical significance, that achievement is tempered by the fact that England were muck.
The better memories are the 2001 Grand Slam-denying win at Lansdowne Road and the 2004 triumph at Twickenham when England were supposed to be on a World Cup victory lap.
So, what about tomorrow? England are limited but extremely physical, bullish from two wins and in front of their own fans. Plus they have a couple of fake Tans in New Zealanders Riki Flutey and Dylan Hartley, who can exert a massive influence.
Despite constant criticism over their style of play, there is still a belief in England that they are destined for a Grand Slam showdown with France on March 20. Not so fast ...
Ireland have picked a good team and, after the jolt to the system that was Paris, there is a giant imperative to get back on the upward curve leading them towards the World Cup next year. It will be tight and tough, no-one will get tanned.
But the English should expect little in the way of comfort tomorrow.