You think it’s fun being Irish, don’t you? A big summer-camp jamboree of singing, dancing and fidgety bonhomie washed down with lashings of alcohol related products in a carnival of inebriated self-expression.
You watch our football fans at the Euros in France, and excluding the bearded, tattooed ones with eye-patches and interesting teeth, we do come across as an amiable bunch of boisterous losers, a mass outing of bi-polar sufferers who would stop and and change a wheel for you at the side of the road. Not that you would trust them to do it right, but it would be funny and there would be lots of shouting and dancing.
Truth is, it’s not that great being Irish at all. For many of reasons, foremost being our location; we’re beside England. Yes, the English are also boozy losers with car-crash teeth, but aside from that, our shared history is one of suffering, shackled together by fate in a messy marriage of inconvenience.
This isn’t about the Irish Famine or eight hundred years of oppression or Margaret Thatcher and her insane clown posse of Conservative henchmen. Nor is it about us blowing up the Queen’s cousin in a boat in Sligo or me writing BRITS OUT on a wall in Galway when Prince Charles came to visit with Camilla Parker-Bowles and the Royal vet.
No this is about the Tyranny of Small Differences, the true foundation of all geopolitical relationships which are subsumed by hate.
Small differences like, Rules; the English make them and we break them. And Daniel Day-Lewis, born in England, but come on – we all know he wants to be Irish.
Then there’s sports – both our national sports are stick and ball games. The Irish play Hurling. Fast, frenetic, it is thirty men in a field, each holding a stick and chasing an imaginary ball. It’s organized thuggery exquisitely disguised as athletic, passionate ballet. Dangerous and exciting, the life expectancy of most players is n-n-n-n-nineteen.
The English have cricket. One man has a bat and the rest of the players form committees so they can draft legislation on how best to annex Kenya.
Then there’s the oh so English habit of having a beer at lunchtime. This is what they do. I know. Crazy. Just the one and then they go back to driving forklifts or writing parrot sketches. I remember first witnessing it in London, this enduring bit of post-colonial eccentricity. I was angry, shocked and ultimately ravenous for my own lunchtime tipple, knowing I couldn’t because as an Irishman you can’t have one beer without having a second. And as we all know two beers is the Golden Path, the promise of a ski lift to Shangri-la, which inevitably leads to ten more beers and ends with me doing donuts in a supermarket trolley outside my mother-in-law’s house.
Then there’s Europe. We like it. They don’t. The Irish want to be the French while the English simply want to beat them. This is how England interacted with the Continent. By waging war against anything that didn’t look like a bulldog. And now they’re sore, because they got outgunned by a Swabian housewife who had done what no other German leader has ever done: made Germany friendly.
So you get it. We’re the same but we’re not the same. It’s the tiny differences that brings the hate. Okay, not really hate. A mild dislike. Or an un-liking. I really don’t know how to put it. I have so many English friends and family I’m reluctant to wed myself to a really horrible insult.
So, goodbye then England, only you’re not really gone are you? I’ve looked at the map and you’re still there, peering over Ireland’s shoulder like a wicked step-father, the kind who visits your bedroom late at night.
Still, it could be worse. We could be trapped between Russia and Germany.