The president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, is a published poet, a soccer maniac, and a former university lecturer. I love him dearly and I am immensely proud of him. His father was a member of the revolutionary IRA and fought against his own brothers during the Civil War in Ireland. Higgins himself recently visited Great Britain, “The Auld Enemy”, on an official state visit and he thought of his father a lot. What indeed would his father have made of him, the first Irish president to make an official state visit to the U.K.?
I dare say, that knowing Higgins, he would have thought: “All’s changed, changed utterly.” ‘Tis time to move on. And no, I’m not talking about forgetting the past. Just that, to allow oneself to be shackled to it, seems a waste of a life. Ireland’s relationship with England is changing, changing dramatically.
I think of myself, 25 years ago, leaving Ireland and going to live overseas in Zimbabwe, France, Dubai. I think of all the times I might have shamelessly exploited that “Auld Enemy” stuff in order to curry favor with people who disliked the English.
And now, I feel somewhat ashamed of that behavior. Mind you, back then I did too, and I did begin to tone it down, especially after I had met English people. You see, ‘twas all very well and good hating these people in the abstract, i.e. when I lived in Ireland and I never really met them. I was quite happy in my own sad little world of hand-me-down prejudices, because these prejudices allowed me to “fit in.” Hey, everyone else round here seems to hate the Brits. Guess I do too. Or at least I will, in order to fit in. Best not to rock the boat.
Once I’d travelled however, my “black and white” version of the world was challenged after I started meeting real English people in the flesh. I am so glad I did. Some of them are among the funniest, nicest people I have ever met. (Of course, along the way, I’ve met a few English idiots too, but, that’s hardly surprising: idiots are everywhere – even in Ireland.)
The overwhelming majority of Irish people across the globe were thrilled to see President Higgins in Buckingham Palace, being officially greeted by the Queen and proudly representing Ireland. Indeed, it must be said, the warm welcome he received there, is hardly surprising. On any given day, if Ireland are playing against any team, other than England, the English almost to a man, will support the Irish. The reverse however, has been far less likely. “A.B.E”, Anyone But England has often been the default switch for many, many Irish sporting fans. Which is why, it came as something of a surprise when President Higgins announced he’d be supporting England in the forthcoming soccer World Cup, given that Ireland failed to qualify. Was this a “bridge too far”? Had he allowed sentimentality to overcome him?
Personally, I don’t think so, he’s much too clever for that. I think it was a genuine personal reflex, based on mutual admiration and respect. But what if England were playing Scotland, or Wales? Ahem, now somehow, the words, “can” and “worms” now readily spring to mind, and frankly, we’d need a heck of a lot of time on the high-stool at a bar counter to chat about those particular scenarios. If you’re buying, I’m up for the chat.
Brian O’ Nuanain runs “Across The Pond And Beyond”, a company that organizes international vacations. You can reach him at acrossthepondandbeyond.com