LETTER:Attitudes to Irish people in Britain

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The Independent Online
From Mr E. Paull

Sir: As I read Gearoid O'Meachair's letter (17 March) berating the British for their maltreatment of the Irish in Britain, I thought the Irish must celebrate both St Patrick's Day and their equivalent of April Fools' Day together. After throwing off the British yoke, hundreds of thousands of southern Irish, including some of my own relatives, decided that life is better under British rule and sought refuge from reactionary Catholicism, unemployment and poverty among their late oppressors.

The British, not given to bearing grudges, have treated those who rejected them as honorary British citizens, allowing them to compete for jobs and accommodation in times of high unemployment and homelessness in Britain. Even when some of the Irish took to killing and maiming their hosts, the British, a moderate and sensible people, acknowledged that the suffering was caused by an unrepresentative minority and continued, in the main, to treat the Irish decently.

Contrast this to my late mother's experience when she went back to her home town in south-west Ireland - where she lived through the Troubles - at the time of Bobby Sands's hunger strike. As she and my sister were driven through the centre of the town, the Irish relative driving them said: "I will close the window so that IRA sympathisers cannot hear your English accent." My mother, a hater of the IRA, was warned to guard her tongue when she visited the local Woolworth store. Ten years later my sister's daughter and her husband attended an international barbecue competition in Eire, and the locals expressed strongly anti-British sentiments. My sister was so incensed that she wrote to our Irish uncle, who had just previously stayed with her, complaining of the gross rudeness her daughter had been subjected to in the Republic.

If Mr O'Meachair was being serious, I suggest he thinks again, and thanks the luck of the Irish for having as neighbours so tolerant and generous a people as the British.

Yours faithfully,

E. PAULL

London, SW16

17 March

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