Especially this summer I have found myself often having to explain why I self-identify as Irish rather than English. After all, England is the country in which I was born and educated, and where I lived until I was in my early 20s and I very definitely have an English accent. First the English jubilee and now the Euros: but aren’t you English? Why don’t you support England? Because I made a choice, that’s why!
This week two songs made my point more eloquently than I could. On Thursday night, as an ominously impressive Spanish soccer team toyed with Ireland and looked capable of adding to the four they’d already scored, we heard The Fields of Athenry sound out around the stadium. A song of love and loss, of hope and fear, a song about aspiration and struggling for better things. Meanwhile, as England (deservedly) beat Sweden on Friday in a thoroughly entertaining and much less one-sided match the English fans – some dressed up as mediaeval knights – sang a song too. It was about religion and monarchy, about unquestioning servility to authority, about military victory and, if anyone ever got to the later verses which they don’t, about crushing rebellious Scots.
That sums up my choice, really. Ireland’s not Utopia, and it may seem odd that I carp about English fans invoking an imaginary friend to save an unelected head of state (especially given the role of the church and the church hierarchy in recent Irish history) but give me the aspiration for a better life for ourselves and our children ahead of servility and obedience to feudal overlords any day!