The one characteristic that has marked Ireland and Britain from time immemorial is proximity and propinquity. During the last Ice Age 18,000 years ago, the British Isles were one island (see here), yet for many, to this day they remain one.
"Incredible as it now seems, hundreds of ordinary people who had been deprived of their ministers rowed across the North Channel to Scotland on Sunday afternoons to take communion, and returned the same day. Livingstone records that on one occasion "over 500 persons from Co. Down crossed the sea to receive the sacrament at Stranraer."Frank Frankfort Moore (1855–1931) was born to Presbyterian parents in Limerick. He was a brother-in-law of Bram Stoker and prolific writer. He was educated at Inst in Belfast and became a journalist with the Belfast News Letter. He wrote in ‘Truth About Ulster’ observations about Ulster life, and this remark is particularly interesting:
"We reckoned it no feat to cross that narrow channel, and to watch the Galloway hills, already seen to be green by anyone looking out from Donaghadee or Ballywalter, become clearer and brighter with every hour’s sailing, until the beautiful undulations of the shores of Lough Ryan were on each side of us, and we could run our boat comfortably into a natural harbour with a sandy ground to drop our anchor into. And when we hailed one of the fishermen outside his own cottage, we found him and his people speaking exactly the same dialect as was spoken on the Irish coast which we had left a few hours before; for the Scotch of the County Down coast from Bangor to Portaferry, is the Scotch of the coast of Galloway.”
Sean McDermott, one of the Rising’s executed leaders wrote:
"The Irish patriotic spirit will die forever unless a blood sacrifice is made in the next few years. It will be necessary for some of us to offer ourselves as martyrs if nothing better can be done to preserve the national Irish spirit’."
Another, Desmond Fitzgerald, who survived, wrote that if things continued as they were, "it would be futile to talk of ourselves other than as inhabitants of that part of England that used to be called Ireland. In that state of mind I had decided that extreme action must be taken."
Seamus Heaney said:
"There’s a hidden Scotland in anyone who speaks the Northern Ireland speech. It’s a terrific complicating factor."
"The mere geographical situation of the two countries makes them far more fit to exist as one nation than as two. Not only are they more powerful for defence against a foreign enemy combined than separate, but, if separate, they would be a standing menace to one another... Ireland is marked out for union with England, if only by this, that nothing important can take place in the one without making its effects felt in the other."
Edmund Burke was called the "ornament of Ireland" by the Irish Magazine in 1808. He called the United Irishmen "that unwise body". Edmund Burke, who opposed the ancien regime in America but supported it in Ireland, published his pamphlet 'Reflections on the Revolution in France' on November 1 1790 (Thomas Paine replied with 'The Rights of Man', published on 13 March 1791). Edmund Burke wrote in a November 17 1796 letter to John Keogh:
Roy Foster wrote in ‘Modern Ireland: 1600-1972’:
"I can not conceive that a man can be a genuine Englishman without being a true Irishman… I think the same sentiments ought to be reciprocal on the part of Ireland, and, if possible, with much stronger reason."He wrote elsewhere:
"The closest connection between Great Britain and Ireland is essential to the well-being, I had almost said to the very being of the two kingdoms... By separation Ireland would be the most completely undone country in the world, the most wretched, the most distracted and the most desolate part of the inhabitable globe."Speaking in the House of Commons in May 1819 Henry Grattan spoke of "that silken bond of social union" between Britain and Ireland. He also said in February 1813:
"I never used the word ‘foreign country’ as applied to England. I said 'another country,’ which I conceived to be a true description, as they are distinct countries, although united under one empire."
"There was a sense, indeed, in which some of the province was “planted” already; Scots had been spilling back and forth across the narrow straits since time immemorial, and Antrim and Down were densely Scottish in population. In many ways the Antrim coast was closer to the Scottish mainland than to its own hinterland. From the time of James’s accession to this process was further formalised by the settlements privately instituted by Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton. A more formal and centralised plan for hitherto Gaelic Ulster was to follow."
He also wrote:
"The halting and contentious nature of government-planned colonisation adds weight to the argument that the "real” Ulster plantation was that carried out “invisibly” by the Scots, both before the initiatives of 1609-10 and later in the century. This would later provide an argument used by the unionists: that Ulster’s different nature is immemorial and uncontrollable and stems from something more basic than English government policy.
None the less, what must be grasped from the early seventeenth century is the importance of the plantation idea, with its emphasis on segregation and on native unreliability. These attitudes helped Ulster solidify into a different mould... Intellectually, this insecurity was expressed in the mentality of settler radicalism… Ulster people believed they lived permanently on the edge of persecution."
"In this short trip I had easily rid myself of the common English idea that Ireland was a piece of England that for some reason or other would not settle down and had run to seed. I had heard at school of “the curse of Cromwell.” I ardently identified Irish freedom with my own personal freedom which had been hard to come by. A revolutionary break? I was for it. Until you are free you do not know who you are. It was a basic belief of the Twenties, it permeated all young minds, and though we became puritanically drastic, gauche, and insensitive in our rebellions against everything we called Victorianism, we were elated."Edward Carson said:
"They [the people of Northern Ireland] regard themselves as a branch of the British oak but off that branch and not only will the branch itself wither, but the tree will be left mutilated and weakened."Like George Bernard Shaw, my forebears came from England. Like Shaw, I also grew up aware of an axiomatic antipathy to England and Britain, and an Irishness defined by how one is “Not British”.
Fintan O'Toole said:
"It has always happened and it always will: our species began its mass movement out of Africa at least 60,000 years ago and large groups have been migrating ever since."Since the 1950s about 500,000 Irish people per decade have emigrated from Ireland to Britain.
But in Ireland being Irish was about being not British. Call it Anglophobia. In many ways it was a condition which existed side by side with very close social and economic bonds between the two islands. The Irish represent Britain’s biggest ethnic group and vice-versa. Britain is Ireland’s biggest trading partner and Ireland is Britain’s fifth largest export market. But it was still a debilitating and regrettable state.
George Orwell wrote in ‘England your England’:
"It is very rare to meet a foreigner, other than an American, who can distinguish between English and Scots or even English and Irish."
And also said:
"I have spoken all the while of ‘the nation’, ‘England’, ‘Britain’, as though forty-five million souls could somehow be treated as a unit… A Scotsman does not thank you if you call him an Englishman. You can see the hesitation we feel on this point by the fact that we call our islands by no less than six different names, England, Britain, Great Britain, the British Isles, the United Kingdom and, in very exalted moments, Albion. Even the differences between north and south England loom large in our own eyes. But somehow these differences fade away the moment that any two Britons are confronted by a European."
Patrick Kavanagh said:
"It is not without point that the fathers of “Irish wit and humour” (more inverted commas) have nearly all been Protestants."
Geographically Ireland is part of the British isles. Dan Hannan wrote in 2011 in the Irish Independent:
"How easily our differences are forgotten. Very few British people think of the Irish as properly foreign. We are aware, of course, that there are two states in the British Isles, but we don’t place the Irish in the same mental category as we do the Italians, Finns or Poles. It is perhaps this proximity of outlook and habit, of blood and speech, that once made our quarrels so venomous: civil wars have a peculiar nastiness.
Politically and institutionally, the two states drifted apart after 1921. Ireland passed from autonomy to formal independence, breaking its links with the Crown and, in due course, withdrawing from the Commonwealth. Yet this sundering of states never implied a sundering of peoples.
While Eamon de Valera pursued his quixotic schemes to cut Eire’s economic ties with the United Kingdom, replace the English language with Gaelic and ally with any cause, however vile, provided it was sufficiently Anglophobic, the two islands continued their habits of intermixture and intermarriage. They followed the same football teams, watched the same television stations, shopped at the same chains."Daniel Hannan wrote in February 2012 in the Telegraph that Ireland "is a separate country but that it's not really foreign":
"Like most British people, I love Ireland. It’s a separate country, but it’s not really foreign. The Irish talk as we talk, dress as we dress, eat as we eat (and, tragically, drink as we drink). We watch the same television programmes, follow the same football teams, shop at the same chains. We share that half-humorous, half-cynical mode of conversation that sets us apart even from other Anglosphere nations. In fact, Britain and Ireland are joined by pretty much everything except politics: history and geography, habit and outlook, commerce and settlement, blood and speech. It’s significant that you usually hear Irish words in the context of some state office or government function: while our people have carried on their custom of intermarriage and intermixture, the two governments have remained stubbornly apart.
Perhaps it was inevitable, at least at first. The early Irish leaders were, if not always anti-British, at least determined to flaunt their separateness by distancing themselves from whatever Britain was doing (though, during the Second World War, many Irish citizens felt differently, and rushed to enlist in the British Army, winning 780 decorations including seven Victoria Crosses). I don’t think it’s going too far to say that Irish politicians were initially attracted to the EU partly because the Brits disliked it – though it wasn’t long before, like all politicians, they also acquired a personal stake in the system.
Yet, almost overnight, the old antagonisms have been wiped away. The euro crisis pushed the two kindred nations together, and the Queen’s visit sealed their alliance. At dinner in Dublin at the weekend, most of the people I spoke to started from the premise that the EU was a disaster, and that Britain and Ireland should forge a closer relationship within the Anglosphere. One questioner asked about joining sterling, another about forging a joint foreign policy. A man who described himself as a lifelong republican wondered whether, if Alex Salmond succeeded in securing a ‘devo max’ settlement, it might not become the basis of a confederation throughout the British Isles."He also wrote:
"Whenever I read the history of Britain’s relations with Ireland, I want to weep at the missed opportunities. Almost any of the Liberal Home Rule Bills could have averted partition, and the horrors that followed. Even as late as 1916, the blood-dimmed tide might have been stopped up. Had the government not responded with such unconscionable brutality, the Easter Rising might now be remembered as a slightly opéra bouffe episode, backed only by a few fanatics: more Southern Irish Catholics died in British uniform on the first day of the Somme offensive than participated in it. I don’t think it’s fanciful to imagine Ireland having evolved into a self-governing Dominion in the way that, say, New Zealand did.
‘Was it needless death after all?’ asked Yeats. Probably. But how last-century it all now seems. Ireland has become Britain’s closest ally in the EU. All changed, changed utterly."Hannan wrote in June 2015:
"Now, to put this as gently as I can, I don’t think the SNP can rely on anything as dramatic as the First World War or the Easter Rising intervening in their favour. The equivalent of Home Rule nowadays is Devo Max: internal autonomy for Scotland, including in most fiscal matters. This would necessarily imply equivalent autonomy in other parts of the UK, and perhaps a formal move toward federation. Westminster MPs would be left with far fewer powers than now, mainly overseeing defence, foreign affairs, immigration policy and one or two taxation issues. Domestic issues would be dealt with at a more local level. Members of Parliament could become part-time, and be paid accordingly.
You know what? We might even, as a goodwill gesture, ask the Irish Republic whether it would like to get involved again; it seems only polite after everything we’ve been through together. If SNP MPs wanted to applaud the return of Southern Irish representatives to a federal Parliament of the Isles, that’d be fine by me."UKIP Member of Parliament Douglas Carswell wrote in the Guardian in 2010:
"There is scarcely a street in Britain in which family ties do not bind the fate of our two islands."Mark Reckless, Hannan's best man and vice-versa, whose grandather, Henry McDevitt, was a Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal East in Dáil Éireann said to the Irish Post:
"[The Irish in Britain are] not immigrants. I don’t consider myself to have an immigrant background. I don’t see my Irish mother as an immigrant any more than I see my Scottish wife as one."Reckless argued in 2010 that ireland should rejoin the sterling and commissioned a Red C poll that found a third of Irish people agreed with such a path.
Professor Liam Kennedy wrote:
"Far from being a colony, Ireland was an integral part of the British polity and was overrepresented relative to its size of population at the Westminster parliament. It was this status and its fractious but intimate relationships with British society which facilitated the outcome. The impressive organisational achievements of Sinn Fein in creating the structures of an alternative state in Ireland and the force of the I.R.A.’s argument must be acknowledged. But it was liberal opinion in Britain, disdaining to use the massive coercive force available to it, which was the key element in securing political independence for (most) Irish nationalists. Had Ireland been a colonial possession the nature of the fighting would have been very different, the ratio between guerrilla and security forces’ deaths would have been much higher, and the overall casualties immeasurably higher. Ironically, the decisive element in the drive for secession and the realisation of an Irish free state was not the flying column but British public opinion."George Bernard shaw wrote in the New York Times in April 1916, ‘Irish Nonsense About Ireland’:
"The war is a combing demonstration of the futility of the notion that the Irish and English people are natural enemies. They are, on the contrary, natural allies. The whole case for Home Rule stands on that truth, and the case against it, on the contrary, falsehood."
In 1966 Conor Cruise O'Brien wrote a polemic on 1916 for the New Left, ‘The Embers of Easter 1916-1966’. He wrote that the Irish state is culturally part of Britain:
"The Irish state is culturally part of Britain, distinguished from the rest of the archipelago mainly by its practice of a puritanical form of the Roman Catholic religion and by marked deference to ecclesiastical authority."
"Anglo-Irish literature, though far less characteristic of the nation than that produced in the Irish language, includes much that is of lasting worth. Ireland has produced in Dean Swift perhaps the greatest satirist in the English language; in Edmund Burke probably the greatest writer on politics; in William Carleton a novelist of the first rank; in Oliver Goldsmith a poet of rare merit. Henry Grattan was one of the most eloquent orators of his time – the golden age of oratory in the English language. Theobald Wolfe Tone has left us one of the most delightful autobiographies in literature. Several recent or still living Irish novelists and poets have produced work which is likely to stand the test of time. The Irish theatre movement has given us the finest school of acting of the present day, and some plays of high quality."When the Irish Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall appeared before the House of Lords EU committee on October 27 2015, he said:
"Whatever happens, we would want that unique relationship to continue and we would want the common travel area, which predates our EU membership by decades, whatever happens, we would want those provisions to be respected.
So I would expect that, whatever happens, we would seek to continue to have the same relationship with Britain, economically and politically, and for Ireland’s people living in Britain and working here or coming here to work."
"Among the EU member states, we have probably the most intensive, multistranded relationship with you. We are the only country with a land border with the UK and have extensive, mutually beneficial economic links, with large flows of trade, investment and tourism between our two countries. Naturally, we would be concerned about a UK exit from the EU and its potential implications for British-Irish relations, which have never been better than they are today, and for Northern Ireland."
Terry Wogan said in a 2007 interview with the Times:
"Despite what people think Ireland is a bit like England. We felt that when we wanted to be in Ireland, places like Kenmare, West Cork, south Kerry and Clare, we would want to be in our garden at home."He also said:
"I’m an effete, urban Irishman. I was an avid radio listener as a boy, but it was the BBC, not RTÉ. I was a West Brit from the start.
Although born in Limerick, I’m a kind of child of the Pale. I think Gay was able to communicate better with the country people than I would be. I’m too metropolitan. I think I was born to succeed here, I have much more freedom than I had in Ireland."Alex Massie, Scottish editor of the Spectator wrote:
"The English are not an alien people. But then neither are the Scots. Nor the Irish either. They may do things differently in the different parts of this rainy archipelago but no part of it is truly “foreign” to any other. Whether we call it such or not it is – and will remain – a Commonwealth."V.S. Pritchett said in 1985:
"Like many English people I loved being in Ireland, and the British and the Irish privately got on enormously well together, and that was quite a revelation to me."
Kevin Myers wrote:
"Visitors to this archipelago [Britain and Ireland] are baffled by the differences that are so passionately cherished: for what they usually perceive are similar hedgerows, Georgian architecture, endless rain, common law, wigged judges, unarmed police officers, right-hand drive, a mysteriously ubiquitous brown sauce, tea, fish and chips, and midnight drunks seeking to reduce complete strangers to smears of DNA."John Oliver said:
"[The UK is] an archipelagic supergroup comprised of four variously willing members."Andrew Sullivan said:
"Britishness surpasses nationalism as a kind of supra-nationalism. It leaves space for the other; it is a rubric – largely defined as well by the Crown – that has more virtues than might immediately appear."Gordon Brown said:
"The UK already looks more like a constitutional partnership of equals in what is in essence a voluntary multinational association."Madeleine Bunting wrote:
"Repeatedly, Scottish yes voters insisted they would remain British. The Irish writer Fintan O’Toole agreed: Ireland was still British. The point made was that when Norway split from Sweden in 1905, Scandinavia emerged as a powerful common identity.
This definition of Britishness is about a shared history and language, and the common reference points of culture and ideas that provides. We are all part of the British Isles, and nothing is going to change that rich interdependency as we continue to fall in love, make babies, make friends, exchange ideas, trade, and visit each other.
As an Atlantic archipelago of islands on the edge of Europe, we have far more in common with each other than not, and do not necessarily need a political union to make that a reality. What we will need is new institutions of collaboration across the nations and regions of the isles."Read my post here where I remarked that many of Ireland's leading writers have been protestant, establishment and even unionist.