Dad’s Diary

Dad’s Diary

The start of 2016 sees our family engaged in an Irish tradition: emigrating. Work has brought our family to live in England for a spell. The past few months have been a flurry of paperwork, transit vans, goodbyes and house-hunting. We now find ourselves in an idyllic rural corner of England that often feels like a fragment of West Cork that drifted east: the Isle of Wight.

Yet emigrating to England does not really feel like a move to a truly foreign country. My wife is English and so perhaps our routine visits in recent years have bred familiarity, but it is more than that.

Applying for my National Insurance number, many of the Polish and Asian immigrants around me needed translators. Meanwhile the conversation in my booth was, “My sister has just moved over to Ireland actually, she lives in Knocknagoshel”, “Oh, my grandparents met when they were living in Knocknagoshel,” and then, of course, we discovered people we knew in common. Driving home, I turned on the radio to hear Graham Norton, from my hometown of Bandon. I then picked my son up from school where he waved goodbye to his teacher, Ms O’Brien.


For all the much-vaunted differences, the similarities across the two islands are all the more remarkable: the sense of humour, the potholed country roads and the weather are ever-present reminders of home. Many English don’t really think of the Irish as foreign at all, living as they do in a country that encompasses Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the diverse regions of England. We are often irate when Irish people from the Republic are referred to as British, but this error at least represents an unthinking sense of inclusion, not exclusion. It arises from a sense that there is a continuum across the eccentric nations and jurisdictions of these islands, and the inaccurate term that springs to mind for some to describe that continuity is ‘British’. These interrelated islands perhaps need a new collective descriptive term.


Even in 1916, the deep links between the two islands are evident. Instead of the ‘Irish’ versus ‘British’ narrative, we should teach our children that amongst the rebels were many British-born, and of British origin, not least of whom was Thomas Clarke, the son of a British Army sergeant, born in Hurst Castle, within sight of where I write on the Isle of Wight.

Meanwhile, many of the ‘British’ forces killed by the rebels in 1916 were Irish-born soldiers in Irish British Army regiments, such as John Brennan from Kilkenny, James Duffy from Kildare, John Flynn from Dublin, John Mulhern from Carrick-on-Shannon to name but a few. Even that seminal moment of disunity in 1916 shows a complex web of connectedness.

I hope that as we mark the centenary of 1916, a deeper understanding can help us move beyond divisive narratives – for even as we remember history, we are not prisoners of the past. Right now, in the present and in the future, we have and will continue to have a huge amount in common with our neighbours in Wales, Scotland and England.

My own children literally embody this, having ancestors from Ireland most of all, but also Scotland, England and Wales – and indeed Italy, just to add an exotic touch. In an age of mass migration from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and give global digital interconnectedness, the cultural distinctions of these islands can seem increasingly fine. Recognising all we have in common, in a spirit of friendship, does not endanger what makes us distinct.