Ireland, the country, separated from the UK after the first world war. Northern Ireland stayed in the UK, despite the more recent Troubles. The full history’s a lot more complex, of course, but it does show why my perspective, as a Brit, is coloured.
What I’ve written below is one man’s modern myth, it’s not a thoroughly researched study of Irish society, it’s what I feel after living here for a while. I’ve not visited Northern Ireland, which would add to my understanding of the differences.
The most striking thing I’ve found is the British and Irish simply don’t understand each other. Few Irish grasp the complexity of a polynational society, the basis of British identity. They’d have as much misunderstanding of Belgium or Russia. They’re as naïf, in this respect, as the few non–travelling Americans I’ve met.
The average Brit has no clue of the intensity of Irish self–identity, its historical dislike of Englishness, & the reasons behind that. They don’t know how that identity colours Irish perception, how the Irish see themselves. It’s not archaic myth only of interest to ivory tower historians, it’s living culture, it’s the air, it’s who they are. It’s as though the entire Round Table was buried in granddad’s time in Westminster Abbey in a grave everyone could visit but no one did, beside the Parliament built after Arthur’s army, fighting alone, had thrown off the Ottoman empire and sent the Turks scurrying back to Vienna.
The heart of the matter seems to be the English Republic. The defeated Royalists used Irish and Scottish forces to attempt to counter the English revolution, a revolution of religion and parliament. They ensured the civil war slaughter twice resumed. After he’d won a third time, Cromwell came to Ireland to prevent more interference: much killing took place in the Republic’s name. The Irish forget they interfered in someone else’s civil wars. The English forget Charles ruled the Three Kingdoms, forget the slaughters, forget the New Model Army’s hatred of catholics.
So you’ll understand why I felt surprised to find myself living back in a British world. The similarities are overwhelming. I don’t mean the leftovers from before independence, such as driving on the left, or double decker buses, I mean the cultural things, like the crap food, the belief in never bothering to do a job done properly, the pub culture.
There are minor differences; cabbies in London are reliable, cabbies in Dublin will attempt to rip you off, although that’s more a problem of too many cabs, even before Ireland’s economic collapse.
Despite being in the same timezone, despite having the same working hours, Dublin is really two hours behind London. When the night’s entertainment is finishing in the Smoke, it’s just starting here. When London streets are crowded with people going to work, they’re empty here. I still can hardly believe that, on Sundays, in Ireland’s capital city, the buses don’t run until 8am. London’s a morning culture, Dublin’s an evening culture.