August 08, 2014

The authoritarianism of "West-Brit"

Study of Sean O’Casey by Dublin artist Reginald Gray, for the New York Times (1966)
"Sean O’Casey... a ‘West Brit’ or a ‘shoneen’?" This is the question southern protestant Irish blogger Patrick Comerford asked sardonically. A jibe at the violently hysterical reaction to his play 'The Play and the Stars' in which he challenged the unchallengeable - the inviolable 1916 revolutionary orthodoxy. That blog post written in 2011 looked directly at the term "west-Brit", it's origins and etymology in an article entitled, "‘West Brit’ is a racist and pejorative term unacceptable in a pluralist democracy". Patrick began by explaining that the term started out as a non-pejorative, positive sobriquet:
"Daniel O’Connell used the term positively in a debate in the House of Commons in 1832 when he said: “The people of Ireland are ready to become a portion of the Empire, provided they be made so in reality and not in name alone; they are ready to become a kind of West Briton if made so in benefits and justice; but if not, we are Irishmen again.”
It then became a negative, pejorative term:
"The term “West Brit” gained prominent usage in the land struggle of the 1880s. By the 1900s, DP Moran, founder of The Leader, was using the term frequently to describe people he did not consider to be sufficiently Irish. It was synonymous with those he described as “Sourfaces,” those who mourned the death of Queen Victoria, and It included virtually all members of the Church of Ireland and those Roman Catholics who did not measure up to his definition of “Irish Irelanders”."
He explained how the term was used after partition:
"In the early years of the Irish Free State in the 1920s, the term “West Brit” was used to discriminate against those who had a friendly attitude towards the United Kingdom and who were loath to cut ties with the neighbouring island. It seems, though, that by then the term was applied mainly to Roman Catholics because Protestants were presumed to be Unionists by nature – despite the fact that Irish nationalists and republicans had included Charles Stewart Parnell, Sean O Casey, Bulmer Hobson, Douglas Hyde and Ernest Childers.
He then give his contemporary take on the term. At its best:
"In its least insulting sense, it refers to Irish people who have sympathies for the United Kingdom, or who take their cultural and social cues from England."
At its worst:
"However, the term “West Brit” is usually used pejoratively to marginalise those who are identified with a variety of perceived faults: 
● Certain people from Dublin.
● Those whose view of Irish history highlights positive aspects of English and British influence in Ireland.
 ● Those who criticise Irish nationalist rebellions.
● People who are influenced by British popular culture, but are embarrassed by or disdainful of aspects of Irish culture, including the Irish language, Gaelic games and traditional Irish music.
● People who are politically opposed to or indifferent to demands for a United Ireland.
● Individuals in the Republic of Ireland who support, or allegedly support, Unionism.
● Sometimes, in sporting terms, sports fans who support English soccer clubs, particularly if they have little or no time for local Irish clubs.
● The term is used also for Protestant Dubliners perceived as having liberal attitudes to moral issues."
He then explained a further pejorative, "Castle Catholic": 
"A similarly pejorative term is “Castle Catholic,” which was used specifically by Republicans for middle-class Catholics who had been assimilated into the pro-British establishment. The term was taken from Dublin Castle, which had been the centre of the British administration until 1921. Sometimes, the exaggerated pronunciation “Cawtholic” was used to suggest an accent imitative of British Received Pronunciation English. At times, it was even used for the residents of south Dublin suburbs such as Rathmines and Rathgar."
He finished with this:
"West Briton remains a favourite insult used by members of Sinn Fein and the IRA, who sometimes use it for somebody who is seen as retaining a subservient attitude to the United Kingdom. It implies that people who are covered by their application of the term are not truly Irish and have no place in the Irish nation. 
It has racist connotations too. If “Brits Out” is one slogan daubed in graffiti that marks out areas controlled by the IRA and Sinn Fein, then, one must suggest, that slogan now also implies: “West Brits out.” I remember one or two bullies at school in the late 1960s trying to apply to me the labels “West Brit” and “Anglo-Irish” – they got their answer. 
If there is no place in Martin McGuinness’s ugly new Ireland, for “West Brits,” the “Anglo-Irish,” those who speak Received Pronunciation English, those who enjoy cricket and rugby, those whose parents were born in Rathmines and Rathgar, those whose father or grandfather fought in the British Army in World War I or World War II, those who wear a poppy, those who received part of our education in England or worked there for a while, those who are proud of that part of our ancestry that is English (even if generations ago), or those who oppose 40 years of murderous violence on this island, then I hope his canvassers decide not to knock at my door during their electioneering.
Other terms include "Shoneen" (Irish seoinín, “Little John”) which is used against to someone who is deemed to affect the habits of the “Protestant Ascendancy.” The term Sleeven (Slibhin) is also used. Also words like "Neville's with sturdy tonsils and Heathers with funny hats" and "later overflowing with Conors and carmels" as Kevin Myers would say ironically and sardonically.

Click here to see some examples of Brit/West-Brit phobia, here and here.

Read Patrick Comerford in full here. The unionist-protestant equivalent of "West-Brit" is "Lundy". You can read my previous posts on "Lundy" here and here.

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