Hilary Mantel may want to become European again, but I don't
As children my mother insisted that we have Irish passports. This was not so much to gain a small victory over my English father but out of a neurotic belief that, if the plane we were on was hijacked, we’d be released early as neutrals.
This was the 1970s, and obviously by the 21st century the dynamics of terrorism had changed. Now, if your plane was hijacked an Irish passport probably isn’t going to be of much use either way.
But having a green passport (as they were once were) can still be extremely useful, because around the world the Irish are loved as warm, charming and banterous folk while the English are viewed as cold-blooded Charles Dance types who at some point probably invaded your country.
On a press trip to Trieste, I was given a ludicrously large hotel room because, the concierge explained, the city’s most famous adopted son James Joyce was also Irish. Ironically, Joyce refused to get an Irish passport but, had I known that at the time, I obviously wouldn’t have mentioned it; nor the fact that I grew up in England and in cricket test terms am English.
I only got a UK passport in my 20s and the Irish one has since expired, which is probably unwise since the value of having one has increased sharply since. It’s not the fear of being stuck on the plane with Middle Eastern terrorist driving the craze, but being stuck on a rainy, fascist island with a bunch of ill-bred gammons.
Since the referendum over 420,000 Irish passports have been issued in the UK, and while for many people it’s a practical matter of having access to the EU, for others there is a certain spiritual element. Novelist Hilary Mantel, whose grandparents came from Ireland, is the latest to announce she’s got the little book with the harp on it, saying: “I hope to loop back into my family story and become an Irish citizen… I feel the need to be packing my bags, and to become a European again.” She told La Repubblica:
Celtic nationalism has always held a certain charm for people who are essentially English, from Erskine Childers to Compton MacKenzie to Seán Mac Stíofáin. It’s been given new life in the Brexit era, in which the Celtic world has had all sorts of progressive values projected onto it, self-identified global citizens from England expressing their desire to be Scottish or Irish: countries which are far less racially diverse than the England they despise, no more liberal in public opinion, and in the case of Ireland part of a bloc that has so far been far less generous to Afghan refugees, and indeed is in many ways more conservative than the country that has just left.
I haven’t renewed my Irish passport, partly out of laziness and partly out of bloody-mindedness; but it also feels weird right now because Ireland has become a proxy in a parochial English dispute over how Ghastly Our Fellow Countrymen are. Although I may regret that next time I book into a hotel in Trieste; or indeed if the plane I’m on gets hijacked.