Wow. There's been some pretty breathtaking ignorance about Ireland in this week's Olympic coverage.
First, we had the Telegraph claiming our (now) gold-medal winning boxer, Katie Taylor, as 'British.'
Then the Australian newspaper group Fairfax Media behaved with a Murdoch-y lack of journalistic decorum and made comments reinforcing the hard-drinking, aggressive Irish stereotype. The Irish Ambassador to Australia stepped in to sort that one out.
And then, because Australia clearly hadn't been mortified enough by their sportswriters screwing up, Russell Barwich decided the Irish were ridiculous for not competing as part of Team GB, likening it to Tasmania refusing to comete as part of Australia. The best bit is that as he said this, he admitted that he didn't understand Irish politcs - I admire his candor, but given that he had just said the most offensive thing you can say to an Irish person, clarifying that was wholly unnecessary.
Oh, and while I was Googling all this, I found out that the BBC's Daley Thompson said that a tattooist who made a spelling error must have been Irish, prompting me to yell things in my head. The corporation's response:
"Thompson’s comments about this were clearly meant as a joke, but we
apologise if any offence was caused; it certainly wasn’t our intention."
was not an apology, because if you call 3.5 million people stupid, you don't get to use the word 'if' about offence caused. There was offence caused. Be grown-ups and own it and knock off the passive-aggressive crap.Calling it a joke - also not smart, because the person making the joke doesn't get to decide whether or not it was funny. That's the audience's priviledge, and I for one am exercising the hell out of it :)
Anyway, I could do two things in response to this. I could cry and eat cake, because racism is horrible, especially when half of it comes from a country from whom your grandparents had to buy back their own land during the Great Depression and the other half comes from a commonwealth state that should know rather a lot more than it does about what independence means and how complex it can be.
Or I could write a handy guide for people who want to write about Ireland, but find it hard to locate good informatio about our admittedly tiny and globally insignificant country. That sounds like more fun, apart from the cake, so I'm going to do that. Most of this will be pretty obvious to my readers, but there is some actual information in Point 1 that may be of use :)
1. This is the complicated bit - the island of Ireland has two countries in it. Ireland looks like a teddy bear. The teddy bear's head is Northern Ireland, 6 counties under the rule of Great Britain but with its own assembly, exactly like Scotland or Wales. That's the bit with a tragic history of sectarian violence, which it is admirably and constructively working to overcome. They built the Titanic and Belfast and produced lots of linen and they have the Giant's Causeway and the city of Derry and the giant lake that looks the teddy bears eye. The rest of the teddy bear is the Republic of Ireland, the bit I live in, made up of the 28 remaining counties, and it's a state completely independent of Great Britain. It's the bit that has Dublin, Guinness, the Rock of Cashel, Cork and the blue lakes of Killarney in it.
2. Calling Ireland part of the UK is about the most offensive thing you can possibly say. Northern Ireland is part of the UK, but saying 'Ireland' is lumps the republic in there too, and we really hate that.
3. We don't find the stupid jokes funny. But everyone already knew that, I presume, because people don't like being called stupid, right? So it's a no-brainer.
Paradoxically, some Irish people will tell and enjoy Irish jokes but non-Irish people calling us stupid, or being surprised that we have universities - not cool. We have more Nobel Laureates for literature per head of population than any other country, so we can definitely read and write :p
4. We're actually not that aggressive. The Irish have a rep for getting drunk and getting into fights. This is because so many Irish people who moved abroad did it - but you're talking about a demographic that never saw two shops stuck together until they got to New York or Boston or London, and yeah, lots of them went a bit crazy. But Ireland is a very safe country (both the North and the Republic - in spite of the North's history of violence, tourists are pretty safe). We don't allow handguns. Our murder rates and other crime rates are low. And in spite of some pretty seriously nasty austerity measures, we haven't had any violent protests. We're far closer to the other stereotype - that of the complacent Irishman drawing on his pipe and saying 'Ah sure, it'll be graaand.' We could stand to be a bit more aggressive sometimes!
5. The drinking thing. OK, I may be on my high horse at the moment but the drinking thing is . . . kinda true. The Irish drink quite a bit, but more importantly, all of our drinking is public. We don't have a culture of drinking at home (although we're working on developing one to save some cash!) so our consumption is very visible. Also I live in the Irish capital and even here, it can be hard to find non-alcohol-related things to do after a certain time in the evening, and it's obviously worse in rural areas. By necessity, even non-drinkers may find their social life centring around the pub. This stereotype is the least offensive, and I think most Irish people are more bothered by the implications that we get drunk and hit people than statements that we get drunk.
6. We are a modern economy with cars, roads and factories. This may sound daft, but there are people who think we're still stuck in The Quiet Man and picking blight off the potatoes. Not so much. Some years ago, because of the massive boom in the pharmaceutical industry here, our chief export was not potatoes, whiskey and postcards of the Cliffs of Moher, but . . . Viagra.
Rest assured, we totally saw the funny side of that :)
This post is largely for the kind of people who say things that are very offensive, which doesn't include any of my blog readers, all of whom can read and research things, and know that calling someone stupid is not very nice, ever. Unfortunately, none of these people will ever read it, but I certainly feel better!
Next week, I will continue my 'Pointers On Writing About Ireland' with the less obvious stuff that might *actually* be helpful for someone setting a book here, as opposed to me spleen-venting :) If anyone has any questions (whether you want to write about Ireland, or visit it, or just ask a question that's been bugging you), please pop them in the comments and I'll address them on Monday! There are no offensive questions, because questions indicate a desire to know things which I believe is universally a good thing :)
Happy weekend, everyone!