Jude Collins

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

There was this Kerryman...

So there was this Kerryman whose daughter was visiting from England…You’ve probably heard about it. The daughter, a British soap opera actor, had modeled in an England football team shirt. Her father’s reaction was to tell her she was a Protestant bastard.  The daughter told this anecdote on an RTE talk show, prompting the host  to smile and the audience to applaud. Cue public indignation.

Let’s first put the thing in context.  The father in question is  a Kerryman and this is essentially a Kerryman joke, which comes out of the tradition of the broader Irishman joke, in which the Irishman invariably says or does something illogical and a bit foolish but with a trace of truth in it. So naturally when the audience heard the word ‘Kerryman’, they got ready to smile indulgently.

Now, skip over the bit about the man calling his own daughter a bastard and concentrate on the use of  the word ‘Protestant’ when he meant ‘English’.  This too has a context,  historical this time.  A major component of England’s strategy to subjugate the Irish in the nineteenth century were the Penal Laws, which aimed to replace the Catholic faith with the Protestant. The head of the British state is also the head of the Church of England. So there’s a strong religious mix in the dealings between England and Ireland. It’s the race memory of such things that’s at the back of the Kerryman’s Protestant/English short-hand.
Plus the Kerryman’s situation is one that’s constantly faced by the Irish parents of children who’ve emigrated to Britain and become absorbed in the general population there. Nationalists themselves, the parents see their children adopt the symbols and loyalties of Britain, a state which was and remains the main blockage to Irish independence. Naturally there’s a sense of loss and even betrayal.

That said, I still feel uneasy about using a person’s faith commitment as equivalent to political loyalty.  In the north of Ireland, the vast majority of Protestants are unionists and the vast majority of Catholics are nationalists/republicans; but to talk in Catholic/Protestant terms, as British and Irish media frequently do, is to suggest that our conflict centres on church doctrine. It doesn’t.  

In the end, the Kerryman’s failure was that he didn’t show concern for rather than condemnation of his daughter. Anyone who chooses to support the England soccer team when there’s an option to support another  must be experiencing mental instability.


  1. Dr C,

    The moment William Crawley started the intro to the piece earlier on Radio Ulster, I believe I was heard to say (out loud, to no-one in particular) "Here comes Jude Collins then..."

    I have perhaps a little of an unusual take on this. Go back in our family lineage enough and you'll arrive at CS Parnell - IPP founder, Gladstone's favourite nationalist, legendary lover - the finest example of a trend-bucker (clean your ears out, I said TREND-BUCKER, not the other thing.) Being an Anglican had little or no impact on his fervent nationalism, and so on. It had direct correlation with his social status, yes, but not his political stance.

    Whilst it is arguably much more common to find Protestant Nationalists than Catholic Unionists, the inexhaustible point therefore stands that we should not assume the political division along religious lines.

    Not that that will ever stop anyone. After all, why bother now when we're all having so much fun?

  2. Pete,
    May your pen/keyboard never lose its cunning (and eloquence). Parnell is only one of many Protestant nationalists/republicans (first President of Ireland being a notable example) but if you were to toss 100 Protestants in the air (perish the thought) in this end of the island, they'd come down unionist in at least 95 cases. So it's natural for that reason, and because historically religion has intertwined with politics in the relations between these two islands, that people say 'Protestant' when they mean unionist and 'Catholic' when they mean nationalist. That's not sectarian, in my view, but it's lamentable because it gives outsiders the notion that we're at odds over the validity of transubstantiation and the like. Which we ain't...Btw - are you the mystery third candidate for the leadership of the UUP??

  3. I seem to recall from my student days that "Albanach" in Donegal Irish carried the primary and literal meaning of Scotsman, but it also meant Protestant or Presbyterian in a familiar sense. Whether it was a pejorative term or not, I'm not sure. The conflation of meanings is understandable in a historical context, but in our more sensitive times nowadays, it would seem to be better to hive the two meanings off into two separate words. I'm not sure whether that polysemous usage of "Albanach" still survives. Anyone know what the current position is?

  4. Independence for Scotland is set to be a "major issue" in the SNP's forthcoming bid for a second term in office, the First Minister has said.

    Alex Salmond said he will build his party's Holyrood election strategy around the independence issue.

    He told the Sunday Express the SNP would combine independence with the economy and stress that an independent Scotland could deal with the economic crisis without swingeing budget cuts.

    He said: "It will be a major, perhaps dominating issue, in the election, not because it is about not giving the people a say in their own future, which is very important, but because we will be making the link to the economic crisis and saying if we have economic and financial powers then we can deal, not with all, but with the majority of this economic problem, which otherwise we have to deal with within a fixed budget."

    Mr Salmond said he was "unlikely" to succeed in pushing his party's Referendum Bill through the Scottish Parliament next month, but said "the people will have their say" about the issue at the ballot box in May.

    The First Minister also spoke of the fortune an independent Scotland could earn from renewable energy over the next 50 years, adding: "I don't want to see us again deploying a fantastic energy revolution in Scottish waters and finding out that somebody else gets all the benefits in revenue terms."

    A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: "This shows the SNP is increasingly out of touch with the modern Scotland.

    "As we come to terms with the effects of the recession, as jobs continue to be lost, as firms are struggling, the last thing we need is a SNP government obsessed with separating Scotland from the rest of the UK.

    "The SNP promised so much and have delivered so little. They have run out of ideas and have nothing to say to the thousands of Scots struggling to find a job.

    "Alex Salmond, himself a former banker, can't bring himself to see that Labour used the strength of the UK to protect Scotland from complete economic meltdown like Iceland or Ireland."