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.