Friday, August 28, 2009

Scotland - attitudes to Ireland/Irishness

Scotland is a great country with great people. Of all the places I've been to, I feel most at home there when I'm not in Northern Ireland. (and parts of the USA as well).

There's a piece of work to be done on Scotland's shifting attitudes to Ireland and Irishness. What brought this to my attention was the following excerpt from John Buchan's book Mr Standfast (1919), which I read over the summer. It's a Bond-style spy thriller, but set during WWI rater than the Cold War - so fewer gadgets and stylish quips, but more adventure. In Mr Standfast, the hero (Cornelius Brand) arrives in Glasgow to gather intelligence on the radical politics of the shipyards.

He meets Andrew Amos, who tells him:

"...But the average man on the Clyde, like the average man in ither places, hates just three things, and that's the Germans, the profiteers, as they call them, and the Irish. But he hates the Germans first.'

'The Irish!' I exclaimed in astonishment.

'Ay, the Irish,' cried the last of the old Border radicals. 'Glasgow's stinkin' nowadays with two things, money and Irish. I mind the day when I followed Mr Gladstone's Home Rule policy, and used to threep about the noble, generous, warm-hearted sister nation held in a foreign bondage. My Goad! I'm not speakin' about Ulster, which is a dour, ill-natured den, but our own folk all the same. But the men that will not do a hand's turn to help the war and take the chance of our necessities to set up a bawbee rebellion are hateful to Goad and man. We treated them like pet lambs and that's the thanks we get. They're coming over here in thousands to tak the jobs of the lads that are doing their duty. I was speakin' last week to a widow woman that keeps a wee dairy down the Dalmarnock Road. She has two sons, and both in the airmy, one in the Cameronians and one a prisoner in Germany. She was telling me that she could not keep goin' any more, lacking the help of the boys, though she had worked her fingers to the bone. "Surely it's a crool job, Mr Amos," she says, "that the Goavernment should tak baith my laddies, and I'll maybe never see them again, and let the Irish gang free and tak the bread frae our mouth. At the gasworks across the road they took on a hundred Irish last week, and every yin o' them as young and well set up as you would ask to see. And my wee Davie, him that's in Germany, had aye a weak chest, and Jimmy was troubled wi' a bowel complaint. That's surely no justice!"...

It jumped off the page at me when I read it, and there are fascinating subtleties within the words. For this character at least, the associations with Ireland were negative, that Ulster folk were different, even though Ulster is a "a dour, ill-natured den" the people are "our own folk all the same".

Maybe someone out there can examine this further.


Colin Maxwell said...

>A "dour illnatured den" indeed! What was he smokin' to have said the likes o' that?

Fair fa' ye!