Bag of Irish Bile?
“The Irish are not in a conspiracy to cheat the world by false representations of the merits of their countrymen. No, Sir; the Irish are a fair people; — they never speak well of one another.”
–Boswell: Life of Johnson.
In our last post we quoted Harold Nicholson’s impression of Eamon de Valera, whom he met while on a visit to Dublin during World War II. It wasn’t very flattering, with references to Dev’s uninteresting conversation, his “porridge-coloured face” , and his “unhealthy look about the gills, and faint indications of white puffiness” ; yet he also described him as “a very simple man, like all great men” , and referred to his “happy smile” and “deep spiritual certainty”.
On the same occasion, Nicholson was visited by Daniel A. Binchy, Professor of Jurisprudence in University College Dublin, uncle of the late authoress Maeve Binchy and of William Binchy the academic lawyer and pro-life campaigner. Daniel Binchy’s rather sardonic opinion of his fellow-countrymen seems to have made quite an impression on Nicholson:
He says a visiting Englishman is apt to be taken in by the blarney and to imagine that the feelings of this country towards us are really friendly. Not in the least: at the bottom of almost every Irish heart is a little bag of bile, and although their hatred of us may die down at moments, it is there, even as our Protestantism and puritanism are there subsconsciously. He says that at the beginning of the war no Irishman really supposed that Eire would be able to maintain her neutrality. The fact that this neutrality has been respected is not accorded unto us for righteousness: most of it is attributed to the genius of de Valera, who has thereby gained enormous prestige and many new adherents. Those who refuse to admit Dev’s part in it attribute it to a Merciful Providence who is recompensing Ireland for all her past sorrows. “Neutrality” has thus taken on an almost religious flavour; it has become a question of honour; and it is something which Ireland is not ashamed of, but tremendously proud. The Irish were “relieved” by the American occupation of Ulster [Nicholson means the arrival of three US divisions in Northern Ireland] and only a few of them have the sense to see that it will go far to explode the American legend about Ireland. “You see”, says Binchy, “the Americans will find us out.”
I [Stramentarius] am reminded somewhat of an incident in 1967 during my first week working in the office of the old Irish Press. One of my fellow sub-editors, Tony Matthews from Co. Louth, asked me what impressions I, as an Englishman, had formed of his countrymen. Kicking for touch, I replied that it was a bit early to give an informed opinion but (truthfully) that I had found everyone I dealt with had been very kind.
“Don’t be fooled by that”, replied Tony. “The English are kind. The Irish are charming.”