Reasserting our Anglo Irish identity

Jonathan Swift

We live on an island with an ongoing identity crisis. We have a British identity and we have an Irish identity, sometimes we have both. But we’re still searching for that deeper question of who we are and where we come from. The majority of people on this island have aligned themselves with one of two major cultural identities ; the Gaelic and in more recent times the Ulster Scots. Neither of these identities fit comfortably under one religious heading, there has been far too much mixing for any of us not to have overlaps into the other. That, to my mind, is always positive. It’s just this diversity that has forged us (Irish, Northern Irish or whatever makes you more comfortable insert here) as an island race for the last few thousand years. But through all this, many belonging to one of the major cultures on this island has either chosen to stay silent or has just forgotten themselves and that’s the Anglo-Irish. Irish Nationalists have for a long time now tried to reclassify anything Anglo-Irish as some meaningless description of a rich Ascendancy Protestant, with one foot in Ireland and one foot in England. A social class and nothing else. This is completely false. It’s an attempt to wipe out an entire culture on this island with the stroke of a pen. Anglo-Irishness is one of the three major cultural identities on this island and it’s about time that it was recognised as such.

The problem with Anglo Irishness is how to define it. Both the Ulster Scots and Gaelic Irish cultures have very living traditions which give them a distinctive flavour. Both have dance, poetry, music and language. These are very definitive, very easy to point out as aspects of ones identity and cultural background. Anglo-Irishness on the other hand is something a little more subtle but no less real. Our language is English, or maybe more correctly: Hiberno-English which is the first language of almost everyone on this island. Our “culture” can be defined by literature, by politics, and by leadership. Our people melted very quickly into an already Anglo dominated western world whose language was already their own, whose customs we already their own. We went to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, America and beyond. We helped build an Empire, we helped run and develop that Empire. We wrote great master pieces of literature and music. We led armies to victory across the globe. We discovered new places. We pushed democracy through our involvement in politics all over the world. That is our culture, that is part of our identity and our legacy. As W.B. Yeats said “We are no petty people. We are of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people of Burke; we are the people of Swift, the people of Emmet, the people of Parnell. We have created most of the modern literature of this country. We have created the best of its political intelligence.”

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

Whilst we all have a background littered with other influences, people of an Anglo Irish background trace their ancestry largely to England. That does not mean we are English, far from it. We’ve been Irish/Northern Irish for centuries. Many of us, for close to 1000 years. But while our identity is distinct from both the Ulster Scots and Gaelic Irish, we share common ground with both. We are Roman Catholics and Protestants. We are Unionist,  Republican and neither. Just like the other two major identities on this island there is no set rules for what is or isn’t Anglo-Irish, the shades of gray blur the lines and give us commonality. Many people of an Anglo-Irish background, spread across the world, but particular to places like Canada, Australia and the United States don’t even fully understand their own cultural background. We need to follow the examples set by the Gaelic Irish and the Ulster Scots by promoting our identity inside  and outside of the Orange Institution of Ireland because we truly are a global people, our roots in two countries that have given the western world so much of what it enjoys today : Ireland & England.