Roots and Allegiances: Your Name Could Put You in Jail

Article excerpt

Some people know it by heart. Word for word, they can recite what Roy Keane shouted at Mick McCarthy during their well-publicised pre-World Cup bust-up, finishing with "... you were a crap player and you are a crap manager. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country and you're not even Irish, you English cunt."

Keane and others in the room later denied that the unspeakable word was ever uttered, but Irish newspapers at the time reported the full insult--Keane really had said English.

Questioning an Irish/English identity is usually taboo in Irish teams: it hits a nerve for many second-generation Irish, insecure about their nationality. Can having an Irish-born parent really make you Irish? Isn't there something fraudulent about claiming to be Irish if--like McCarthy--you sound English?

It is not just a problem in football circles. For decades, during the Troubles, declaring yourself as Irish meant to invite a whole series of uncomfortable and suspicious questions. It was as if saying you were Irish (in a cockney, Scouse or Glaswegian accent) meant that you some how supported the IRA or its bombing of English cities.

For a few, it did. Several IRA volunteers over the past 40 years were born and grew up in England or Scotland--notably Sean MacStiofain from Islington, north London, the founder and first chief of staff of the Provisional IRA; Hugh Doherty from Glasgow, one of the infamous Balcombe Street gang; and, more recently, Diarmuid O'Neill from Hammersmith, who was shot dead by Metropolitan Police near his west London home in 1996. Other second-generation Irish people responded to the Troubles by joining the British army and fighting in Northern Ireland. …