Why It’s Time We Reclaimed Patriotism From Populist-Nationalist Figures like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump

Photograph Source: Joe Shlabotnik – CC BY 2.0

As a teenager I was sometimes asked if I saw myself as being of Irish or English nationality. I would reply that I was Anglo-Irish and, if the person I was talking to asked no further questions about my national identity, I would leave it at that.

But if they went on to inquire if that meant that I “was half English and half Irish,” I would politely say that it did not mean anything of the sort.

I would explain that the Anglo-Irish had been the dominant Protestant landowners and professional class during the last three centuries or so of British rule in Ireland. Their descendants, stripped of political and economic power, lived on there after independence. I would then take the questioner, who was by now probably a little aghast at this torrent of information and wishing that they had kept their mouth shut, on a rapid excursion through Irish history starting with the Norman invasion led by Strongbow in 1170.

I understood that the person who asked the question was hearing more about national identity and its complex origins in Ireland and England than they had bargained for. In my early twenties, I mentioned this to a friend who replied that “if you go around the world, saying that you are Anglo-Irish and explaining what that means, people will think that you are an even weirder sort of Englishman than they thought you were in the first place.”

Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).