From two newspaper articles over the last twenty-four hours. The Derry Journal reporting on the opinions held in 1972 by the British army general, Sir Harry Tuzo, GOC (general-officer-commanding) the British Occupation Forces in Ireland from 1971-73, and a vigorous opponent of a negotiated settlement between the (Provisional) Republican Movement and the UK, on the character of the Irish people:
“The charitable might say that the Irish tend not to minimise their sufferings; the candid that they are shocking old cry babies. If anyone lays a finger on them the world must hear of it with embellishment. And like children they believe in their own fantasies… Furthermore, nothing that happens, no action of troops or police, relates in anyway to anything done by themselves. Nothing is ever their fault, nor do they ever do wrong.”
Over forty years later, the liberal British journalist, Michael Nicholson, writing yesterday in the Irish Times on his new novel examining an Gorta Mór, the Great Famine of the mid-1800s, and his conversion from history-denier to accepter:
“I had listened at length to Ireland’s historical grievances in Dublin and Liverpool, in Cork and in Boston, Massachusetts, wherever Irishmen gathered over a pint of porter or a Jamesons. They spoke of a deliberate policy of imposed starvation, of land clearances, of ethnic cleansing, of exporting Irish peasants in coffin ships that might never reach the far shores of the Atlantic, and all this said as if it was proven historical fact.
Given an Irishman’s well-known considerable verbal licence I was happy to persuade myself that much of it was exaggerated blarney. But as I ploughed even deeper in my research, my characters took over and my storyline went into reverse.”
That’s the Irish for you in British eyes, unsympathetic or otherwise. A child-like race governed by emotional extremes, from over-familiarity to extreme enmity, given to hyperbole and exaggeration, tantrums and sullenness, fond of their drink, but never to be trusted unless facts prove otherwise.