Confused? We all are!

Ireland, who's telling the truth?

The gombeen man The gombeen man
There's still so much to learn about the financial crisis in Ireland. Just days ago some people were saying that Ireland was doing well and did not need a loan. All this while others would have you believe that it was all over for Ireland and there were only tears and shame ahead. The crisis has brought us words like 'gombeen' and 'jackeen'. And this before most of us have had the chance to work out which is what in Irish political parties. This is made awkward as most of the lookers-on, the non-Irish, don't know their Fáil from their Gael. But take heart as most of the British resident Irish are also confused though not entirely surprised the sky has fallen in on the land of their birth.

Modern political history in Ireland kicks off in 1916, post Uprising. Known as the Easter Rising it ended with defeat for the Irish militias who had hoped to form a nation and establish a parliament. It's probable that outright victory, in one fell swoop, was always beyond them but there are always ways and means of getting something done over time. The militias took a gamble and lost but this did open the door to the portrayal of them in particular and Ireland in general as victims and martyrs. The gambler who lost all is thus lionised, but seldom criticised, in Irish culture. No doubt Brian Cowen and his government will play this card anytime soon.

The main Irish political parties date from around this time too. Between them Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael hold most of the seats in national and local government. Fáil was the brainchild of militia leader Eamon De Valera and in reality it became his party. As well as leading it, he was Prime Minister of Ireland on several occasions up to 1958. Fáil is seen as more strident than Fine Gael and as it has been the more successful we should note this. Both 'traditional' parties have made much of the striving for independence, we don't yet have the detail on the financial rescue package, but squaring up the rhetoric with the reality might be awkward for all Irish politicians on the run up to elections scheduled for the new year.

Jokers have also pointed out that Irish culture is awash with anti-British sentiment; now if the EU is going to be harsh on them will we see a wave of anti-EU feeling? There is also De Valera's cosy relationship with the Germans during WW2; as Angela Merkel is keen to prevent Germany bailing out the feckless Irish without any benefit to herself, it will be interesting to see how this aspect of Hibernian-German relations are played out. Then again adding to the fun has been the USA, they have been very happy with the low corporation tax operated by Dublin and urged them to keep it. The whole point of the EU, according to much of the political establishment of Germany and France, has been to be an opposition to the US. So we see yet another interesting battle with only one winner possible - unlikely to be the Irish.

Ireland is too great to be unconnected with us, and too near us to be dependant on a foreign state, and too little to be independent. C.T. Grenville to the Duke of Rutland, December 3, 1784

It was statements like this that annoyed the Irish militias and are oft quoted as indicative of the attitude of the British towards the Irish. But look at the date, the sentiments expressed are simply typical of their age. If you substitute India for Ireland for example, and then ignore the words 'near' and 'little', it reads like a conventional government document of the period. It's also interesting to compare India with Ireland. The former gained independence with problems that, while not the same as those of Europe after WW2, were significant in magnitude and, without either Marshal aid or EU funding, is now forging ahead. Yes it's true that poverty is still common in India but its independence is not in doubt.

So our new words, 'gombeen' and 'jackeen'. The latter is generally not polite. It is said that Queen Victoria paid a visit to Dublin and some of the locals, by way of a welcome, waved the union jack. This was understandable in that Dublin was the most cosmopolitan city of Ireland, it was a simple gesture but was taken by many more republican minded and perhaps narrow minded Irish to be treacherous, the action of traitors. Hence the term 'jackeen'. Eventually it becomes the countryman's word for the Dubliner with overtones of drunkenness and high city living thrown in for good measure. The Dubliners' reply to this was to label anyone from beyond the city boundary as 'muck savages'!
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A gombeen is another curse, applied to, usually, a man halfway to being a crook. The sort of trader prone to making off with other peoples money, in later years it has been applied to corrupt officials. It has also been used to describe money lenders who were unscrupulous. So we wait to see if, in a fit of rage, the Irish stop singing anti-British songs and begin years of being anti-EU. In time will Sarkozy, Merkel and Van Rompuy be seen as the new generation of gombeens? Questions, questions, we are looking and waiting for answers, especially the Spanish and Portuguese!