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Sunday 25 December 2011

A triumphant year when we were finally cured of Anglophobia

By rejecting tribalism we now recognise our special bond with Britain, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

I learned last weekend that I had a Nazi past. Visiting Owen, my big brother, he rocked me with the revelation that at the age of two I had marched into the kitchen performing what I explained was a German salute. This had been taught to me by Grandmother Edwards (nee McInerney), who lived upstairs.

Granny was a fascist, who had a photograph of Hitler at the bottom of her bed, but since by then he had lost the war and was long dead, she had demonstrated rare sensitivity by teaching me the word 'German' rather than 'Nazi'. In the ensuing uproar -- for my parents did not share Grandmother's politics -- I learned this salute was not the way to win hearts and minds, and my ensuing re-education was so successful that by seven I was quizzing her critically about the Holocaust. She explained that it was the invention of British propaganda.

Grandmother's Anglophobia was -- on the face of it -- puzzling. Not only had she worked happily in London as a nurse for many years, but she had married (or pretended to -- that's a story for another day) a gentle, intelligent, English Methodist who obediently emigrated to Dublin.

In her 40s, though, she became an extreme Irish nationalist and a huge print of W Paget's impression of a heroic scene in the GPO in 1916 hung over her fireplace when I knew her. A devout supporter of every uncompromising IRA faction for the rest of her life, she would write Sinn Fein across her ballot paper even when they weren't standing.

Her liking for what she would have called 'strong leadership' but others would call totalitarianism, made her an enthusiast for Mussolini and Stalin along with Hitler. But it was her dispiriting Anglophobia that defined her life and, I suppose, drove me in the opposite direction.

I loathed a belief-system centred on hatred and perpetuated by brainwashing, misinformation, intellectual laziness and narrow self-interest. In my adult life I have spent a great deal of time trying to encourage mutual understanding between old enemies and have worn the label 'West Brit' as a badge of honour.

Which is why I see 2011 as a triumphant year for the Irish. In the middle of a financial maelstrom, we finally consigned to history the hatred of our neighbour. We responded to Queen Elizabeth's magnificent speech by agreeing that the peoples of both islands should 'bow to the past but not be bound by it'. That is no small achievement.

We have turned our faces against old tribal grievances and embraced generosity of spirit. Earlier this month, Ireland was the first country to spring to the defence of the United Kingdom after David Cameron wielded the veto and incurred the wrath of Merkozy. "Britain is our nearest neighbour, a close friend," said Eamon Gilmore. "They voluntarily came to Ireland's assistance last year by way of a bilateral loan when the bailout was agreed to. It's not in our interests that Britain is isolated within the EU."

It certainly isn't. Ireland has relied on the UK to do much of the heavy lifting in arguments with overweening European partners: we have more common interests than areas of disagreement.

A by-product of the new Anglo-Irish entente was reflected in the way in which we saw off Martin McGuinness's bid for the presidency because we rejected bitterness and divisiveness.

Sinn Fein had grossly miscalculated how the people of the Irish Republic would feel about the Queen's visit. She would politely have shaken hands with people who had controlled the Provisional IRA when it murdered Lord Mountbatten, her husband's uncle, and several members of her parliament, had attempted the murder of two of her prime ministers and would have blown up her son Charles and his wife Diana had an informer not saved them.

Sinn Fein, however, said her visit was premature and it wouldn't participate. Except for Cashel Mayor Michael Browne, who ignored his party's instructions and shook her hand and welcomed her, the Shinners ended up looking like children with noses pressed to the window of the sweetie shop.

It was entertaining during the presidential election to see McGuinness realising that such was the public mood that he had to agree that if elected he would host the Queen.

We are poor but more honest than we were a year ago. In the midst of our tribulations, we have shown a new maturity and graciousness and have replaced our national inferiority complex towards the British with the acceptance that we are two intertwined nations who should make the best of it.

No one can imagine that the UK now has any designs on Irish sovereignty. These days, given a choice between making a German salute or tipping our caps to Her Majesty in a gesture of friendship, I think we wouldn't hesitate.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards