It's still not easy being Irish in Scotland Phil Mac Giolla Bhain

13th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Kevin McKenna may be comfortable in his Scottish skin, but what about those who retain an Irish identity? Kevin McKenna: Sorry, Phil Lynott, I'm sticking with the ScotsA recent piece by Kevin McKenna painted a somewhat Pollyanna-ish picture of our community, the Irish in Scotland. McKenna and I are of the same ethnicity and the same generation. Born in the 1950s, we would both be in our 30s before occupational parity was achieved in Glasgow for Irish Catholics in 1991. The Irish who went to New York instead of Glasgow achieved that economic benchmark status in 1901.I know from my time in Glasgow as a youth worker in the 1980s and as a social worker in the 1990s that men of Irish Catholic ethnicity were disproportionately represented in the prison population. That continues to be the case. The Irish in Scotland also have a much worse health profile than the rest of the country.Of the notorious "famine song" football chant, Kevin says: " it's simply not that abusive; a little off-colour, perhaps, and a tad wounding, yes. Abusive and racist? Behave yourself." Thankfully Lord Justice Carloway disagreed in June 2009 when he ruled of the lyrics of the famine song: " they are racist in calling upon people native to Scotland to leave the country because of their racial origins. This is a sentiment which many persons will find offensive."In what other context would it be acceptable to taunt an ethnic group about a famine that extinguished a million lives and forced another million into permanent exile? What other community is told to "go home" by tens of thousands of football supporters week in week out in soccer stadiums across the country?It can't be a coincidence that the city that gave the world the "famine song" is unique in that, despite receiving thousands of famine refugees, it has no city centre memorial to that time and to those people. Recently a St Patrick's Day concert by a folk band from Donegal was stopped due to protests from locals in a small town near Glasgow. The city itself has no city centre St Patrick's Day parade.McKenna may feel completely assimilated and comfortable in his Scottish skin, but he will not find any positive portrayal of his Irish forebears in the stories Scotland tells about itself. I finally left Glasgow in the mid-1990s. I wanted better for my young family. Since then my native city's intolerance of all things Irish has, if anything, got worse. The Scotland that schooled both McKenna and I was built on generations of Irish sweat and often Irish blood. I don't owe the place a thing.If McKenna is happy to be Scottish in Scotland then I'm happy for him. It is basic human right to be able to self-define. However many others of Irish extraction find that their seat is still at the back of the bus in Scotland.Last weekend, like McKenna, I also filled out a census, the Irish one. These words blink to life on Ireland's Atlantic coast in the parish that reared generations of my clan, including my father. Philip Joseph Gerard Mac Giolla Bhain has only ever had an Irish passport. This is my island. I'm glad I'm home in Ireland with my young Irish family and although we have many problems here, having become a virtual protectorate of the IMF, it still isn't a social crime to assert an Irish identity. I can't say that is the case for Scotland yet. Pretending that a cultural oppression doesn't exist merely compounds the disempowerment.ScotlandIrelandBritish identity and societyRace issuesReligionEuropePhil Mac Giolla © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions More Feeds

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