Innocents Abroad Part II

On British football hooligans (a curious term, given the apparent etymology of hooligan), I was once in a pub in England on a Saturday afternoon when a raucous rendition of No Surrender To The IRA was struck up, complete with hardcore table-banging. Many English pubs on Saturday afternoons have a very pleasant atmosphere, often as friendly as any Irish pub (that said, the general friendliness of Irish pubs is seriously overrated), but I have found that given the right clientele, the mood can change in an instant.

I’m not a great actor. Quite a lot of people in the pub smiled uncomfortably at the choice of sing-song and the hi-jinks it was generating, and others continued talking, making a conscious effort to ignore the whole thing. I didn’t really know how to react – I simply couldn’t continue talking, as I didn’t wish to be identified as Irish. Football hooligans are not known for their ability to distinguish between Irish people and IRA members. I’m normally pretty good at putting on accents, but not under duress. If I’d tried to change my voice at that moment, I’d have sounded like Gerry Adams trying to impersonate Kenneth Williams. I feared A good hiding.

There was a full pint sitting in front of me when the singing started. After a few verses it was nearly drained. My companions hadn’t even got past the curved bit two-thirds of the way up that you get on a lot of English pint glasses. So I started to get paranoid, thinking that if anyone there wanted a game of Spot the Irishman, they wouldn’t have to look too far. The lad hoovering his pint at twice the speed of the rest of his mates would be a decent bet.

If you are in a situation where you are conscious of your personal safety, your sense of identity solidifies, perhaps against your will. I didn’t want to be Irish in that pub, but I knew that if I was overheard, that was what I’d become. I couldn’t simply ignore the fact of being Irish, as if it was something that one can assume and cast off at will, perhaps in the way you might choose to be a Millwall supporter.

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March 2006
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