Saturday was my first St Patrick’s Day as an Irish citizen and Ireland won rugby’s Grand Slam for only the third time. I’m not going to take all the credit for this, because I’m sure the players had more to do with it than me, but I simply don’t believe in coincidences like that.
To be honest, I’m not really into rugby, although when I watch the Six Nations and the World Cup I support Ireland and when it comes to football I always want Ireland to win, whereas my backing of England blows hot and cold depending on a range of factors including, but not limited to, who the manager is, how the travelling supporters behave and how many of the players I can bear to support.
I’ve been asked a few times on Twitter what my link to Ireland is and why I chose to make it official by applying for citizenship last year.
I would be lying if I said that the Brexit vote had nothing to do with persuading me to finally go through the process of gathering together the documents to complete an application. It was made a lot easier by the fact my mum has spent years working on her family tree and had also applied to the authorities in Dublin for copies of the various certificates we needed.
I’m reluctant to turn this blog into a rant about how depressing and insular I feel the whole process of Brexit is because it tends to prompt more angry reaction than covering Team Sky, but I’d be lying if I said that the Brexit vote had not made me think more deeply about my own origins. I decided that I wanted to officially acknowledge the fact I am not the product of one single place.
My Granda, Patrick, was born in County Limerick, not far from Adare, and he came to England as a young man and made it his home. Back then there was probably a fair bit of anti-Irish sentiment here but he got a job working on the railways, made a life and had a family. For as long as I knew him he had a Cumbrian accent, although I’m not sure whether he deliberately made an effort to drop his Irish accent.
If he had not moved from Ireland to England I would not exist and the more my mum has discovered about her family tree the more I see that I am the product of people from all over the place. As a result, it seems bizarre to me to want to draw lines on the map, saying, ‘You’re from there, I’m from here.’ I say that as someone fully aware that the lottery of life gave me the good fortune of having been born in the south east of England within easy reach of London, meaning I’ve never had to move for economic reasons.
I don’t want to generalise because I’m sure that people who voted for Brexit did so for any number of reasons – perhaps concerns about immigration, perhaps a sense that Britain has lost its identity (whatever that ever was), perhaps because they don’t like the way the EU has evolved, although when I’ve asked people which EU laws they’d like to repeal first they don’t seem terribly sure.
I know people from all over Britain who have moved from north to south, or south to north, for work or love. I know lots of people from Europe and beyond who have come here and made Britain their home. I see no difference between them and the ex-pat who goes to Spain or Provence in search a comfortable, warm retirement. I don’t see any positive reasons for seeking to close off those opportunities to people.
It’s become a tiring debate and I am perfectly willing to accept that my mind is made up just as firmly as someone who holds the opposite opinion. I just happen to think that I’d rather live in a country with its hands outstretched to the world, palms facing upwards ready to shake hands or offer help, rather than one standing with its arms folded saying, ‘Who are you and what do you want?’
Every day I watch the news and the current affairs shows and see the energy being devoted to negotiations that don’t need to take place. Last week I was shocked by the number of people sleeping in doorways in Leeds city centre (and I’ve been struck by the rise in London too in the past year) and think that while all the attention is focused on making Brexit happen we’ve lost sight of what it is that makes a country.
What continues to puzzle me, though, is the inconsistency of thought – the ardent Brexiter who shops in Lidl or Aldi because it’s better for his or her wallet, or drives a foreign car, but doesn’t see how preposterous it all is. They would no doubt say that there will be nothing about Brexit to prevent us buying the foreign goods we want, or travelling to the places we want to go, in which case my argument is: So what’s the bloody point of it all then? Just to be smaller, less relevant, less welcoming? Perhaps that’s unfair but the way things are going I am yet to see much evidence of the land of milk and honey waiting for us in glorious 1950s Technicolour.
Anyway, this is getting political and there are very few things more boring to read on a Sunday than someone banging on about Brexit. Besides, I’m quite looking forward to beating the queues at arrivals in Europe with my Irish passport and working freely there when the time comes.
I spent most of St Patrick's Day watching televised sport, and then went to see Bill Bailey in the evening, where I was left in awe of his range of talents and seemingly effortless command of the stage, the audience and his many musical instruments.