The Irish Passport Podcast

Regular readers of this site will be aware I’m Irish. As an anti Brexit Remaniac its a good time to be Irish. I treasure my Irish passport as it will give me guaranteed EU citizenship and I was able to get dual citizenship for my English born teenage son without any difficulty (it took 3 working days).

One thing that surprised me when I came to England in 1981 was the lack of knowledge about Ireland. This was to some extent understandable as Ireland is a small country, and has little impact on England. The ignorance seemed so extreme that it was a bit bewildering at first but I to some extent got used to it over the decades. Knowledge of even Northern Ireland, part of the UK and the location of the only UK land border, was also surprisingly poor, as highlighted in this recent Channel 4 clip.  In contrast the Irish tend to know England very intimately. This contrast is to some extent understandable as England and Britain as a whole  has been of extreme importance to Ireland. Knowledge of the US for example is quite good within Britain and there is a similar asymmetry in that knowledge of the UK from within the US is extremely poor among the average citizenry.

With Brexit however, Ireland has become of major importance to the UK. In particular the external EU border will run between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement, which has brought 20 years of peace to Northern Ireland depends on an open border. It was obvious to anyone knowledgeable about Ireland that this would be a major sticking point from get go. Even otherwise excellent commentators such as Simon Wren Lewis and David Allen Green took a lot of time to catch up. David Davis of course famously thought that the Irish border was an internal border within the UK, which was extraordinary. Tory politicians and the right wing UK media commonly display an arrogance and near contempt towards Ireland, which is quite amusing as it is often paired with near absolute ignorance.

The lack of knowledge should worry the UK as the Irish technique of believing in experts, putting your best people in charge, an in particular acting as a team player in the EU is paying off. Ireland has had an extraordinary level of backing from the EU; indeed the EU position on the Irish Border has essentially been dictated by Ireland. Much to my horror in the UK, experts  seem to be out of fashion and anti-intellectual populism seems to be ruling the roost. The UK seems to be rapidly becoming a Kakistocracy. There sadly has never been a more appropriate time for Orwell’s observation of England being “a family with the wrong members being in control”. One of the cardinal rules in any negotiation, as laid out by Chris Kendall of the excellent CakeWatch podcast, is know your negotiating partner. The current UK governments knowledge of the EU is poor and of Ireland apparently almost non-existent.

For those wishing to know more about Ireland, and starting from a fairly low knowledge base, I would strongly recommend the Irish Passport podcast, created by Tim Mc Inerney and Naomi O’Leary. Tim is a lecturer in British and Irish cultural history at the Université Paris VIII, where he researches the links between race and noble tradition. He lectures in 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century history, and is currently working on the production of a monograph. For more information on Tim, see here. Naomi  is a journalist who has reported from Ireland, Italy, France, the UK and the Netherlands. Her specialty is in-depth reporting at the point where politics and economics hit the lives of ordinary people. Her recent short documentary, Granite and Chalk, won the ‘Spirit of 1916’ prize at the Dublin Animation Film Festival. For more information, see her website.

The Irish Passport team tackle the strange lack of knowledge about Ireland and Northern Ireland from within the UK here. They argue that much has to do with the way history is taught in the two countries.

Another difference between Ireland and the UK is that Ireland, on many issues, is the most pro-EU country in the entire EU28 block, while the UK is least pro-EU. I have made an economic case on Progressive Pulse Why is Ireland so Pro EU, but Naomi and Tim come at it from a different angle, even if their podcast also features Ray Basset, the prominent Irish Eurosceptic (singular) so beloved of the Today programme. (Naomi doesn’t find him very credible). This podcast is available here. Of all the discussed statistics the attitude towards inward immigration is most stark.  Inward immigration numbers are similar in Ireland and the UK in terms of percentage of foreign born nationals (most statistics put Ireland with a slightly higher percentage of immigrant population than the UK). Because nearly all the foreign born nationals have arrived in Ireland in the past 20 years, velocity based arguments might suggest that the Irish should be more anti-immigration than the UK. But this is not the case. A staggering 81% of Irish people think inward immigration is a positive. I’m not sure what the UK figure is but as much of the Brexit Leave campaign was based on anti-immigration rhetoric I suspect it is very much lower.

There are many other podcasts and the ones on Ireland’s Elites, The Great Hunger and the Catholic Church were particularly interesting.

The Elites episode starts by focusing on the old Norman Irish aristocracy who have sent their children in rapidly decreasing numbers to Ampleforth College (called by some the Catholic Eton).  One of its most famous alumni is James O’Brien (we are a big fan of his on PP). It finishes by looking for real power in a country which prides itself on Republican egalitarianism. A cliche in Ireland is that everyone knows everyone else, or at least there is only one degree of separation between everyone. Naomi’s observation of real power being invisible and that such intimate association could be abused, chimed exactly with PP’s own powerful article by Ivan Horrocks  power is at its most effective when it is least observable.

The Great Hunger is of course about the great famine  of 1845-48, which was a tragedy of such biblical proportions that ripples are even felt today. The Irish population of 8-9M dropped by about half to 4M by 1900. Even today the Irish population has not recovered, with about 4.75M in the Republic and 1.8M in Northern Ireland. The jury is still out as to whether it can be called genocide.The Irish Passport coverage reminded me of my Mother’s advice after my disastrous first marriage and divorce to and from a beautiful psychopath. Very often  the worst things ever that happen in life  have unexpected benign consequences later. The Opera isn’t over till the fat lady sings. The oversized diaspora footprint, particularly the 40M or so Irish Americans  has indirectly lead to Ireland independence and at the current time being one of the richest and fastest growing countries in Europe.

The Catholic Church  episode ambitiously tried to cover the Church from the Island of Saints and Scholars days in medieval times where Ireland was a backup copy for western civilisation after the fall of Rome preserving such masterpieces as the Homer’s Oddesy and Iliad and playing a major hand in rechristianising Europe to the present day. The unprecedented fall from grace of the Catholic Church from the high point of 1979 when the Papal visit attracted 90% of the population and subsequent effects (covered in detail  by the economist David McWilliams in The Pope’s Children) to the Gothic horror of the Tuam babies unfolds like a Shakespearean tragedy. Hartley’s observation that “the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there” could seldom have been more appropriate. My mother who taught Sinéad O’Connor Religious Education in Maryfield College decided she had failed when Sinéad famously ripped up a picture of the pope on live TV.

Naomi and Tim have been informed that their podcast will feature on Progressive Pulse and have agreed to answer any queries which may arise. Thanks Naomi and Tim.


  1. Tim Mc Inerney -

    Thanks for the shoutout, Seàn! If readers have any queries we’ll be glad to try and answer!

    1. Sean Danaher -


      thanks, I have used my newish twitter account also to promote. Most of my followers are of the 48% and hopefully be interested in unpacking why Ireland is the most pro EU country in the entire block while the UK (England) is the least. It has a number of retweets including Chris Kendall (with over 10K followers).

      I should also have added I was at the Dublin papal mass in 1979 which was extraordinary. with well over 1M people it was probably the largest crowd ever to gather on the island of Ireland.

      One minor point. As you will know as well as me Seán has an acute accent not a grave. One quick way of distinguishing modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic is that Irish has only acute accents (fada) and Scottish Gaelic grave accents.

  2. Dermot Ryan -

    “in medieval times where Ireland was a backup copy for western civilisation”

    This is a delightfully concise metaphor. Well done.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Thanks but it was Naomi who used the metaphor in the podcast so the honours go to her

      1. SeaanUiNeill -

        Naomi is of course drawing on the historiographical trajectory of Alice Stopford Green’s The Making of Ireland and its Undoing, which describes an Ireland developing into a normal European state at the close of the mediaeval period, its economic progress destroyed even more effectively by the brutal Tudor conquest than that of Germany was by the depreciations of the horrific Thirty Years War. The book’s appearance in 1908 provided an important revision of the generallay accepted narrative of the civilising role of England in the context of a primitive and underdeveloped Ireland, and served to “drive the penal law’s out of Ireland’s bones” and offer a foundation for self respect for the Free State.

      2. Sean Danaher -

        thanks for dropping in. The British and English in particular tend to believe a self aggrandising version of history – a deeply ingrained superiority which has played a large part in Brexit.

        There are some (many) NI Unionists who still look at the native Irish as what Tim called ‘aborigines’ or as one Unionist said on Slugger O’Toole as ‘Americans’ considered Mexicans.

      3. SeaanUiNeill -

        I’d tend to wonder if this notion of innate superiority, still painfully evident in the current rhetoric of the EU exit debate, is a political version of the Dunning-Kruger effect!

      4. Sean Danaher -

        my father used to use the term “invincible ignorance”. I think they live in a permanent self reinforcing Brexit bubble. Ian Dunt had a recent article
        There are only two explanations for their behaviour. Either they know they are misleading the public and do it for cynical political advantage. Or they do not, and they do it out of ignorance. Either way, it is intolerable.

  3. Sean Danaher -

    Hi Tim
    some good comments on Twitter and Chris’s partner in crime Steve Bullock (a 100W amplifier) has retweeted.

    Dr.Sláine asked Why is even the term Anglo used in this regard the Welsh aren’t Anglo?

    I can’t say I can give a detailed answer but you are the man I’m sure! I certainly knew many of them when I lived in Ireland largely through the Military History Society of Ireland. My dad was a very prominent member, editor of their journal The Irish Sword for many years and later President. I seemed to spend my childhood visiting old battlefields and walking the ground where the battle took place. My brother famously said I’d rather be feeding the horsies during a long and tedious lecture at the Battle of the Boyne site.

    Dr.Sláine also puts considerable blame for the anti EU sentiment on the dreadful right-wing press in the UK. I think he is exactly right here.

    Michael has asked

    If you could find your way to do another quick blog about obtaining the British passport for your son, I’d be most interested. I’ve looked on a few times and keep putting it Ar an mhéar fhada.

    Ar an mhéar fhada translates as on the long finger. When my son was born it was easier to get a UK passport as there is a passport office in Durham not far from us and we needed one quickly. It was the Irish one that took 3 days, which I obtained some months after the Brexit vote. I have never gotten around to getting a UK passport for myself.

    1. Tim Mc Inerney -

      Hi guys – on the issue of Anglo-Irish a few different explanations could be offered; the term is famously ambiguous and changeable. I think the idea of Anglo-Irish rather than ‘britanno-Irish’, say, is probably rooted in the Anglican religion more than anything else; it has usually been applied to (Anglican) descendants of post-cromwellian settlers (who mostly came from England). It is has rarely been used, in contrast, for the (largely Scottish descended) dissenting Protestant community in the north, which claims a similarly specific epithet: Ulster Scots. Both terms, ultimately, are far from comprehensive and aren’t great for identifying cultural nuances. Hope that helps! P.S. Seán, sorry that was a French wordprocessor autocorrect on your fada!

      1. Graham -

        You probably know the riposte by Wellington (though I believe it was said about him, rather than by him) when accused of being Irish: “Just because you are born in a stable does not make you a horse.” (

        Would you consider an essential part of being “Anglo”, belonging to the aristocracy with it’s roots in England, a Unionist and a rejection of Irishness?

      2. Tim Mc Inerney -

        Not at all! But then like I mentioned the term is famously ambiguous and means different things to different people. Remember some of the most famous Irish nationalists were Anglo Irish: Yeats, Lady Gregory, Parnell, Countess Markievicz etc etc. Also, before the 19th c. the Anglo-Irish would just have called themselves ‘Irish’ – the rest of the population was ‘indigenous irish’ (an analogy can be drawn with ‘australians’ and ‘aborigines’ here). No matter how ‘anglo’ they were, the Anglo Irish were very much not English. I think since the term has been used by historians mostly, it ends up being applied to the ascendancy a lot; but the ‘hyphenated’ culture very definitely went much further. Hope that helps!

      3. Graham -

        Thanks. The trouble with historians is that they are not value-free.

      4. Sean Danaher -

        very true but I think Irish history is in a much better place than English. We have had imperialist history (where everything Irish was scorned), followed by Nationalist (when everything Irish was exalted), followed by revisionist (when the pendulum swung back too far in my view) to the modern multidimensional complex approach.

        English history still seems to be stuck at an imperialist phase, in the popular imagination in any event. Endless nostalgia for WWII also and a feeling of exceptionalism.

      5. SeaanUiNeill -

        Graham, as I imagine Sean will know, the entire project of the Irish Historical Studies group in the 1930s was specifically to develop a value free historiography for Ireland. While F.S.L. Lyons suggested that utter objectivity is a recognised impossibility for any generation aware of the influence of unconscious, the ethos has remained for a painstakingly careful and honest approach to historical evaluation despite the tendency of many amongst the last generation of historians to politicise their work, a tendency noted in his students and severely critiqued by Lyons himself after 1970.

      6. Graham -

        Thanks, Seaan. The problem of subjectivity in research (or history) is an intractable one. I remember an abstruse (or so it seemed) discussion at university (late 70’s) on Phenomenology and whether the researcher’s subjectivity was a part of the process or whether it should be declared and thereby neutralised – or something. Would that Lyons insights were more widely acknowledged, as even fairly recently an historian can applaud the BE for having “impose[d] Western norms of law, order and governance around the world” apparently unaware of the irony of his choice of (value-laden) words.

      7. Sean Danaher -

        Indeed Seaan
        my mother was primarily a History teacher and considered Lyons to be the “gold standard” that one should aspire to.

  4. Sean Danaher -

    Wonderful thing spell checkers!

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