We all know about the 2nd or 3rd generation players and their motivation for choosing Ireland but what about the Irish supporters who were born outside of Ireland. These poor unfortunates often get lumbered with that horrible ‘plastic Irish’ label, having lived in a country all of their lives but can’t yet bring themselves to call it home. We spoke to one such Republic of Irish fan named Liam Boyle, not Monsignor Liam Boyle of Italia ’90 fame, who was born in London to Irish parents. Liam spoke to us about how his support for Ireland came completely naturally to him and how the upcoming game against England is making him nervous.
Both my parents are from Wexford but moved to London in the 1950’s when there weren’t many opportunities in Ireland. They only planned to stay a couple of years, hoping to move back when the time was right but that never happened due to the weak Irish economy and a lack of money due to raising six kids. Our family travelled over to Wexford every summer holiday to stay with aunts and uncles and that tradition continues today as my brothers and sisters now take their kids over.
The area I grew up in South London didn’t have the same reputation as places like Kilburn, but it still had a good sized Irish population. At primary school about three-quarters of my classmates had Irish ancestry. It was a Catholic school and my parents were part of the social club, which was essentially an Irish gathering. The club held dances on Saturday nights and I can remember lots of bad country and western music, learning to waltz and the Irish national anthem coming on at the end. Oh, and taking part in the Siege of Ennis which I only realised a few years ago wasn’t the Siege of Venice. Areas nearby, like Tooting and Streatham, had huge halls that would be full all weekend with activities such as Irish dancing, GAA and bacon and cabbage evenings! These clubs formed the social hub for the Irish community and thereby exercised a huge influence on our childhoods.
Every St. Patrick’s Day a tub of Shamrock would arrive from one of our aunts in Wexford. This meant we were packed off to school with a massive clump pinned to our shirts. All the Irish kids would wear something green and because the headmaster and many of the teachers were Irish it was a very important day. The kids who weren’t Irish were a bit nonplussed by it all and there would be some very odd looks from people on the street. It was the same on Ash Wednesday when you had a mysterious smudge on your forehead for everyone to see.
The Unforgettable Fire
When I went to secondary school my best mates were also 2nd generation Irish. We all shared the same pull towards the country, having being raised in typical Irish households whose parents had retained their accents. Each of us was influenced by our Irish relations in some way, whether it was the music or politics. So we liked bands like Aslan, In Tua Nua, Hothouse Flowers and of course U2.
We also had vague opinions about republicanism: that Ireland should be one, that it was all England’s fault and so on. I think this was a point of pride, in the sense that we were proud of being Irish and it was seen as better than being English. In many ways we believed we had to prove our credentials in order to be accepted. I think a lot of 2nd generation Irish think along those lines, which explains why we’re often seen as more strident than the Irish who were born in Ireland.
My Dad told us that when he was a lad in Ireland in the 1930’s, that if you were seen watching soccer the local priest would have a stern word and you were often vilified. For us, however, supporting the Irish football team was a natural thing to. For a time we did actually support England during the Mexico ‘86 World Cup, but that is difficult to imagine now. I settled on Ireland because most of the English fans I knew tended to get rowdy if things didn’t go their way. I much preferred the Irish mentality to laugh, drink and party whether you win, lose or draw.
I know some English people find it hard to understand how people born in England can support Ireland and they can get quite defensive about it. One guy I knew was always bemoaning this, until I pointed out that only a generation ago (when my Dad was born in 1919) that Ireland was still a colony and occupied. It’s not that I’m anti-England, that would be churlish seeing as it gave my parents a living and we were educated there, it’s just that I consider myself Irish rather than English. A 2nd generation Italian guy I knew had a similar experience because he supported Italy and considered himself Italian, so it’s not just the Irish.
Now that I am living in Dublin I do get people assuming I’m support England because of my accent. When I say I’m Irish they tend to laugh but then I explain that the dictionary definition of ’Irishman’ does include ‘of Irish origin’. I’ve never really had a bad experience apart from a time we watched a qualifier in a little bar in France. The place was overrun by Irish fans and there was plenty of singing and good cheer. It was pretty packed and I started talking to a woman from the North next to me. We were chatting away when she suddenly turned on me and said “Y’er not even Irish” before getting quite aggressive. I was stunned as she’d been chatting nicely just before that. One of my brothers-in-law from Dublin overheard the commotion, had a word with her and she soon backed away. Maybe it was a case of transference and she was confused.
You’ll Never Beat The Irish (hopefully)
I hate when Ireland play England, mostly because I can handle losing to anybody else. I always try and keep expectations low but the thought of losing to them this Sunday makes me nervous. Apart from the scoreline I hope there’s no trouble and that lessons have been learned from the 1995 game. It will be great to hear the Aviva Stadium thundering with the roar of Irish chanting and singing so we may not even realise the English are there!
- Interview with Kevin Dunphy