By Desmond Albrow
pFILHAPS IT BORDERS on an Irishism, but I have to say that Ireland has played its role in turning me into an English patriot. Let me explain.
I grew up in the Thirties as a middle-class Catholic in the old West Riding of Yorkshire, where the Catholic Irish writ ran large. It seemed then that virtually every parish priest was an Irishman, so were many of their curates and the Catholic schools were never without a large Irish seasoning.
In my own case there was a further Irish dimension because up to the outbreak of the 1939-45 War we usually had Irish maids. They were kind and generous and filled my boyish head with wondrous tales and myths of the glorious land that they had so reluctantly left behind. In consequence, I knew far more about Cork than I did about Cheshire.
At school I was taught much of my European history by a Father Maloney. He made history truly histrionic as he played Napoleon or Louis XIV but he never remotely taught his history with an English slant.
In many of the churches Catholicism owed more to Dublin than to Westminster rosaries by the sacred yard, scapulas, an obsession with indulgences and that then Irish fear of sex and the traps of the secular world. The Devil was always waiting in the wings for the bad Catholic.
As my education advanced the Barrys, the Dunphys, the Murphys, the Sullivans and the Gallaghers always appeared to outnumber the Smiths, the Robinsons, the Smurthwaites and, of course, the Albrows.
They may have spoken with the harsh accents of the North Country but their hearts and their emotions were anchored in the softer South of Ireland. De Valera was their political God. St Patrick was their patron saint. On March 17 each year the Shamrock was blessed and distributed with ardent rejoicing. And it was this wearing of the green that first ignited my own patriotism.
To my ingenuous question as to why we did not wear shamrocks in our Buttonholes, I received the logical, parental reply that we were English. Futhermore, I was told, we were English Catholics or, if people wanted to be pedantic, English Roman Catholics. We obeyed the Pope and honoured the King. I rather liked the idea and have remained an English patriot all my life, but never with a jingoistic flavour. I shared the faith of Ireland but England had made me in her own self-contradictory image.
At the time of which I write it must be remembered that the English, even more than today, really considered any form of outward patriotism as rather bad form. You could die for your country but not make a song about it. In any case anti-English feeling within England was not vociferous. The Scots were too busy making their pile out of the British Empire to be a nuisance. The Welsh left it largely to the rugby field to embarrass England. Even the Irish shamrock was more a celebration of Irish nationalism than an anti-English campaign (apart from IRA bombs on the mainland).
English Left-wingers were busy trying to shed any semblance of patriotism and were seeking new gods in Russia and with Spanish Republicans: Marxism would be the futile heaven upon Earth.
EVEN WITHIN that haven of the Establishment, the public schools, the likes of Giles Romilly (a nephew of Winston Churchill) and the young Philip Toynbee were attempting to make straight the way for Communism.
Although I did not know it at the time I was swimming against the current tide.
On the religious front I also learnt to question some of the Irishisms of Catholicism and even began to read the "subversive" Catholic Herald in place of the cosy Universe that served a weekly diet of pap and platitude mainly for the Irish Catholics of Britain ("Catholic Priests Defend the Pope"). Little did I realise that many years later I would edit the CH for a few years and I am aware of the irony that it would be English, not Irish priests, who would ban it from their church porches during the Hurnanae Vitae controversy.
When war came and Hitler overran Europe, my patriotism increased with the advent of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. He was, thanks to the radio, not only the embodiment of defiance, but the first public person that I had heard to savour the use of words. Once, after no doubt a few extra brandies, he slurred a few words in a broadcast to the nation an Irish priest at my school referred to him as "Your drunken Premier". I should have replied:"Better Churchill drunk than Chamberlain sober." I kept my silence but from that moment on that priest was in the camp of the enemy. I was learning the rules of the patriotic game.
Yet as age has brought a little wisdom, I have also learned that true patriotism has no need of hatred. No nation has a monopoly of integrity and justice. No nation has a monopoly of criminality. And the final memory of the Yorkshire-Irish boys that were boys when I was a boy is this. The Sullivans, Barrys, Dunphys, Murthys and Gallaghers did not shirk the fight when England was threatened by the Nazi menace. I do not believe that their actions sullied in any way the shamrock. Quite the contrary.
It is the gunmen and the bombers of North and South today who debase the coinage of sanity and civilisation and of Ireland as a whole.