The English and the Irish nations have had an uneasy relationship for centuries but mercifully the appalling ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’ boarding house notices of a few decades past are no more. However, the partnership which could and should mark the relationship between neighbouring islands is held back by politicians and historical baggage foisted on us as a result of the Boundary Commission of 1924.
My thoughts on the otherwise amicable relationship between the people of Great Britain and ourselves were prompted by my visit last week for a funeral in West Sussex. I have been a frequent visitor across the Irish Sea and I have always been impressed by the pleasant and courteous manner in which the English and Welsh people meet and greet the Irish. Everywhere one goes on the British mainland there is evidence of Irish connections. I was attending a funeral service in St. Andrew’s Church, Bishopstone, a small church dating from Saxon times with 12th century Norman additions. The Church of England service was an engaging reminder of the ever-slight differences in the services in our own St. Michael’s Church. The Minister in charge was a Sligo man, now retired from his own parish and acting as priest in charge of the church where miniature sized Stations of the Cross and candlesticks spoke of a High Church following, or as the Rev. Minister later put it to me ‘High Churchish’.
I was there to honour the memory of my daughter’s father-in-law who passed away recently. Tim Harward, born in Madras, India where his father was an army Colonel was educated in England and attended Trinity College Dublin in the 1950s. His was an interesting life which saw him work for a time as a theatre critic for the Times, and after service with the 2nd Gurka Rifles in Malaya he worked for several years as an archaeologist in Nepal. I was particularly interested to find that his first book was published in 1964 by Liam Miller’s Dolmen Press and his most recent book on pillar stones in west Nepal was published in Central Malaya 48 years later.
Tim Harward’s connection with Ireland reflected in reverse the links which many Irish men and women have with Great Britain. There are very few Irish families who do not have a family member working or living in retirement on the British mainland. Once such was my friend Eddie Wall who was born in Ardreigh and like me went to school in the local Christian Brothers. Shortly after the funeral service in Bishopstone I received a text from Eddie’s daughter, Helen Hives, telling me that her father had died some days previously. Eddie left school at an early age to work in Andersons and Conroys pubs. He subsequently emigrated to England where he married Evelyn Barrett from Belmullet, county Mayo and it was in Luton that they reared their family.
Eddie had a great love for his native place which he never lost, despite the many years he spent in England. He was delighted to attend the 40th school reunion organised in September 2002 where he renewed acquaintances with men whose faces and ages had changed enormously since last seen as young boys in the Christian Brothers. Eddie kept in touch with me for a number of years after that and I was very saddened to hear of his passing.
The connections between Eddie’s country of birth and the land where his remains will now lie are so many and so varied it is impossible to untangle the two. Even on my short trip last week I met and talked to several strangers, all elderly, many still conversing with the soft lilt of an Irish brogue which they brought with them so many years ago from Ireland. You cannot travel anywhere in England or Wales without meeting an Irish exile who has made his or her home there. The Irish exile has proved to be a trustworthy, hardworking and genial person, becoming in time an integral part of the local community overseas.
Tim Harward and Eddie Wall came from entirely different backgrounds but somehow their lives enshrined, for me at least, an understanding of those transferable qualities which allow the English and the Irish to live in harmony. How I wish those qualities could be utilised to solve the difficulties which still mark relationships on the island of Ireland and which have their origin in the shambolic political settlement of almost 100 years ago.
[I wrote the above lines on Thursday morning and later that afternoon I received a telephone call to say that Tim Harward’s wife Paula, who had spoken so eloquently at his funeral service a few days previously, had tragically died following a road traffic accident earlier in the day.]