By Ray O’Hanlon
Nothing like a bit of high dudgeon in the dog days. As the summer frolics in the wee North rumble on, journalists have been kept busy feeding stories back to an increasingly jaundiced readership in these former colonies of Mad King George. Some of the reportage is outstanding, most of it fine, some of it lousy. As it turns out, the Associated Press falls into the last category in the eyes of some. Indeed, a delegation of Irish-American lawyers and activists trundled up to the Manhattan AP offices last week to give out stink about some recent AP reports from the wee sod.
Leading the charge were James Gallagher of the Irish American Unity Conference and attorney Frank Durkan. "IF," as you might expect, is reluctant to wield the sword against fellow hacks whose only sin in life was to fall into bad company and take up journalism as opposed to market gardening and the like. Still, if you’re writing for a media market you have to at least be sensitive to its concerns. AP, you can be sure, got to know its market a little better after meeting Jim and Frank.
And speaking of reporting on the North, enough already from the New York Times and its tired habit of filling half of every second story from the place with lines about sieges of Londonderry, Catholic King James, Protestant King William, etc. If the Times readership is half as astute as the paper presumably considers it to be, then it certainly remembers the history lesson after it is delivered — once. As it stands, most of the reports read as if readers are being introduced again and again to a hitherto undiscovered planet. If, however, the reporting of present-day events in the North is to be laced with some history, it would be equally no harm at all to rid Times reports of the impression that these feuding monarchs were somehow Irish.
Where’s the North?
Dear oh dear, but "IF" can only assume that there are one or two red faces at Microsoft over the absence of Northern Ireland from the computer company’s new encyclopedic dictionary. Somebody must have called Bill Gates to complain because there was mention of the wee North’s slide into information age oblivion on the front page of the New York Times last week. Gates’s angelic mug is included in the tome, but not, it seems, that of President John F. Kennedy. What are they on over there in Seattle? That said, "IF" has the fullest sympathy for the Microsoft zillionaire whiz kiddies when it comes to deciding the exact geographic stance of the wee North.
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There is, to be sure, a certain degree of consensus in the rarefied world of dictionaries and encyclopedias with regard to the Six Counties. The portion of the province of Ulster in question does warrant a mention all on its wee own in other big books such as "Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language" and "The Tormont Webster’s Illustrated Encyclopedic Dictionary."
But is it any wonder at all that confusion reigns in cyberland? Sure, not even the Northern Ireland Office is able to decide just how Northern Ireland fits in to the great geographic scheme of things. Last "IF" checked, the British government considered the wee North to be a rather remote but definitely British corner of the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."
One can only assume that the boys and girls in London and the lads and lassies at the NIO are working off the same page. And yet, according to the NIO magazine Omnibus, the wee North is far more than just a corner of the kingdom. Omnibus is published by the NIO’s Northern Ireland Information Service out of Castle Buildings in Stormont. The mailing address it gives for itself is a box number in "Newtownabbey, BT36 4BR, Great Britain." No mention of the wee North at all, never mind the UK So, Mr. Gates, you’re off the hook this time, even if your name is Billy.
An Irish world
John Hume is floating the idea that people anywhere in the world who consider themselves Irish in origin should be offered certificates of Irish ancestry by the Irish government at $10 a pop. This certificate would be distinct from an Irish passport and citizenship. Hume reckons that if everyone on the planet who considers themselves Irish, or wants to be considered Irish, each forked over $10, the economy of the Republic could rake in as much as $20 billion.
This, of course, is a wonderful idea. Irish diplomats across the planet could spend their working days flogging certificates of Irish ancestry to Mongolian goat herders, Yemeni camel traders, Inuit seal hunters. "IF" reckons this idea has limitless potential.
It’s a wonder Hume thought about this before Fianna Fáil. Still, the Soldiers of Destiny, reportedly desperately short of cash, could work their own version of the deal. For example, they could send disguised agents north of the border to flog certificates of ancestry to unionists who are not quite so sure anymore about their Britishness in this time of peace, progress and daily caving in to the Shinners. Twenty dollars a certificate should do. After all, the buyer of the F.F. ancestry certificate would be getting two for one anyway: Ulster and Scots.
Ah, it’s that time of the year again. Leaves turn, birds fly south and the ambitious seek out new challenging fields in which to exercise their talents. Take diplomat Anthony Cary, for example. Anto, well known in Washington as a political and public affairs officer at the British Embassy, is heading back across the pond for a new job.
Anto’s profile within the Beltway rose noticeably earlier this year when he led his embassy’s charge again Rep. Ben Gilman’s attempt to lay bare the shortcomings of the RUC at a congressional committee hearing. As it turned out, Cary had to bide his wee as the boys in bottle green were given quite a bollicking on Capitol Hill. That trend, some suspect, might be continued with the Patten Report, due out any day.
Chris Patten will be in a new job in the aftermath of his findings, of course. He’ll be at the European Commission in Brussels. And, ironically, guess who’ll be working with him? Our Anto. It’s a small world.