When British schools ignore Irish history, is it any wonder Brexit is such a mess?

 Before emigrating from Ireland to educate in England in 2006, I assumed British human beings might realize as an awful lot approximately me as I did approximately them. I became placed proper simply twelve months into the job, in an east London staffroom, whilst a colleague teased: “Why the salad, Jen? I notion you Irish cherished a potato.”

Contrary to the stereotype, Irish human beings don’t simply show up to like potatoes. Pushed directly to infertile land in west Ireland, maximum notoriously at Oliver Cromwell’s command, farmers have been recommended to develop the ill-fated crop via way of means of their British colonisers. But whilst the blight got here, little became completed to assist them. The ensuing Great Hunger introduced the dying or emigration of two million human beings – extra than 1 / 4 of the Irish population – among 1845 and 1852.

Potato jokes aren’t humorous to me – authorities turning its lower back on its personal human beings for the duration of a time of disaster not often is – however I heard dozens of comparable gags for the duration of my 12 years in English and worldwide British colleges. They have been by no means nasty – they simply got here from an area of absolute ignorance. Rubbing shoulders with colleagues in records departments, I quick got here to a realisation: at the same time as Irish college students arguably study an excessive amount of approximately Ireland’s colonisation, British college students without a doubt study too little.

In each Irish classroom, kids are reared on memories of oppression and rebellion. Every baby is familiar with the intricacies of Anglo-Irish relations. As a secondary English teacher, I can’t keep away from plays, novels and poetry handling our complex dating with Britain. Irish college students depart faculty with the historic and emotional weight of colonisation on their shoulders.

Compare that to Britain, wherein coaching English rightly entails texts centered on class, misogyny and injustice, frequently set round the second one global war, however not often regarding Britain’s dating with Ireland, regardless of Ireland’s literary clout and proximity.

In 2016, my faculty launched into a undertaking at the British empire. Irish media have been ate up via way of means of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a anciental turning factor withinside the combat in opposition to British rule. Naively, I presented a ee-e book at the challenge to our head of records – it became lower back to my table the subsequent morning. I need to have regarded better.

Studying Othello in my A-degree English class, we had a debate on race. I requested my intelligent, terrific college students whether or not white human beings can revel in ethnic prejudice as visible withinside the play. No, they said. “What approximately Britain’s remedy of the Irish?” I requested. They checked out me blank-faced – of path they did. In response, I informed them approximately the notorious symptoms and symptoms my grandfather noticed at the same time as residing in London withinside the 50s: “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.”

This failure of British colleges to educate college students whatever approximately Ireland has far-achieving consequences. For one, if knowledgeable British human beings do now no longer recognize the distinction among Ireland and the United Kingdom, they can't recognize Brexit. Take the Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, who in 2018 optimistically declared English human beings had a proper to an Irish passport because of the not unusualplace journey area. Or how approximately Boris Johnson, who, whilst issues have been raised approximately the opportunity of a difficult border, disregarded fears as “natural millennium computer virus stuff”, and later as a “folly”. Try the usage of that phrase to any of the households and groups tormented by many years of violence and devastating loss.

Even now, as Ireland and Britain keep to grapple with fantastically touchy change agreements withinside the wake of Brexit, understanding of this type matters. In June, Liz Truss, then overseas secretary and likely Britain’s subsequent top minister, summed up a lot whilst, with a instantly face, she said taoiseach as “tea-sock”. In sensitive negotiations, thinking about the historic British coverage of removing the Irish language in Ireland, it’s paramount that elected politicians, on the very least, get Irish names proper. When Queen Elizabeth spoke some phrases in Irish at a country dinner in Dublin Castle, the previous seat of British energy in Ireland, she did some thing very significant. She confirmed Irish human beings and Irish tradition her admire. Politicians have to appearance to their currently deceased and liked monarch for idea on this regard.

While British human beings are taught now no longer to realize – now no longer to care – approximately Ireland’s records, Irish human beings bring the ache of it round with us. Every political gaffe, each time an Irish superstar is improperly claimed as British, each mix-up of Britain, Ireland and the United Kingdom – each time it takes place, is corrected and takes place again – units our dating lower back. It makes Irish human beings sense as though their nationality, their awesome cultural distinction, is a element too insignificant to study approximately. Yes, it’s time we circulate on – however to accomplish that calls for admire and understanding on each sides.

Jennifer Horgan is a secondary faculty teacher, Irish Examiner columnist and writer of ‘O Captain, My Captain’: One Teacher’s Hope for Change withinside the Irish Education System

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