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Acceptable Racist Abuse in Ireland

pretty village of Kinvara in Ireland illustrating an article called Acceptable Racist Abuse in IrelandAcceptable racist abuse in Ireland – is there such a thing?

Well yes…

One day last year I went into a hardware shop in my local town of Kinvara to buy some sandpaper.

Nothing extraordinary about that.

Except that when I began speaking at the counter a man, a complete stranger to me, having heard me speak began to shout at me.

He was red-faced and very angry. He was shouting directly into my face that the:

‘fucking English have gone and ruined everything. The fucking English have always ruined everything.’

He repeated this into my face over and over and over again – like a needle caught on a record.

I looked at the assistant for support – she kept her head down.

There were men working there and I hoped she’d press a button, shout, send a quick text anything but no, she did nothing.

He kept shouting.

Now… I wasn’t wearing a British Bulldog hat.

I wasn’t wrapped in an English flag. I wasn’t shouting, chanting or doing anything provocative than buying some sandpaper.

By the way, I was recovering from leg-surgery at the time and had only recently begun to walk – with a limp. He could see that.

I felt doubly vulnerable and was terrified he was going to knock me over.

He kept shouting.

There were others in the shop and I am devastated to have to say this but not one person came to my aid.

Grace Jolliffe with her small dog on the Green Road, Clare - illustrating and article about Acceptable Racist Abuse in IrelandThat made it much much worse.

Why did he attack me?

A middle-aged woman with a wonky leg buying a bit of sandpaper?

Simple – he didn’t like the way I talked.

He identified me as English.

I identify as half English and half Irish – not that it should matter.

I have lived here most of my life but was brought up in Liverpool by an English mother and an Irish father and I still have a bit of an accent.

That gave this man the right.

Why do I say the right?

Well because I did report him to the local Gardai (the police) and no action was ever taken against him.

The shop declined to give evidence.

This is a shop with CCTV. You can see the bank of screens, clearly on show, behind the counter

The man had been at the counter the whole time I was in the shop and he was going through a pile of papers with the assistant – it was obvious to me he was known to them.

The shop declined to identify him to the gardai. They did nothing.

This is a local shop that I had been buying hen food and other bits and pieces from for years and yet they didn’t care.

The gards told me ‘they don’t want to know.’

That was what gave him the right.

What if he’d pushed, shoved or punched me? Would they have let that happen?

I don’t know you see, and that’s what hurts the most.

If he felt free enough to attack me in broad daylight in a public place what would he have done if he’d met me on a dark corner?

The Gardai at the time told me they had a good idea who he was… then they did nothing.

Their lack of action means he is left with the impression that what he did is okay.

Now, it might have taken me a long time to say it but I’m saying it now – No, it’s not okay.

Neither was it okay when a man at a writer’s group party told me: ‘You should go home back to England because we’ve had five hundred fucking years of you!’

It wasn’t okay when a male writer at an Irish Pen function who was introduced by a friend slobbered on my hand instead of shaking it and said: ‘I’d lie with anyone, even the English.’

It wasn’t okay when a female writer at the same function told me how she had been ‘lucky to avoid the Brits on holiday and added later (much later) that they’re not all bad.’

It wasn’t okay when another writer asked me if I had ever heard of the famine and implied that I was responsible for it.

By the way, what is it about some writers?

Note that I said ‘some’ not all. Most of my friends are writers and they’re great.

I’m talking about so-called liberal writers who if someone abused a black person would be busy virtue-signalling their indignation at such racism all over Facebook while being totally fine with making derogatory comments about ‘The Brits’ or ‘The English.’

Do they think there are some forms of acceptable racism?

But it’s not just writers…

It wasn’t okay when a local farmer hinted that I was to blame for Cromwell’s actions in Ireland.

It wasn’t okay when I saw a man, now working successfully in England, and with whom I’d been friends in college ranting on Facebook about the ‘English Fuckers.’

This is a short list – there’s more but I’m sure you get the picture.

And then there’s Brexit.

Brexit has allowed journalists and liberal commentators to pull on their green jerseys and excel themselves in racist rhetoric towards ‘The English, The British, The Brits.’

They never trouble themselves to qualify it by saying some as in not all.

No, they’re quite happy with their sweeping generalisations and stereotyping despite the fact that they, of all people, should know that it’s the generalisation and stereotyping that causes trouble.

So why do they do it?

Would it be because they think that pulling on the green jersey and doing a bit of ‘Brit-bashing’ is good for making them popular?

They apparently feel no responsibility if their stereotyping of British people leads those living here to be attacked or abused by people who’ve turned Brexit into the abuse excuse.

There is no excuse for abuse.

I’ve given up on challenging some of the anti-British rants I’ve seen on Facebook.

Anything I say is soon overwhelmed by people telling me I am somehow personally responsible for not just Brexit but also every bad thing the British Aristocracy and governments have ever done.

By the way, it has taken me a long time to decide to write this – over a year in fact.

Why? Because my perception was and still is, that beyond some close friends and family nobody would actually care.

In fact, my perception has been that they would have cheered him on.

After all, nobody present in the shop intervened. Not one person!

I can’t tell you how much that hurt.

After I told the story to two of my ‘friends’ one responded by telling me a story about some ‘English person’ who said something racist to a friend of theirs.

The other one told me about an English woman she saw behaving badly in a pub.

What they were really saying was that I am responsible for all English people’s behaviour and it’s okay to target me for abuse.

Another one said ‘I’m sorry that happened to you but…’

That significant but was followed by a history lesson – that’s the excuse you see?

In other words that’s why I deserved it.

So that’s why I didn’t write about it – I didn’t know what to expect.

By the way, the person who was the most supportive was my friend, Martin Beanz Ward, the comedian.

He understood – why? He’s white, male and Irish but…

He is also a member of another community who many people think it is acceptable to racially abuse – the Travelling Community of Ireland.

So why do I write about it now? Apart from the well-known fact that writing is free therapy?

One reason is that I’m hoping to change my perception.

I don’t like the unsafe feeling I am left with so I’ve decided to take a risk and tell my story.

The other reason is that for a long time after the incident I avoided going to Kinvara alone.

Then I made a mental decision to get over it and I started going again.

I thought I saw him one day when I was alone and almost threw up.

It wasn’t him but it might have been.

What would he have done?

Probably the same thing again, after all now he now knows that nobody will intervene.

Is that true? I have to know.

So here goes – publish and be damned?


 My latest Liverpool novel is now out.

Book Cover of The Sunshine Girl by Grace Jolliffe - Historical Liverpool Stories

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14 Responses to Acceptable Racist Abuse in Ireland

  1. Elizabeth Grey December 7, 2017 at 11:54 pm #

    It’s so sad that nobody said anything. This kind of stupid / racial / nationalist abuse is rampant everywhere and it’s such as sad indictment of how far some of us have to go to become “decent humans”.

    As for the people in the shop. Sad to say, but instinctively some people don’t like to get involved. It may not be that they were aligned to this man’s way of thinking – more that they were afraid of repercussions. The police are well aware that most witnesses of a crime would balk at standing up in court to say what they saw. This I found out when two young LGBTQ lads were abused on a flight back from Portugal in the summer. I was a witness. The police repeatedly asked me if I was absolutely sure I was willing to make a statement and – if needs me – repeat what I heard in court. I said I was sure – of course I was. The police said most people don’t, so they have to ask ten times.

    Anyway – I hope you get some closure on this and I get yourself back to your village. With your head held high. xx

    • Grace Jolliffe December 8, 2017 at 12:21 am #

      Thanks so much, Elizabeth – you’re right. People don’t want to get involved and that keeps the whole cycle of hate going around. I think you’re great for going as a witness to that horrible incident on the flight. I only wish you’d been there at the time of my incident – we could have nailed him for the cowardly bully that he was. xxx

  2. Trish Darcy December 8, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

    Grace I think it’s just so awful that no one in the shop told him to stop and stood up to him. And the police. I guess he must have some socisl power in Kinvara, but it’s all wrong. I’m so sorry that happened to you, you are such a kimd and good person.
    And you’re so right to point out that some Irish people are really down on the English. Being non racist must include all nationalities and cultural groups.

    • Grace Jolliffe December 11, 2017 at 6:13 pm #

      Thanks, Trish – he may have been a big spender in the shop I don’t know but I’m sad that he got away with it. We all have to realize that people are what they are not what they appear to represent to us in any given moment.

  3. Paula Frew December 11, 2017 at 2:50 pm #

    What a disgrace! Shame on those people who allowed it to continue and not interfere. They obviously sided with the Horror and what he was saying to you; a lone woman with a bad leg. Is it not extraordinary that for some people, hearing an English accent triggers an ugliness within them? It is quite sad and horrific to experience such venom, not only from the Horror, who could not contain himself when you spoke, but also the people who said nothing when they could have. Human nature has its failings and its triumphs at these specific moments, unfortunately it was the former in this case. It must have been a traumatic experience for you and like you said vulnerable too. The Universe sees all, and I hope in time these people will come to understand, how hurtful, each of their actions were towards you. Big hugs. xxxxxxx

    • Grace Jolliffe December 11, 2017 at 6:11 pm #

      Thanks, Paula – yes in some ways I felt that it was one bad thing that the man attacked me but the other worse thing was that nobody cared enough to do anything about it – not even afterwards. I don’t think he saw me as a human being, or if he did, preferred not to because if he saw me as a human he wouldn’t have been able to project his crap at me. That’s the key to all these things – not seeing a person as a human because that perspective allows abuse to happen – that same perspective allows the abuser to use the excuse ‘it doesn’t matter what I say or do to ‘them’ because they’re not human anyway. But it’s all just excuses.

  4. Ali Isaac December 11, 2017 at 5:37 pm #

    Hi Grace, I’m just seeing this now. As an English woman living in Ireland with Irish heritage and an English accent, I understand how you feel. I am sometimes very aware of my Englishness, but so far it has not become an issue for me.I’m sorry you had to deal with that. Clearly, the patriarchy closed ranks to protect him, which is not really that surprising, but just as threatening. It irritates me that people mention the famine without recognising the part that Irish landowners played in the demise of their own people, or spout about British Imperialism without recognising all the Irish people who participated and were complicit, and did rather well out of it. There is no excuse for attrocity and abuse, historical or current. We can’t change the past, but we can do something about the present. Kinvara is such a lovely little village, don’t let this horrible man spoil it for you. hugs! xxx

    • Grace Jolliffe December 11, 2017 at 6:05 pm #

      Thanks, Ali and sorry I am so late replying to you. The sort of recognition you speak of would take a lot to filter through. The real point though is as you say, we can’t change the past but the present is ours – if we want it. xxx

  5. Gloria December 11, 2017 at 8:29 pm #

    I can’t believe nobody intervened! I honestly don’t believe that would happen where I come from. I’m sorry this happened to you. I have a couple of English friends and as far as I’m aware, they don’t have this problem. I’m pretty sure they don’t!
    I can tell you one thing, I couldn’t stand by and watch anybody being verbally attacked like this – for whatever reason.

    • Grace Jolliffe December 11, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

      I couldn’t believe it either. But unfortunately, it’s true.

  6. sally cronin December 13, 2017 at 9:43 am #

    Grace this was totally unacceptable. I am English with an Irish grandfather and I have been married to an Irishman for 37 years. We met and married in England and I have to say that is family could not have been more welcoming. We came back and forth for 18 years and then returned for five years living in Louth.. again very welcome and I had a business in the town. There were a couple of incidents including one drunk opening the shop door and shouting out that I ought to fecking go back to England and various other options.. The ladies who were present went over and pushed him back into the shopping centre and gave him the benefit of their experience for about ten minutes before he shuffled off with his tail between his legs. We have returned in the last couple of years and now live in Wexford. I have not seen any sign of prejudice but if I saw or heard it applied to others I can assure you I would take a leaf out of those lovely customers of mind and give them the benefit of my experience! Sorry I was not there when this happened to you…

    • Grace Jolliffe December 13, 2017 at 10:41 am #

      Hi Sally,
      Thanks so much for commenting. I suppose it is a sign of ignorance that we can be picked on in this way – despite having Irish fathers, mothers, grandparents etc.
      My father emigrated to Liverpool in the 1950s and married my late mother, who was from Liverpool. He brought us back to Ireland in the late 70s. He would have thought he was bringing us ‘home.’
      Now we can be told to ‘go home.’
      The irony!
      I am glad those ladies were present when the drunk came into your shop and good to hear that they intervened on your behalf – that is the key to safety.
      I was left with the impression that no one cared, or worse, that those present thought this was okay or that I somehow deserved it.

      I would like to think that I was just unlucky and that if it happened somewhere else on another day others would have intervened – that’s what I hope.
      I am also glad to hear that you are getting on well in Wexford as we have been thinking of moving and Wexford is one of the places we are thinking about.
      I used to go walking there a lot when I lived in Wicklow – around St. Margarets Beach and Our Lady’s Island.
      You get much more sun in Wexford than we do in Galway – that’s for sure.
      Again, thanks for commenting.
      Best wishes
      Grace

  7. Geoff December 13, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    Funny old world being English. I’ve faced abuse for my nationalitu and accent in variously Australia Sri Lanka America South africa. It’s something ive sucked up but i get why it hurt and upset you in a place close to home. I should be more ready to call it for what it is. I will! The mostshocking experience in a funny way was at home. A friend a BBC correspondent even of mixed British and India heritage told me that while rascism against someone of colour wasnt acceptable it wasn’t the same when aimed at a pale male like me! As yoi said sometimes having the right liberal credentials doesnt make you immune from hypocrisy. Good luck and hope the numpty gets his comeuppance

    • Grace Jolliffe December 13, 2017 at 4:53 pm #

      Yes, Geoff, it is a funny old world and sometimes the right liberal credential holders are actually worse because they are the ones who argue to the death about it… they don’t get the irony in this at all.
      Thanks very much for your comments and the best of luck to you too.
      Grace

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