Many British people struggle to identify the boundary between Northern Ireland and the RepublicNASA Earth observatory

In November 2017, a Channel 4 video was doing the rounds on social media. The video records the attempts of British citizens to draw the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Of the five attempts, only one man manages to keep Donegal (a county in the north of Ireland which is nevertheless not in Northern Ireland) within the Republic. Several of the less successful sketches swoop so low as to claim Dublin for the United Kingdom.

However, the accidental conquest of my hometown for Northern Ireland wasn’t the video’s low point. One of the men interviewed in the video declared that “what would really solve the problem, and what would be in everyone’s interests, would be if Ireland left [the EU].” With the EU’s popularity at a record high in Ireland, that looks more than unlikely. All the major Irish political parties have been scrambling to paint themselves as the EU’s best friend, trying their hardest to forget the curses they spat in Brussels’ direction during the bailout years of the Great Recession, when Ireland was made to administer austerity measures in return for EU financial assistance.

Another vox pop from the Channel 4 video went so far as to say that “the Irish are just making trouble because they lost”. What exactly it is that the Irish lost is never elucidated. Perhaps the woman interviewed believes that, straight out of the Russian playbook on how to interfere in international elections and alienate people, the sneaky Irish fleshed out the ranks of the Remoaner 48%. She continues: “Yeah, the southern Irish have to lump it basically, you can’t always have what you want in life”.

It’s enough to make a geography teacher weep.

And anyone who’ll have to “lump it” - whatever that may entail.

"The Irish are not right to look down their noses at the British people’s every small misstep, but they are right to demand that Her Majesty’s Government educate themselves."

But the Channel 4 video’s many horrors are not enough to justify the particular strain of anti-British self-righteousness that rears its head amongst Irish people whenever someone British says something ignorant. It’s important to remember that a canny producer put this video together to court likes, clicks, and retweets - all the easy products of Irish ire at Britain’s apparent unawareness of Irish geography, history and culture.

In an experiment of sorts, I sent unmarked maps of the UK to some of my Irish friends. I asked them to mark in the Scottish and Welsh borders. The results were as you might expect. One friend managed to draw the Scottish border above Edinburgh, which was already marked in on the map. I suspect that the Channel 4 border experiment proves less that the British are startlingly callous, but rather that we’re all crummy cartographers. The memory of my friend’s mother discussing Ireland’s 39 counties (a number only achievable if we were to invade and conquer Scotland) demonstrates that the we all might need a little extra tuition. We should probably deal with the plank in our own eyes before moaning about the speck in our neighbour’s.

Some argue that the horrors the Irish have experienced at the hands of the British justify any sneer and snigger at our neighbor’s expense. This kind of bloody account keeping should be avoided. Just because one actor wrongs another, doesn’t mean we revert to an antediluvian justice system. Why is it that an eye-for-an-eye sounds so much more tempting when it’s your turn to dig your fingers into someone’s sockets?

This is not to say that the Irish don’t have legitimate grievances when it comes to our neighbourly relations (or lack thereof). Alarm bells should sound whenever British politicians, often with ministerial portfolios depressingly relevant to Ireland, flaunt ignorance of their neighbour. In June, David Davis should have known better than to email an official in the Department of the Taoiseach requesting a meeting with “Kenny”. A senior Irish diplomat promptly responded to the Secretary of State for the Department of Exiting the European Union to remind him that “(a), the Taoiseach is not Davis’s interlocutor and (b), you don’t refer to the Prime Minister of a country by his surname”.


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At least Davis got the surname right, unlike his Conservative colleague Bernard Jenkin, who cited “Enda Kelly” as one of the “former Taoiseachs, Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland” in support of his claims that Irish efforts to stave off a hard border were manufactured by the EU for extra negotiating leverage.

Whether it’s former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith blaming Irish presidential elections (the Irish President is never more than a much-loved figurehead) for December’s negotiating deadlock, Jacob Rees Mogg’s suggestion that the deadlock was due to a motion of no confidence in Ireland’s Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) who had already resigned from office, or Lord Kilclooney referring to the current Taoiseach as “the Indian” it’s difficult not to look across the sea and sigh.

The Irish are not right to look down their noses at the British people’s every small misstep, but they are right to demand that Her Majesty’s Government educate themselves. The British people, no more clueless than their Irish neighbors, deserve better informed representatives. Not only is this parade of ignorance damaging to Anglo-Irish relations, but to the rest of the world this ignorance looks at best distasteful, and at worse speaks of a lazy unpreparedness which other nations may seek to exploit in future negotiations. The British people need a government that can do its homework.

We have lots to learn, and lots, I hope, to learn from each other.

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