I may have been born in Merrie Olde Englande, but technically I am Irish, having had a Irish father and a half Irish mother, and a complete squadron of Irish relations all of whom bemoan my lack of Irishness and my dry, English sense of humour. To be fair, there is something about living and working in London, the most English of all the cities, and bringing brought up by a mother from Hammersmith who loves language and word play that would make most people feel fairly English. But even my personal stylist from John Lewis knew within moments of laying eyes on me that genetically I’m as Irish as shamrock and a shillelagh.
Now, in combination with the six nations finals falling on St Patrick’s Day, this meant that the beloved found himself dragged into a local hostelry bedecked with shamrocks and Guinness hats to watch the England v Ireland match. He was surprised, but my logic was flawless. This was a match I could not possibly lose: the worst outcome was a tie. As I don’t really understand sport, this was the best possible way for me to watch rugby in a pub.
As we reached our local, Wales were in their last half hour of mortal combat with the French. Remembering Agincourt, I cheered on our Welshy brethren. A small clutch of red clad locals drew their breath as tries were made, and balls were booted, and as the last minutes passed by conversions were made. A lovely Welsh lady thrust her hands in the air and started crying, “Grand Slam! Grand Slam!”
I blinked at the spouse. “Have the Welsh won the tournament then?”
Spouse looked up from his iPad. “Yes,” he said. “England could only win the tournament if Wales lost.”
I furrowed. “Do you mean I was cheering for the wrong side?”
“Yes,” said spouse. “I thought you were being terribly public-spirited.”
“Nuts to that,” said I. “I was remembering Agincourt.”
“One would,” said spouse. “What would you like to drink?”
I do love the spouse, and sent him off for a pint of Guinness, with a dollop of orange cordial in it. I was introduced to this beverage back in 1995 when I worked in a pub called the Punchbowl. It is the only way I can stomach Guinness, and it revolts every barman I have met in the intervening 17 years. Spouse returned eventually, remarking that my fellow countryman was absolutely disgusted by my serving suggestion for Guinness.
As the Welsh lady sang emotionally, and the Cup was handed over, the crowds bedecked in dragon costumes and daffodils, the TV coverage switched quickly to the England v Ireland game. As the game began, they sang both nations’ national anthems. I concluded within nanoseconds that whatever the scientists may say, nurture is stronger than nurture. There is no point claiming to be from the land of the blarney stone when it turns out you don’t recognise the Irish national anthem. The pub owner put up the volume, and asked the patrons who was English. As only a smattering of us put up our hands, he said, “Roight, we’re an Oirish pub.” He clapped his hands, and plomped himself in front of the telly in the prime spot on the sofa. “Come on lads!” he shouted, rubbing his hands expectantly. Spouse sent my mother the photo above: mumsie sent the following helpful reply:
Oh dear. I thought we had a rule that we always support England – but support Ireland at all non England/Ireland games. I had no idea Helen had turned into a roistering, Guinness drinking, blarney stone kissing, shamrock waving, green wearing, shelaghly bashing, spalpeen!
In the eighty minutes that followed I came to terms with an incontrovertible truth. I really, really, don’t understand rugby. I get tries and conversions all right, but the minute you get to scrums, it all starts going a bit pear shaped. No amount of spousely explanation lifted me from ignorance. In the end I resorted to just watching our Irish host: basically if his head was in his hands England was doing alright. I’m sorry to say that the lovely gentleman’s head was in his hands pretty much throughout.
I wish Ireland had won though. Not only because the match was on St Paddy’s day, but also because historically the English have treated the Irish quite astonishingly badly, and honestly I think there would be a great deal of justice in it if they, the Scottish and the Welsh were to thrash us at every possible sporting opportunity. You notice I don’t include the French in this, mind you. Some of us still remember Agincourt….