I’m pretty sure my great-grandparents on my mother’s side were Irish. Their surname was Tandy (ironically, unusually close to my own paternal surname). But it’s hard to know for sure.
It’s amazing how many people have been digging up their Irish connections over the past year, in order quite understandably to acquire the Irish passport that is their green card back into the EU.
And there is a beautiful irony to such ancestral excavation work. It requires many of us to dig through the humus of our middle class English pasts to find the telltale signs of Irish migration.
No Irish need apply
If we could all get a free crack at an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? – the BBC’s ancestry show – I suspect there would be a lot more Irish labourers and housemaids in the closet than many English people suspect.
Because, of course, Irishness used to be buried. When my mother suggested the Irish lineage to her elder brother, it was dismissed out of hand. The infamous ‘No Irish need apply’ and ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ signs are not so old.
Steve Coogan (himself of Irish descent) brilliantly captures the latent seam of anti-Irish feeling in England today through Alan Partridge’s occasional throwaway comments.
It lends the sudden scramble to unearth an Irish relative all the more comic. Even if I were to confirm the Tandys as Irish, a great-grandparent is no qualification for Irishness, apparently.
My mum is in, but I miss by a whisker. No cigar. It seems patriotic loyalty can be countenanced over two generations, but by god, not three!
On the subject of roots, you live in the right place, right?