'Irish Roots' archive



Irish Roots


December 21 2015

Begrudgery

The recent ructions about stratospheric salaries in the Irish Farmers' Association had some commentators reaching for the B-word. So, as usual when in doubt, I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary, and there was "begrudgery", missing. "Begrudge" and "begrudger" are certainly present (though "Now chiefly Irish English"), but not the place or state of simmering resentment described by the B-word.

So I tried Google. Surprise: every single occurrence of "begrudgery" is in Ireland.

So it is exclusively Irish, which clearly means something about the national psyche. But what? That it's easy to begrudge once, but you have to be Irish to live the begrudging life? Is it yet another demonstration of what small-minded bosthoons we are?

I don't think so. Irish begrudgery is very particular. It is not the Japanese variety which demands that sticky-out nails get hammered down. What we have is a very specific kind of scepticism, more irreverence than envy. It is the reason behind Article 40.2.1 of the Constitution: "Titles of nobility shall not be conferred by the State". Or in the more succinct words of Brendán Ó hEithir's blacksmith: "We will in our arse have our own gentry".

Begrudgery, strangely, is the quality that allows Bono to walk up Grafton Street unmolested or a former Minister of Education to cycle his Dublin Bike the wrong way down Trinity Street (I saw him) without anyone batting an eyelid. It is peasant anger at inequality, egalitarianism in its raw, uncooked state, and worth more respect than it usually gets.

In Ireland, you can be as different as you want, once you recognise you're no better than the rest of us.

If it's any consolation to the IFA, I suspect the trait may be very deeply rooted. The Neolithic Irish trussed up their kings, slaughtered them and buried the bodies in the bog. We're only in the halfpenny place today.

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