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Ireland’s knight in shining armour. By Mary Kenny

Regulars | By Mary Kenny

Tony O'Reilly

Tony O’Reilly, the first Irish citizen to be knighted by Elizabeth II, was a victim of Anglophobia. By Mary Kenny

When Tony O’Reilly died in May aged 88 – he had once been the wealthiest Irishman – he was accused by the Irish Times of having ‘Anglophile tendencies’ and holding Winston Churchill in great esteem.

When he became the first Irish citizen to be knighted by Elizabeth II, he ‘attracted some hostility in his homeland by proudly insisting that he should henceforth be addressed as Sir Anthony’. He had, it was claimed, ‘little time for nationalism’.

I knew Tony O’Reilly and had many conversations with him about matters political and cultural. He was a genuinely proud Irishman and had been a glittering rugby star. He made the greatest contribution to his native country by persuading international businesses to invest in the country through the Ireland Funds.

Yes, he enjoyed being dubbed a knight – he was born out of wedlock and had grown up with a sense of being an outsider, and an honour was a symbol of having ‘arrived’. And his very nice second wife, Chryss Goulandris, liked being Lady O’Reilly – horses were her enduring love and she was on friendly terms with the late Queen.

There’s always a strain of hereditary Anglophobia in Ireland (as in Scotland), and scorn towards those who seem overly Anglophile. But it’s among a tiny minority these days; and you still find old Dubliners who refer affectionately to the diminished Anglo-Irish gentry as ‘relics of auld daycency’.

Israelophobia has grown more common, sadly. The Palestinian cause has now become a dominant national theme, and memories of the Great Famine have been revived by the afflictions of Gaza.

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Nostalgia for the past is a natural element of being an oldie. And we are sometimes prone to the syndrome of golden ageism – imagining life was wonderfully rosy in times gone by.

Things were not always rosy but, by heaven, they were often simpler. I certainly entertain nostalgie du passé for those times when I used to travel with my mother (and aunts) across the Channel from Dover to Calais. How straightforward it all seemed!

We would buy tickets at Victoria and take the prompt and reliable train to Dover maritime station (no longer in existence), which delivered us straight onto the ferry. Once you had a ticket and a passport, there were no further formalities – it was then, literally, plain sailing. Sometimes we would travel from Folkestone to Boulogne, or from Newhaven to Dieppe. This was in the early 1960s – long before there was a European Union.

Now it’s an absolute palaver organising this journey. And it’s about to get worse: strict new EU border controls are due to be implemented in October. ‘Long delays’ are predicted on the ferries and on travel via Eurostar, and ‘serious operational problems’ anticipated. There may even be ‘civil disorder’.

I realise that Brexit is partly to blame; but it’s also that transactions seem to have become much more complicated, bureaucratic and over-controlled.

And perhaps too many of, as Noël Coward put it, ‘the wrong people travel’. Dispiriting!

The French continue to try to defend their language against being flooded by what they call anglosaxonismes.

The Cité Internationale de la Langue Française has circulated an instructive video of offending words sourced from English, now peppering their tongue– often associated with advertising: ‘Un showroom. Un design exceptionnel. Le make-up. Le Friday wear. Le selfie. Un branding. Le Black Friday. Le multitask. Le start-up. Overbooké [too busy]. Un close-up.

Le replay. Le social media. Le Zoom. Les millennials. Le Netflix. Le cool. Le manager.

The campaign to discourage this linguistic invasion is tagged ‘Stop aux anglicismes’. Shouldn’t that be ‘Mettre fin aux anglicismes’?

Seeking to halt the use of language is a lost cause. Like water, it flows where it will. Language reflects the prevailing – American? – culture. But ‘le fair play’ to those who try!

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I do hope that the ladies now permitted to join the Garrick Club will improve the tea service at this esteemed institution.

I’m reluctant to be ungrateful to a friend who invited me to tea there recently but, truth to tell, it was possibly the worst cup of tea I have consumed. It consisted of a teabag dunked in a cup of tepid water, drawn from a long-standing Thermos. I requested a scone – in vain.

At the Reform Club (where women have been members since 1981), tea is served in a china teapot, piping hot from freshly boiled water, along with teacakes, fruitcake and sandwiches, according to choice.

Women usually add to the refinement and culture of a club. I hope to revisit the Garrick after Dame Mary Beard and other luminaries have had the desired effect on the appearance of Assam, Darjeeling or Lapsang. In a pot. With scones, please.



This story was from July 2024 issue. Subscribe Now