Travelling light, I’m sitting on the train when I remember that last minute packing left no time for this month’s Sceptical Scot poetry blogpost. A routine check of essential documents finds an answer. Irish passport to the rescue.
[This post was first written, on the train to London, in June 2018 when Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary in Theresa May’s government. As you will remember he resigned the following month, a year later he was prime minister…and is now in the middle of a general election to ‘get Brexit done’ with the Irish border in the sea. Irish passport holders count themselves lucky.]
The Irish passport is indeed a very fine thing. Not only is it the symbol of continuing European identity after our rapidly advancing Brexit in March 2019 [Ed: yes, we missed that one and the next one too, and who knows what happens 13 December, 31 January 2020, or 2021. ] it is also a cleverly crafted demonstration of national pride.
It is the entitlement and birthright of
every person in the island of Ireland
which includes its islands and seas
to be part of the Irish Nation
As if that’s not poetry enough there are also lines of WB Yeats and James Orr. I’ll come back to that but there’s an intriguing story weaving through the 34 pages illustrated with engravings of natural and built heritage, sports and musical instruments of many kinds. And music notes for those who might be tempted to hum the national anthem in a border check queue. It’s an elegantly confident declaration of twofold protection: the bearer is both a citizen of the European Union and of the Member State of Ireland. The plurality is further extended in the ringing words on the last few pages:
That is also the entitlement of all persons
otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland.
Furthermore the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity
with people of Irish ancestry living abroad
who share its cultural identity and heritage.
Compare and contrast the now endangered species I’m also entitled to bear. The soon to be replaced maroon (burgundy if you prefer) passport of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Her Britannic Majesty’s
Secretary of State
Requests and requires in the
Name of Her Majesty
all those whom it may concern
to allow the bearer to pass freely
without let or hindrance,
and to afford the bearer
such assistance and protection
as may be necessary.
‘Requests and requires’ is also a fine phrase which speaks of dignity and entitlement, the authority of a more courteous and assured era; ‘passing freely’ a right belonging to pre-Windrush, pre hostile environment days, when Britain felt a more open and welcoming place. Scanning this old passport, while England’s green and pleasant landscape speeds past the window, there are other signs of passing times. The title repeated in Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. The engravings of proud urban and rural landmarks, similar in style to the Irish passport (presumably there’s an EU template for Member States?) and here on Page 10 the coastal cliffs off which Mr Rees Mogg [and perhaps Boris Johnson] would have us jump.
What might the new blue version offer. Will there be poetry and the generous hand of friendship to all citizens of the British Isles? The notes of Rule Britannia running through the document?
Rather than stare into that foggy gloom, with the train pulling into Darlington, I turn again to Page 22 of my new Irish Passport. This is after all a poetry blogpost! And what could be finer than the Lake Isle of Innisfree. While the UK seems to be entering a troubled second childhood, Ireland feels like a nation reaching maturity with grace and generosity. ‘For peace comes dropping slow.’ Let’s protect it from the border chaos of Brexit.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.