My young son thinks he is a huge Ireland rugby fan
Before England played Ireland in the final game of the Six Nations, we asked my son which team he supported. ‘Ireland,’ he said, cheerily, before adding somewhat cryptically ‘because they don’t always do the right thing’. We’re still not sure what that meant, or how fervent his Irish patriotism really is, since he reacted to England’s defeat with huge, racking sobs.
A lot of this is down to the fact that, at four, he is touchingly empathetic towards anyone who loses. His joy at seeing a goal in football reaches a fever pitch when they all hug each other – his favourite part – but crashes immediately down to Earth once he spots the opposition looking sad and humiliated. His ideal football match would be one in which everyone gets a goal, but each is then sucked into a time vortex and deleted, rendering the scoreline a fair, balanced, and painless 0-0.
The boy’s grasp of geography is basically ‘England most, Ireland the rest’
But we can’t ignore the possibility that our sense of Irish identity has left him eager to embrace his Englishness. To be clear, we know he’s both and such queries don’t give us the same urge to place him in an Irish Heritage Re-Education Camp we have witnessed among some of our other Irish friends here.
My son isn’t particularly well travelled, having only ever set foot in England and Ireland and his conception of the former is nebulous. He has not yet grasped that his own world, largely contained to around a dozen streets in north Walthamstow, is a tiny bit of a small corner of a medium-sized country. As a result, his grasp of geography is basically ‘England most, Ireland the rest’, meaning that any moderately long bit of travel in any direction inevitably prompts him to ask if we’re ‘in Ireland now?’ It’s cute, but mildly inconvenient, especially when we get off a train in Nottingham, East Sussex, or even central London, and find him distraught that his grandparents aren’t there to greet him.
A trip to the map in his bedroom shows the depth of his geographical knowledge. He finds Great Britain, which he insists is England (my apologies to Scotland and Wales), but this is just a warm-up. Horrified by how small this seems by itself, he proceeds to annexe an alarming number of other countries, too. His entire life could not possibly be constrained to that small patch of Earth, so large tracts of Europe, Asia and Africa must simply be England, too. Four years as an Englishman have turned my sweet young boy into Cecil Rhodes. Auntie Maeve’s house (a 15-minute walk from home) he locates in Cyprus. Pondering the travel-time it takes to reach Uncle Shane in Surrey, he places Kingston in Australia. He is dumbstruck as we correct him, naming countries as best we can, leaving him baffled that there’s so much he hasn’t seen.
‘And where’s Ireland?’ we ask. He looks at us with condescension, before hitting the bullseye first time, prodding a small finger at the only country that looks like a teddy bear driving a car. ‘It’s sort of… just a bit of England,’ he says. We do not disguise our horror, already drafting plans for a re-education camp in our heads.
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