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Lindy McDowell

Why there’s more to life in Northern Ireland than green and orange

Lindy McDowell


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The Duchess of Cambridge

The Duchess of Cambridge

Getty Images

The Duchess of Cambridge

A few years ago I was in the US, having breakfast in your typical American diner. The waitress got chatting. She'd noted my accent. She was Irish too, she told me proudly.

Now anyone who knows anything about Irish America will know that "Irish" over there is a fairly elastic description. It can denote somebody born and raised in Kerry.

Equally it can refer to someone whose second cousin once removed knew a girl whose granny got a postcard from a neighbour who'd been to Galway in the 1950s.

Maybe I'm being a bit unkind. But the waitress fell into the second category.

The waiting job was a part-time one she told me. She also worked in an office and another "Irish" girl there (this one actually came from Dublin) had been spreading misinformation about Irish culture.

Such as?

The other girl had been telling her American co-workers that Irish people in Ireland don't actually wear green all day every day.

You don't seriously believe that they do, I asked the waitress. There was a moment of icy silence. She slammed down my plate, turned on her heel and that was the end of that cultural exchange.

I was thinking of her this week as I watched coverage of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge on official tour of the Republic in her 40-shades-of-green wardrobe.

There was the evening gown as plasticky green as AstroTurf, the day dress in a shade of what could best be described as pool table baize, the forest green coat, the green polka dot dress, the green clutch bag, the green suede shoes and then, to top it all, the shamrock pendant.

The thinking behind this presumably is that Kate is paying tribute to her hosts by saluting the national colour.

But is it not just a wee bit over the top? And, worse, patronising?

The Republic of Ireland is a sophisticated, modern nation. Kate and William were there this week representing the British Government and the British people, cementing ties between the UK and the South, recognising an often difficult, shared past but looking forward, post-contentious-Brexit, to a future of friendship and neighbourly exchange.

Isn't it time then to move on from this twee Emerald Isle stuff where every official visit is coated (in this case literally) in green and the pulling of a pint of Guinness is the compulsory photocall (other brewers must be green with envy)?

It's the message that's important, not the colour...

Which brings us to this week's latest row about nothing in Northern Ireland.

The MS (Multiple Sclerosis) Society has felt forced to apologise for a tweet in which they had encouraged supporters to join in a fundraising walk in September with the words: "Let's turn the streets of Belfast orange."

Orange is the MS Society's brand colour. It was an utterly innocuous and inoffensive remark.

But this is Northern Ireland and there's always somebody to take offence.

In this instance the offendees (I'm assuming there was more than one) complained that this could be interpreted as an endorsement of Orange Order marches.

No, it couldn't. It was absolutely clear that the MS Society was referring to its own fundraiser. Trying to suggest otherwise is just twisted.

What makes this all the more shameful is that what this came down to a handful of saddos trying to score sectarian points at the expense of a charity which does such invaluable work for people right across the community.

"It was an honest mistake," tweeted some people patronisingly. No, it wasn't. Because it wasn't a mistake in the first place. There was no need for an apology.

It's offensive that a charity was placed in such an awkward position that they felt they had to.

Green, orange. All of us understand the symbolism, the potency of those colours in our history.

But they are just colours.

We could all do with toning their significance down a bit.

Making America Geriatric Again

What we can now take for granted in the upcoming US presidential election... the winner will be an oul' boy. Elizabeth Warren, the female frontrunner for the Democratic torch, announced this week that she was throwing in the towel. Shock statistic - if Bill Clinton, who now looks like his own grandfather, were to run for the Democratic nomination he'd be the youngest man in the race. Making America Geriatric Again?

You can’t mask the facts on virus

Coronavirus has become the new Brexit. The information bombardment is endless. Wash your hands (right) to a chorus of Happy Birthday. Self-isolate, stockpile food, don't shake hands and stay more than seven feet (or is it metres?) away from anyone with a bad cough. Oh, and don't bother about wearing a mask. They don't make a difference, apparently. Which would be why all those doctors in news reports are wearing them...

Bringing Dame Hilary to book for hinting Sussexes’ critics are racist

Call Me Harry was back in Blighty again this week — here to perform his last few duties as a “senior royal” before he returns to North America to begin his new life as a high-earning rent-a-duke.

Who knows how well this will turn out for him — either he’ll make a mint or he’s destined to become the Harry Who of Hollywood.

Meghan’s been back again this week too.

According to writer Dame Hilary Mantel there has been “a racial element” to recent criticism of Meghan.

Ms Mantel has a new book to sell, the final epic in her brilliant trilogy on the life of Henry VIII’s spad Thomas Cromwell.

Last time she had a book coming out Ms Mantel made headlines too with comments about the Duchess of Cambridge. A pattern there? Is there a book promotion element to her comments?

My issue with Harry and Meghan has nothing to do with race or class. It’s their eco hypocrisy. And their obvious intent to turn their royal status into a money-maker.

The word “royal”, their Instagram account has pompously informed us, does not belong to the Queen or the monarchy.

Indeed. Because actually it belongs to the people. Without the support of the people (ie the taxpayers) the monarchy is doomed and royal means nothing.

The Queen rightly recognises that “royal” can’t then be a brand to flog to the highest bidder.

You’re either in or you’re out.

Thomas Cromwell could have told them that.

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