Not long ago, I came across a book called West Briton, an autobiography by Brian Inglis, who grew up in Malahide in the 1920s. Malahide was then a small village in north County Dublin, the home of my ancestors. In his first chapter, entitled ‘Our Set’, Inglis talks about his early years. He describes his ‘set’ as the ‘old Protestant Ascendancy’, which was ‘so firmly established there [in Malahide], they could live their lives almost as they had before the Treaty of 1921 [creating the Irish Free State]’.1 My own family were Roman Catholic and of nationalist stock – small farmers, labourers and tradesmen – most definitely not part of this ‘set’. In his book, Inglis tells of his family’s attitude towards my ancestors and their neighbours. His description is hilariously inciteful:
‘these, we would point out to visiting friends as really Irish – Murphy the gardener, Christie the post-man, Vincie the ferryman – with their fine flow of language, their gift for casual repartee, and their instinctive ability to put a stranger at his ease by making him feel intelligent and perceptive and popular. [Stop reading now if you might be offended by old racial or class prejudice!] We loved them as a landowner in the deep south loves his negro servants, because they knew their place and stayed in it; but we did not think of them as people; pets, rather’.2
Two of the men mentioned by Inglis can be found in Malahide at the time of the 1911 Census: Christopher Dunne, postman, Yellow Walls, Malahide and Vincent Patrick O’Brien, boatman, Strand Street, Malahide.3
While Inglis himself seems to have had a genuine regard for ‘his countrymen’, thankfully, this social structure disintegrated before my grandparent’s time and economic growth in Malahide ensured they were no longer ‘content to be pushed around by the old ascendancy’.4
© 2013 Black Raven Genealogy
1 Brian Inglis, West Briton (London, 1962), p. 13.
2 Ibid., p. 15.
3 National Archives of Ireland, 1911 Census.
4 Inglis, pp 31-2.