West Brit

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For the newspaper in Cornwall, see The West Briton.

West Brit, an abbreviation of West British, is a pejorative term for an Irish person who is perceived by other Irish people as being too anglophilic in matters of culture or politics.[1]

The term is not limited to any particular geographic region or social class of Ireland, although the interests of Ireland's upper class, and particularly the upper class of Dublin, make them most susceptible as targets. This is also true for historical reasons – "jackeen" is a comparable term from Irish history referring to people of Dublin who supported British rule. But any Irish person, rich or poor, from any part of the country, showing great interest in British affairs may have the term "West Brit" applied to them.


The term originates from 19th century Ireland and has evolved over the years. Nationalist leader Daniel O'Connell used it in the British House of Commons in 1832:

"The people of Ireland are ready to become a portion of the Empire, provided they be made so in reality and not in name alone; they are ready to become a kind of West Briton if made so in benefits and justice; but if not, we are Irishmen again."

At that time Scotland was known informally as "North Britain", and O'Connell was hoping that the benefits to Scotland under the Acts of Union 1707 would also be seen in Ireland which had been united to the rest of the United Kingdom under the Acts of Union 1800.

“West Brit” came to prominence in the land struggle of the 1880s. D. P. Moran, who founded The Leader in 1900, used the term frequently to describe those who he did not consider sufficiently Irish. It was synonymous with those he described as “Sourfaces”, who mourned the death of the Queen Victoria.[2] It included virtually all Church of Ireland Protestants and those Catholics who did not measure up to his definition of “Irish Irelanders”.[3]

In the early years of the Irish Free State, the term was used to indicate those who had a friendly attitude towards the United Kingdom and to be afraid to cut ties with what had become a foreign country. The term was applied mainly to Roman Catholics, as Protestants were expected to be naturally unionist (although this was not automatic, since there were, and are, also Anglo-Irish Protestants favouring Irish republicanism (see Protestant Irish nationalism).

Contemporary usage[edit]

“West Brit” is today used by Irish people to criticise a variety of perceived faults:

Similar terms[edit]

Castle Catholic was applied more specifically by Republicans to middle-class Catholics assimilated into the pro-British establishment, after Dublin Castle, the centre of the British administration. Sometimes the exaggerated pronunciation spelling Cawtholic was used to suggest an accent imitative of British Received Pronunciation. This was applied particularly to wealthier residents of south Dublin City who lived in expensive Georgian era residences.[citation needed]

The old-fashioned word shoneen (from Irish: seoinín, diminutive of Seán, literally "Little John") was applied to someone who affected the habits of the Protestant Ascendancy. P. W. Joyce's English As We Speak It in Ireland defines it as "a gentleman in a small way: a would-be gentleman who puts on superior airs."[8]


The term is sometimes contrasted with Little Irelander, a derogatory term for an Irish person who is seen as excessively nationalistic, Anglophobic and xenophobic, sometimes also practising a strongly conservative form of Roman Catholicism. This term was popularised by Seán Ó Faoláin.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "West Brit" from World Wide Words
  2. ^ D.P. Moran and the leader: writing an Irish Ireland through partition
  3. ^ "D.P. Moran and the leader: writing an Irish Ireland through partition". Eire-Ireland:Journal of Irish Studies. 2003. 
  4. ^ "McGuinness blames 'West Brit' influence for references to IRA past". The Journal. 11 September 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2011. 
  5. ^ McKittrick, David (21 September 2011). "McGuinness launches attack on media". The Independent (London). Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  6. ^ "Martin McGuinness backtracks after 'west Brit' jibe". The Belfast Telegraph. 21 September 2011. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  7. ^ "McGuinness declines to define 'West Brit'". Irish Examiner. 23 September 2011. Retrieved 23 September 2011. 
  8. ^ English As We Speak It In Ireland: Rabble to Yoke page 321.
  9. ^ See "Sean O'Faolain's Irish Vision" By Richard Bonaccorso, SUNY Press, 1987, p. 29