The term in modern times is not specifically limited to any geographic region or social class of Ireland, although the interests of Ireland's "upper class", and more so the "upper classes" of Dublin, and in particular south side Dublin districts, make them most susceptible as targets.
This is also true for historical reasons - Dublin was part of "The Pale", a small area of territory that the English Crown governed in the Middle Ages. The rest of the island of Ireland was governed by local kingdoms. The Pale was known as "West Britain" by the native Irish. A slang term used by the rural Irish – "jackeen" is a comparable term from Irish history referring to people of Dublin who supported British rule.
Nowadays, any Irish person, rich or poor, from any part of the country, showing great interest in British affairs, or condescending toward Irish national issues may have the term "West Brit" applied to them.
The term became popularised from 19th century Ireland and has evolved over the years. The West Briton was a collection of light verse published in 1800 by Thomas Grady, a Limerick supporter of the Act of Union 1800. The phrase gained publicity from Irish unionist MP Thomas Spring Rice (later Lord Monteagle of Brandon), who said on 23 April 1834 in the House of Commons in opposing Daniel O'Connell's motion for Repeal of the Union, "I should prefer the name of West Britain to that of Ireland". Rice was derided by Henry Grattan (junior) later in the same debate: "He tells us, that he belongs to England, and designates himself as a West Briton." Daniel O'Connell himself used the phrase at a pro-Repeal speech in Dublin in February 1836:
- "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 Britons, if made so in benefits and justice; but if not, we are Irishmen again."
“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. It included virtually all Church of Ireland Protestants and those Catholics who did not measure up to his definition of “Irish Irelanders”.
In the early years of the Irish Free State, the term was attributed within the dominion to those who held strong emotional and political anglocentric sentiments. As an example, many residents of Dún Laoghaire (Kingstown) would hoist the Union Flag in a demonstration of their West Britishness. In some respects this was galvanised by the many professional ties which east coast Irishmen and women had as teachers, civil servants, nurses, doctors, lecturers and so forth on the island of Great Britain. The Imperial Civil Service was a bastion of the Irish professional classes who ran the British Empire with skill, aplomb and flair. The West British zeitgeist was also underscored in 1949 by the fact that despite her withdrawal from The Commonwealth, by matter of the Ireland Act Éire was not deemed a foreign power, thereby necessitating freedom of movement between the UK and Éire. "West British" 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).
“West Brit” is today used by Irish people to criticise a variety of perceived faults:
- A derogatory term for someone from Dublin, particularly an affluent area.
- Taking a view of Irish history which highlights perceived positive aspects of British influence in Ireland, or criticising Irish nationalist causes and the Irish Revolution.
- Cultural cringe: following British popular culture, while appearing embarrassed by or disdainful of aspects of Irish culture, such as the Irish language, Gaelic games or Irish traditional music
- Opposition or indifference to a United Ireland (see Partitionism) or to Irish republicanism
- Support (or alleged support) for neo-Unionism
- Irish presidential election, 2011: During his campaign Sinn Féin candidate Martin McGuinness criticised what he called "West Brit" elements of the media who he said were out to undermine his attempt to win the election. He later said it was an "off-the-cuff remark" but did not define for the electorate what he had meant by "West Brit".
- Irish entertainer Sir Terry Wogan cheerfully described himself as a "West Brit".
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.
The old-fashioned word shoneen (from Irish: seoinín, diminutive of Seán, literally "Little John") was applied to those who emulated the homes, habits, lifestyle, pastimes, clothes and zeitgeist 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."
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.
- "West Brit" from World Wide Words
- Grady, Thomas (1800). The West Briton: being a collection of poems, on various subjects. Dublin: Printed by Graisberry and Campbell, for Bernard Dornin. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
- Barrington, Sir Jonah (1844). "Chap XXIV". Historic Records and Secret Memoirs of the Legislative Union Between Great Britain and Ireland. London: Colburn. p. 385. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
- Hourican, Bridget. "Rice, Thomas Spring". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 7 February 2016. (subscription required (. ))
- "REPEAL OF THE UNION—ADJOURNED DEBATE". Hansard. 23 April 1834. HC Deb vol 22 c.1194. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
- "REPEAL OF THE UNION—ADJOURNED DEBATE—FOURTH DAY". Hansard. 25 April 1834. HC Deb vol 23 c.57. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
- Fagan, William (1847). The life and times of Daniel O'Connell. v.2. Cork: J. O'Brien. p. 496.
- D.P. Moran and the leader: writing an Irish Ireland through partition
- "D.P. Moran and the leader: writing an Irish Ireland through partition". Eire-Ireland:Journal of Irish Studies. 2003.
- "McGuinness blames 'West Brit' influence for references to IRA past". The Journal. 11 September 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
- McKittrick, David (21 September 2011). "McGuinness launches attack on media". The Independent. London. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
- "Martin McGuinness backtracks after 'west Brit' jibe". The Belfast Telegraph. 21 September 2011. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
- "McGuinness declines to define 'West Brit'". Irish Examiner. 23 September 2011. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
- "Terry Wogan interview: 'I'm a child of the Pale. I think I was born to succeed here'". Irish Times. 31 January 2016. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
- English As We Speak It In Ireland: Rabble to Yoke page 321.
- See "Sean O'Faolain's Irish Vision" By Richard Bonaccorso, SUNY Press, 1987, p. 29