The term in modern times is not specfically 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 British 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 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. 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, political anglocentric sentiments. As an example, many residents of Dun Loaghaire (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 notwithstanding Her withdrawal from The Commonwealth, by matter of The Government of Ireland Act Éire was not deemed a foreign power, thereby necessitating freedom of movement between the U.K. 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".
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.
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- "West Brit" from World Wide Words
- 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.
- 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