Hubert Lane and the paragons of virtue – by Donal Kennedy

This article first appeared in the Irish Democrat

THOSE WHO have enjoyed Richmal Crompton’s ‘William’ stories – (and who, having read them, did not?) may recall Hubert Lane.

For those unfamiliar with the stories, William was a Huckleberry Finn translated to commuter belt Kent, an eleven-yea-old scapegrace and leader of a gang rejoicing in the name of The Outlaws. If they had been Irish they would probably have called themselves Beyond the Pale.

Hubert Lane was the leader of another group, whose laces, collars and ties were never undone, whose shoes never lost their shine, noses were never bloodied nor eyes blackened. Indeed they showed clean pairs of heels at the slighted rumour of danger.

They were sneaks, informers and double-dealers, anally retentive and nauseous – the kind who deceived William’s parents, who held them up as models for emulation.

I can recall hearing, in 1981, when riots broke out in Liverpool’s Toxteth and London’s Brixton, a Thatcherite Rabbi, since knighted, suggesting that blacks should emulate Jews, who had always been law-abiding, never mitched from school, and were all destined to be concert pianists, doctors of medicine, lords chief justices and Nobel Prize-winning scientists and the like.

No anti-Semite ever so dehumanised the Jewish people, who, from Old Testament times to the present, have had as high a proportion of flawed individuals as any other. Sergio Leoni’s film Once Upon a Time in America, depicting Jewish gangsters, is a welcome corrective to that Rabbi’s rose-tinted vision.

Back in 1981 no Irish person would have made such a claim for the Irish in Britain. Republican prisoners were then dying on hunger strike and their comrades striking back at their enemies while Catholic civilians, even children, were considered legitimate targets for crown forces’ exercises in musketry and rifle marksmanship. .

But it seems the time has become ripe for the Irish in Britain to claim the mantle of Hubert Lane.

Following the suicide bombings in London in July 2005 an Irishwoman named Rosemary Behan lectured Muslim immigrants, so that they would, like the Irish before them, be paragons of British virtue. Apparently the Irish had never caused England grief, and had always smelt of roses.

That Hibernophile organ, the Daily Telegraph, published her piece and that Anglophile organ, Sir Anthony O’Reilly’s Sunday Independent, copied it.

I seem to recall some unflattering remarks about the mass of Irish in England by Frederick Engels, who hoped to channel their unruly energies into Socialist upheaval. And in South London, where Ms. Behan lives, a rather obstreperous Irish family gave their surname to the phenomenon of Hooliganism in the first decade of the 20th century.

It’s as well the Houlihans got there first, as otherwise the phenomenon might be called Behanism. For I can recall in the 1960s gent of that name being called before a Beak in London, charged with thrusting a beer glass in another gentleman’s face.

It seems another youth of that name had conspired some decades before to blow up Camell Laird’s shipyard in Liverpool and done time in Borstal for it, and had occasionally thereafter been before Beaks both sides of the Irish Sea that had no political or ideological motives to plead in mitigation for his misdemeanours.

Surely they had no family connections with Rosemary Behan?

An uncle of the obstreperous Behans wrote A Soldier’s Song in the spirit of The Marseillaise which became and remains Ireland’s national anthem. It promised that Ireland would no longer shelter despots or slaves. It never found favour with Ireland’s Hubert Laneites, and one sporting body even commissioned a ditty to supplant it.

But the prescient Peadar Kearney anticipated them and wrote their real anthem too:


Now Irishmen forget the past

whack fol the diddle, fol the did doh day

and think of the day that is coming fast

whack fol the diddle fol the di doh day

when we shall all be civilised

neat and clean and well-advised

won’t Mother England be surprised!

whack fol the diddle fol the did oh day.

Comments are closed.