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Erin Go Solo

Greetings America.

I am just back from Dublin, the capital of Ireland, part of the British Isles, but no longer, of course, part of the British Empire. The Irish have a special feeling for you in America, of course. Ireland is the part of Europe that is literally closest to the United States – and many of you have family connections, cousins, uncles, grandparents, forebears who hail from the Emerald Isle.

I've been visiting Ireland all my life. My wife's family comes from County Cork right down in the south. The Irish like the Americans – always have. Still do, of course, but on this visit, for the first time, I felt something had changed.

The Irish no longer feel in step with you. They feel more European than American – closer in many ways to the Germans and the French, whose language they do not speak, than to you, whose language they do. It's partly economic. Ireland has never been so prosperous. The years of the potato famine are long gone. The caricature Irishman is a creature of the past. The Irish people are well-off and sophisticated. Their economy has grown by leaps and bounds – there's been twelve per cent growth per annum in recent years - and the country's infrastructure has been improved by massive investment from the European Union.

There is a sense of confidence among the 4 million Irish now that is impressive. And I think that makes them feel more independent of the United States than ever before.

The war in Iraq hasn't helped. The Irish opposed the war. The Irish – who adored Jack Kennedy, of course, and even had a soft spot for Bill Clinton – don't like George Bush. The bookshops are piled high with assorted volumes either attacking your president or mocking his amazing way with words. I saw Irish school kids protesting against America's involvement in Iraq months after the invasion. In Britain we're more or less behind you – though our Prime Minister Tony Blair is certainly much more popular in your country than he is in ours – but in Ireland these days everything is new and that includes the way they feel about the country that famously contains more Irishmen and women than Ireland itself.

By Gyles Brandreth

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