Jake O'Kane: In 12 hours I went from being a bigoted Prod to a republican publicist

While I've occasionally crossed swords with Sinn Féin politicians, I've always known who I was talking to. They, unlike the muppets from earlier this week, don't hide behind anonymous accounts

The Irish News tweet about Jake's last column which provoked an avalanche of vitriolic posts from peacetime keyboard warriors
Jake O'Kane

ON MONDAY this paper tweeted the message above, just a short description of my column last week where I’d commented on politicians’ refusal to take responsibility for their actions. While the column itself was wide-ranging, and didn’t concentrate on Sinn Féin, this action was enough to trigger a Pavlovian reaction resulting in an avalanche of vitriolic posts to my Twitter account.

It’s important to clarify that the abuse I received had absolutely nothing to do with Sinn Féin. We’ve a tendency to be reductive about such things and attribute blame where it doesn’t belong. While I’ve occasionally crossed swords with Sinn Féin politicians, I’ve always known who I was talking to. They, unlike the muppets from earlier this week, don’t hide behind anonymous accounts.

From my earliest days online, I’ve practised a policy of never feeding the trolls. If I find a comment abusive, insulting or just stupid, my default is to block and forget. What I find striking is how much republican and loyalist trolls have in common. Invariably hiding behind anonymous accounts, using their respective flags as a backdrop, they describe themselves as defenders of the republic/union.

Exclusively men – and a disgrace to their gender – these peacetime keyboard warriors are convinced if they’d been around during that conflict, they’d have won the war. Their confidence is based solely on having completed every version of Call of Duty and reaching number 765 on an online leader board.

In their mid-20s, they sit in their bedroom in the parental home, bathed in the glow of a laptop, fantasising about heroic deeds and public adoration.

Self-appointed online defenders of their tribe, they scour the Internet for targets to attack. Not surprisingly – being cowards – they retain their most vile verbiage for female journalists, politicians or indeed any woman with the temerity to express an opinion. The genesis of their misogyny lies in an inability to relate to the opposite sex, an inadequacy they rationalise as the fault of all women.

In comparison the comments I attracted were pretty lame, schoolyard stuff such as ‘… stick to the comedy’ or ‘… you were never funny'; in short, nothing I haven’t heard from my wife when we argue.

One comment did stand out where I was described as "a bigoted Prod". Hold on, I thought – that’s a bit much, calling me a ‘Prod’. There’s only one 'Prod’ in the O’Kane household – my wife. I know I should let it go, but, I’ll never get over her saying, "You were never funny."

Later the same day, when news leaked of Boris Johnson’s intention to break international law by passing legislation amending the Brexit deal, I experienced an epiphany. Convinced I’d come up with a quote of such genius that Oscar Wilde would be jealous, I tweeted: "Britain, which used to rule the waves, now waives the rules." Within minutes, my plagiarism detector, who goes by the name of Tim McGarry, took great pleasure informing me Sinn Féin had used the same quote on posters in the 1970s.

Crestfallen, I went online to delete the tweet, but before I could, someone on Twitter suggested I’d probably been the one who’d written the quote for Sinn Féin back in the day.

And so, within 12 hours I went from being a ‘Bigoted Prod’ to a republican publicist. If there’s any justice in this world, that has to qualify me for a cross-community grant.

* * *

ALL week, the world watched bewildered and shocked as the British government threatened to break an international agreement. Those on this side of the Irish sea, with any knowledge of history, reacted with a knowing smile.

On reading Jonathan Bardon’s The Plantation of Ulster I was initially thrilled to discover the O’Cahan clan featured, O’Kane being the anglicised variant of O’Cahan. I was certain the O’Cahans had been the last to bend a knee, envisaging stories of great battles where, outnumbered and armed only with a long sword, my ancestors ran bravely to certain death but eternal glory.

I was disappointed. The young chieftain, Donal Ballagh O’Cahan, transferred his allegiance to the Crown after being promised the return of his ancestral lands of Coleraine, Limavady and Dungiven. Having served his purpose, and of no further use to them, the English reneged on the deal, imprisoning him in the Tower of London.

Donal is reported to have said, ‘The Devil take all Englishmen and as many as put their trust in them’. His sentiment no doubt echoed in Parliaments around Europe…

Loyalist trolls, time to man your keyboards!

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