Archives for posts with tag: Irishness

So, yet another local politician has put his foot in it. He requested that the only people allowed to work on a new motorway be Irish, with the dark implication that those damned for’ners go back to the countries they came from forthwith. I’m sure, no doubt, we’ll hear that some of his best friends are “non-nationals”, just you wait.

via Mike Licht (CC Licenced on Flickr)

via Mike Licht (CC Licenced on Flickr)

But who are the Irish anyway? Is it people who were born in Ireland? Then what about the kids who were born here, but are not allowed Irish citizenship because their parents don’t come from these parts? How about Six County Nationalists or, God forbid, Ulster Unionists? Can we include them?

What about the thousands of people from all over the world who have acquired Irish citizenship through a lengthy and expensive process? Are they now Irish, or should we try to take their passports away when they aren’t looking? Can we overlook the fact that many foreigners pay tax here, thereby bolstering our public services?

Then there are the emigrants who left the country to better their prospects and now cannot vote in any of our elections. Should we drop them from the list too? Or the sons and grandsons of emigrants who find they can play on our national soccer team if they are good enough? Maybe if they lose the accent can we leave them in?

Maybe the accent clinches it, leaving us therefore with a “South Dublin Problem”.

And what about those people who hold a sentimental attachment to the aul’ sod? Should we ask them to refrain from calling themselves Irish Americans or Irish Canadians lest they dilute the magic of Irishness? Should we divide St. Patricks Day in two – a “real” one and a “continuity” one, perhaps?

Does Irish mean Catholic? Or lapsed Catholic, because, well, you know, actual Catholics are somewhat in decline these days.

Does it mean you need to have a surname like O’Carroll, O’Casey, Boyle or Desmond? Do we stop at the Norman invasions or can we let a few Old English in before we close the doors? Should they at least follow the hurling or the football, or must they have played it up to senior level? How then, in God’s name, should we deal with a women’s rugby team or Irish cricket players? The state of them.

Could we somehow leave Cork people from the list? Surely they want to secede anyways?

Oh dear. I despair. It’s such a hard thing these days figuring out what “Irish” actually means. Maybe we should leave it to the esteemed councillor Fahy to sort it out for us.

We Irish don’t look at St Patrick’s Day in quite the same way as other countries. While St. Patricks Day is a welcome break and a chance to prepare for spring, we tend to look at the kitch and global celebration of Irishness with mild embarrassment, as if someone invited us to a party in our honour, but sent it to the wrong people, and we went along with it anyway, rather than spoil it for them.

What is Irishness anyway? Perhaps, when Ireland was a mono-cultural society, defined along rigid sectarian lines, there might have been a case to be made – commemorating a history of oppression and struggle against sometimes massive odds. Nowadays this story holds none of the same resonance.

Ireland today is a relatively modern country and home to a broad range people from all over the world. Our religious identity is disappearing. We are quite well integrated into the wider European community and thus more likely to share most of the values and aspirations of our continental neighbours. Our health and education systems are chaotic and under-funded, but functional. Our political leaders are salesmen. Sport is a national obsession, as is the price of property. A bracing combination of engaging scenery and bad weather keeps us grounded. All thing considered, we don’t particularly stand out, and that’s ok with us.

But, to consider the pomp around St Patrick’s Day, you would think we are wildly special, different by a long shot from all other people on the planet.

Alcohol consumption might be a factor, but we’re certainly not the only nation with a love of drinking. In fact, if our empty pubs and middle-age health obsessions are anything to go by, drinking is rapidly on the wane here.

Arts, music, literature and poetry, yes, perhaps; but it seems this too is overblown. Our artistic heritage is often more complicated, in any case, than it appears at first glance – owing a lot, in many cases, to other nationalities, conveniently forgotten in our self-made myths.

Maybe it’s the love of the craic, the raconteur, the devil may care attitude, the life and soul of the party, or whatever you are having yourself, but it seems that these are more universal values than we care to accept.

It’s all very hazy. We’ve moved from a patriotic love of Ireland and its dominant religion to this nebulous concept of “Irishness”, and we don’t really know any more what it means.

Here’s what I think it should mean. Rather than focusing on one small culturally ambiguous island in the Atlantic, St. Patrick’s Day should be all about displacement. It should be a global celebration of emigration, immigration and movement away from home, both forced and unforced. In a world where mobility is expected and often mandated, it’s good to have a day when we can think about where we came from, and the journeys we have made to get to where we are. This is true, both for us as individuals and our wider historic backgrounds. The Irish, a nation with form in this area, are just as good ambassadors as anyone else.

So there it is: if you live somewhere that is far away from the homeland of your childhood, or even if you feel a connection to somewhere other than your current home, whether that be China, Gabon, Vietnam or Co. Offaly, then happy St. Patrick’s Day. This day is for you.

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