What it’s like to be Irish

There was an interesting article in Saturday’s Irish Times about the Irish. If I mention that it’s headline was ‘Drink! Fecklessness! Partitionism! Shame! The Irish ideologies”, you’ll have a sense of the content. It’s by Patrick Freyne and he talks in fairly critical terms under the different headings, quoting authorities, about those things that have “shaped Irish identity” over the past century. There’s one heading ‘Private Property’, looking at the Irish fixation with land, and another, ‘An Béal Bocht’,  about our refusal to accept that there was/is terrible poverty and a yawning gap between rich and poor.

But it’s the partitionism one I read with particular interest.  He starts the section with three splendid sentences:

“Irish people in the gently triumphalist south were never going to be comfortable with anything as ambiguous as a foreign state in the attic. For northerners after independence the border was a grim reality to be grappled with. For many in the south it was a grim reality to be ignored.”

I like that – ‘the foreign state in the attic’ – and the noting of the strikingly different reactions to partition by  north and south.  He then cites a Trinity academic, Elaine Byrne,  who concludes that  “people are more comfortable with identity being ambiguous now”. This is buttressed by comments from journalist Eamonn McCann: that the number of people identifying themselves as ‘Northern Irish’ is now at an all-time high, and that cuts in the south didn’t provoke a militant reaction from the public because they still feared the violence and disorder that had occurred in the North.

It’s an interesting article, looking at other aspects of the Irish character as well. But what summed up for me the vision of Irishness over the weekend was two things. One was the team calling itself ‘The Republic of Ireland’ and which includes players from north as well as south of the border; and Michael D Higgins’s sad little seminars, where young Irish people were brought together to talk about what they wanted for the Ireland of the future. Not one of them, in the TV clips I saw, mentioned the north. But then I strongly suspect Michael D didn’t get round to including any young Irish people from the north in his seminar groups.

Truly, we’re a people riddled with contradictions. The amazing thing for me is that so few seem to be aware of them.

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