For me, being Irish means that I belong to a people whose ancestors lived and toiled and often suffered political persecution on this island of Ireland and its coastal islands. During the times of persecution of both Presbyterians and Catholics, many were forced to emigrate to North America, Britain and Australia. Just like the refugees today seeking a better future many were forced to flee this island in times of famine and unemployment and war imposed from those inBritain who wanted to control the land and the people. The people of Ireland, in spite of serious persecution, never lost the sense of their Irish national identity. In fact, it became even more strongly felt when the Irish found themselves far from home. They made a huge contribution to social and political development in other countries.
In spite of our limited resources we Irish have contributed immensely to the global community though our emigrants and missionaries and musicians and writers. We are a people with much to contribute to the global community in terms of friendship, solidarity and artistic endeavour. We also have much to contribute to making peace in a world where many suffer hunger because of injustice and unjust economic structures. The Irish people, through Church-based organisations like Trocaire, contribute financially to relieving famine and drought. They also help to create a greater awareness of the need to care for the earth and to relieve the suffering of the poor which are connected.
Being Irish means for most rural people in Ireland belonging to a townland and a parish, living in small closely knit communities where there is friendship and cooperation that enriches our lives. These ties for the most part transcend political and religious differences. In the rural areas, especially, there is a strong sense of community in Ireland that you would not find in many other places. It is most evident at the time of a death or misfortune in the community when people rally round in solidarity. It can be seen in the annual sports days, or in the National Ploughing championship or on All Ireland final days in Gaelic football or hurling. It can be seen at the Fleadh Cheoil and the Agricultural Shows like Balmoral and Tullamore and throughout the country. It can be seen every year on Saint Patrick’s Day at home and around the world.
Being Irish is a deeply felt sense of belonging to an ancient and proud tradition with its own customs, music and dance. Being Irish means sharing a spiritual sense of the sacredness of the earth, the rivers, lakes and mountains. Being Irish for those who are not allowed or not able to express that identity is a tension some of us have to manage until such time that our Irish identity is fully recognised and accepted legally and politically. I am sure there are other understandings of what being Irish means at this time in our history. Seo iad roinnt smaointí chun díospóireacht a spreagadh.