‘Being Irish’ by Joe McVeigh

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.


27 Responses to   ‘Being Irish’ by Joe McVeigh

  1. Tam August 11, 2017 at 7:40 am #

    Joe seems to think being Irish means being Catholic and rural.

    • Bridget Cairns August 11, 2017 at 7:51 am #

      You need to read this arti le again Tam zt least 3 times , perhaps then you will have a better understanding and keep your silly comments to yourself

      • Tam August 11, 2017 at 8:19 am #

        Once is enough, thanks, but perhaps you should heed your own advice. Read it again with a more critical eye.

  2. Tam August 11, 2017 at 7:41 am #

    The image is an awful depiction of Irishness. Is that how we want to depict ourselves to the world?

    • Bridget Cairns August 11, 2017 at 9:21 am #

      Awful depiction, can you elaborate Tam as I am unusually interested in your opinion for just this time and I do read with a discerning eye and not a prejudiced one

      • Tam August 11, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

        You think a picture of a woman dressed in a comedy wig and novelty Viking hat is how Irishness should be depicted?

        • Bridget Cairns August 11, 2017 at 2:34 pm #

          The picture is only a small part of the story as you well know, but it is the part tbat you chose to comment on

          • Tam August 11, 2017 at 4:57 pm #

            It’s the only picture that has been used.

    • basqueceltic August 15, 2017 at 11:35 pm #

      What was your previous moniker…….MT?

  3. fiosrach August 11, 2017 at 8:40 am #

    As a small, proud country with a culture going back thousands of years. With a history of defiance against a predatory neighbour. What’s wrong with that depiction?

    • Tam August 11, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

      I don’t know about you but I don’t associate novelty wigs and hats with pride, ancient culture or defiance.

  4. Cal August 11, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    The depiction of Irishness by Joe is for the most part recognisable to all, regardless of their location in Ireland or indeed the world.

    Now think of our Unionist countrymen that insist they’re British. When asked to describe their sense of Britishness, bonfires, flags and marching is high in the list. These traits are unrecognisable for the most part throughout Britain.

  5. giordanobruno August 11, 2017 at 11:27 am #

    I think that is an unfair portrayal of unionists in general.
    Have you actually asked any?
    Maybe you don’t know any, but the unionists I know would not express much interest in bonfires or indeed flags or marching.
    That is a stereotype based on the highly visible activities of a minority during a particular part of the year and is no more accurate than any other stereotype, in my view.

    • Bridget Cairns August 11, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

      Some of what you have said Gio applies to Nationalists also. I know that the majority of nationalists do not support the internment bonfires, however, what does it mean to be British for the majority of unionists, other than the flags, marching etc

      • giordanobruno August 11, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

        I agree stereotypes are used on both sides.
        I don’t know if you can find a one size fits all answer for unionists or indeed nationalists.
        Look at the recent comments here about a united Ireland, where Freddie for example would live and die happily in poverty if it meant being in a united Ireland. Others might feel a bit more relaxed about the aspiration than that yet still describe themselves as nationalist.
        So too with unionists. Some I suppose don’t think about it much at all while some are passionate about their British identity and express it through parades or other community activities or maybe their cultural reference points, such as music and tv are simply closer to those common in the UK.
        The point is only a small number attend bonfires (in either community) and it is not fair to sum people up in such a lazy way.

  6. Barry Doherty August 11, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

    We are also welcoming and inclusive, you do not have to have shared the history Joe outlines to be Irish – however many many Irish people would fully endorse Joe’s piece.

  7. Tam August 11, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

    The stereotype of the rural Catholic idyll., based on a traditional nationalist emphasis on history, that Joe describes is essentially De Valera’s vision with which many Irish people did not and do not identify. Indeed it is this understanding of Irishness that ironically excludes the very people Irish nationalists want to attract, ie Ulster Protestants.

    Presumably unconsciously, Joe’s description indicates that he doesn’t really believe that those Irish people of a British and Protestant (and industrial and urban) tradition are really properly Irish at all.

    A revealing piece .

  8. Brendan Hewitt August 11, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

    I identify strongly with the idyllic Ireland Joe describes. I attended a harvest dance in Fermanagh recently. All the colleens wore bustles and the lads tried to impress them, blowing smoke rings from their pipes as they drew their furrows in a ploughing contest. Everyone spoke Irish and played the harp. Everyone said “May the rose rise to meet you…” and other things off tea towels, but in Irish of course. Then we dined on crubeens and cabbage and tripped through jigs until the moon was high in the sky. There wasn’t a Prod in sight.

    Does that cover it Joe?

    • fiosrach August 11, 2017 at 2:50 pm #

      ………. And then the girls came and put you to bed and tucked your crubeens in under the duvet.

      • Brendan Hewitt August 11, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

        this was fermanagh…I woke up and found that the girl had crubeens….

  9. Brendan Hewitt August 11, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

    road rise…but you get the rose tinted drift…

    • moser August 11, 2017 at 4:26 pm #

      Yes Brendan, your racism is clear to see. No need for glasses.

      • Brendan Hewitt August 14, 2017 at 8:14 am #

        I don’t really think I can be accused of racism. The Irish aren’t a race, and I am Irish myself, so that wouldn’t really make sense. I just don’t buy into the rose-tinted tea towel Irishness so often espoused. Judging by the comments below, paddykool seems to agree. Is he a racist too?

        One sure sign of being a nationalist twit is that you only see the positives in a nation or people and wrap yourself up in those traits to feel all nice and cosy. A sure sign of being sectarian is seeing only the negatives in a nation or people, without ever seeing their positive contributions or shared values.

        Can you think of anyone who might fall into either trap?

  10. Stephen Kelly August 11, 2017 at 5:40 pm #

    My god the unbridled jealousy and hatred that they try to hide in smart answers to a great post that i can identify with is not really shocking. No seriously i’m not shocked having grown up listening to Ian Paisley for just one instance, compared to paisley these m—-s are amatuer’s.

    • Tam August 11, 2017 at 5:43 pm #


  11. paddykool August 13, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    Dammit ! These old stereotypes are all so much horseshit in the modern world.Sure ,there are dyed -in -the-wool tiny -minded Oirishmen and women running about and dyed-in-the -wool tiny-minded loyalists running about too with their odd little versions of reality twisting their melons out of shape and filling their wee heads full of some awful fantasies of yore. What is happening in our lives in the real world of ourselves and Ireland on a daily basis, though.?What is happening with our children ,in their lives , scattered across the world… and our grandchildren? Are they completely little orange or green creations with a one -note culture? What books are on their bookshelves? I know my daughters were into “Lord of the Rings” and Harry Potter when they were growing up .Disney got a look in too and then there were the years of Nirvana and Pulp and some Polly Harvey. Of course they had been fed a conststant stream of Bob Dylan bootlegs and Stax and Tamla soul , by me ,since birth in any case ,so that was their backdrop. What music and art are they really looking at or listening to in their present world ?What are they eating and drinking and what way are they dressing out there on the streets?Do they look and live any differently from any other people throughout the modern world? Do your wife or daughters watch “Strictly Come Dancing” and maybe want to go to see Beyonce or Adele…. or maybe you or your sons and daughtesr want to race down to Dublin or Belfast and catch a Bruce Springsteen concert or a Brian Wilson show …or maybe it is some new “boy band ” or girlie trio.They might enjoy a bit of Irish music but it is the Blues Festivals that they might really want to go to.These are the modern “Irish”. We might read a bit of Muldoon, Heaney or Yeats but we are interested in so much more.The wife will want some of that French perfume and the latest fashion lines are a constant and most of us will try to keep up in those stakes. If we have a brain at all we’ll be watching a diverse set of films from all over the world, but a lot of it will be made in Hollywood USA.We’ll be soaking up boxsets from HBO and Netflix. We’ll know as much about “the Sopranos ” as we will the latest Irish novel. That’s really who the modern Irish are.On the other hand , I recently watched a short video featuring an East Belfast loyalist who didn’t seem to get the irony of believing that he was really not an Irishman at all.He said his family came from Scotland some 400 years ago and had been in Ireland for generations but he didn’t feel like an irishman. He had been born here of course. He mentioned that he was also from Hugenot stock which would have made him a bit French too I suppose. My take on it is simple .I too have some Hugenot stock on one side of the family line…and probably a whole lot of other stock …..if i go back far enough, but i was born on this land 65 years ago so i am simply irish for that reason alone . Being Irish is a simple matter of fate ..All the rest is your own personal “culture”…and it’s different for each one of us.

    • Tam August 13, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      Well said, Paddy