Irishness? What the feck is that?

We don’t help ourselves in fairness.
 
St Patrick’s Day. A time for perpetuating the stereotypes. Begorrah, we’ll have a session to be sure. Ah it’s only a bit of craic all the same. Sure aren’t we all just fun-loving little leprechauns?
Maybe St Patrick’s Day then would be a good opportunity to take a good long look at ourselves? And not through the bottom of a pint glass.
Leaving aside the Paddyisms we put upon ourselves in order to sell aran jumpers and claddagh rings to Yanks, how do we define ourselves in this country? What makes a person Irish? What qualifies as “Irishness”?
We’ll start with the alcohol because, well, there might be a grain of truth in the perception that drink is an intrinsic part of our culture. Just a grain mind.
Meabh Tobin is a Limerick girl working in Dublin. She’s worked in Spain and Boston, and has seen first hand how the Irish are perceived. She doesn’t think we help ourselves to shed the stereotype of a country fond of a tipple. “The way we give directions… It’s always in relation to a bar! ‘Oh, you know this pub? Yeah well the place you’re looking for is right around the corner from there’” she laughs.
But surely our predilection for a pint isn’t the only thing that defines us? There’s a fair few on our lovely island who believe that our Irishness is defined by one thing; our non-Englishness. This is most apparent on weekends like this one. Ireland take on England in Twickenham on Saturday, St Patrick’s day. Beating the old enemy, on their home turf, on the day of our national holiday. Life couldn’t get much sweeter than that. 
 
The Grand Slam year. Look, and smile.
There’s no doubt that there’s far less animosity directed nowadays at “them across the water”, but there’s still a certain bitterness that manifests itself on sporting occasions. The joy of our nation when England is dumped out of yet another football tournament on penalties is akin to us winning the damn tournament ourselves.
Funny that, because on the whole we’re viewed as being quite a docile nation. Not a bitter bone in our four million bodies. The land of a thousand welcomes apparently. Possibly, but depends on who we’re welcoming. It’s a sign of the times that the Pope is loathe to visit this country, when 40 years ago Pope John Paul II received the type of adulation in the Phoenix Park that the recently defunct Beatles could only dream of.
Which brings us neatly onto religion. A dirty word nowadays, but the keystone to Eamon De Valera’s 1937 constitution. It’s thought that Bishop John Charles McQuaid helped Dev draft the document that would shape the young republic. Indeed, the Catholic Church’s “special position” was acknowledged in the constitution, “as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens”.
Religion in Ireland. Needs a good kick up the…
 
The majority of the country would still profess to be Catholic, but this is in the same way that Jamie O’Hara professes to be Irish; bit embarrassing really, but nice to have to fall back on. We still see the residue of the well documented “Catholic guilt” present itself within our media. Sex scenes on our screens are still frowned upon, and that’s just the heterosexuals. Gay,or out of wedlock? Look out your window. Flames and pitchforks. The Irish and sexuality is a process much like that Iarnroid Eireann advertisement a few years back; “We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”
The attitude to sexuality that still remains may go some way to explaining why our idea of romance is so messed up. Not for us a picnic and a bottle of the finest red beneath the Eiffel Tower. That’s for ponces. Sorry ladies, the best Irish men can offer is a beery “shift” in a dingy back alley, where you can look forward to wondering fearfully whether it is part of your partner’s anatomy you’re groping or just the handle of one of the many adjacent dustbins.
 
Aren’t you a lovely cailín? Fancy a shift?
On a weekend where we celebrate both a Welsh hostage from yore and Mother’s Day, it is difficult to decipher who is the bigger saint. The Irish Mammy had it hard in the olden days. Fulfilling jobs only lasted as long as the woman wasn’t married or with child. Once either or both of these occurred, the woman was released before she could say “equal rights”. The country was full of embittered housewives, reminiscing on the glories of their past lives in the civil service. The kettle boiled, the baby wailed, but all the house-bound woman could hear was her own voice nagging at her that this wasn’t right, this wasn’t fair.
Job prospects aside, there is no one in Irish society with power comparable to the Irish mammy. While she may have had no choice but to remain in the house and rear the children, once they were reared most had an attachment to their mother that couldn’t have been greater if there was an umbilical cord involved.
“Jaysus. I won’t sit down for a week.”
The Mahon Tribunal has cost the taxpayer somewhere in the region of €300 million to date. That money could all have been poured into education if someone had the hindsight to stick Bertie Ahern into a room with his mother for five minutes. He would have emerged chastened, and most likely with his “arse reddened” for him. With a wooden spoon. Because that’s the Irish way.
 
So there you have it. A picture postcard of Ireland that you wouldn’t send your distant cousins in Minnesota. It may be as coherent as a bar fly at midnight on March 17th, but this is our nation and we’re the only ones allowed to criticise it. So let us all raise a glass, and toast the Ireland and the Irish Mammy. Eamon Dunphy called the emerald isle a dump not long ago, and he may be right. But by God, it’s our dump.
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