So what does it mean to be Irish? Many people have a fairly stereotypical picture of the Irish – Guinness drinking, shamrock wearing party animals who will dance at any crossroads, given an opportunity and the right kind of music. Well there’s a bit of truth in that but these days being Irish has become a complex and sometimes conflicting identity. Irish life has for a long time had staple pillars that shape it – family, community, religion, sport and culture. Know an Irish person means knowing their family and friends. We define ourselves by the people that surround us which is why we have a reputation for being social creatures. You could stick an Irish person in any situation and we will find something in common with you.
However, even a small island on the far end of Europe has not escaped the pressures of modern life. Separation, divorce and the breakdown of relationships has made family life complicated. The scandals at the heart of the Catholic church have made religion and belief two very different things for many of us. And an economy rocked by corruption, unemployment and debt has made the basics of working and house ownership out of reach for many of the emigrating youth of today and life tough for working families and the elderly.
Sometimes though, the tough times brings out the best in us. After all, the Celtic Tiger years of squandering and showing off, people are getting back to basics. We are probably not a nation that thrive on grandeur and greed. Drive around any major city or town and you will see brand new unopened shopping centres, empty car showrooms and vacant housing estates. We are probably one of the few Western countries with a reverse housing crisis. It’s hard to know where it all went wrong, but for a nation that’s seen famine, revolution and the emergence of a new nation in the last 150 years, we will again shrug our shoulders and get on with life as best we can.
Times have changed. In 2011, The Queen, or Betty Windsor as she was fondly called, came for afternoon tea. The President of the US had a pint with his Galway cousins and met Jedward. Modern Irish life may seem more about cappuccino and broadband rather than tea and ham sandwiches these days. The past has not been forgotten but it is where it belongs – in the past.
And yes some of those clichés are true. We will talk the hind legs off a donkey about everything from the impending presidential election to the next winner of MasterChef. On the downside, we can also be insular, stubborn and xenophobic. The things that make you proud to be Irish can be the things that make you most ashamed too.
It is impossible to define being Irish in a few paragraphs. There are 264, 861 words in Ulysses and that’s only for starters. I could talk about it all night, but I’ve got dancing at the crossroads to be getting on with…
I didn’t know Steve Jobs. To me he was Apple. He knew even less about me. In fact, he didn’t know I existed. I am, however, very sad to hear of his passing after suffering from pancreatic cancer for the past seven years. His vision and his company made a massive mark in my life. They made me fall in love with animate objects.
Yes – I admit, I am a disciple of Apple.
The day before Steve died, Apple launched the iPhone 4s. Many were expecting the iPhone 5, and were underwhelmed when they unveiled the iPhone 4s. Yet, I still want it. The latest reviews gave the 4s the thumbs up.
Apple, along with Steve’s vision made me think I needed their products in my life. I don’t need the iPhone 4s – I want it. I feel that my life is somehow incomplete without one. Ok, I am planning to climb Everest, and want to use it as a back-up camera, but tweet my way up the mountain. My friends have told me to go for the android, but my heart is Apple.
The more I read about him, the more I realise the impact he had on people’s lives. A college drop out, he went on to make Apple a well-known and well-loved brand. He made technology easy and pretty.
As the tributes poured I realised how many profound things he said during his 56 years. This this has to be one of my favorite quotes:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Although I am unlikely to become a trailblazer like Mr Jobs, he has given me a Macbook and iPod, as well as opening a whole new creative world (I use Photoshop and InDesign on the Mac). More importantly, he’s given me inspiration to get on with it when times are hard. And for that, I thank you Steve.
Nationality is a contentious subject in Northern Ireland, a place where (and I’ll probably get crucified for saying this) half the side of the fence are too Irish for the Republic and the other side are more British than the English. Personally, I’ve been living in England on-and-off so long I should consider myself British, however I am enormously defensive about my Irishness and Irish heritage, a demeanour as much borne out of guilt (perhaps Catholic Guilt) as it is out of a desire to set the record straight about Northern Ireland with the blissfully-unaware English.
I was raised as a Roman Catholic in, like many, a West Belfast ghetto. I had the usual issues of a small, skinny kid- bullying at school, for example. However, it’s amazing what armoured vehicles tearing around and army patrolmen calling you a ‘fucking Irish’ at age seven can do to affect your perception of your own people and culture. It was, regardless, my Irish teacher herself that killed any interest I might have had in learning Gaelic: the demeanour of one’s teachers, I feel, is inversely proportionate to the interest one shows in any given subject. She was a hardass. As a result, I began to find irish history itself boring. In the end, as I grew a little older and (what I thought) more politically savvy, I began to consider myself in theory an Irish Unionist someone who is culturally Irish, but believes in, for economic prudence, the logic of Union with Britain. In practice, however, I was vehemently apolitical, refusing to take sides in debates between Republican and Unionist friends.
It wasn’t until I was at university researching for my Masters dissertation that I became horrified with the apathy that I had shown for my own history and culture. I’d specialised during my Bachelors in Western propaganda and part of my research took me through portrayals of the Irish throughout history and up to modern times. I was… appalled, both at my own lack of knowledge, and at the treatment of the Irish at the hands of invaders over the last eight hundred years or so, even up to the Ballymurphy Massacre, Bloody Sunday and the Troubles in general.
The inception of the Troubles as we know it today was a particularly difficult time for my family, particularly during ‘internment’, which resulted in 2,000 individuals over two years being jailed without charge. My uncle was shot dead, murdered, by British soldiers and the evidence overwhelmingly points to a military cover up. My father was lifted on the same night by the army, beaten, tortured and humiliated and incarcerated for six months without any crime having been committed on his part. Of course, no one was ever charged for his mistreatment. It is a shame to say, but these tribulations are typical of the oppression that Catholics were suffering at that time.
Since then, things have improved considerably. On the other hand I, like so many others, am distinctly unimpressed with these new hooligans calling themselves the ‘IRA’. They are presumably a bunch of impressionable thugs led by one or two embittered old hard-liners. I also get the feeling they have never lost someone, or really suffered due to the Troubles at all. If this were so, there is no way they would want to continue violence when public opinion is so overwhelmingly against them. Traditionally, the IRA enjoyed a fair degree of support from the community, as they were to a large extent seen as protectors. Today, this is blatantly not the case and there have been reports of intimidation and murder threats within the communities the IRA are supposed to be protecting. I have a feeling they won’t last long.
To get back to the original point I was making about nationality being a contentious subject in Northern Ireland, is that nationality is a state of mind. Protestant ‘British’ and Catholic ‘Irish’ have had enough blood mixed down the ages that, really, it’s a futile exercise. For example, I am descended from Irish land owners who converted to Protestantism and helped beach Armada ships during the English-Spanish war in the 1500s. On the other hand, my great-grandfather converted to Catholicism to marry my great-grandmother. While the ‘Troubles’ as we know them today had a historical precedent in the oppression of Irish Catholics, in reality any civil war of this nature is as much a battle for identity as anything else. Loyalists are afraid to lose their ‘Britishness’, Nationalists are out to prove their ‘Irishness’, but everyone has a right to a heritage.
This week’s Fun Filled Friday is a practical. Grab your Diana F+ and try out the pinhole setting.
I’ve had a bad experience with pinhole photography. Mainly it’s because keep forgetting to take it off the pinhole setting on my Diana F+, or it had been switched to pinhole in my bag. I decided to give it ago.
Here are the steps to pinhole photography the Diana F+ way.
1) Make sure you use the bulb setting. This gives you the control of opening the aperture for as long as you like.
2) Underneath the lens, flick the switch to ‘p’ for pinhole.
3) Take the lens off.
4) Decided on you subject matter, and use the tag at the side of your camera to keep the aperture switch open.
5) Leave your Diana for as long as you wish.
6) Hope for the best.
Identity and belonging has always fascinated me. Although I was born and bred in the South of England, I have always been an outsider. Born to parents of Indian and Chinese descent, I was corrected when I said I was English. “You’re British” said my mum. I got the sense that to be English, you needed to have English parents or at least English blood running through my veins. I have neither but I am proud of my heritage. After all I get to celebrate two new years – the western one and Chinese New Year. I get to be part of three different cultures – Indian, Chinese and English and I have family all over the world. I also get to eat authentic, fabulous food.
Like so many children from ethnic backgrounds, my parents put a very high value on education. Even today, both my mum and dad still think the English education system is the best in the world.
I have suffered from mild racism. I have been told to “go back to my own country”. I retorted back with the history England, starting with the Battle of Hastings and if needed, going back even earlier to the Barbarians and such like. However, living in predominately white, middle-class, conservative town when my brother and I were one of the few very ‘foreign’ looking people (my brother has Indian colouring, where I am more Chinese), I think we got off rather lightly – no-one really cared, and plus, people loved our food.
It’s taken a long time to realise that I look different. It was in my late teens when I really looked at myself in the mirror and saw my Chinese eyes, my high cheek bones and the colour of my skin. For a long time, I thought I looked liked everyone else – I really did. For me my, racial features was as different as having different colour eyes or hair, not being from a different race at all. All my life I have been treated like the same a everyone else. In fact, I have suffered more sexism than from a mixed-race background. I don’t even like describing myself as being mixed-race. For some reason, it makes me uncomfortable. I am just… me.
Racism is ignorance which breeds intolerance and fear. I recently found out that someone who I knew was a) from South Africa (I thought he was from Australia!) and b) a racist. I was very, very upset. I would see this person out in town, usually when we were both drunk. He has never uttered an unkind word to me. When challenged by others, he justifies himself saying it’s a culture thing. Like it’s ok to call someone a n***er. His views are outdated and unwanted. He is tolerated by his friends, who buy this sort of claptrap. So, yes, racism still exists, but not to my face.
I recently read an insightful article by BBC newsreader George Alagiah on what it’s like to be mixed-race in Britain. His final paragraphs resonated with me:
The UK was subject to the same prejudices and pressures as the US and Germany yet we avoided the worst excesses of bogus science or political extremism. There were calls for anti-miscegenation laws – but we never banned mixed marriages.
True there were ghettos – but the UK never accepted outright segregation. There were – and are – plenty of racists, but they’ve never been allowed to gain the foothold they did elsewhere.
Somehow – often by default rather than design – we have muddled through to where we are today, a country largely at ease with its rainbow people. Given what’s happening elsewhere that is something to be proud of.
So to me, what does it mean to be British? It means laughter, sarcasm, rounds of drinks, prevailing in the face of adversity (such as the recent UK riots), of keeping calm and carrying on. For me it means democracy, right-thinking, equality, the BBC, free education and the NHS. The royal family, I can take them or leave them. Yes, I talk about the weather, I drink too much and of course, I queue. Manners cost nothing. I am British and proud to be. I was born here. Britain is my home and always will be.
Being British is different to everybody. I have asked some friends of mine to blog about their nationality. Indeed, I posed the question – do you see yourself as British? Over the next coming weeks, I shall be posting their blogs.
Tell me your views. What does being British mean to you. What is your perception of the UK? Does you see the difference between English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish?