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…