Help me find my roots, Toots
I’ve always had a bit of a problem saying that I’m proud to be Irish. It’s not much of an achievement, after all. I merely picked the right ancestors.
Facetiousness aside, the whole idea of national pride just feels slightly suspect, tainted by connections with bullying, racism and ethnic cleansing.
What about the achievements of the Irish as a people, though? Surely we have plenty to take pride in? Only with careful picking and choosing. To take a nice remote example, Irish monasticism in the Middle Ages did indeed achieve extraordinary things. But that Ireland was very unsavoury in other ways. The Island of Saints, Scholars, Slavers and Head-hunters?
What we have to celebrate is the assortment of good and bad that makes us up. Otherwise, we risk donning again blinkers like those that allowed three generations of us to accept the twin sectarian statelets, Northern and Southern, that blighted 20th-century Ireland. For every swing, there must be a roundabout, for every Carolan, a Big Tom.
The ultimate litmus test of Irish self-acceptance is now, of course, the St Patrick’s Day Parade. It has plenty of diversity in its history – the New York parade began the tradition in 1762, and was at first largely peopled by British soldiers of Irish origin. Its import into Ireland in the 1930s was a submission to the strength of Irish-America. And, in a demonstration of the unstoppable evolution of difference, while the New York parade is still riddled with sodalities, Dublin is now overrun by Catalan street theatre.
Irish-America and its paddywhackery still remain the ultimate test of our acceptance of the variousness of being Irish. But it’s hard not to respect the brass American neck of M-and-Ms’ advertising come-on for their Ms Green: “Help me find my roots, Toots”.
To be clear: the problem is misplaced pride, not joy. I’m delighted to be Irish and I hope you are too. Happy St Patrick’s Day.