Who will set us free of the bogus Irishness of craic?
Spelling change can be traced back to the surge of confidence that began in the 90s
Before Italia 90 everybody wrote the word as “crack”. Spelling it that way did not identify you as a Brit or any sort of cultural imperialist. I have proof. I am holding in my hand – well, I am observing on a website, anyway – the cover of Christy Moore’s 1981 album Christy Moore and Friends. Next to a grainy image of the great man, we find the words The Crack was Ninety in the Isle of Man.
Search for the title of Barney Rush’s 1960 song on the internet, however, and you will now be asked whether you mean “The Craic was Ninety.” No, I bloody don’t, Mr Google.
The change is a relic of the peculiar surge of confidence that energised the Irish experience in the 1990s. That World Cup success was a harbinger. The rise of Riverdance was another. I was living in London at the time and – not averse to the odd kilderkin of beer – observed the transformation from a convenient barstool. To this point, you could scarcely imagine a less trendy entity than the Irish pub. Sticky carpets, curled ham sandwiches, Margo on the jukebox: out-of-town carpet warehouses offered more temptations to the urban hipster.
All of a sudden, people in good shoes were voluntarily entering hostelries bedecked with copper kettles, battered road signs and broken bicycle wheels. It was clear that a murky Rubicon had been crossed when my local pub in Kings Cross, hitherto the Charles I, changed its name to the Craic House. There was so much wrong with this. The allusion to establishments where addicts consumed freebase cocaine was, in an area still home to vagrancy and prostitution, not in the best imaginable taste. And then there was this irritating acceptance of a linguistic lie.
Eventually, confidence ebbed. The Charles I became the Charles I again. Jerks in hats moved on to tapas bars. But Riverdance still tours and we’re still expected to celebrate “the craic”. Who will set us free?