There's little special about being Irish, no matter how many certs you have
Compiled by JENNIFER O'CONNELL
REMEMBER THE certificate of Irishness, which was supposed to help haul us out of the recession while giving Irish-Americans something nice to hang on their living rooms walls? Figures this week reveal that only 1,042 people applied for an Irish Heritage Certificate in the first year of the scheme.
The news that a paltry 0.00167 per cent of our 60 million diaspora are willing to shell out €40 for a piece of paper that proclaims their right to eat Taytos and to stand up when the DJ plays the national anthem doesn’t bode well for The Gathering 2013, our “spectacular, year-long celebration of all things Irish”.
But it’s hardly surprising. I suspect the only people left on the planet who believe there’s anything special about being Irish already have an Irish passport. Either that, or they’re Angela Merkel.
Maybe now we’ll surrender the illusion that the rest of the world secretly envies us our Irishness – specifically, the manufactured, donkeys-and-dirt-roads version of it that we keep trying to shove down their throats. It’s embarrassing, it’s mawkish, and they’re obviously not buying it.
Yes, the wider world might once genuinely have believed that Ireland was a place of misty landscapes and hearty, backslapping locals where, as the Tourism Ireland website puts it, you can “kiss the Blarney stone and get the gift of the gab”.
But the recession put paid to all that. By now, they’ve seen enough news reports to know it’s not comely maidens they’ll find at the crossroads, but abandoned diggers.
The notion that something as complex and fluctuating as “Irishness” can be reduced to a line on a piece of paper tastefully framed in hardwood is laughable – almost as laughable as the notion that anyone but ourselves would want to be it.
A tougher question is what version of our national identity, if any, we should be peddling. In his introduction to Re-Imagining Ireland, Fintan O’Toole describes our predilection for seeing ourselves as a series of extremes: “Irish people like to believe Ireland as an exceptional place. Our suffering throughout history is unparalleled . . . our struggle for freedom inspired the peoples of the world. Our sense of fun is unmatched.”
Depending on who you are, being Irish might be as simple and as mystical as the time of day you eat your dinner at. Or it might be hating the Late Late and watching it anyway; it might be losing the run of yourself and putting it on the long finger; it might be the Angelus; our media; our native sports; our religion and lack of it.
But if you collar an Irish person and ask them what it means to be Irish, they’ll mostly answer by telling what they’re not. And generally, that boils down to just one thing: British.