Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Promoting Ireland abroad on St Patrick’s Day

This weekend, emigrants should make the most of the worldwide interest in all things Irish to champion the country in the places where we live, writes Niall McArdle

Fri, Mar 15, 2013, 19:00


Niall McArdle

Attention the Diaspora. Now hear this: This is our weekend to shine green, white and orange. Let’s enjoy it, but please can we do the old sod a huge favour? Crush the stereotypes.

Dare I say we have a duty to our nation and to the dead generations to do this? Just because it’s Paddy’s Day (or Patty’s Day as some amadans insist on calling it), just because everyone is after you for a song or a jig, just because women are falling for that cute “brogue”, in the name of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, don’t make a holy disgrace of yourself.

Just because you’re Guaranteed Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day doesn’t mean you have to act like an inebriated leprechaun in heat. That’s what Arthur’s Day is for.

Instead, let’s use this weekend’s interest in All Things Oirish to tell our friends a few truths.

Tell them St Patrick wasn’t even Irish; he was Welsh, of all things. And the shamrock is a not a four-leaf clover.

Tell them we’re not all drunks. We don’t eat Lucky Charms at breakfast. We don’t bathe with Irish Spring soap.

We have an accent, not a brogue, and when they look blankly at you, explain why calling it a brogue is an historic slur by our friends the English, for they said that when we spoke their language it sounded like we had a shoe in our mouth.

We can speak English rather well, in fact. We’re quite capable of pronouncing the voiceless dental fricative, thank you. We also do well writing English. See Yeats, Wilde, Joyce, Beckett, Shaw, Heaney, et al.

And yes, we’re quaint. We know. Ireland is a country where a sophisticated urbanite might refuse to mow the fairy ring in her garden.

Please, don’t be bog-trotting micks who hold up the bar in Sydney and Boston and Bangkok whining about your mammies and how you miss the football and the craic and Sally O’Brien and they way she might look at you.

If you want to cry about something back home, cry about the Magdalene laundries. And tell the world why.

But if you want to boast about how grand we all are, then go ahead. After all, we’ve given the world our brightest and our best, our saints and our scholars, from handsome movie stars to legendary rockers to writers the envy of the world.

That imaginative spark is the true Irish success story. The country nourishes its creative genius: our view of the world that is both romantic and cynical, whimsical and mercurial.

That creativity, coupled with our highly educated workforce bursting with ideas and zeal to go out and remake the place, is our modern gift to the world, the 21st century equivalent of our monks saving civilization during the dark ages.

And part of that is, like it or not, the Gathering. Yes, it sounds like a cult. Yes, it’s a bit of a rip-off of Blair’s Cool Britannia and Homecoming Scotland. Yes, there’s truth in what Gabriel Byrne said about it being a tourist scam. Mind you, he doesn’t live in Ireland anymore, and he’s stated many times he feels a little lost when he comes back, like an exile unsure if he’s welcome in the kingdom again.

But it’s working. Tourism is up. In school we were taught that tourism was the number one industry. That’s why we had to be nice to the tourists, even when they massacred placenames asking for directions.

But this weekend you’ll have an uphill battle if you choose not to be “typically Irish”. As Kermit the Frog pointed out, it’s not easy being green.

So we get our back up. Paddy is our n-word. We can use it; nobody else can.

But how much of this is our fault? Didn’t we diddle-ee-eye and Riverdance and tooralooraloora our way into millions of tourists’ hearts and wallets? Do we have the right to complain when they throw the stereotypes back in our faces? Ah, go on, then, give us a song. Or a jig or something.

Hang on, Niall. Didn’t you just write last month about how much you missed the old place and all the “ah, go ons”, and Barry’s tea and how you can’t get proper milk in Canada? You’re no better. You’re just another Paddy gone from the place and yearning for home.

Well, okay, I’m not perfect. But then again I’m old enough to remember watching Alan Gilsenan’s searing and still saddening The Road To God Knows Where, and I can still recall the young man (he must be pushing 50 now) who says he doesn’t know if he’s proud to be Irish, but he’s glad to be Irish.

Well, aren’t we all? And so this weekend we’ll let the world go green and let the green be Gathered in.