Irish Roots: Why we love Heritage Week
It would be nice to think that the reason for the huge success of National Heritage Week in Ireland is our deeply-ingrained respect and love for everything our ancestors left us.
But we really have very little sentiment about what we’ve inherited. Since the start of the 20th century, we’ve shed a national language and a national religion, three currencies, membership of a kingdom, an empire and a commonwealth and demolished more great houses than you can shake a shillelagh at.
And since the start of the 21st century, we’ve reinvented ourselves over and over, as business moguls, four-hour commuters, consumerist party animals, rock stars, gay reality-show celebs, and penitent capitalists.
So what explains our enthusiasm for Heritage Week? Part of it must be the chance to get into so many buildings usually closed to us – all-consuming curiosity about the neighbours being a vital part of the Irish national psyche (and also a sadly unacknowledged motivator behind a lot of genealogy).
But the real reason is, I think, more banal. We just love nothing more than a party, and what better excuse for revelry than a past we still disagree about?
Of course we don’t actually need any excuse at all. In the early 1980s, I came back from living in sunny, civilised Italy to grimy, recession-hit, phlegm-hawking Dublin.
And there was a permanent party going on. The pubs were full to bursting with red-faced drinkers laughing their heads off. It was a glimpse of how we might look to foreigners – on a good day.
Heritage Week is a European initiative, so I tried to find out what Italians think of it, to compare to Ireland. A Google search for settimana del patrimonio nazionale found precisely one hit. On an Italian guide to Dublin.