'Henry should play out his days in the League of Ireland'


TALKING IRISH:Ardal O’Hanlon on the fairest punishment for a certain French footballer, and the joy of a Carrickmacross Paddy’s Day

What are your earliest St Patrick’s Day memories?I remember there was a fairly half-hearted parade in Carrickmacross. Everyone would walk around the town for a while and then we’d stop walking and go home.

When I was 18, I was in Chicago and I saw the American take on the day – huge lumps of shamrock, dying the river green, and so on. It was very different

Did you feel that you had missed out on all the fun growing up in Ireland?No, I scoffed at the Americans for being so over-the-top and boorish. That sort of thing is much more the preserve of the ex-pat and the second- or third-generation immigrant. They need to cling on to some romantic notion of what being Irish means. We have a much stronger sense of our own Irishness here at home.

Actually, I have some questions to test your Irishness. Are you ready?Fire ahead!

Who will you cheer for in the World Cup?Whoever plays the nicest football, most likely Spain or Brazil. Would I support England? I think, when it comes to football, we are entitled to give full vent to our most xenophobic feelings. That’s the one legitimate outlet for them. So no.

What would you say to Thierry Henry if you found yourself standing next to him at a party?As a football fan and a Francophile, I admire his insouciance. But as an Irish person, I’d want to spank him with the nearest implement that came to hand.

I think, if he is genuinely sorry for what he did, as he claims to be, he should play out his days in the League of Ireland. That’s the fairest solution.

Do you practice any religion?Only in the loosest possible sense – when my children are making their Holy Communion and so forth. I appreciate the Catholic Church’s role on the big occasions. Put it that way. They own the gaff.

I have to tell you, you’re doing extremely well so far. What’s your preferred flavour of crisp?Anyone who remembers Father Ted will know that Dougal’s is salt and vinegar and cheese and onion. He would eat one of each at the same time. But my favourite would have to be . . .

You’re going to blow it if you say paprika here.In that case, cheese and onion.

Okay, this is make or break. Have you ever eaten ham sandwiches out of a bread wrapper at a GAA match?I must admit, I haven’t. But I do admire the tenacity of those supporters who come up to Dublin, eat out of the boot of the car, and not spend a penny while they’re here. I understand that impulse.

The three pillars of traditional Ireland are the Catholic Church, the Fianna Fáil party and the GAA. So far you’ve played a priest and a self-serving TD. Actually, on my current stand-up tour, I do a victorious GAA captain’s speech in Croke Park. It’s all about settling scores. “Nobody believed in us from day one. My own mother didn’t believe in us . . .”

Finally, do you have a favourite Irish author?It would have to be Beckett. He more than anyone has captured what it is to be Irish: our fatalism, the uncertainty we’ve always lived with, which we’re living with a vengeance now.

He captures that with great gallows humour.