Bizarre, intense, enjoyable: My week tweeting for @Ireland

I was the account’s 253rd tweeter, but the first living in Japan


For the last week of 2016 I had the honor of tweeting for Ireland. Some people emailed me to congratulate me, presuming I was selected from millions and chosen to be the guardian/custodian of @Ireland. Thanks, but I wasn’t. After being prompted by two Irish friends living in London I simply emailed the guy who runs the account, which is handed over to a different tweeter every week, and nominated myself.

I had asked for the week leading up to Christmas as I thought it would be a way of connecting with friends and family back in Ireland. I live in Kyoto, Japan.

Instead, I got the final week of the year, becoming the account’s 253rd tweeter. It was a bizarre, intense and enjoyable week, during which I tried to justify to my in-laws and son that I had to be tethered to my phone all week as I was communicating with the world via @Ireland.

None of my family in Ireland are on Twitter and none of my family in Japan are on Twitter. That’s about the only thing they have in common. To be honest, I wasn’t very active on Twitter either, having abandoned the rabbit hole years ago when I worked as a technology journalist in London, and I found myself tweeting my colleagues, who were sitting next to me. I chose life and deleted my account.

Last year I got back on Twitter, for professional reasons. I am a freelance journalist and I teach at a university. Twitter is useful for contacting people (and for stealing other people’s ideas). Up until handling the @Ireland account I would have described myself a twice-a-week tweeter. Within about a minute of taking over the Ireland account I had tweeted three times. With in about an hour I was tweeting for… Ireland.

The difference is, of course, the followers. The Ireland account has over 46,000. That’s two Mullingars plus two Kenmares. No matter what you post someone will like it, because that’s the currency of Twitter, that and retweeting. You can also, as I found out, like what you posted yourself. What you’re really hoping for are retweets - an endorsement, affirmation even - somebody re-posting your tweet. That, and a shout-out from @realdonaltrump - the commander-in-chief of Twitter.

Before agreeing to take over the @Ireland account you’re asked to be civil, not to use it for commercial purposes, accentuate the positive, and accept that your posts won’t be liked by everyone - which is a roundabout way of saying some people will troll you.

Japan is nine hours ahead of Ireland, so during the daytime here in Japan Ireland was sleeping. I think in the main I was tweeting at Americans and people my side of the Himalayas. At around dinner time in Japan, Ireland was waking up, which gave me the whole day to try and be witty. I wasn’t. But, not for the want of trying.

What did I tweet besides witticisms? Well, a lot of food photos. I write restaurant reviews for The Japan Times and have countless photos of food on my computer. Japan is a food obsessed country, which is one of the better aspects of living here. So a lot of food photos went up. And they were liked. Pictures of food, and of cats, is to the internet as turf is to the Bog of Allen. Actually, I also posted pictures of cats, or a cat, with a cabbage leaf on its head. And it was liked.

The Irish Embassy in Japan contacted me, too; I think they thought I was selected to handle @Ireland, and sent me some information about trade and cultural contacts between these two island countries. I tweeted a joke from the Ireland’s Own, that my brother sent to me via WhatsApp. That got both liked and retweeted, which suggests to me that there’s a global hunger for the Lilt of Irish Laughter.

A tweet that got one the biggest reactions was a link to an incredible photo essay in the New York Times documenting president Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing and brutal anti-drug campaign in the Philippines.

I think I was the first person to take over the @Ireland account from Japan. Around 10,000 Irish people visit Japan every year; some of those visitors joined the week-long conversation. Also, people I haven’t heard from since I lived in Cork found me while I was on Twitter that week. For the most part, people were friendly and funny. There’s a reason Twitter is spelled with wit! Of course there were eejits also, but sure you’d find them in Kenmare, and Mullingar too.

In one of my last tweets after an intense week of tweeting, thinking about tweeting, and dipping in and out of multiple and fleeting conversations, I mentioned how I wondered Donald Trump will run a country and live (as he clearly does) on Twitter. “Don’t you mean ruin a country?” someone replied almost immediately. And I liked it.

I’ve since reverted to not tweeting very much. And I like that too.

JJ O’Donoghue is a freelance journalist and a teacher in Japan. He contributes to The Japan Times, CNN and NHK, and occasionally to Twitter @jj_nodonoghue.

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