There's little special about being Irish, no matter how many certs you have



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.

When asked if he was British, Samuel Beckett quipped, “Au Contraire”. We haven’t moved on much since then. Like an adult child who can’t seem to shake off the influence of the overbearing parent, we eye up our differences and our similarities with our closest neighbour with a semi-appalled fascination.

We’ve got Tayto, Gaelic games, Wilde, Yeats, the Irish funeral, red lemonade, Katie Taylor, and heading out for the messages. They’ve got Walkers, cricket, Shakespeare, the Brontë sisters, the royal family, ginger beer, Katie Taylor’s dad, and running errands.

Then there are the things we reluctantly agree to share: Rory McIlroy; rugby; rain; Dara O Briain; Graham Norton; Father Ted; a sense of irony; tea, and an over-inflated notion of our place in the world.

If we really wanted to be truthful, we should start issuing certificates proclaiming that the holder has roots in “the best damp little country on the outskirts of Europe that’s not Britain”.

The Gathering is predicated on a similarly confused and self-indulgent idea about Irishness: the notion that generations of Irish people lost something irreplaceable by emigration, and they’ll answer a call to return en masse and find it.

Most of the time, emigration is only a tragedy for those of us left behind. The new generation of emigrants miss their families, but many of them can’t wait to get out. One friend who has recently emigrated to Asia says she is sad to be so far away from friends and family, but admits it’s a relief to be free of the doom and gloom.

My brother left for Australia six years ago and has only managed one trip home since, a fact about which he is not nearly devastated enough for my liking.

A survey of some of the Facebook pages of the recently dispossessed suggests they’re far too busy making sure their burgers are cooked through on the barbecue, or saving turtles or abseiling in Africa, to worry much about what they’re missing back home. And who can blame them? But let’s not to be too surprised if they don’t all rush back next year.

Meanwhile, the certificate of Irishness has just been extended for a year. If the Government wants to rescue it from the oblivion to which it almost certainly seems headed after that, we should stop making applicants provide cumbersome documentary evidence and ask them a few simple questions instead.

Like: what do you do with tackies, hot presses and blaas? Can you quote at least one line from The Snapper? Did you party? (If you answered yes to the last one, you’re definitely not Irish.)

The real fear of Halloween? Letting the children run riot

YES, HALLOWEEN has become ridiculously Americanised, devoid of all relation to the traditions born here and exported to America by 19th-century Irish immigrants.

Yes, the decorations are gaudy, expensive and over the top. Yes, when I was growing up, we made do with costumes hand-fashioned out of bin bags. And no, we never had carved pumpkins.

Still, I secretly love it – for one night only, grown-ups relinquish control and stop trying to impose order on the household, and the children get to be in charge: they tramp the streets after dark, peeking inside neighbours’ houses, and eat sweets at bedtime.

Until you have succumbed to a night like that, you don’t know the true meaning of fear.


Are personal blogs fairgame for the media after a tragedy?

IT’S HARD to imagine a story that could tap more directly into the fears of every working parent. Two-year-old Leo Krim and his sister, Lucia (6), were found dead in the bathroom of their Manhattan home last week, their bodies discovered by their mother and three-year-old sister, who were returning from a swimming lesson. They had been repeatedly stabbed.

Their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, was with them, and is being treated in hospital for self-inflicted injuries, while police wait to question her.

Within hours of the news breaking, the media had discovered that the children’s mother, Marina Krim, was a “mommyblogger”.

They circled in on her blog, reproducing photos and scavenging details of the family’s life, including her last entry, posted at 2.30pm on the afternoon her children died.

It was disturbing to see the private lives of a family at the centre of a horrific tragedy so readily turned into fodder for some internet commenters to chew up, moralise over, and spit out – which, inevitably, they did; criticising the family for using paid childcare, for working, for being smug, for blogging about their lives.

But it begged an important question. Should the social-media accounts or blogs of private citizens who become the victims of tragedy now be regarded as “fair game”, in the same way as, say, a newsworthy celebrity’s online musings would be?

When Jill Meagher died in Melbourne, her Facebook profile, and that of her husband, were unprotected – but although photographs from Facebook were used in news reports, journalists avoided delving too deeply into details of her postings.

The Krim case appears to have crossed a new and disturbing line in the privacy wars.