Brian Boyd: Why I sometimes pretend that I am not Irish on my holidays
What we have to endure from ill-informed foreigners is tantamount to a hate crime in today’s language
I don’t want to hear about their night in Temple Bar, how dreamy Connemara is and nothing whatsoever about their time in the Guinness Storehouse or the Titanic exhibition. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
On a rooftop bar in Sicily a honeymoon couple from Lewiston, Idaho, asked me my name and where I am from. I looked them in the eye, smiled, and said “Hi, I’m Lars from Denmark. ” We clinked glasses of celebratory Prosecco together as my birthright blushed and a nearby cock crowed. I was Lars from Denmark, not Brian from Ireland, because on a sweetly humid Sicilian night I did not want my holiday head melted by talk of either Johnny Logan, the IRA, or Bono. This is the Irish person’s burden abroad; no matter wherever we may roam, saying “I’m Irish” is heard as: yes, I’d love to hear your insightful opinions about Eurovision, the IRA and Bono for the next hour or two.
I have happily sold out my country and denied my identity in places all over the world. I don’t want to be asked if I know the Kelly family from Co Leitrim, I don’t want to talk about the peace process and I have no opinions to hand on whether Bono will go solo after U2 break up.
I don’t want to hear about their night in Temple Bar, how dreamy Connemara is and nothing whatsoever about their time in the Guinness Storehouse or the Titanic exhibition. Why would I? I am Lars from Denmark, I live in Copenhagen and I work in accounts. Leave me alone, tak.
As much as we congratulate ourselves that we are a thoroughly wonderful people against which the rest of the world can be judged unfavourably; we have brought all this on ourselves: by trying to make ourselves more interesting and influential than we really are.
We insist on reductio ad Hibernium. Every person of global import can be explained and understood by virtue of their noble Irish heritage. It might have begun sensibly enough with JFK and The Beatles but then we doubled down by claiming figures as diverse as Marilyn Monroe, Yuri Gagarin and Ella Fitzgerald.
We are the only people on this planet who would proudly boast that Hitler’s half-brother used to work in the Shelbourne Hotel.
From Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are straight in there with our genealogy charts with rapacious talk of Irish ancestors. We’ve gone after Che Guevara (his grandmother, a Lynch from Galway) and Muhammad Ali (his great grandfather, a Grady from Ennis) and we’ll turn something up on Stalin and Mao Tse Tung yet.
In Ridley’s case, the Irish connection was watertight – the English actress appeared in a Star Wars film that had some scenes shot on Skellig Michael. James Corden became an Honorary Irishman because he participated in a 10-second dance with Riverdance on his show in Los Angeles.
We have a diseased need for famous guests to this country to declare “Ireland is the greatest country in the world”.
Bruce Springsteen duly did so at his shows in Croke Park two months ago; the fact that he later told an audience in Oslo that Norway was the greatest country in the world is merely proof he has the Irish cute-hoorism about him.
We never really warm to famous people visiting here until they are pictured carrying a Supermacs snack box, or, on the steps of the Merrion Hotel they are heard to knowingly quip “I had a mad one in Coppers last night, the head’s hangin’ off me this morning”.
We have a special Stormtrooper department who keep their beady eyes trained on the office of the US presidency. Barack Obama managed to become “Irish” . We staged extravagant “homecomings” for Reagan and him and we wouldn’t give them their passports back until they posed in a pub with a pint of Guinness.
But perhaps there’s more potential in Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine. We know Tim’s mother is Mary Kathleen Burns and is of some recognisable form of Irish descent while his father, Albert, is of Scottish-Irish descent which to us means: his da is Irish. Kaine has been described as “81.25 per cent Irish” – which is 81 per cent more Irish than most who claim to be Irish-American.
No wonder the world views us the patronising way it does as it must seem that all we do is shove shamrock and pints at people who come here and force them to say “the craic here is mighty” for cameras.