LockerRoom: Old Firm weekend and it strikes you that there can scarcely be a more curious Irish social phenomenon than our smouldering relationship with Celtic Football Club. I've never been religious apart from this weird, mainly latent, devotion to Parkhead - that observance gives an odd insight into what it must be like to live in a monotheistic culture.
I just assume that everybody I know likes Celtic to thrive, that we all have the same reference point, the same basic world view. Apart, that is, from the odd southside freakshow who'll make an ostentatious point of telling the world that being fully evolved as a post-colonial Irish person means being chuffed to bits when Engerland do well. Yawn. And to be a mature Manchester City fan is to take a delight in Manchester United's spiffing achievements.
It's a touchstone of Irishness that everybody you know has some sort of devotion to Celtic. Lapsed, staunch, casual, fundamentalist. Whatever. Celtic are as reliable a conversational fall back as the weather is. On a day like yesterday everyone you meet will have shared the same views on the Old Firm game.
Which makes the Aiden McGeady business odd and uncomfortable. Certain fans of certain clubs in Scotland have taken to giving Aiden McGeady a hard time because famously, he has declared for Ireland (well he declared back when he was 15, people have just begun to care now) Having been reared in Glasgow, many people would have assumed that McGeady would declare for Scotland.
A few preliminary points.
Firstly, the Scottish youth system is a tangle of silly rules and regulations which practically steered McGeady into a green jersey all on its own.
Secondly the kid has, like so many Scots, a deep affinity with Ireland. As Packie Bonner has explained about the whole thing: "Aiden's family comes from my part of the world, Donegal, and like a lot of Scots boys with roots from there he has a strong link with Ireland." Simple. Well for us it is.
And then there's the fact that if a club produces a great young player, possibly a genius, it is virtually the solemn duty of the fans of other clubs to barrack and belittle that player. The young genius will be well rewarded for enduring the taunting of the masses. That's entertainment.
Those few points should all mean that the Aiden McGeady business is no big deal but somewhere in the heart of Scotland the fact of a young fella choosing his nationality by inclination rather than by accident of birth has caused a wound. All sorts of sly comment sneaks into the Scottish media concerning McGeady. Take the following cuts from recent opinion pieces in the Daily Record: "I actually hope McGeady has a miserable career as an Irish internationalist. In football you reap what you sow and I suspect that McGeady has naively planted the seeds of his own self-destruction . . .
"The word that immediately springs to mind is patriotism - the commitment to the country of your birth - a value McGeady has chosen to throw away like the joke in an old Christmas cracker . . .
"On the day he made the decision to play for Ireland and snub Scotland, I think he made a profound error of judgment."
"What I cannot accept is that playing international football has descended to the level of a Woolworth's pick and mix and that McGeady and his generation have the right to cruise around looking for the strawberry creams . . .
"But I can see the point of those who believe he is nothing more than a self-serving opportunist who has snubbed Scotland at their greatest moment of need . . .
"It's time all Scottish Celtic fans got over their obsession with Ireland.
"The fact that Glasgow sports shops sell as many Ireland football tops as Scotland football tops is both pathetic and ultimately unhelpful. This isn't sectarianism, this is about being Scottish and proud of it."
These are harsh, mean and uncomfortable things to be writing about an 18-year-old footballer who when he was 15 made a decision based on emotion and intuition and love. Again it's worth remembering that Aiden McGeady is going to be a superstar, he'll rise above the clamour of small minds. And yet . . .
The whole business pushes some buttons which we'd rather not see accessed. There's an instinct to retaliate glibly by listing off a ream of English-born players who have represented Scotland and then to ask more saliently why any view of Scottish patriotism or nationalism can't include the huge strand of Irishness which runs through it just as any large-scale view of Irish nationalism is going to have to respect and embrace a dour strand of Scots presbyterianism which seems alien to our beery selves. And what about this business of all patriotic duty being to the country of your birth? Childish nonsense.
Those buttons, though. Aiden McGeady will be a star and he'll be our star and knowing that he has chosen us, doesn't it deliver just the slightest frisson of triumphant pride, that external validation we crave? It's an uncomfortable area and as a nation who boo and barrack opposing international players if they have ever been, as we see it, contaminated by contact with a Rangers jersey we are barred from taking the high moral ground.
Remember Saipan and that vicious and unfounded rumour that Roy Keane, in mid-rant, had questioned Mick McCarthy's Irishness in a rather crude and direct way? It never happened but even the whisper of it sent a shiver of discomfort down the national spine. Mentally we divided the team into two categories. Those who would be uncomfortable with the issue being out there and, well, those who were born here. There was the awful possibility that the rock had been lifted on that whole mess of worms.
We're as inept as the Scots are at understanding the nuances and ramifications of race and nationality issues. Do we love all English-accented players who play for Ireland as steadfastly as we love the home-bred boys? Honestly?
Who do we love more, an Irish player who was raised in England listening to The Clancy Brothers, being dragged to mass every Sunday and being forced to spend long summers with the relatives in Ireland during which time he tried his hand at Gaelic football or the fella who got a few schoolboy caps for England, saw nothing developing and ransacked the attic for his granny's birth cert? Do we cherish them both equally? Or are we just nodding insincerely at this point.
And the Kevin Nolans and Kevin Gallens and others who have dithered about their Irishness and then declined to come on board, do we not have a special cold storage place for them in our resentful hearts? Do we not take a little satisfaction in seeing them struggle in their careers? I know many, many people like me who were born in England of Irish parents. There's always something coming down the track which will make you feel a little less Irish than somebody who first saw the light of day in The Rotunda.
We're not broad and accepting. There are degrees. I remember Mick McCarthy once saying that his late father, Charlie, who hailed from Tallow in Waterford, had tried a few times to teach him how to hurl and thinking to myself happily that made Mick more Irish than he was before I knew that piece of information.
The lesson is that there are no easy lessons. We are coming fast towards a time when there will be kids born and raised beside me here in Marino who will be declaring to play soccer for Latvia or Lithuania or Nigeria.
Good luck to them. We should be as happy for them as we wish Scottish fans and journalists would be for Aiden McGeady. The only universal application of patriotism is what's in a person's heart and head, not where they got their first nappy changed.