Anne Sheridan argues that old Ireland ‘still exists’ in her weekly column, As I See It.
IN A HOTEL in Santa Monica this summer, a group of middle-aged Americans approached my friend and I.
It began what was soon to become a very familiar pattern. Wherever we went across America on a 17-day road-trip, the conversation was brought back to one concept and connection, Irishness.
From that hotel in California, to the oldest saloon in San Francisco and a casino bar in Las Vegas, being Irish helped build a bridge and a connection with a complete stranger. It opened a door and was greeted with a smile.
So maybe in someone’s eyes we are still a little bit special, in spite of some very obvious failings. Maybe we felt a little special by their reaction. We had made it far from home, to places where Americans hoped they one day might make our journey in reverse.
For them, it seemed a dream and journey too great, and so they clung on to their visions of what they think Ireland might be.
Out there, in the vast desert of Death Valley, we couldn’t really disagree about the ‘forty shades of green’, although we should have added that a lot of politicians could be described in the same vein.
Our identity – putting thoughts of our economic woes aside - wasn’t something we had to hide or be shamed of. There is no Stalin or Hitler in our midst, no imperialist desires. God knows our only ambition is to have ‘the craic’ and that never harmed anybody.
Even if their only connection to the ‘oul sod’ was a postcard from a distant relative, or an Aran jumper, it didn’t matter. In their eyes, there was still a drop of green blood in their veins, and they didn’t need a heritage certificate to prove it.
Irishness is still an idealised identity to which millions of people feel a connection, even if it’s generations removed. Much has been said and written about Irishness, and what we believe it to be, in the recent past, from Rory McIlroy’s split identity, The Gathering, Arthur’s day and so on.
The debate was helped by Jennifer O’Connell, a columnist with The Irish Times, who opined that there’s nothing special about being Irish. She asked us to stop peddling the notion that Ireland is all green fields (in reality abandoned development sites), donkeys traversing lonely country roads, and flame haired cailins. She said it was time to move on, and maybe she’s right. But what do we move on to?
“Culture isn’t built in the future Jennifer,” Limerickman Brian Stokes told her on a subsequent debate on national radio.
True, we should have moved on from promoting a faded postcard version of Irishness, but maybe it’s easier to cling to a rose-tinted past than a very muddled present and an even more uncertain future. Maybe we shouldn’t throw the freckled cailin out with the bathwater either.
Back across the great pond, we fell in for another, smaller road-trip - the Dingle half marathon. Running, it would be fair to say, wouldn’t be our raison d’etre, but we did fancy a trip down to Dingle. We could drink pints of Guinness in great old-fashioned pubs, like Dick Macs and Foxy Johns, escape the monotony of a concrete city and savour a little wildness that such a landscape affords.
We were, somewhat unknowingly, courting the idea of Ireland of old, and still feel romanced by that weekend.
We ‘ran’ along a breathtakingly beautiful coast-line. Out along Slea Head was a solitary man perched on a wall playing traditional Irish music on an accordion. In the distance was Dunquin beach, the Blasket Islands and turquoise waters in between. We could only draw breath to wheeze that it was a picture perfect postcard scene.
‘Old Ireland’ was stretched out in front of us. It still exists. We were proud to be there, and in that moment, proud of what makes us Irish.