THE essence of pure patriotism has always eluded me, and never has it proved more elusive than at present. I can’t, for instance make up my mind, whether I should be applauding Bono’s strident defence of our beleaguered corporate tax system or telling him to go and take a hike to whatever salubrious tax haven he and his cohorts currently inhabit.
Wrap the green flag round me boys, to die would definitely be far more sweet than contributing a single penny to the State coffers. Don’t I know it?
The current challenge to the water charges is also taxing my concept of patriotism unduly – probably because I have a private well and realise that water may be a gift from God, but harnessing it costs money. The well in question went on a work to rule during the long dry summer and, for nearly a week I was in a terrible panic at the thoughts of not being able to wash my hair every single day. In the nick of time, however, we were able to turn to another well, which for some bizarre reason, only functions in very dry weather. “The place is full of springs,” the husband said, wondering what all the fuss was about and informing me that I had water on the brain. The transfer, however, cost us a small fortune and will probably have to be reversed when the rainy season returns.
And now it, seems, we also have to inform Irish Water that we have a private well, which, for the more superstitious among us, is akin to bringing it to the notice of a piseog worker on May eve.
“They could put a compulsory purchase order on it, if the new Shannon Scheme doesn’t work,” a neighbour said, dryly, noting my reluctance to reveal any of my assets to any state agency.
What, you may ask, has all that got to do with patriotism? The thing is this, as Mary Lou might say, I’m so bloody unpatriotic myself that not only would I balk at paying water charges, but I’d guard the well with a sabre if it ever faced the prospect of being nationalised. Bono isn’t trotting after me when it comes to protecting one’s wealth or one’s water supply.
It was in such a state of utter confusion that I enviously watched the massive anti water charge march through Dublin at the weekend. Dammit! I said to myself, there’s another revolution after getting underway without me.
But then, I reminded myself, none of the marchers could have had any idea of what it was like to be in state of utter panic at the thoughts of maybe not being able to wash your hair every day of the week in the middle of September. They’d have found the money somehow.
I hope nobody thinks that I’m being facetious. I’m just trying to defend my lack of patriotism. I don’t believe in paying taxes either, least of all the property tax, and I don’t believe in paying water charges, although all my neighbours have been paying for water since they started a group water scheme in the locality back in the 1970’s. Nevertheless, when the well was spluttering in the middle of September with not even a rain cloud on the horizon, I’d have paid anything to get hitched up to a guaranteed water supply if it hadn’t entailed applying for permission several weeks beforehand to close off the road and open a trench.
But then I’m not a patriot. Patriotism, however, has obviously got nothing at all to do with paying taxes or water charges. The most patriotic are, it seems, those who are resisting – which leaves me with a bit of soul searching to do. Am I or am I not a patriot? There’s no way I’d ever die for Ireland, but I’d certainly die if I had to pay any more taxes or charges. Is that the same thing at all?
Long ago in sixth class in primary school, when we had to learn off by heart the words of ‘Kevin Barry’, “In Mountjoy jail one Monday morning, high upon the gallows tree . . . . as well as Sir Walter Scott’s paean to patriotism, I was in an awful quandary. I knew even then that I was sadly lacking in true patriotism and feared that I’d eventually sink, as Scott predicted into” the vile dust from which I’d sprung, unwept, unhonoured and unsung.” The poetry in general had such a profound affect on some of us that one summer evening, unknown to our parents, we commandeered a rowing boat on the lake at Lord Dunalley’s Kilboy estate with the intention of making a defiant declaration of independence on behalf of our ancestors who had been dispossessed of their lands by Cromwell. In the true spirit of Irish revolution, this one failed tragically when we couldn’t even untie the boat from its moorings.
Now is the time for amends. The anti water charge campaign, while it doesn’t affect me at all, may well be the last chance I’ll get to wrap the green flag myself. But I’m not sure which way the wind blows. Is it more patriotic to oppose the introduction of the charge or to pay up and help get the country on its feet once and for all?
It calls for more ambivalence than certainty. As Yeats said: “was it for this the Wild Geese spread the grey wing upon every tide? Surely they, too, couldn’t possibly have been tax exiles.