Sunday 23 October 2016

Colourful tale of Irish temperament and tans

Fiona O'Connell

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

'Foreigners sometimes caricature us as elongated leprechauns'
'Foreigners sometimes caricature us as elongated leprechauns'

My neighbour Martin is strong as an ox, as a city friend of mine discovered when he foolishly challenged him to an arm wrestle one night. But what do you expect from a former champion hurler and footballer?

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His brother Ger is another GAA golden boy, now coaching the next generation of both genders in those superlative sports.

But maybe there's something he's not telling us - though he certainly isn't keeping it up his sleeve. For like that grand-sized Gaul, Obelix, who fell into a cauldron of magic potion as a baby, which left him with superhuman strength, I'm beginning to suspect that Ger was likewise plonked into a pot of a breakfast cereal that claims to provide central heating for kids. For he regularly parades around in short-sleeved shirts - even in the depths of winter.

But then, we Irish are renowned for dressing inappropriately for the weather. We may spend most of the year grousing about the grey skies. But we strip off like overheated onions as soon as the sun starts to shine.

Meaning it's not just the 99s in O'Keeffe's that get hit hard during heatwaves. For many of us show off what we optimistically call 'tans' - but which the medical profession might diagnose as 'severe sunburn'.

Paddy's pale skin is soon burnt to a Tayto crisp, freckles flocking to join the darkened dots on our generally ruddy complexions. At least the rest of us matches up in summertime, or at least those parts that are exposed to the elements do.

But what exactly is the typical Irish look? Foreigners still sometimes caricature us as elongated leprechauns, though without the the pot of gold. While we make the famously ashen-faced Elizabeth I look positively sallow-skinned in comparison. She had to slap on all sorts of leaden poisons to achieve what comes naturally to us.

But from where? For the belief that we are descended from the Celts has been disproved by geneticists. Research at Trinity College Dublin into the origins of Ireland's population found no substantial evidence of the Celts in Irish DNA. Leading the authors to conclude that they never settled here en masse.

"Our primary genetic legacy seems to have come from people from Spain and Portugal after the last Ice Age," says Brian McEvoy of Trinity's Department of Genetics. "We have a very old genetic legacy."

Ancient enough to suggest that we are, in fact, the last remnants of an early wave of humans who spread into Europe from Africa, via the Middle East, thousands of years ago.

In other words, we may be the original Europeans. No wonder we're the first to fiesta and the last to turn out the lights at any celebration. Making us high kings of all hues amid this island's forty shades of green.

Sunday Independent

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