SOME time in the 1990s, that old bore Hubris went with his chum Stupidity to the Inn, where they bumped into their old friends Celtic Arrogance and Irish Vanity, and over a few drinks, they concocted this preposterous confection that To Be Irish Is Always Best.
So they waved their wand and invented an entirely new form of Irishness that pretended to be ancient, but was really quite modern. It was a hybrid of the marketing man's stunts and the wet dreams of the Departments of the Gaeltacht and of the Arts.
The arrogance underlying the whole concept was how this new marketing concept of Ireland was personified in the pseudo-Gaelic "craic", which summed up the falsehood of the entire era. You won't find the word "craic" from the Celtic Revival through to the 1960s, with the great ballad revival, and the music revolution of the 1970s. For The Dubliners, the Clancy Brothers, Planxty, the Chieftains and The Bothy Band, the word was always "crack". These people knew what bad times were and they knew what the crack was, with drink or without it. It was only when that sinister feline the celtic tiger began to pad the boards that the bogus neologism "craic" was foisted on us. For changing the spelling from "crack" to "craic" coincided with the moment that Irishness became self-conscious, winsome, stylised, conceited, boastful, Dingle became Daingean, and most of all, everything became phoney, phoney phoney.
From the vantage point of our current economic wasteland, we can see where we got it all wrong: for we couldn't order a simple coffee any more, but had to speak a variety of Mediterranean languages. Pubs in Dublin ceased serving sandwiches of any kind, and started selling ciabattas and panini, and other pretentious nonsense. One pub in Kildare even hit on the bright idea of charging customers €1 for a dash of lime in their mineral water.
Almost everywhere, any kind of catering work was suddenly beneath the dignity of Irish people, who were too important to be courteous and hard-working, so that tourists to this country found themselves being served by people from half-a-dozen European countries. Actually, as it happened, this wasn't so bad, because we could learn a thing or too from our immigrants: virtues like patience, and good manners, and gracefulness. So it really didn't matter how you spelt the word, there was neither crack nor craic in the new arrogant Irishness that prosperity bred.
It was just three years ago when I realised that we were heading for disaster, as I watched the helicopters for the Punchestown Festival flying over my house. It was like Iraq, minus the suicide bombers, though, as it happens, we were committing our very own special form of suicide.
So, as the Punchestown Festival approaches again, it's time to go back to basics -- and it's only proper that a local initiative to jump-start the local economy should be at the heart of where the madness became really aeronautical: Punchestown. Look, in a way, it's simple. Cheltenham is grander than Punchestown, and the Cotswolds are far more picturesque than my part of Kildare. But neither has what Kildare has: the people. That's why English race-goers love coming to Ireland, year after year, for the warmth and the good cheer and the generosity of spirit, which we nearly lost in the years of prosperity, when we presumed that the world owed us a living.
THIS same area -- bounded by Kilcullen, Punchestown, Ballymore Eustace and Naas -- is the locus for a new self-help initiative during the national hunt festival next month, one which might well serve as a model for comparable areas right across the country. Find out for yourself at www.k-fest.com. As Eilis Quinlan, K-Fest chairman explains: "K-Fest is about community, people coming together to make something new happen, to enjoy the music, the culture and the talent of a great county and build a truly impressive festival that will attract thousands of new visitors from near and far." Namely, a new festival for a new decade.
Yes, we can wallow in self-pity and recrimination -- these are seriously attractive options for those addicted to defeat -- as we wave goodbye, yet again, to another generation of emigrants. We breached them, we raised them, we trained them free of charge in our universities and colleges, and now they're off to spread their skills abroad, in Surrey, Seattle or Sydney.
Or we can fight back against adversity, by accepting what's done is done, and deciding that communities everywhere must now regroup, and relearn. The day of indulgence is done -- the time of duty has arrived. We can work together, just as the Irish people did 20 years ago, when we created the most successful economy in western Europe -- or we can sink.
So the following are the choices. We have www.k-fest.com , or some local version thereof, in your part of Ireland, in which we come out fighting, right across the country, and save the nation. Or there are three related alternatives: these are www.whinge.com, or, www.dont.blame.me.com, or finally, www.boohoo.com. These all have a broadband hyperlink back to the 1950s. There it is: take your pick.