Saturday 22 October 2016

Mum is the word when it comes to bringing it all back home for Christmas

John Daly

Published 19/12/2015 | 02:30

Guinness is one of the many foods and drinks emigrants report missing about Ireland, with footballer Robbie Keane particularly fond of the drink
Guinness is one of the many foods and drinks emigrants report missing about Ireland, with footballer Robbie Keane particularly fond of the drink

Do you remember Sally O’Brien and the way she might look at you? She was the temptress at the centre of an ex-pat’s dreams in the famous 1980 Harp Lager television advert, reminding us nightly of the thousands on Irish emigrants on foreign shores thirsting for a decent pint. And him out in the desert and sands on which “you could boil an egg on, if you had an egg”.

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It pulled mightily on the heart-strings when there was no Skype or even mobile phones. These days   Vicki Michelle, who played the bould Sally in the ad, has revealed that she still gets whistles and catcalls from amorous Irishmen 35  years later. “Some people remember me as Yvette from Allo, Allo, but I’m far more famous as Sally, which is flattering but strange,” she said. That sultry stare of hers came to mind earlier this week with the news of the Government’s campaign to encourage emigrants to up sticks and return.

 Posters in all the airports will greet our returning ex-pat’s next week: “Make your Christmas commute shorter next year. Come #hometowork in 2016.” And a second set of posters will adorn the departures halls in early January, bidding them: “Goodbye for now. Have you thought about making 2016 the year you move back to Ireland?” Talk about your cracking a nut with a sledgehammer.

That phrase, ‘the savage loves his native shore’, has always applied with a vengeance to the Irish abroad. It may take more than the prospect of Tayto and red lemonade to get this generation to exchange the pleasures of Perth and San Fran for overpriced gaffs on Dublin’s Swords Road this time around. Okay, so we have managed to keep the lights on and the doors open – when we’re not being flooded, that is – but you wonder if the modern emigrant suffers the same pangs of homesickness his dad and mom did.

Despite the age difference, the generations do seem to agree on the things they miss most about the Auld Sod – with food and drink always topping the list. According to the clever video for Ryan Sheridan’s song, Home, what Saoirse Ronan misses most is the Sunday roast, while One Direction’s Niall Horan would sing any noble call for a decent fry-up. True blue Robbie Keane yearns for the Guinness, while Brendan O’Carroll sobs for the heartbeat of “my Dublin”. Barry’s Tea also figures prominently – probably a result of the multitudes ‘keeping the moment gold’ while they’re skyping from Down Under.

Penneys figures consistently on many ex-pat wish lists – and even though the company has Primark in the USA now, it’s just not the same. It’s well known that the queues for the tills on a Friday evening are a retail version of speed dating you’ll find nowhere else. Romance and a bargain – sure where else would you get it?

For most of us, though, the greatest loss when we’re marooned overseas is ‘the craic’, pure and simple. But like Guinness, this emotional state does not travel well – you may think a madcap frolic on the streets of Boston or Bali is the craic, but it ain’t. The craic is a spontaneous combustion of talk and tomfoolery that can only ignite with a mixed group of five or more on a showery Tuesday evening anywhere from Dingle to Dartry.

Not too many pine for our climate, which is really more penance than meteorological, but it’s always a good talking point. You’re not going to find a “soft day” summary of the weather – as the waters lap about your midriff – anywhere else on the planet.

For all our high prices, self-depreciation, crazy rents and pernicious politicians, nothing compared to the wicked vagaries of the elements. “The wind would hould ya,” as they say in Meath 12 months of the year. To which the answer is a standard: “Baltic, so ‘tis.”

For my money, if the Government is really serious about pied-piping our well schooled graduates back home, it should enlist the services of the one agent whose word carries more weight everywhere from Wall Street to the Square Mile than a thousand airport posters – the Irish Mammy. You may be a Gordon Gekko in the international boardrooms, but that invisible link to the maternal apron string is a chain neither time nor tide can break. The Irish Mammy continues to command obedience even when her offspring are well past their 50th birthdays.

Get a mammy on the case, that’s my advice. They are the first face we see and the last one we’ll forget. They make sure of it.

As the woman whose catchphrase was always: “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” she has only to snap her fingers and 10,000 will be home by Paddy’s Day.

Irish Independent

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