The new core values
Published 24/01/2010 | 05:00
In part two of his guide to living in post-recession Ireland, Pat Fitzpatrick looks at our core values as a nation in terms of religion, sport, love, homosexuality, work and the Irish language, and examines how they have been altered by boom and bust. More importantly, he tells you how to avoid embarrassing yourself in public by falling foul of Ireland's new standards. Illustration by Jon Berkeley
The physical effects of the past couple of decades in Ireland are obvious. Motorways, empty estates, fake boobs, plump kids and different-coloured skin. But what did the roaring Noughties do to our beliefs? More to the point, what should you at least pretend to believe so as to avoid looking like a tool in public?
You'll still find cars parked outside country churches on Sunday morning, but the Catholic Church is finished. Everything from the Murphy Report, to a priest in Kerry queuing up with the bogmen to shake the hand of convicted sex offender in court has seen to that.
So where should you go now for a hit of spirituality? A number of Irish people have been tempted to attend gospel services, because they look like fun. You'll have seen them on a documentary, giving it hallelujah with immaculately dressed Nigerian families on a Sunday morning, sticking out like a sore thumb that seems to be dancing to The Birdie Song.
You don't want to be one of them. Africans look good praising the Lord because they are comfortable with public displays of emotion; agony or ecstasy, it's all the one. We reckon this should suit us, because we like to think of ourselves as Latin souls with freckles. In reality, we are straightforward Nordic types, who need a table full of pints before we let ourselves go.
The only time you see us praise the Lord with gusto is at midnight mass, where we'd prime ourselves with a few hot whiskeys before belting out, "Joy to the world! The Lord is come!" as if it were Ole Ole Ole.
Sober mass is an entirely different affair, where we mutter, "I believe in one God", down at our shoes and give each other the sign of peace with an apologetic handshake. Sorry for touching you in public.
The dreariness of the Catholic mass was perfect in a country whose national motto should be 'Jesus, I hope nobody is looking at me.' Now that it's pretty much gone, the people of Ireland are left with two choices. If you are a man, you will believe in nothing. If you are a woman, you will believe almost anything.
Because of satellite TV, the modern Irish man spends a lot of time watching documentaries about either monkeys or Nazis. On the basis of this, he has concluded that we are just chimps in shoes. Therefore, particularly in male company, an Irish man should proclaim himself an atheist. Otherwise the other men will just laugh at you and ask did you not see that show on Discovery where the monkey drove a motorbike and showed signs of empathy.
The beauty of this newfound atheism is that you are free to replace religion in your life with the only thing you really believe in. Sport. In place of entry into heaven, you should aim to play five-a-side until you are 45, and then train an under-age team at your local GAA, soccer or rugby club. Everyone else is doing it. Instead of handing out the collection basket at mass, you can now play your part in the community by imagining you are Alex Ferguson while shouting at the Under 10s on a Sunday morning. What's not to like? If you want a truly spiritual experience, then go to Croke Park.
And remember, the only sacred thing left in an Irish man's life is that the GAA should remain an amateur organisation. Any attempt to change that is sacrilege. Even inter-county stars who make millions for the GAA and nothing for themselves have to pretend this is the case.
It's different if you are a woman. In place of chimps and Nazis, you watch Ghost Whisperer and Desperate Housewives. You've had it with organised religion, but your sixth sense tells you to still believe in ghosts, fate and superstitions. It's why you wave at magpies.
It's also why most Irish women now believe in angels. In case you just popped in from 1998, the angels are the new religion of choice for Irish women. Most now believe they have a guardian angel, a kind of Santa Claus with wings who exists to look after them and help them get anything from a new man to a Mini Cooper. Apparently if that doesn't work you can appeal to something called the Universe, a supreme court of wishful thinking.
Angels are the perfect spiritual product for Ireland in recession. For a start they are free. There is no collection plate to fix the roof of the church, or buy Fr Gerry a new Toyota, or pay compensation to the victims of clerical abuse. The angels are also available 24/7, in your mind, so you don't have to get up on a freezing Sunday morning and go to mass. While they are dedicated to putting the wrongs of the world to right, they never seem to judge. This is brilliant because when you think about it, there is nothing good about being judged. It also ties in beautifully with our newfound sense of victimhood, where we're all paying for the boom years even though none of us seemed to benefit from it.
The only drawback with the angels is that when you start talking to a man about them, he will think you are bonkers. He has probably seen a documentary on National Geographic about them and knows it's all rubbish. So if you have asked your guardian angel for a bit of romance from the new guy in accounts or an engagement ring, the last thing you should do is tell the man in question or he will run away muttering about needing to train the Under 14s and you will never see him again.
When Cork hurling goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack told his family he was gay, his father replied, "They all have square jaws, but you don't . . . You need to get fixed." The country laughed its head off when this emerged in Cusack's book last year. We pitied the poor father for being so out of touch.
The real voice of modern Ireland could be heard in the reaction of Cusack's team mate, Ben O'Connor. "If there are 30 of us out there, there is surely one fella among us who is gay, and if Ogie is gay I don't give a fuck."
Not to suggest that O'Connor didn't mean what he said but, if you want to avoid looking as out of touch as Cusack's dad, it's vital these days to stress that you couldn't give a fuck about someone's sexuality.
The standard response of straight Irish people down the years -- "I don't care what they get up to in private as long they don't try it on with me" -- is no longer enough. In fact, that's homophobic these days. We're so tolerant in Ireland now that you should be delighted to have a gay man try it on with you.
We're so embarrassed by our backward attitudes in the past that we overcompensate by stressing how cool we are with it now. There are a couple of rules around this. When referring to well-known homosexuals such as Graham Norton or David Norris, never ever mention their sexuality, because what's that got to do with anything? Remember, we don't give a fuck.
It is crucial that you surround yourself with gay people. If you don't have a gay friend already, then get at least one as soon as you can (unless of course you are gay, in which case prepare for a lot of straight people asking you around for dinner). That way, you can pepper sentences with "my gay friend" references, which is very now.
All the better if you can manage to uncover homosexuality in your family. They don't need to be gay, a suspicion will do nicely. "I'm sure my brother is gay. Obviously, I don't give a fuck. I'm behind him all the way." Don't snigger when you say this.
If the younger generations are anything to go by, Ireland is about to become extremely camp. A lot of the young shop assistants in places such as Topshop, Gap and H&M make Gok Wan look like Paul O'Connell. In one of those shops in Cork the other day, I saw a guy mincing so quickly it was like he was on wheels.
Whatever you do, don't try to ingratiate yourself with these teens in a trendy-uncle way by camping it up yourself. One of them is bound to say, "That's so gay", which is a compliment when they say it to each other but an insult when they say it to you.
One more thing. Hold back on getting a lesbian friend as a social accessory for a couple of years. We're still not there when it comes to accepting that mna na hEireann could be turned on by mna na hEireann. In fact, we're probably back around Donal Og's father on that one. But that will change. Or get fixed.
Love and Marriage
Thirty four per cent of Irish births in the first quarter of 2009 were outside marriage. Now that men believe in sport and women believe in angels, that figure is likely to increase.
That doesn't mean the end of weddings. They're no longer under pressure to do 'the decent thing', but Irish drinking society still insists that unmarried couples give their friends a big day out. This is what marriage is about now.
The big day out was easy in the boom years. You put on a slightly better wedding than your friend did the year before ("Oh, we're having champagne at ours, sure we have cava every Friday night!") and in return you got cash gifts of €250 per invited couple, €150 for a loner. As long as the bridesmaids didn't go nuts on their facials, manicures, pedicures, false tan and all-over body wax, you came close enough to breaking even.
All that has changed. A lot of guests will have lost jobs, taken pay cuts, seen the value of their home decrease. Nobody knows how much money to give any more.
A good wedding host should let people know through the Gift Guru. Every family and group of friends has one. She -- it's always a woman -- is acknowledged as the person who knows the right amount of money to hand over in wedding, christening and confirmation situations. Never mind that the whole thing is a mystery, everybody will consult her to find out what they should cough up. So, if you're getting married, just tell her the price list: €75 for unemployed couple; €150 for single-income couple; €250 if both are still working; "and if anybody gives a donation to charity in place of a present, I'll mention their name in the speech and not in a good way."
But what if the Gift Guru is unsure? How much should you give then? Whatever you do, don't slip a cheque into a card saying: "Lowered the present to €200, allowing for deflation and likelihood you got a great deal from the hotel. Have a good one, Tony and Lisa, xx." This applies even if you are an accountant.
Likewise, don't be one of those eejits who decides to give €300 to help make up the likely shortfall caused by people who gave less because they were unemployed or accountants. When word of your 'generosity' gets out (and it will), fellow guests will just bitch about you rubbing their noses in it and you'll be forced to listen to, "Ooh, no recession here!" for the next six months. No good deed goes unpunished.
The only winner here is somebody who has recently lost a job. No matter how much you give, the married couple will protest that they didn't expect anything from you in the current circumstances. So give them nothing. They can't say a word.
The Irish Language
Things are looking grim for the Irish language. Gaelscoileanna thrived during the boom because middle-class people were willing to pay so that Fiachra, Oisin and Caoimhe wouldn't have to mix with Wayne and Cheryl in their local primary school. They probably can't pay now. TG4 was heavily subsidised so that people in the Gaeltacht could watch Ros na Run, Lipstick Jungle and documentaries about island people. That funding is bound to come under pressure.
So, does the recession mean curtains for Gaeilge? No. There has never been a better time to speak Irish in this country. Why? Immigration.
It used be that most of us only ever spoke Irish when we were abroad, usually to take the piss out of a local waiter. In the new multicultural Ireland, we're driven demented listening to groups of Poles, Chinese, Germans and Nigerians talking and laughing in their own language. We reckon they're talking about us. Wouldn't it be great if we had a language of our own?
Suddenly people who haven't spoken Irish since the Leaving Cert oral exam find themselves saying to a friend, "Feach ar an fear as Poland. Nach bhfuil se go halainn? Is maith liom sleep leis him." The friend replies, "Ar aghaidh leat," and they're surprised to find they speak Irish after all.
This underground revival is happening all over the country. If you don't brush up on your Irish, you could quickly end up feeling left out as your friends natter among themselves. It doesn't matter that they are only saying things like, "Look at Sean", "Where is Rusty?" and, "I like my green bike." You're still going to think they're talking about you. Particularly if you're called Sean or Rusty.
It isn't just the native Irish who are speaking the language. An Angolan taxi driver told me the other day how delighted he is to hear his young daughter using the Irish she learned at school. Recent arrivals don't have Peig-induced hatred for the Irish language. Unlike the depressed post-boom locals, they still love Ireland and all things Irish. It's only a matter of time before Ros na Run gets a Chinese bartender with a Connemara accent.
So enjoy Irish as a secret language while you can, because soon the whole country will be speaking it. And you might find that the "fear as Poland" will turn to you and say, "Ar aghaidh leat," himself. Jesus, the mortification.
What's the story with careers in post-boom Ireland?
A job in the bank (it didn't matter what kind of job) used be the summit of respectability in Ireland, but of course it has now slid down somewhere below traffic warden and prostitute.
Keep away from farming. The rest of the country is slowly beginning to realise that not all of the tens of billions lost on property disappeared down a hole. A lot of it went to farmers. Even if you didn't benefit yourself, you'll still have to do the old farmer trick of wearing shite-stained slacks with no arse to make it look like you don't have a bob. You might even have to sell your Range Rover.
Teaching was always a good bet, but the rest of the country has somehow decided that teachers are to blame for the current debacle and you don't want everybody hating you. Worst of all, your moody teenage pupils will probably hate you even more than they hate themselves.
Steer well away from any career that you couldn't explain to your grandmother. It's all about straightforward jobs these days. If you tell people that you're a Social Networking New Media Life Coach, they'll just assume you're unemployed. It won't be long before they're right.
The law is a recession-proof option. You make a fortune doing the paperwork during the boom as all the deals are done, and then you make another fortune on the way down as cranky business partners sue the arse off each other. On top of that, you get access to the best gossip in town.
Finally, don't despair. It may be a competitive job market, and you may have no obvious talents, but as long as you're willing to act clownish and slutty on TV, you could always go for the job of being famous for being famous. Just don't try to explain it to your grandmother.