Thursday 14 December 2017

Brits in: how to understand the Irish psyche

A year after the Brexit vote, our reporter offers a survival guide for British refugees who want to build a new life in Eire

Clash of the ash: Kilkenny and Tipperary in the All-Ireland hurling final last year
Clash of the ash: Kilkenny and Tipperary in the All-Ireland hurling final last year
Queen Elizabeth and PresidentMichael D Higgins
The reigning Rose of Tralee Maggie McEldowney

Frank Coughlan

This time last year half of British voters decided that they didn't want to be proper Europeans anymore. This mismatched confusion of humanity ranged from those who would glumly admit today that they didn't know what they were thinking to Union Jack-wearing beer bellies who believe bloody foreigners are, well, foreign.

Remainers have been sobbing into their craft beers and bulletproof coffees ever since and some have even decided to uproot and follow their careers, or their dreams, to that curious little island next door.

Because they think we're like them. Or that they understand us. After all, we speak the same language, it rains a lot and many of them have great grannies from Mayo. What could be more logical? If only.

Here are a dozen things that need to be explained to these very welcome but naive and idealistic refugees of conscience before they finally abandon a badly listing HMS Deluded for John Bull's Other Island.

1. The Angelus

It was once a call to prayer and the faithful would pause and give thanks for the wonderful little theocracy they lived in. It's nothing of the sort anymore of course, but if you think this is now simply an ecumenical minute of reflection in a post-Catholic, pluralist society you'd be wrong. Wait until you try to get Simon and Chloe into a decent local school.

2. Cork people

You'll only understand when you meet one. They do a sing-song, full-on Irishness, devoid of self-awareness or humility and exuding a bewildering belief in the centrality of their county in European civilisation since Charlemagne. Don't laugh though. They're deadly serious. You'll be welcome as long as you're buying.

3. Spoken English

We have a way with words. But we don't do exact meanings. So 'couple' can be anything up to five, 'deadly' is usually really good and 'chronic' is not the status of a medical condition but a political analysis on the state of the country. And don't take people at their word either. It's not that we're dishonest, it just that words are elastic to us, with expanding and contracting meanings - depending on circumstances, weather or mood.

4. Spoken Irish

Official documents, road signs, public announcements and the like are generally bilingual. But you'll hardly ever hear people speaking our first language on the street or down the pub, except on Atlantic fringes. It is certainly part of what we are, but not the part that has anything to do with our daily lives. But don't ever suggest it might be a dead language. It's just resting.

5. The Rose of Tralee

The reigning Rose of Tralee Maggie McEldowney

This Lovely Girls' contest is a testament to our ability to hang on to a past that never really existed and, just like the Eurovision, the Rose is simply an annual aberration that refuses to go away. Few admit to watching it on the telly but you'll be surprised how many will happen to have seen the Acapulco Rose recite 'The Proclamation' in Spanish. Get used to it. It's as traditional as Christmas and nearly as long.

6. Hurling

First thing you'll notice after the frenzy of contact and blur of speed is that there is no offside. Which is unsettling for an Englishman. But it's not a free-for-all. Keep watching and while you might never understand what is going on you are likely to be left breathless. But don't run out and buy a hurley. You'll do yourself an injury and end up in A&E. And you don't want to go there. Ever.

7. Oliver Cromwell

I know Oxbridge history alumni see him as a prototype republican icon, but even 400 years later we still haven't come to terms with his genocidal little excursion here in 1649. He had a thing about Papists and, as you'll discover, there are still quite a few of them about. And they have long memories. So whatever they taught you among those dreaming spires, best you keep it to yourself. To us, Ollie will always be a wee b****x.

8. The Dáil

I won't be long before you'll see some scruff in a vest showing off his under-arm hair in the chamber of our Lower House. It's how we dress for parliament and is a good barometer of the respect many have for it. Don't be surprised to see rows of empty seats during debates either. TDs have better things to be doing. Like tarmacing potholes to get re-elected.

9. Honours List

Those who give distinguished public service in England are awarded knighthoods, CBEs or MBEs and they get a day out at Buckingham Palace. But this is a republic and we don't stand on ceremony. Instead, we give retired mandarins and public servants great wads of taxpayers cash by way of lump sums and pensions. Much more efficient and discreet.

10. Michael D

Queen Elizabeth and PresidentMichael D Higgins

We have a soft spot for Queen Elizabeth, but a lot of those other Windsors appear to be dysfunctional layabouts. Instead of a monarch we have Michael D, our president and head of state. He has a wonderful turn of phrase and might even buy you an ice cream if you meet him by the seaside on a nice summer's day. Just don't ask him to recite his poetry.

11. Funerals

These tend to be reserved and private affairs where you come from, but in Ireland even the most despised gombeen in the village will get a great send off in the local church. Everyone goes to funerals all the time. We bury our dearly departed quickly too, in case they return and change their will.

12. Political ideology

We don't tend to do Trots versus Tories and while we do elect some earnest Lefties, it's only to add to the gaiety of the nation. The two dominant centrist parties are inseparable ideologically, but what you need to look out for is the cut of the suits. Fine Gael traditionally employed better tailors, but Fianna Fáil trousers always had more pockets. That doesn't make any sense? It will if you live here.

Fáilte romhat.

Irish Independent

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