Friday 24 January 2020

Did you learn the on about Paddy Irishman...

In the UK, immigrants will soon have to take a test to see if they really understand the country. What if it happened here, asks Darragh McManus

The authorities in the UK this week announced that they will be introducing the art of queueing as part of their citizenship test for immigrants. This characteristically British activity, they feel, must be understood, acknowledged and adopted by new arrivals.

Perhaps our government might introduce something similar, asking that foreigners demonstrate a reasonable knowledge of Irish culture and traditions. (Indeed, the test might be extended to the many natives who are ignorant, contemptuous or even hostile to their native culture.)

But what defines Irishness? In the past, these questions would almost certainly have been answered by recourse to certain slivers of accepted wisdom, though those were always based more on cliché and assumption than verifiable fact.

Gurgling 15 pints of porter while reciting one of WB Yeats's more lyrical poems and beating the head off a passing Black and Tan with a big shillelagh: that constituted Irishness, or at least a misty-eyed, sentimental version thereof.

In more recent times, our national character was exemplified in the popular imagination by the accoutrements of the Celtic Tiger: brash people bellowing into expensive mobiles, buying overseas property, a particularly vulgar strain of consumerism.

Now, of course, it's different. Things have changed at an incredibly fast pace over the last two years or so, and we currently seem to be in a sort of psycho-spiritual holding pattern: circling the metaphorical skies between our past and as-yet-unknown future.

But there are, yet, some universal truths about Irish society, life and culture; certain things that still define us to a large extent:

1. Talking politics

Current affairs have been a huge, integral part of the national conversation for as long as there has been an Irish nation -- and probably long before that. It's assumed nowadays that the recession and attendant turmoil has rekindled our interest in politics, but it was always the case.

Polling counts, falling governments, scandal, sloganeering, electioneering, cars driving around with 'Rise and Follow Charlie' blaring out of the tannoy -- it's virtually become a national sport.

2. The desire to own your own home

Still embedded in the collective psyche, property crash notwithstanding. Blame it on the dispossession of centuries, a fear of indigence, the desire for privacy, we want to possess our own place, and by that most of us mean a house, not an apartment.

3. Watching sport

Participation levels may not stack up too well compared to other countries, but Irish people love to be sporting spectators, whether on television or in the flesh. Attendance figures, especially for major GAA, rugby and international soccer matches, are massive for our population size, and seem impervious to the economic downturn. And big games usually top the end-of-year TV ratings.

The groans of disappointed fans after our failure to qualify for this year's World Cup were only matched in volume by the frustrated wailing of programmers.

4. Being unprepared for the weather

It's amazing how ill-equipped we always seem. Our climate isn't that extreme by comparison with many, many other parts of the globe: no four-month, 40-below-zero winters, no scorching summers with 100pc humidity.

Yet our relatively mild weather inevitably catches us on the wrong foot. Still, this then facilitates another favourite Irish pastime: endless bellyaching about the rain/ wind/frost/clouds blocking our view of the sun.

5. love of newspapers

Online revolution be damned, Irish people still buy a huge amount of papers -- one of the highest per capita in the world. Indeed, just this Wednesday the Irish Independent posted gains of 61,000 readers over the last year, suggesting that we still like the tactile experience of handling, opening, folding and carrying a physical paper.

Sure, we can get information from the internet, including this paper's website -- but staring at a screen is not the same as touching paper and ink.

6. Complaining

Endlessly, constantly, infinitely. But only on the radio and in conversation with our friends -- we never complain in person, for example in a shop or restaurant. That just wouldn't do, would it? Much too embarrassing. Similarly, we never take active steps to rectify the situation; see Fianna Fail's perpetual re-election for proof of this.

7. Taking pride in our fellow nationals' achievements

Be they sport stars at the top of their game, actors conquering Hollywood, writers colonising the big literary prizes or anyone else excelling in their field, we take great pride in seeing Irish people do well. Of course, we also suffer a little from Tall Poppy Syndrome -- also known as begrudgery -- but the affection and well-wishing is genuine enough.

On the downside, there can sometimes be a slightly craven edge to our celebrations: the orgy of backslapping after the recent Irish Oscar nominations, for instance, was embarrassing. Which leads us nicely on to ...

8. Over-reactions

To just about everything, whether good or bad. When things go well, it's the greatest moment in the history of mankind. When things go ill, it's the biggest disaster since the Black Death. At one point, everyone agreed, Ireland was the best country that had ever existed, beyond a shadow of a doubt. One recession later and it's little more than a Third World slum, and only getting worse. A bit of balance would be nice.

9. Being late

The Irish approach to time is rather fluid -- to put it kindly -- which is something a lot of foreigners find difficult to get used to. They hear of a meeting planned for seven and actually turn up at seven. The natives start to shuffle in around half-past, and hold everything up until the last few stragglers arrive an hour later.

10. The Late, Late Show

Despite all the counter-attractions, the claims that it's not as good as it used to be and that they'll never replace Gaybo, this broadcasting phenomenon continues to defy the fragmentation of the television landscape by pulling in enormous audiences.

It's been a hugely influential presence in modern Irish history and is almost unique, with its funny/odd mix of topics: you could have a serious debate on knife crime followed by a pantomime sketch. A foreigner could do worse than watch a series of the Late Late to get a handle on the Irish psyche.

Irish Independent

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