Thursday 23 November 2017

Searching for the soul of a 'joyless and adroit race'

From craic-loving boyos to boom-time big shots, the image of the Irish has gone through many changes, writes Anthony Cronin

Anthony Cronin

WHO are we? Few peoples are as concerned with their collective identity as the Irish people appear to be. Many things from butter to rugby matches (though rugby is what used to be called 'a foreign game') are sold to us on the basis that they tell us or affirm 'who we are'.

But at the same time few peoples are more given to fantasy about their dominant traits or collective identity. In the aftermath of what has become a festival of ourselves rather than of a 5th Century holy man, it may be instructive to go back over some of our various identities and to consider who invented them and what substance they had in reality.

There was the materially poor but spiritually rich version of the Irish tirelessly propagated by Eamon de Valera, who was aided and abetted by the Catholic Church. Spiritual riches usually meant devout Catholicism, and this version of us had a good launching-pad in the 1932 Eucharistic Congress. A new Congress is on its way at a time when we are indubitably poor, so beware.

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