One of the features of Irish life that astounds foreigners is our self-obsession. Do Belgians, Swiss, Estonians, Luxembourgers produce so many books about themselves as we do?
These sometimes slip into parody, such as last year's 'The Bombing of Dublin's North Strand'. In the Department of Defence's own words: "These four bombs formed an incident which had all the features of a major air raid ... searchlights, anti-aircraft fire, bomb explosions and fires, with the rise in tempo as the attack increased."
Four bombs, a few people killed, in 1941: and nearly 70 years later, a 380-page book about the night appears. Try explaining that to a Pole or a Londoner or a Berliner, or to a Jew anywhere. And this month, 'Destiny of the Soldiers, Fianna Fail, Irish Republicanism and the IRA 1926-73', nearly 540 pages, appears. It has an enchanting source note on page 458, which cites: "Mac Eoin, The IRA in the Twilight Years p540." So there we have it: just two books on the IRA totalling well over one thousand pages. Maybe IRA really stands for Infinitely Remorselessly Anal.
What else can we say about Ireland? That we haven't got a National Opera Company or a National Ballet Company, or -- unlike Birmingham or Liverpool or Bournemouth or Detroit or Cincinnati or just about every bloody hamlet in Bavaria -- we haven't got a free-standing symphony orchestra, but merely one that is an adjunct of the national broadcaster. And what more can I say about RTE, once I've told you that its highest-paid radio broadcaster has but two weekend morning programmes, which couldn't possibly attract the advertising required to pay even half her bloated salary?
Sometimes it seems that Ireland is described in tri-phoneme clusters: IDA, IRA, RTE, UCD, ICA, FAI, TV3, and most of all -- AIB: QED. For AIB can stand for both Allied Irish Banks and Anglo Irish Bank, and the BBH -- Big Black Hole -- where our future once stood. Perhaps the most important tri-cluster in Irish history is LGM: the Late Glacial Maximum, which defined the movement of the first settlers to Ireland, as the Ice Age began to recede. That's when the genetic base for the Irish people was established, with the uniquely common R1b-14 Y male-chromosome (nick-named Rory).
And though I'm reluctant to attribute group-characteristics to a DNA inheritance (Mr Hitler having done some damage to that kind of thinking) we have to acknowledge that some features of Irishness don't appear to result from merely cultural forces. For example, alcoholism, schizophrenia and bipolar mental disorders are more prevalent in Ireland than anywhere else in Europe.
But what about other mental phenomena? Why do few Irish Gaelic names feature in the history of mechanics? The British Wolseley motor company was founded by an Irishman, but a Protestant, and the greatest boss of British Ford, Sir Patrick Hennessey, was a Cork Catholic, but he was not an engineer.
However, it is the American experience which is most illuminating, for it is in the US that the Irish have found their liberation and their natural limitations. Several of the original companies of General Motors had Irish pioneers, and, of course, so did Ford: but they were all Irish Protestants. The Catholic Irish-American might be a fluent lawyer and guileful politician: but he doesn't make things that whirr or whee or wheel.
Then consider our planning process. Self-governing, Anglo-Irish Protestant Ireland built Georgian Dublin, with its four great squares, and some of the most gracious buildings in these islands: the GPO, the Customs House, the Four Courts and the Parliament in College Green, three of which were destroyed by self-styled "republicans" (who didn't -- and don't -- know what the word means).
Self-governing Catholic Ireland built Tallaght. And we've just completed a thousand kilometres of motorway, but without any service stations, save one, just outside Dublin, where it's largely redundant. It's all a matter of forethought: speaking of which -- how many chess grand-masters of Irish origin are there?
There are the usual comforting theories to explain the Irishness of the Irish -- eg. we didn't undergo subjection by the Roman Empire, or we didn't go through World War Two, so didn't learn the logic, the intellectual discipline and the municipal skills such experiences impart. But then nor did the Swedes. And nor did the Hanseatic League.
Is the failure to plan properly part of a congenital infantilism which also prevents adult discourse about anything, without swift recourse to abuse or sulks? The persistent existence of an IRA might even be another symptom of this genetic legacy. So too might our weird choice of national heroes: a serial-killer like Collins, and a Marxist-lunatic like Connolly. But if we are heir to some unfortunate genes, shouldn't we be told? For then, like an alcoholic, or the clinically-depressed, we can start to do something about it.
No, I quite understand: you don't like reading such things, and I don't like writing them, simply because they won't make me popular. But isn't a childish desire to be popular one of the reasons why our toenails, once again, are now teetering on the edge of an historic abyss?