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We promote ourselves as craic-loving singers - but don't like others saying it


St Patricks Day revellers

St Patricks Day revellers

Irish image: The largest gathering of people dressed as leprechauns - 1,263 participants on March 17, 2012

Irish image: The largest gathering of people dressed as leprechauns - 1,263 participants on March 17, 2012


St Patricks Day revellers

Liam Neeson is the latest superstar recruit to Tourism Ireland's gargantuan efforts to promote Ireland as the go-to destination for St Patrick's Day. His golden voice booms a Ballymena bass with just a little lilt of LA drawl, as he promises an experience of rolling hills, majestic cliffs and green fields a plenty.

The thousands of visitors who flew into Ireland for the festival will certainly not have been disappointed as they landed in Dublin Airport over the last few days. The glorious vista of Ireland from afar is indeed impressive and stunning.

But how do we, the Irish, see ourselves up close? Is the image we promote abroad something we are comfortable with when the mirror is held up and the image bounces back to us?

While Mr Neeson waxes lyrical about the glory of our shores, on the other side of the world, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was criticised for his St Patrick's Day message, which was full of praise for the Irish, but deemed in some quarters as patronising and mildly insulting.

Looking like Timmy Dooley with a bad spray tan and an even worse green tie, Mr Abbott set about sending a message of love to the Irish brotherhood.

However, his well-meaning festive tidings were not as well received on the Emerald Isle as he might have hoped.

There was much sneering and general tut-tutting about what many felt was a message littered with condescension.

In particular, some felt that his reference to a pint of Guinness or three was lazy stereotyping of Irish people. God forbid anyone might think us capable of drinking more than one beverage per day. I almost fell off my stool. The very notion of us over-indulging would drive one to drink.

It's hardly shocking that having a reputation for being inebriated would stick to us when we have spent years shoving a pint of the black nectar into every passing United States president who came to our shores, not to mention the various dignitaries and international VIPs who have come for a visit and stood still long enough for a pint to settle. Quicker than you can say cheese, it's off the plane and away for a pint of plain, that is how we make headlines at home and abroad.

Having a good time is one of our main sales pitches. But it's only OK if we say it ourselves.

The second mistake that poor Mr Abbott made, it seems, was to suggest that we were "responsible for providing the song". How dare he. The land of saints and scholars, yes, that is fine, but song - no, sure we never sing or stay up past midnight. The Irish spend their days skipping through Liam's lovely hills and then it's off to bed by nine to prepare for morning prayers.

We spend a lot of time basking in the glory of U2, Van Morrison and the like on the international stage, but when they come home, sure they are 10 a penny so we can just take them or leave them. Our successful reputation in music and the arts is something that we rightly take immense pride in, because proportionately we export, and are responsible for, more than our fair share of global talent.

Creativity and expression through word and song is a huge part of why people love Ireland and why they love to come here. So it is odd that Mr Abbott's reference to us being responsible for song would be viewed as insulting. Similarly, Irish people have made valuable contributions to other nations, which is what Mr Abbott may have been trying to explain. OK, so he did sound a tad like Darby O'Gill, but that's how we promote ourselves and we shouldn't be shocked when our message is actually getting through.

To cap his contemptuous missive off, he actually said it was "OK to be green". Some people on Twitter found this desperately offensive. Which is an awful shame, as globally we are probably expending enough energy to run a small Russian nuclear power station with the wattage required for lighting up every single iconic edifice on the planet in GREEN .

The one saving grace for Mr Abbott was that he never strayed into controversial area of sport. Lord save us if he had accused us of being a sports-obsessed tribe who punch above our weight on the world stage in many sporting disciplines.

Had he ventured into that territory, we may have had to take off en masse to his country in our county jerseys. Oh wait … we're already doing that. Australia has, for the most part, provided an open-door policy to many who went there seeking work and a new life, now and in the past.

In truth, as a nation we have literally spent millions promoting ourselves as craic-loving songsters who revel in green and shamrocks, so it's a bit ridiculous to criticise others when our image is reflected back to us from afar.

Nevertheless Mr Abbott, you should still proceed with caution because Liam Neeson is on the case, he has "a set of special skills" and he will find you!

Irish Independent