What it means to be Irish

For the day that’s in it – the day being St Patrick’s Day (17 March), the day when Irish people across the globe celebrate their deep-rooted identity – how about we do some reminiscing to pre-coronavirus St Patrick’s Days?

Fair Éire, for a small island nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish sea, I think we can all agree that we sure make an awful lot of noise. Considering that our national population is less than 5 million, a staggering 70 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestral roots.

Ordinarily on this day, millions of people worldwide would take to the streets and pubs to celebrate everything that is Irish, but this year things are a little different. The unprecedented effects of the coronavirus may prevent us from drowning the shamrock in the traditional sense, but it certainly won’t stop us from honouring it.

It is easy to be patriotic on a day like today when every Tom, Dick and Harry becomes a ‘plastic Paddy’ but what is it about being Irish that makes it, (dare I say it) such a coveted nationality?

Let’s get to the heart of the Irish

more shamrock

For me, it is the fact that I adore being Irish every single day of the year. When people ask where I am from, I am only delighted to tell them, and I love the banter that ensues. It usually involves a quip about our penchant for booze and potatoes, but it’s always taken in good jest.

That good jest and constant desire to have a laugh is the very foundation of the Irish psyche. Irish playwright Sean O’Casey once said, ‘That’s the Irish all over – they treat a joke as a serious thing and a serious thing as a joke.’ We may not be the best with our emotions but if we can make a laugh out of something, we sure as hell will! Our sense of humour and love of the session is exactly what St Patrick’s Day illustrates. It is an honour to have one special day every year to acknowledge our ‘Irishness’ and celebrate the rich history that has permeated the globe but, for most Irish people, St Patrick’s Day is for the benefit of the non-Irish, for the people who flock to capital cities worldwide to see the rivers run green and drink pints adorned with shamrocks. It is an opportunity to share our culture and keep it alive.

Irish identity

Many will agree that being Irish is much more than a nationality, it is a spirit – a feeling that forms your very identity. You take your Irishness with you wherever you go and it’s something that can’t ever be taken from you.

It’s a deep pride in our heritage and a love of our long and arduous history. It’s having a very Irish mammy ringing you to make sure you have eaten enough, ask if you are dressed warm enough and whether you have gone to mass, even though you eschewed your Catholic ways after your confirmation!

It’s going out of your way to have a chat with someone, always offering to buy a drink and never being able to have ‘just the one’, it’s making a joke out of everything. It’s playing Irish music at pre-drinks and sitting in a respectful silence when someone sings Raglan Road at an after party. It’s measuring a person solely on how funny they are and whether they ‘get the craic.’

It’s the warmth you feel when hear Irish accents in a far-flung destination and the joy when you chat and find you have mutual acquaintances! It’s the arrivals in Dublin airport – the céad míle fáilte you have experienced a hundred times, but it always gives you a lump in your throat. It’s a cold, creamy pint of Guinness and a hot whiskey to cure all ailments. It’s the smell of freshly cut grass when the fields are baled. It’s the burning turf in the open fire that you saved with your own two hands.

It’s the passion and pride that emanates from your soul when you watch your club and county play. It’s the rosaries and prayers that you say (even if you don’t believe) because everyone wants to be in Croke Park come the last Sunday in September. It’s the reason that wherever you go in the world you will always look for an Irish pub.

It’s the greenest hills and mountains that you all know by name (primary school geography 101). It’s the wild Atlantic way, the freshest seafood on your doorstep and the best surf if you are so inclined.

It’s live ceili music and how it can bring a tear to the emigrant’s eye. It’s Tayto crisps and Kerrygold butter. It’s copious cups of tea and the disparaging look if you say you don’t drink it. It’s Kelly’s black pudding and Denny rashers. It’s doing absolutely nothing but taking the mick out of everyone and everything and still having the best laugh ever.

It’s a one true love – you may caress many shores and adopt other lands, but you will never forget the way it makes you feel. So much so that regular holidays need to be planned just so you can soak up a little of what you are missing that you can’t seem to find anywhere else in the world.

Global family

It sounds so simplistic but unless you are Irish or have had an Irish upbringing, it can be hard to understand the importance of these small but meaningful things.

If I was in a pre-coronavirus Ireland today, I would be suited and booted in green attire, nestled in the corner of a packed pub with a gang of friends. I would have one eye on the all-Ireland club final and one on the parade. Laughing and joking away, reminding ourselves of how lucky we are to be Irish – clinking pints of the black stuff and somewhat respectfully nursing neat glasses of Jameson. I could stroll to the bar in any pub in the country (or Irish bar globally!) and there I would be reminded that with Irish people there is only one degree of separation. And so, the conversations would usually go as follows:

*Bumps into stranger* ‘Happy St Patrick’s Day! Where are ya from?’, ‘Mayo’, ‘Ah go ’way, my mother was from Castlebar! You don’t happen to know the Walshe’s from Pontoon Road?’, ‘Ah go ’way, I know John Walsh well’, ‘He’s my first cousin!’, ‘C’mere, we better get a pint sure for the day that’s in it!’

St Patrick's DayI feel both happy and sad when I recall the countless times that I have had these experiences on my travels around the world. This familiarity is one of the things I miss the most when I am away. St Patrick’s Day celebrates our global family, a diaspora born from struggles and hardship, scattered all over the world – not because we colonised countries but because oppression and poverty forced our ancestors from their emerald shores. Although modern generations are lucky enough to live away by choice, we must be thankful to our predecessors who, through song, dance and story, have created a culture that people want to celebrate, remember and be part of.

So today wherever you are, whoever you are self-isolating with, indulge us and allow us to ponder our greatness, just for a day!

Being Irish is much more than a nationality, it is a spirit – a feeling that forms your very identity