Celebrating Irishness

Yet again, I’m posting this almost a week after it was written! Normal service will resume when I get back from Haiti but until then please bear with me…

Parades. Unemployment. Wearing green. Drinking. Emigration. Having Gabriel Byrne as our ‘cultural ambassador’. Having a leprechaun museum. Waiting two years for a response from a consultant, because nobody has opened your original letter – if you live in Dublin. Being asked to put money in a church collection basket to pay for defending child abusers – if you live in

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That’s what being Irish means today, in 2010.

If you’d asked me in 1990: Gabriel Byrne had just left Bracken, there was no leprechaun museum, and we didn’t yet know the extent of the child abuse in the Catholic Church.
But the rest? Parades – yes – although they are much better now, with fewer tractors and frozen majorettes and more Carnival-style colour. Unemployment – yes. Wearing green – about the same. Drinking – it’s more expensive and there’s a lot more variety, but we still have extremely high alcohol consumption. Emigration – yes. The health service – much improved, but the revelations about Tallaght Hospital show an appalling lack of interest in patient care.
Despite all the progress made during the Celtic Tiger years, in so many ways, the prevailing mood in the country today is low. In fact, ‘my heart is low’ – from ‘Only a Woman’s Heart’, released in 1992 by Eleanor McEvoy, before the boom and all that came with it – just about covers it.
Yesterday’s parades throughout the country were a welcome distraction from the feeling that there is nothing right with this country at the moment. The body politic and the Church are crumbling; at yesterday’s Mass in Cork City, as the Catholic Church tumbles around our ears, the sermon was about St Patrick’s poor Latin. Irrelevant doesn’t even begin to cover it.
But there is a feeling, all the same, of great pride. Much of this is visible in the way younger people have taken on St Patrick’s Day as a real celebration. And there is a feeling that there is change happening, painfully, slowly perhaps and with many casualties.
As we approach the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 rising, there’s a real chance that by the time it comes, the pain we are undergoing at the moment as a nation will somehow have contributed to a new Ireland. And, as we wake up this morning after toasting our national saint and the drowning the shamrock (whatever that means), sore heads or no sore heads, it might be time to start thinking positively again, and to think how, in the next six years, this country can be made into one we’re proud to celebrate every day, not just once a year.


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