Thursday, March 17, 2005

On Irishness

Trinity College
Trinity College, Dublin (Dad's Alma Mater)

As I’ve intimated before, the title of the blog is a little misleading as I am, in theory, Irish. Bill Richards is definitely pure Anglo so I guess that in part legitimises things: somehow “Mad Dogs, Englishmen and an Irishman” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Anyway today is St. Patrick’s Day and I’ve been contemplating my Irish roots. Until recently I rarely bothered to dwell on this topic because (i) I was brought up and educated in England and mostly thought of myself as “English” and (ii) as a student in the 1970s, when indiscriminate IRA bombing was prevalent in the UK, I distanced, nay, rejected all things Irish. But the fact is I’m genetically and legally Irish: my Mother was from Co. Wicklow and my Dad from Dublin so that should be unequivocal. Right?

Well, no! As with most things, there are a few complicating factors. First of all my parents were Protestants. I suspect that when they were growing up this label was analogous to being a leper. I don’t know how they coped with the prevalent prejudices, but they took the opportunity to move to England after WWII was over and Dad had finished his education. The Old Man always attributed this move to employment opportunities (probably true; how many openings for virologists existed in the Emerald Isle?) but Mum muttered darkly that the Irish could be “narrow minded”. Hmmm, back then I never really knew what she meant. The second complicating factor is that Dad was born prior to Eire becoming a sovereign state i.e. when it was still part of the British Empire. As a result he and I had/have passports which state we are Irish Nationals but citizens of the United Kingdom. Or is it the other way around? It’s very confusing as I tend to think of nationality and citizenship as the same thing. It also makes my passport renewal ridiculously complicated. The third confounding factor for my identity is that I was born in Egypt. This is really as extension of Complicating Factor Number 2. Because of Dad’s United Kingdom affiliation, he had the great pleasure of serving HM’s Government as a major in the Army. For his sins he got posted to the Middle East with Mum. Clearly colonial life agreed with them as they were relaxed enough to produce both my brother and I while stationed in the Land of the Pharaohs. Now I can’t say I have any significant memories of Egypt as I left when I was 3 but it does make me feel slightly peculiar as to where I actually belong. Incidentally I was once refused car insurance in the UK when asked the place of my birth. When I inquired as to why I was told that the company didn’t cover non-UK nationals (racist gits). I explained that I was actually British and that I had left Egypt 30 years or so previously and had never returned and in any case I wasn’t a citizen of that country. The mentally challenged wage slave then retorted that I might take out Egyptian Citizenship and then his company couldn’t cover me. I guess the prospect of me somehow morphing into a Cairo taxi driver and terrorisng the streets of London was too much for him. Idiot! But I digress…

So within the last few years several people, on both sides of the Atlantic, have pointed out that I don’t really fit the English stereotype and behave in a more “Irish” manner. I’m not entirely sure as to what they were alluding but possibly the following:

• I can’t bear class stratification of any kind
• my sense of humour is irreverent
• I’m definitely “uppity” especially when it comes to idiotic authority figures
• although generally accommodating and conflict averse, I won’t back down on points of principle

This does seem to fit.

The OTT scatological Irish Blogger “Twenty Major” has a number of criteria to establish genuine Irishness. I meet some of them: I have a fondness for the Irish diet (soda bread, yum!) tea and beer. I hate everything U2 have done post 1987 (pretentious, over-produced twaddle) but generally like Irish folk and popular music (the Corrs are naff but the girls are pleasing on the eye -what it is to be shallow!). I 'think' a partial Irish vocabulary i.e. “ejit” and “banjaxed”, but rarely speak it as very few people will understand me, however my parents spoke this patois all the time when I was growing up. And I love the great writers, Yeats, Donleavy, Wilde and Joyce (I’ll finish bloody Ulysses one day, my God, all that rambling, Catholic guilt-ridden, repressive drunken nonsense: what a thing to inflict on mankind -the trouble is I’ll feel intellectually inferior until I’ve read it).
Oscar Lived Here

So with this background I wangled a junket to Dublin just over a year ago. I was very curious to see how the city had fared under the Celtic Tiger economics model and how the place had changed from the grey monocultural town I encountered as a young lad visiting my Grandparents. Goodness how it had been transformed into a vibrant modern colourful city. But the ghosts of Behan et al still roamed the streets which had a mystical magical quality. Quite wonderful; I didn’t want to leave.
Oscar's Dad
And Oscar's Dad Lived Here (seems like the old bugger put himself about a bit)

So can an agnostic Anglican with Buddhist tendencies (but that’s another story), born in Egypt, brought up in England and currently a US permanent resident who has a taste for balsamic vinegar and sund dried tomatoes be really called Irish and would he ever want to live in the Old Country? The answers are an emphatic “Yes” and “Yes”! Find me a nice biotechnology company in Co. Cork, or a suitable Chair in the same region and I’ll go like a shot…


P.S. I took the photos on a trip to Dublin a couple of years back.
P.P.S. There is a great tradition of rally driving in Ireland too.

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