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Maïa Dunphy On Embracing Our Irishness

Maïa dunphy

This fine publication is much taken up with talk of new season fashion and all things Irish this month: two things which not so many moons ago, could have been described as mutually exclusive. Before anyone rushes to set up anonymous social media accounts to begin attacking me for my lack of sartorial patriotism, just think about this for a moment.

We do so many things so very well on this small little island of ours. It just so happens that for a long time, we didn’t lead the way in what were once extravagant concerns such as fashion or food; both were primarily functional, as I’m sure most of our grandparents reminded us growing up, lest we lost the run of ourselves.

But all that has changed (You see? I have vindicated myself before things got out of hand), and now Ireland blazes an inimitable global trail across a multitude of industries and enterprises; and all without losing an iota of the old stuff that made us who we are.

We still have all the classics – the strongest tasting cheese and onion crisps known to man, red lemonade, coddle, Wrenboys, an unrivalled knowledge of patron saints, illegal lock-ins on Good Friday, Sean Nós caterwauling, and a colloquial use of the words “grand” and “spanner” that will perpetually confuse and amuse foreigners in equal measure.

But now we also have fashion designers on the world stage, great minds at the helm of international organisations, the European headquarters of many of the world’s leading tech companies on our soil (because of our highly educated workforce, not our benevolent corporation tax… ahem), and artists, actors and musicians metaphorically flying the tricolour internationally. For a little island, we punch way above our weight (just ask Conor McGregor).

There is no one more Irish than an Irish person abroad. I remain convinced that patriotism and national pride increase proportionately for every mile travelled away from one’s country; by the time an Irish person reaches New Zealand, their DNA is half Burren and they suddenly remember every word as Gaeilge they ever knew. But it’s not just students on J1 visas, most of Liverpool, a good chunk of London and half of New York we can count as part of our global army, but the other 80 million people at the last count who make up the Irish diaspora.

There are fifth-generationIrish Argentines in Buenos Aires who have never set foot on the auld sod, but who speak with Wexford accents (they probably sound more Irish than most Dublin teenagers). Montserrat in the Caribbean marks St Patrick’s Day as a public holiday (the only country outside of Ireland to do so) with a week of Celtic revelry and festivals, thanks to its 300-year-old mix of Irish-African heritage (somehow, I doubt that was Cromwell’s ultimate plan?).

By the time an Irish person reaches New Zealand, their DNA is half Burren and they suddenly remember every word as Gaeilge they ever knew.

If ever there was a hierarchy of all things Hibernian, surely St Patrick’s Day would be at the very top: the most Irish thing of them all. But contradictorily, it’s also the one time we often revert to the ways of old. Fashion goes out the window and in come oversized novelty foam shamrock hats, stick-on Leprechaun beards and “Póg Mo Thóin” T-shirts. We usually blame these contrived, cultural aberrations on tourists, but come March 17, it is the Irish who embrace them for all they are worth (about €5.99 in Penneys). Although, we’re still smart enough to never drink the green beer. Try to dress elegantly on St Patrick’s Day with some carefully chosen green-hued accessories or an emerald thread in a Chanel bouclé jacket, and see how far it gets you. I tried it once, foregoing the tat in favour of a green silk blouse, and within minutes of being berated on my arrival, I had a 20-inch velour shamrock with LED lights fastened to my head.

But that’s where we Irish differ from other nationalities, and the reason so many people want to be a part of our tribe. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and there is always room for humour, no matter how dark the situation. Our country may have changed comprehensively over the last generation, but we haven’t lost our predilection for fun. We can be top of our game or bottom of the heap, and still have time for a wisecrack;and that is always something worth celebrating.

But we still never drink the green beer.

@MaiaDunphy

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