St. Patrick’s Day – It was a day to celebrate but of course it had its darker side. As usual the authorities and various representative groups issued pleas for restraint but more often than not, it was ignored.
Up and down the country, inside and outside, openly with young children present, adults took part in this behaviour, often to excess. The media didn’t help either. You couldn’t scan a page of a newspaper or turn on a television without being shamelessly encouraged to indulge. And it’s getting worse.
I am talking about that inbuilt Irish trait – handed down from generation to generation – which peaks around the St Patrick’s Day festivities – National Self Obsession. In its mildest form, it may consist of just chuckling to yourself while you read an amusing article in the Weekend Bit of the paper entitled Things That Irish People Do. At the other end of the spectrum you may be arrested by Homeland Security for approaching complete strangers in New York saying things like “The Irish! Aren’t we great craic all the same? Aren’t we?…say it… I WANT TO HEAR YOU SAY IT!”
It’s origins are manifold. Some blame the 800 years of English colonialism – as the nation shouldered the burden of the foreign yoke it caused the nation’s head to bend down and become fixated on the nation’s navel .
If overdone, it is a puzzling affliction whereby everyday human activites are seen as being uniquely Irish. “You know you’re Irish when you require oxygen to release energy via respiration”, “You know you’re Irish if you feel sad when bad things happen”
I am as self-obsessed as anyone. Over the years, I have been fixated with clicky knuckles, wrists, necks, thinking I was the only one. “Does anyone else’s ankle do this?…”Oh yours does. I see.” Turns out lots of human beings click various parts of their body. What is less common is for them record the clicks on a Dictaphone and then listen back. Now some hairs have started to go grey, opening up a whole new field of regular checking. “Is that a new one.? Just how wrong would it be to pluck out all the grey ones?” As for my teeth, they were always a bit crooked but now I’ve started taking on-the-spot photos of them just to see exactly how sticky-out they are as I revel in their medical-textbook irregularity. In the past few minutes, I’ve literally just gazed at my navel and found there’s a mole there I hadn’t noticed before. (Actually that might be worth checking out.)
Is examining the national navel a similar waste of time?
Of course not, like any drug, National Self Obsession does have positive impacts. It inculcates a sense of patriotic pride and a proud unified country can be a force to be reckoned with. We were proud to be Irish this week. We received millions of euro worth of coverage over the course of the last few days, precisely because of our high national self-awareness; far more than any other comparable country could be expected to achieve. We continue to punch far above our weight on the world stage. Indeed according to the OECD as a nation we use the phrase “We punch above our weight on the world stage” more than any other nation on earth. Even more than Mauritius, which is the world’s lightest country – weighing only four stone.
After the battering the self-esteem of the country took when the troika strode in here with calculators that worked, followed by the news-teams obsessed with finding images of shawlies selling grapes from a pram, what is wrong with a bit of unity of identity and purpose at this stage?
Do we not need to pull together in tough times and play whatever cards are at our disposal?
Perhaps, but just like in the St. Patrick’s Day parades themselves, we need to acknowledge the new diversity of the country. A growing proportion of our population were not born here and do not have any memory of sugar sandwiches, Wanderley Wagon and pretending to go to Mass. But over time, if we ask them , they will provide some new additions to the You Know You’re Irish canon.
“You know you’re Irish when your name is Sunday but you finish each sentence with doyouknowwhatImeanlike”
“You know you’re Irish when you give your friend Paudie the address of your Uncle Wojciech in Krakow who might give him ‘a shtart’.”
Navel gazing is good fun – but from time to time, it’s important to keep the chin up.
(Not that I follow my own advice – see the @irishmammies account on Twitter)