Is being a clannish islander with all the good and all the bad that comes of that.
Is being pagan and spiritual at the same time, in the same bone marrow, with all the good and all the bad that comes of that.
Is not knowing how different you are until you meet the other islanders of all the world.
Is being sad and happy in the one minute, changeable as the weather; sober when drunk, drunk when sober, fiery when gentle, gentle when fiery, flawed, zany, crazy, unpredictable, predictable as Hell. With all the good and all the bad that comes of that.
Is being part of a family most of whose members have long ago left the island. Is being close to them and loving them. Is being so far away from them and missing them. Is envying them and pitying them. Is hardly being able to understand the accents of the young cousins in the summer. Is being embarrassed by the time warp wherein their parents live. Is wishing they would not speak so loudly.
Is being proud, proud, proud of them for what they achieved, and those before them, since Ellis Island, and being dimly yet acutely aware, somehow, that almost all of them have walked a hard emigrant road. Is noticing, almost with pain, how they have held on to the memory of the island. Is noting, when the old ones come back, how important it is to them to renew their sense of who they were before they became who they are. Is celebrating the strength of the links in the chain.
Is being a One Man Republic, a One Woman Republic, with all the good and all the bad that comes of that. Is being so often the square peg in a round world shaped by forces far beyond the island. Is loving the island with a fierce love. Is hating the island with a fierce hate. Is being Orange. Is being Green. Is sometimes being more prepared to die for the island than to live for it. Is thinking too much about all the Yesterdays and not enough about the Tomorrows. Is owning a head inside which the highways of the mind are sometimes so narrow that the margin briars snarl up in each other; sometimes so wide and free you would get lost on the journey across. With all the good and bad that comes of that.
Is something that is stronger the further away you are from the home island. Is something that is stronger at the great watersheds of Life: at birthings, dyings, marryings. Is something that draws the islanders so close together wherever they meet across the globe. Is something that has spawned a million wistful tunes and songs. Is something that has danced to a trillion mad jigs and reels. Is something that can darkly make one lonely in the heart of a crowd of revelers; in the best of company when alone amidst old hills.
Is something flaunted betimes on the sleeve, betimes scarcely declared at all. Is some organic thing that almost every other race can analyze better than we can. But which you have to be Irish to fully understand.
Is shamrockery, blarney, roguery, pishroguery (superstition). With all the good and bad that comes of that.
Is Saint Patrick’s Day and Easter Week and the Twelfth of July and Saint Bridget’s Day and Reek Sunday and Puck Fair and Killarney. With all the good and bad that comes with that.
Is the All-Ireland Hurling Final and the All-Ireland Football Final, Sam Maguire and Liam McCarthy, and the full-blooded Garryowen with the ball of the other shape and Sonia O’Sullivan, Barry McGuigan, Michelle De Brain. With all the good and bad that comes from that.
Is O’Connell Street in Dublin and Cork and de Valera and Michael Collins, Gerry Adams and Charlie Haughey, Ian Paisley and Bertie Ahern, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, Yeats and Gogarty and Shane McGowan.
Is Guinness and Jameson and Bulmers and Murphys and Smithwick and Tayto and Jacobs, the pint and the half-one and singsongs and Danny Boy and the Fleadh and the Giant’s Causeway, the Aran Islands and the McGillicuddy Reeks, Belfast brick and Waterford glass and Belleek china.
Is the I.R.A., Official and Provisional and Real. Is the U.D.R. and the U.D.A. Is Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats. And all the good and all the bad that comes out of all of that.
Is being proud of it always, but especially now. Being Irish is being fashionable just now. Being Irish is Riverdancing at Lughnasa around the bonfire of Angela’s Ashes. Being Irish, being one of those clannish islanders of the Western World, is, in the end, just great craic!
And that is what Life is all about. ♦
Cormac McConnell is a regular columnist with the Irish Voice and a broadcaster with Clare FM.