Monday 24 April 2017

New Ireland

The world is littered with New: New Zealand, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, New Ireland, New York, Nova Scotia, Но́вая Земля́ = Novaya Zemlya because some strangers washed up on the shore and called the landfall after some place back home. It's like that in Ireland: so many people have washed up here since the Celtic Tiger started its roar 20ish years ago. Nobody has yet suggested we call the place Nowa Polska but there are regions of the country where Poles are proper common. I love it: more choice on the food front; different ways of thinking, better talent on the sports field.  I'm not saying that black people run faster, but surely just by increasing the population and its diversity we can stretch further up the long tail of talent. It's not always easy.
I was listening to local hurling star Lee Chin [L in green jersey] being interviewed on NewstalkFM this week. If you close your eyes - or listen on the wireless - he's pure Wexford, he eats rissoles. The name is, of course, a bit of a give-away and Lee Chin got most cross when talking about the casual racism meted out on his poor old Chinese Dad. As a super-fit sporty-person, he got less slaggin' in school than his more obviously foreign father.

But getting slagged in an Irish school isn't particularly because of being 'foreign'; any difference will do. The son of a pal of mine, with impeccable Irish antecedents since before the famine, was also educated in Wexford and wanted to learn. Accordingly, he sat in the front of class, paid attention and asked questions . . . while trying to ignore the rain of spit-balls coming at the back of his head from the know-nothing gobshites in the back row. There was no street cred to be had from academic excellence and he only survived because he excelled in cross-country running. Despite all the educational handicaps, that chap went on to win a prestigious scholarship [free dinner and accommodation in college for 5 years] at Trinity College Dublin. Smoke that, know-nothings! In his interview, Lee Chin was asked if life for the New Irelanders was getting easier in 2017 . . . long pause . . . and the short answer was No, casual racism is endemic.  It must be worse if your parents look different and you don't excel in any sports. The other poster-boy for success in sports despite not having a full quota of 'Irish' grandparents, is Dublin GAA footballer Jason Sherlock, who can be met-for-a-soundbyte at Punchestown Races.

We got sent this collage of pixellated New Irish by the only Twitter-active person of our family. We were stunned to see Dau.I as part of an assertion "We Are Irish" as if there was any doubt about it. She was born in a farmhouse in North County Dublin - that alone being sufficient to secure her green passport. But it's true that she looks a bit dusky exotic against post-card cliché freckles-and-redhead Irish colleens. Her grand-mother, after all was born on the edge of the Sahara and came to Ireland 60 years ago when her prayers to St Patrick were answered. Back then in the 1960s, a good natural tan was rare and much admired, not to say envied, by the women who are now part of the Heritage Group in Tramore. If you read through the comments attached to Úna-Minh Caomhánach's collage there is some rather tired old certainty about what constitutes Irish. "Of the native population group that made up Ireland for the majority of it's history? You can use  for this." I've been caught on the wrong side of the shutters by people who make such statements. It's utter nonsense put about by people who got their Irish History from picture books and the Christian Brothers. The Poles, Syrians and Pakistanis are just the latest waves to tumble to our shores. Half the Irish surnames are Norman French - FitzAnything, Power, Redmond, Neville, Morrissey, Lynch. Are they blow-ins or 'Native Irish'. Is there some magical date after which incomers cease to be Irish? Tory big-shot Norman Tebbit modified his Cricket Test for Britishness with one based of the uniform worn by your WWII grandfather. That is like calling Fine Gael the Blueshirts because some of their ancestors went to fight for Franco in the 1930s

If Éamon de Valera can be born in New York City without the benefit of a parental marriage cert and go on to write the Constitution for the nascent Republic in 1937, then everyone can be a lot less certain and judgmental about what it takes to be Irish. Harrrrumph!

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