From stereotyping to the Irish language, Ciara Leacy examines our mixed feelings towards our Irish identity
“We put our glass to the sky and lift up, and live tonight ‘cause you can’t take it with ya; So raise a pint for the people that aren’t with us, and live tonight ‘cause you can’t take it with ya.”
So goes the chorus of ‘Irish Celebration’ by the Seattle-born rapper Macklemore, who played two sold out gigs in the O2 last week. From his popularity, and from the reaction of most Irish people to that song, it’s clear that most of us are proud of our heavy drinking, life of the party image.
But why is it that this aspect of Irish life, one which has an undeniably darker side to it, garners such a positive response from Irish people, while other aspects of our “Irishness” are derided?
In a completely different genre of music, Crystal Swing released their new single ‘Happy Days’ in the same week. A catchy and cheerful song, it has nevertheless experienced a rather mixed reaction. Its video is trending on YouTube, but despite over 233,000 views at the time of writing, some listeners took to the airwaves to complain about the band.
One caller on the RTÉ Radio 1 radio show, Mooney Goes Wild, criticised that they spent their time making “pointless YouTube videos” and declared them “the butt of the joke.” ‘Happy Days’ is an undeniably upbeat song, yet many Irish people denounce and belittle Crystal Swing’s efforts for “making a joke of Ireland”.
This, in contrast to our pride in Macklemore’s acknowledgement of his Irish heritage through a rather jaded stereotype, is striking in its demonstration of our ambivalence towards our Irish identity. Any Irish person who travels abroad will agree that the Irish are subject to relentless stereotyping by other nationalities.
For many, this is a source of irritation. Laura, a Dublin-born student who has studied in Boston and London, says stereotyping is rampant. “They automatically assume that you’re more into going out and partying than anything else and they don’t really ask anything, they just assume they know how you are.”
Allen, an American working in Ireland, agrees, admitting, “I originally pictured the Irish as being very intoxicated 95% of the day.” Despite the exasperation we feel about our stereotype as drunken leprechauns, however, we also seem keen to proudly acknowledge it.
A YouTube video entitled ‘You know you’re Irish when’ has been viewed over 963,000 times, and manages to pack every Irish stereotype, from alcoholism to brawling, into five minutes. Our pride in our national idiosyncrasies seems at odds with our aversion to our typical stereotypes.
For many years, Ireland was known as a country that prided itself on its friendliness. However, many Irish people believe that this has declined in recent years, with urbanisation leading to increasing isolation for many.
Happily, other nationalities do not seem to see this as the case. Laura explains, “We were perceived to be actually the friendliest people and anyone who said they’d come to visit has said it was the friendliest place to come to.” Our international reputation as the land of a thousand welcomes seems to be holding strong, despite our own unease towards this reputation.
For many, the Irish language is a key part of Irish culture. In spite of this, however, a large number of Irish people are happy to declare their dislike, and even hatred of the language.
According to the State Examinations Commission website, only 42% of students who sat the 2013 Irish Leaving Certificate examination took the higher level paper. This is in contrast to, for example, English, where 65.5% of candidates sat the higher level paper.
If not for extensive government funding, it seems highly unlikely that Irish would still be used as an everyday language, even in the Gaeltacht areas. In spite of the mixed feelings that the Irish populace seem to have towards our ancestral tongue, a cover of Avicii’s ‘Wake Me Up’ in Irish recently went viral, and has been viewed on YouTube over two million times.
In fact, well-known Irish groups such as the Coronas, the Heathers and the Rubberbandits have covered songs in Irish, often with very well-received results. We as a nation seem unable to make up our minds about ár teanga dúchais, with our opinions alternating between acute dislike and extreme pride. Still, the hypocrisy of that nation’s search for an Irish identity is probably best demonstrated by our sporting allegiances.
Football is one of the most popular sports in Ireland, played in all parts of the country. The exploits of the national team provide a common talking point, and many people will still get misty-eyed recalling the glory days of Italia ‘90.
Despite this, rather than support an Irish club such as Shamrock Rovers or Bohemians, the majority of Irish football fans would rather follow a Premier League club. Countless fans travel across to Britain each year to support Liverpool, Manchester United or Celtic, while clubs at home struggle to fill stadiums during the Airtricity League season.
Overall, it is obvious to us all that we have rather mixed feelings towards our ‘Irishness.’ We dislike being stereotyped, yet do little to discourage it. We both love and hate the Irish language, while sport demonstrates our difficulty in accepting fully our Irish identity.
In these difficult economic times, however, we should put aside any uncertainty we have in our Irish heritage and extend a proud céad míle fáilte to our visitors. Although we might be hesitant about certain aspects of our Irish identity, they obviously still feel that our little nation is one that is well worth visiting.