Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose where we are born, but for those of us lucky enough to breathe our first sweet breath in the Emerald Isle, we practically Riverdance out of our mother’s wombs, such is our delirious joy at being born on an island where we are sure to have a coloured and exciting life and where there’s always a plentiful supply of potatoes should we ever feel hungry. For Ireland is truly a unique country, with a charm, colour and character like no other. It is a land where the gift of the gab is commonplace, a cup of tea will sort out all your problems, a Tayto sandwich will provide all the basic nutrients required in a balanced diet, a visit to the chipper is at the very least a weekly ritual, where Waterford’s much coveted bread bap, the blaa, is on a roll after recently being afforded special legal protection by the EU, GAA is on a par with religion, where “I will ya” means “under no circumstances will I partake in that event” and “we’re sucking diesel now, lads” has absolutely nothing to do with petroleum products. It’s a nation where the first and last utterances of the day concern the weather or more particularly, the character of the rain we are experiencing at present, where being threatened with the menacing wooden spoon meant you had been a bould brat and had better run like the wind for fear of having a raw red behind, where leaving on the immersion is punishable by aforementioned wooden spoon wallopings, where every five year old can eloquently seek permission to attend the toilet in not one, but two languages upon entering primary school, where a good ol’ shindigmeans that there are drinks aplenty and banter of the finest kind to be had and most importantly, where a sense of comradery and a desire to look after our own pervades every village, town and city throughout the country. These are but a few of the things that epitomise the very essence of being Irish; the customs, mannerisms and ways that are engrained in our DNA and leave a memorable impression with foreigners when they come to visit, or even better yet, when we visit them.
Despite being a small nation, one of our greatest talents is the ability within which we manage to populate the four corners of the world and ensure that we are seen and heard wherever we venture. There really and truly is no escaping us! Last summer, my boyfriend and I were surrounded by a group of tourists in a Beijing hotel, all of us waiting for a security meeting to commence regarding our upcoming quest to North Korea. After years of travelling around Asia, we had considered ourselves experts at deducing where someone was from based on their appearance alone. So, with a room full of foreigners surrounding us and time to kill, we were in an ideal environment to put our skills to use. We craftily used Irish as our secret weapon, as we tried to ascertain where everyone was from without them realising they were the subject of our discussion. However, we couldn’t seem to pin a nationality on the guy sitting quietly to our right and were alternating between Scottish and French, but not arriving at any satisfactory conclusion. About an hour after the meeting when we were getting ready to board the train to Pyongyang, he turned around to us and said “well lads, what’s the craic?” It turns out he was not only one of our own, but a fellow Déise who lives just up the road in Tramore! Two lessons we took from that experience: our powers of guesswork are pathetic, and never assume you’re in the clear to revert to Irish as a safety net, there could be a Paddy lurking anywhere!
In a similar vein, you’ll always happen across an Irish pub wherever you go, no matter how remote the location. I recently trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and wasn’t surprised in the slightest to stumble across not one, but two Irish bars en route; one of which was located at a casual 3,445m (11,300ft) above sea level, where the sound of a light reel was drifting through the door and a sign outside guaranteed all visitors that there was an abundance of craic, booze and music to be enjoyed within its four walls. I’m sure Sir Edmund Hillary called in for a few well deserved pints of the “black stuff” after he conquered Everest in 1953!
Irish pubs aren’t the only symbol of our green land you might find in the most unlikely places. Our culture, and especially our music, has an incredible ability to make its way to the radios of the most obscure places. The likes of U2 and Westlife are renowned everywhere and so to hear their lyrics at a beachside resort in Thailand or in a restaurant in Ulan Bator would be nothing out of the ordinary. However, I once heard Enya being played alongside a sensory advert that precluded Kung Fu Panda 2 in a small 60 seater cinema in Lombok, Indonesia. I’ve listened to the soft lilt of Johnny Logan in Jiufen, a tiny village in the Taiwanese mountainside. Imelda May was recently blaring from a radio in the desert in Jaisalmer, India and perhaps most unusual of all, was when the Cranberries underscored the safety announcement on the plane from Pyongyang to Beijing. I don’t think Delores O’Riordan had aeroplane journeys in mind when recording “Dreams”, but I am sure she would be touched to know that the North Koreans seem to think it suitable!
With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching, the occasion to toast our Irish heritage and upbringing shall be embraced with the lively merriment that is part and parcel of our genetic makeup. Most interestingly however, are the celebrations that will occur elsewhere, for no other national holiday is celebrated so enthusiastically by people the world over. We are a nation of only 4.5 million, but yet people from the mountainous plains of New Zealand to the bustling cityscape of New York shall eagerly adorn themselves in green garments, attempt a lively jig and order a pint to toast a country they may never have been to, but most definitely love. This, to me, is the single greatest thing about being Irish: the enamour and endearment within which we are held worldwide. People love the thick brogue, the witty humour and our unreserved friendliness and hospitality. It still amazes me when I’m travelling to see people’s reaction after I tell them where I’m from and witness the high regard that we seem to generally be held in. Indeed, being born a fully-fledged Irish citizen is a precious gift to be worn proudly at every available opportunity, something I think it’s fair to say we do in spectacular fashion.
© Aisling McDonnell in Hong Kong
Enjoying the Halcyon Days and Looking for Sea Giants