I was born Irish and I’ll die Irish. My nationality is something I used to take for granted. Being Irish wasn’t an issue. It simply was what I was. It didn’t become an issue until I first went to the States. Living as an expat in California was akin to wearing your Irishness on your sleeve – literally. It seemed that the Irish abroad were a lot more patriotic and a lot more… well… Irish… than the Irish at home. Some took up Irish-language lessons. Others joined Irish drama groups. More still started playing hurling or camogie. It was as if moving away from home and being in the minority instead of being in the majority had tilted that patriotic fulcrum to the extreme.
I used to resent people claiming Irish heritage. Why couldn’t they be happy with being American, or English, or whatever… why did they have to be three-quarters this and an eighth that? In my innocence, an innocence bred under the umbrella of a solid uprearing and fixed values, I never really appreciated what it was to be Irish until I started travelling in earnest. Then I saw how universally liked we are. Perhaps it’s our self-deprecation, or our conviviality, or our ability to talk to prince or pauper. Perhaps it’s our humour, or our melancholy, or our sheer pig-headedness. Perhaps it has nothing to do with us at all and more to do with the celluloid image immortalised by the forty shades of green, the Quiet Man, or the infamous Jack Doyle. Who knows.
Last Monday evening, I sat with hundreds of others in the stands of Ferenc Puskas stadion to see Ireland play Hungary in their last soccer international before Euro2012. The match was delayed because of the thunder and lightning. But that didn’t matter. Some say it was the best part of the evening! We were in the only covered stand in the stadium and I had a back row seat so the weather didn’t bother me. I barely knew anyone on the team. I have little interest in soccer but had come out to support the home side. I’m Irish. That’s what we do. In the pub afterwards, I managed to disagree with most of the post-mortems, quite happy to have a scoreless draw and no injuries. A classic case of very little knowledge being a very dangerous thing. The craic was good – so good that for a while, it felt like being at home. And then it hit me. Irishness – being Irish – is a state of mind. It travels with you and is not tied to any one place.
Brendan Behan, a favourite author of mine, reckons that other people have a nationality but that the Irish and the Jews have a psychosis. And perhaps our sense of reality is a little distorted and perhaps the sky is a little too green in our world – but it is a lovely world in which to live – and a lovely identity with which to travel.
This week, as the temperatures rocket and the heat brings out my bad humour, as I watch my list of things to do grow longer, as I start scheduling lunches in July, I am grateful that here, in Budapest, there are people (Hungarians as well) who know what it is to be Irish – and I am grateful that I know them, too.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52