This general good feeling towards the inhabitants of the Emerald Isle (or indeed anyone who has any association with it whatsoever) is a phenomenon I have especially observed since being in Switzerland, but it does not seem unreasonable to make the sweeping statement that the Irish are generally well-loved around the globe. I have witnessed first-hand people’s desire to demonstrate some connection with Ireland: “Oh, yes, my surname is Irish, I think my great, great, great, great aunt was from Roscommon…” “I don’t actually have any family ties, but I cheer on the Irish in all their sporting endeavours. Come on the Greens!” “I visited when I was ten, spent Winter Solstice in Newgrange, got drunk in the Guinness factory AND I have a pet leprechaun under my bed called Paddy.”
OK, so some of those might not have been direct quotes. But you get the idea. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am perfectly happy for this state of affairs to continue. After all, I have a reasonable claim to Irishness myself: Irish family, though whether the name was originally Irish or, in fact, Scottish (shh, don’t tell anyone – did I mention the Irish are supposed to maintain the long-standing disdain for our cousins over the water?) no one can be quite sure; regularly supporting Ireland in the Six Nations, the only time I ever really engage in sport of any kind – it doesn’t matter than I don’t understand all the rules of rugby, right? (Erin go brach!); spending some portion of almost every summer/Christmas holiday I’ve had in Ireland, and in more recent years, driving round most of the country’s coast in search of the best pubs to play music in.
Of course, I’ve never actually lived there, and you would never guess I was remotely Irish if I opened my mouth. In truth, I grew up in Watford, just outside London, spent seven years in Cambridge, and then moved to Zurich. Three consecutive weeks is the longest I ever spent in Ireland. “But,” I cry, “I could have an Irish passport if I wanted!”; “Ireland’s my second home, all my family are there,” I might say (though this is not even true, since my parents still live in Watford and my brother is currently in Bristol…) or finally, as a parting shot, “well, I don’t much like Guinness, but I can play a mean reel on the fiddle.”
And so I can’t help but wonder what it is that makes so many people so keen to display connections (familial, sporting, musical, or otherwise) to this little island. And why have the Irish got such a positive reputation around the globe? It could have something to do with the great diaspora of the Irish people – for most of its history the country has seen a large proportion of its citizens emigrate – to the US, to Australia, to the UK… They’re everywhere, the Irish – and as Irish comic Dara O’Briain points out, they “find each other endlessly fascinating. We regard our mutual Irishness as sufficient excuse to start talking to each other.” (‘Tickling the English’, 2009) The accent is certainly a bonus – for much of my teenage life I longed for one, rather than my plummy RP. One of my friends, working in the UK over the summer, did far better than her colleagues at convincing people to complete surveys over the phone, and believed it was due in part to the “Irish accent effect.”
It could also have something to do with the fact that, for a relatively small country (population and landmass-wise) Ireland has produced a lot of names well-known around the world in various fields: George Best, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Pierce Brosnan, James Joyce, Kenneth Branagh, Liam Neeson, Roy Keane, Sharon Shannon, Ruby Walsh, Bono, Boyzone/Westlife (no, I’m not naming them individually…) Michael Flatley, Maeve Binchy, etc. etc. most of whom, if they’re still alive, have guested on The Simpsons. (That’s how you know you’ve made it, right?)
Anyway, I could go on, but I won’t. If you really want to know more, or if you’ve never heard of those I’ve mentioned (shame on you!), then go here and educate yourself: List_of_Irish_People
Maybe it’s the Irish reputation for friendliness. Or the fact that they’ve given the world “St Paddy’s Day” (though America has much to answer for when it comes to the cliched tradition of parades, shamrocks, and the tendency to dye rivers green. Dublin had to step up its efforts for fear tourists visiting on the 17th March would wish they’d gone to the party in New York instead.) Maybe it’s that the Irish had a lot of clout when it came to spreading writing and learning more generally in Europe in the Early Middle Ages and people are still grateful? (Cheers – or should that be sláinte? – to St Columba).
Whatever it is, I’m glad that my Irishness (as long as I don’t open my mouth and let my fiddle speak for me) gives me access to this niche of appreciation here in Zurich. And for those who feel they’re lacking in Irish spirit, you can always come down to the very friendly McGees Irish pub (not actually run by Irish people but by those who perhaps understand the business potential of promoting ‘love of the Irish’). On Thursday evenings, you might even see me in a corner with my fiddle. And if that isn’t an incentive, they have lots of whiskey. And Guinness. And craic. (Look it up.) Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just go and listen to this: