I have a love hate relationship with Paddy’s Day for many reasons, not least of which is that I hanker after the simpler way in which we celebrated our national day when I was a child… but that could be just my age. I may be incubating my inner ‘grumpy old woman’.

Given that we are approaching the day of national celebration and the fact that some of my unease stems from disconnect or gap that exists between what is really is to be Irish and how the Irish are portrayed, last night as we sat having dinner we decided to explore this huge question. What does it mean to be Irish?

Taking part in the conversation was husband, who is English and the two youngest daughters aged 13 and 11. We came up with a list of what it really means to be Irish…. This is our family view and I present it for your consideration and entertainment.

Being Irish means you talk a lot… This is something that particularly affects our family but as we regularly compare Irish families we know with British families we know, we think that this is definitely an Irish trait. The gift of the gab is apparently more than just a tired cliché. We see this as a positive.

Being Irish means we are sweary… Yeah, this is fair enough. We are great at swearing and even break up words to stick a swear word in the middle – abso-bleedin-lutely. This is probably neither positive nor negative. But we are kind of proud of this dubious aspect of our Irishness too.

Being Irish means we do a lot of slagging…. This is probably one of the most useful Irish traits and one that often other nationalities don’t get. And the secret of good slagging is that nothing is sacred. Irreverent slagging – brilliant.

Being Irish means we need to know everything about everyone… Again we think it’s the height of bad manners not to be interested in other people. Some nationalities might see this as being nosey but we think it should be taken as a compliment if, when we meet you, we interview you too.

Being Irish means we are loud… Well, we feel there is no point in talking if no one can hear you.. So yeah, loud and proud of it too.

Being Irish means the tricolour… Now this was interesting. I asked my girls if they knew the significance of the Green, White and Orange in our national flag. Oh, they sure did. It is not quite the meaning I was taught but in this era of peace and tolerance perhaps it’s very appropriate. Here is the new meaning of the tricolour.

Green – is for the fields of Ireland

Orange – is for the red heads

White – is the colour of our skin.

Being Irish means drinking… We had a long debate about this one and in the end conceded that yep, Ireland has probably earned her reputation as drinkers although we do feel that the reputation is actually larger than our drinking. But we are proud of Irish pubs which are now found in almost every corner of the world.

Being Irish means ‘the craic’….. We think that only Irish people truly understand what having the craic is about. It’s fun, it’s slagging, it uproarious, and it’s the ultimate feel good. We think it’s one of the best things about being Irish.

Being Irish means we are very connected to our spirituality.. Not all of us of course but these are all generalisations. We think that (in general) Irish people are very spiritual. From the good Catholics and CofI’s to the pagans we think there is a high degree of believing we are part of a bigger picture in Ireland. We also have some wonderful ancient pagan monuments and of course we own Halloween. This is almost as good as the craic. We like this very much.

Being Irish means we are cool… I was so thrilled to hear my children (13 and 11) announce that being Irish meant we are cool. In these days of depression and recession, our children are still proud to be Irish… that’s just bloody great!

Being Irish means (like it or hate it) we have Paddy’s Day For us the most interesting thing about Paddy’s Day is that it is so widely celebrated all over the world.

Being Irish is all about being a small country with a long reach…. we are all over the world once again.

So wherever you are, whether you are Irish or not can we wish you Happy St Patrick’s Day… curse away, have a jar, plenty of craic and then interview someone you don’t know very well!

With thanks to Roisin, Mia and Paul

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Writing and Talking.... on the radio, on the telly and in the papers. Debut book out in Spring 2022

12 thoughts on “WHAT IT MEANS TO BE IRISH….”

  1. Ah I love this post! Having an Irish mother means I can definitely recognise several of these personality traits in both her, her mother and myself – and I'm proud of every one of them 🙂

  2. @Talentcoop said …

    Ah Barbara that's brilliant!

    May I add one more for us Irish descent kids.?
    No matter your accent or where you may wander, being Irish means Ireland is always HOME.
    Irishness is carried, in our genes, in our souls but most of all in our hearts!

    The happiest St Patrick's day to you, your family and readers

  3. This is lovely Barbara. So positive & really great to hear that our children feel that way. Although tell Paul that my eldest, was was born in London and lived there for all of 10 months feels really proud to be English too. Eleanor

  4. Another factor – there are only two degrees of separation between any two of us and you never know where you are talking!

  5. I'm married to a wonderful Irish lass and for me being Irish means Champ, with me beetling the mash while she pours on hot milk, and not forgetting on Halloween to leave the first 2 portions on top of the flat pier at the farm gate for the fairies. 🙂

  6. ahhhh, this fully explains my penchant for inserting a cuss word in the middle of an otherwise normal word-my favorite….. 'I guaran-damn-tee(it, you, it WILL…whatever, you get the drift, lol)it's the Irish side of my ancestry that's to blame-or take credit for, as the case may be 😉

  7. I found out I have some Irish in me, only four or five years ago, and I'm 42 now. Hmmm… I wonder if this temper thing is genetic? Ha ha. Lucky for me, though, I never got into fights past the age of 13. Quite a lovely culture, the Irish. I hope to visit one day. I'm not sure if I would be welcome as a Jewish man (I am half Jewish, the rest of me is Irish, Scottish, Swiss, German, English and French); I understand anti-semitism was pretty common there in the past. I'm not sure about today.

  8. I read and laughed. Your list almost perfectly mirrors my own 'what it means to be Scottish' list… (except here we mostly have the Saltire).
    It's difficult to 'define' a nationality – to capture the essence of what being 'Scottish' or being 'Irish', for instance, actually means.
    I'm also often a bit anxious about where the question leads us – because all too frequently the response to the question 'what does it mean to be Scottish' is: 'It means we aren't English'… so we define ourselves with a negative, in terms of what we are not, which cannot be good.
    I wanted to add 'welcoming' to the list you wrote – because I think you Irish share that with the Scots.
    Though – and I don't mean any offence – I am often intimidated by an Irish cultural confidence that sometimes borders on arrogance. But maybe that's because you ARE the best…

  9. I'm only one year late in discovering this wonderful post, so perhaps I might add something about being late. We were married on March 17th and so always have another holiday to celebrate, something more than the insanity the Americans bring to St. Pat's day. Lovely!

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