Rejoice Today That the World over, People Long to Be Irish; We Don't Need Ministers to Waste Cash Telling Other Nations What They Already Know. Our Music and Our Literature Make the World Green with Envy!

Article excerpt

Byline: by Dermot Bolger

THE condition of being Irish - a condition that may be hereditary, often appears contagious and definitely at times feels incurable - may not seem like something to shout about too proudly at present, with Irish people upset not only that Government ministers are flying all over the world in first class to fly the flag today but more that the same set of ministers are unfortunately going to come home again.

But perhaps amid the present gloom, some sense of perspective is needed. Maybe we still have certain qualities - not necessarily to boast about, because we did too much of that when intoxicated by inflated notions of paper wealth over the past decade - but to quietly and genuinely be proud of.

And today is as good a day as any to recognise that a quality of Irishness exists that is still widely respected across the globe.

Perhaps it is appropriate that our national holiday actually celebrates not an Irishman but probably a Welshman, and that even then St Patrick is not the most popular Welshman in Irish history (take a bow, Kevin Sheedy from Builth Wells, who donned an Irish jersey to score against England in Italia 90).

Because one of the finest and most inventive qualities about Irishness is that this condition of 'being Irish' is remarkably flexible and fluid. Indeed, quite often the people who were best at being Irish are not even remotely Irish to begin with.

Nobody encapsulates Irish theatre with such fierce Gaelic pride as Micheal MacLiammoir, who was born as plain Alfred Willmore in Kelsal Green in London.

Nobody epitomised the fighting spirit of the great Irish soccer teams better than Tony Cascarino, who discovered that his Irish grandmother wasn't even his actual grandmother at all.

Nobody was a more fervent disciple of Irish nationalism than Erskine Childers of Mayfair in London.

Nobody saw themselves more firmly as the sacred embodiment of the Irish nation than those great Britons, Maud Gonne (from Farnham in Surrey) and Charlotte Despard (from Ripple in Kent) who took up Irish Republicanism with the same fervour as other women of their class took up needlework and spiritualism.

On one level, the greatest thing about being Irish is that it is so sufficiently vague to include anyone who wants to join in. Like another of life's great pleasures, it is free and (except for one day of the year) you don't have to dress up for it.

The present day St Patrick's parades will never be mistaken for temperance rallies, but they generally pass off with far less mayhem than the commotion which accompanied the introduction of the old age pension to Ireland in 1909 when cartloads of ancient women were ferried to the post offices, the police had to keep order in Co.

Clare, fraud was widespread and many pensioners celebrated so fiercely that they never lived to collect a second week's allowance.

And somewhere in the past decade, Dublin's parade has reinvented itself, has moved away from the narrow version of Irishness captured in those American parades controlled by the Ancient Order of Hibernians and has become a celebration of possibility and welcome, of artistic innovation, sexual inclusiveness and the self-confidence of a nation refusing to be bound to any constricted definition of itself.

It is inventive and elastic, and perhaps this very elasticity of Irishness allows us to still punch above our weight, especially in terms of culture.

SOMETIMES living in Dublin can feel like living in a literary mausoleum with every second pub named after a character from Ulysses and every other pub having pencil sketches of Joyce, Beckett, Behan, Wilde and Shaw, sometimes so poorly drawn that they resemble a line up of photo-fit police suspects. …