On the impossibility of being Irish…

There has been a full scale conversation going on the nature of Britishness for some years now. Last week, Bertie Ahern called for a ‘national conversation’ on Irishness. Roisin O’Hanlon objects, primarily on the grounds that the Irish already have a negative trait for pointless navel gazing. But she also makes the point that the problem with such conversations is that the perameters are likely to get drawn to tightly, and too prescriptively.

Once you start trying to define what it means to be Irish, two things inevitably happen. The first is that you immediately create a dichotomy between who is and is not entitled to call themselves Irish – hardly very inclusive. The second thing is that you create a hierarchy of entitlement within Irishness so that some Irish people can lay claim to being more Irish than some other Irish people. All we will end up doing is producing a checklist of qualities which supposedly embody Irishness and invite people to tick them off one by one to see how truly Irish they are. And woe betide any who fail to make the tribal grade.

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