The Degrees Of Irishness




From top: the old Irish passport, 1978; Dan Boyle

We are far from being the welcoming, inclusive Irish, we often pretend to be.

It’s a question of degrees.

Dan Boyle writes:

The proposal to allow Irish citizens, not residing here, to vote for our Head of State, is not the most pressing constitutional issue needing attention. It probably is being suggested to deflect from many more serious issues.

Nonetheless it should be considered as bringing about a necessary change, to allow for standards that are in practice in many other countries.

What I find worrying is the making of the proposal has brought out a reaction, that seems to go beyond an understandable disdain towards political cynicism.

It seems to reveal an attitude that a pecking order of Irishness exists; a pecking order defined as much by the how and where a person chooses to live, than by any genetic privileges earned.

At the top of this pyramid are those who live in this country, and have always lived in this country. Let’s call them The Famine Survivors. These are the people who have the right to say ‘My country right or wrong’. That they usually choose wrong, remains only their privilege.

Below them are The Returnees. Emigrants, with their children, who have come back to the ‘auld sod’. They were Irish there, but they are not thought fully Irish here, because of a disconnect they are made feel they have made.

Then we have Our Northern Brethren. De Valera’s constitutional conceit that there is the State and there is the Nation, has created a particularly Irish Limbo in Northern Ireland. We like to romantically believe them to be our compatriots, but we are reluctant to make any economic changes of ourselves to fulfil that romance.

To be fair to De Valera, the idea of lost countrymen in other territories wasn’t uniquely his. It was quite a popular idea in the 1930s.

A more recent category would be that of The Wilder Geese. These are our more recent emigrants. Economic reasons may have informed their leaving, although some have left out of choice! The temerity of seeking better lives outside of the motherland.

We have The Honorary Irish. The children of emigrant Irish, who however much soaked in their adopted culture, gain honourary status by being successful in their fields, usually in the entertainment industry. We are happy for them to be Irish out there. Less so here.

The same could be said for their parents, and of those who left in other eras, The Lost Generations. We mock their wistfulness as being twee. We condemn their vision of an Ireland that if it ever existed, certainly doesn’t exist now.

Last, and sadly for many least, we have The New Irish. A moniker born out of political correctness that has assumed Orwellian proportions. As in The New Irish are not considered Irish at all.

We fear their different ways. We fear their differentness. We are wary they will dilute our cultural purity. The thoughts of a samba infused nine hand reel blows our minds.

Maybe I am deflecting here. We are though far from being the welcoming, inclusive Irish, we often pretend to be.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

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50 thoughts on “The Degrees Of Irishness

  1. Spaghetti Hoop

    Baloney. All of it. Sorry Dan.
    Categorizing Irish citizens in this matter is excessively introspective and I’ve no doubt insulting to many people.

    1. Deluded

      I thought it was funny and well-observed, they are not Dan’s categories but how he has seen others being referred to.

      1. classter

        But they are not categories I recognise.

        I don’t split up Irish people like that and nor, to the best of my knowledge, do my friends or family.

        We may all be outliers but I suspect not

        1. Deluded

          I know people who talk like that.
          I have also heard the term “New Irish” used in a sarcastic fashion.
          I grew up working on farms and in pubs, in production and on building sites so I guess I’ve heard a lot of blunt language.
          Also, my friends are my friends, of course, but I didn’t pick my family.

        2. Spaghetti Hoop

          I know folk from all counties, at home and abroad. The former are never referred to as ‘The Famine Survivors’ and the latter are never referred to as The Returnees or the Wilder Geese. Because people pop home a few times of year, are on Skype and social apps, nobody feels that banishment and isolation that was prevalent up to 1990s. They actually get the visitors from home also. My relatives and friends in Armagh are never referred to as ‘Our Northern Brethren’; they are simply from County Armagh. As I said, baloney.

        3. Deluded

          I thought Dan’s “Famine Survivors” was a tongue-in-cheek reference to a certain view of our identity, a Peig Sayers type of thing.

          Most of us have family or friends in Northern Ireland yet on site our Northern brethren are called “Nordies” (not by me, you understand), the Dubs are Dubs etc.

          Generally guys, wherever they are from, will work with people they are comfortable with, that know their slang, so they tend to seperate into cliques and this can be hard to tackle when it affects other working relationships and communication.
          The office environment is quite different in my experience, far more egalitarian.

  2. Starina

    as an immigrant, i’ve found the irish to be very welcoming and unterritorial/nationalist at all. yous are lovely. any time i’ve met a fellow immigrant and they say they’ve been here more than 5 yrs, it’s inevitable that an Irish person will immediately chip in to say “ah sure you’re Irish now”. now, i’m white-passing so i’m aware my experiences will be skewed by a certain ease-of-acceptance afforded me by this, but even what i’ve witnessed in the treatment of others has shown the Irish to be incredibly welcoming.
    What pisses me off is that Irish emigrants living overseas can’t vote. It keeps the feckers who ruined the economy for them in power.

    1. Brother Barnabas

      Nice to hear, Starina. I think a lot depends on where you’re from – we have our ‘preferred nations’.

    2. Joe cool

      That’s very true. You made me laugh with the “ah sure your Irish now” bit, as I’ve used it quite a few times

    3. classter

      ‘What pisses me off is that Irish emigrants living overseas can’t vote. It keeps the feckers who ruined the economy for them in power.’

      Completely agree on this, Starina

      1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

        Why is Gnasher gone, Bertie? It makes me do an exaggerated sad face. :(

  3. Mike Oxlong

    The Wilder Geese – for our most recent emigrants, a direct result of borderline treacherous decisions made by the FF/Green Party coalition.

    Your legacy lives on Dan.

    1. Gearóid


      Surprised he didn’t call them “Lifestyle choicers”, in a nod of recognition towards his old coalition partners.

    2. classter

      The Greens deserve criticism but most of the relevant decisions were made long before the Greens got a small seat at the table.

  4. Rob_G

    Dan, I often agree with you, but this seems like a load of nonsense.

    I always took ‘new Irish’ to be an inclusive term – as in,acknowledging that although someone may have been born in Nigeria or Poland or wherever, they are Irish now.

  5. bisted

    …what category would you put yourself in Dan…given that in this column you boasted of voting in the UK, the US and here during 2016?

  6. Holden MaGroin

    “That they usually choose wrong, remains only their privilege.”

    Thanks Dan. That’s not smug, insulting or tarring everyone with the same brush at all.

    I think there’s a lot of projection happening in this piece. Definitely an “opinion” piece.

  7. Gah!

    Well, Dan, you certainly never read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Such smugness!

  8. nellyb

    never been called new irish (however it’s a fairly new term) – ‘ah, you’re a paddy then’ instead, which I like.
    In law i am a naturalized alien. I like the ‘alien’ too: to the question ‘Where’re you from?’ I can boldly answer ‘Alpha quadrant, [Star trek trivia here] :-)

  9. stephen

    “Nonetheless it should be considered as bringing about a necessary change, to allow for standards that are in practice in many other countries.”

    I’ve seen this put forward many times in relation to this. What I havn’t seen is the reason why. So what if other countries do it that isn’t reason enough to follow.

      1. Nigel

        Or we could examine the merits of such changes on a case-by-case basis with reference to various international practices to serve as guides and examples.

        Mind you, I’m not completely convinced about this. Maybe for the Presidential vote, but for general elections?

  10. dav

    Thanks Dan, the article reminds me of the joke of the Jewish man who arrived in Belfast to be asked if he was a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew. ..

  11. Andrew

    “That they usually choose wrong, remains only their privilege.”
    But Dan when they chose your Green Party that turned out to be wrong because you went in to coalition with Fianna Faíl. They were wrong voting for you then were they? How were they to know you would get rid of Trevor Sargent to satisfy your lust for power. Then be part of the government to invite the IMF in. The ultimate failure.
    Trevor at least has his integrity intact

    1. Sheik Yahbouti

      Andrew, I can’t believe it but I agree with you on this important point. The battle of McDowell and Gormley over a lamp post was an entertaining side show, but Sarjent, I think had actual ability.

  12. Sheik Yahbouti

    By the way, I’ve just listened on the radio the plight of an elderly American retiree, living in the county of Cork. The lady is self-supporting, will not become a charge upon the state and, because of her engaging personality and enthusiastic volunteerism, appears to be a real asset to her community – some of whom came on the radio to support her. Needless to say, she has been given a fortnight to get the hell out of here, as apparently have two other American ladies of her acquaintance over the past year. These people were here legally, but marginally did not meet our requirements – Fifty thousand euro per annum in income and over one hundred and fifty thousand in savings, plus the price of a housel. Meanwhile, Indah is in the States smarming and supplicating over people who ARE in that country illegally. Go figure.

    1. classter

      I HATE the way Enda et al make the ‘undocumented Irish’ the focus of so many of these trips.

      The undocumented Irish come from a developed country and have decided to break US law.

      1. Kieran Nice Young Chap

        There was a segment on The Last Word during the week where someone commented that getting a special deal for the ‘undocumented’ Irish has been a non-runner for the past decade. They used to say ~2005; “Why would we do a special deal for someone fleeing an economic boom?”

  13. Sheik Yahbouti

    DAN DAN DAN DAN, what’s the story there? Oh it appears that she has, as required, “fully comprehensive” health Insurance. ( Wot a laff!) so she is, I hope, unlikely to ever darken one of our trollies. Any thoughts Dan?

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