When I write Ma, it rhymes with what sheep say, rather than rhyming with the word that is a long, long way to run from that Julie Andrews song. Now if that’s a very roundabout way of explaining things then good, that’s the intention. Being Irish isn’t as easy as you think you know. In this year and more specifically this Easter, we commemorate 100 years since the Easter Rising of 1916 when Ireland although not gaining immediate independence, started out on the road to becoming a republic as a result of the events of that week of rebellion (in most people’s eyes). I for one think the importance of the date is exaggerated through the rose tinted glasses of history. However due to its significance in the Irish psyche, if that’s not an occasion to look at what being Irish means to me as a writer and as a person, I don’t know what is.
My mother, or ‘Me Ma’, as I would have said growing up, had a profound influence on me. Neither of my parents were particularly religious. They more hung onto it in a just in case way, rather than rammed it down our throats. The same applied to their notions of nationalism. While we are undeniably linked to our deep traditions, culture and heritage, my parents kept us well clear of the sectarian bitterness that divided the northern part of our little Island.
When I write it is from a uniquely Irish perspective but not necessarily about things Irish. In fairness there is a good whiff of the Irish about all my books, but not exclusively so. Little Big Boy is very much set in the Ireland of my childhood so hands up on that one. Larry Flynn is a curmudgeonly old Irish rogue and the setting is Irish but you only have to look at the cover to see the stars and stripes to understand there is an international element to the tale. It is something that comes from the notion that you should write about what you know. Bad Blood crosses the Atlantic a few times and while Darkly Wood is certainly not set in Ireland, I did manage to sneak in an Irish character along the way.
Being Irish is I suppose about the things we have in common but also the small things that separate us. Today is ‘Good Friday’ and while many of the old Catholic traditions have fallen by the way side, you still cannot buy a pint in a pub today and there are plenty of people who will refuse to eat meat. The whole Easter period for me as a child was focussed on a religion I was forced to adhere to but nonetheless, the memories are a large part of me. The Stations of the Cross, religious processions, Palm Sunday and most important of all, Easter eggs.
Until recent times the Easter Bunny didn’t exist in Ireland. We had aunties. My aunties would all deliver a chocolate egg to us in advance of Easter and we would neatly stack them and stare at them all week before Easter Sunday. Jaysus it was torture. Me Ma wouldn’t let us touch them, although I used to carefully open one or two and sneak the sweets from inside out before carefully putting the egg back together again. If she’d caught me … I daren’t think.
I remember on Easter Sunday, I’d leap up and head straight for an egg. Mam would stop us and say that we would have to wait until after breakfast. We’d wait then head back to the sideboard to pick the first egg. She’d stop us again saying we’d have to wait until after mass as we couldn’t get communion if we had eaten chocolate. For the love of…
After Mass, it would be back to the eggs but by then it was getting close to dinner time so all we could have after much negotiation was half of one egg. It was torture. My whole Easter Sunday was spend negotiating how much of the next egg I could eat before dinner or tea, until bed time. They say moving house is stressful. Try being eight years old in a house full of chocolate that you can’t eat.
This Easter, we remember 1916. 100 years ago, a largely Dublin centric rebellion set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to the war of Independence culminating in the formation of the Irish state in 1922. It is an odd thing, because at the time it was largely unpopular with the citizenry of Dublin and indeed most of the casualties were civilians, followed by a high number of British soldiers and relatively few rebels.
For those unfamiliar with Irish history, the ridiculously short version prior to Independance is 800 years of British oppression, an horrific famine in the mid 1800’s that saw millions die or emigrate, both giving birth to countless 104 verse long songs about the auld sod, a few failed attempts at rebellion coming to a head in 1916, when at the end of the vicious street battles and destruction of many landmark buildings, the rebels leaders were executed.
It has been argued that had the leaders not been made martyrs, perhaps things would have quietened down, but the public’s opinion changed when the executions began and when the fight was widened in subsequent years and the British began to use more and more desperate measures to quell the unrest, such as the use of the notorious Black and Tans, the tide shifted to such an extent that a truce was arranged, a treaty was signed and Ireland was given Independence for 26 of its 32 counties, with six counties of Ulster being retained as British due to the loyalist support in that region. What kicked off again in the 1960’s that led to the so called troubles was a direct result of that partition.
Now, leaving aside all I have left out not to mention the ancient part, St Patrick, the Celts and so on, the version above is about as accurate as I could be arsed giving. Significantly our Independence resulted in the usual civil war and that led to an almost unbroken political two party divide that has only recently been challenged at the polls.
Now where was I?… Back at the beginning I guess and my reference to going around on a loop to get to the point and sometimes there not even being a point, only that as part of being Irish, probably the most important thing we all possess is the ability to ramble on and talk until the cows come home about nothing too specific. Have I succeeded? Happy Easter world and if your in Dublin for the celebrations, see you under Clearys clock…. That’s were I always used to get stood up…
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