In this little corner of the world wide web we love to discuss all things Irish and our pride in being Irish.
Ireland is in our hearts and in our souls. It captivates us like no other place on earth.
And so today, let’s delve a little deeper into what it means to be Irish, and see if we can touch a little on what “the essence of being Irish” really means.
I am eternally grateful to readers of my website, who come back again and again to read my writings. It’s lovely to know I am not the only one intrigued by our Irishness. So together, let’s discover a little bit about the essence of being Irish.
Inspiration for this post came from an essay written by Brendan Kennelly, an Irish poet and novelist. Born in 1936 in County Kerry, Kennelly was Professor of Modern Literature at my alma mater, Trinity College, Dublin until 2005.
To help us explore our Irishness I will use a few quotations from Kennelly’s essay “The Essence of Being Irish.” His essay may be short, but the themes and thoughts expressed are deep and meaningful to a student of Irishness, like me. He gives voice to ideas I long to express through my blog.
Why Ireland Captivates Us:
In a previous post we explored how Irish Americans feel a deep, spiritual connection to Ireland. This is how Kennelly explains Ireland’s draw …
“Ireland literally gets in under your skin,
steals into your dreaming mind,
taking possession of it like a memory of love
or a spontaneous kindness from stranger or friend.”
~ Brendan Kennelly
The entire island of Ireland has a unique identity. Mother Ireland has her own personality. It’s not only the people, who call Ireland home, who offer a hundred thousands welcomes, it is the very land itself.
Despite an inclement climate, Ireland smiles through her fogs, her mists and her soft rains, calling to us from afar. Sometimes it feels as if the very rocks resonate with an energy only we Irish recognize.
On Irish Love Of Conversation:
A trait that is core to the very essence of our Irishness is undoubtedly our love of conversation. A chat is never trivial in Ireland.
I remember years ago when I worked in a nursing home in Florida, the administrator instituted a policy of scripting introductions and telephone responses, so that staff would know exactly what to say to customers and family members, whose loved ones resided in the home.
I must confess my Irish psyche was shocked at the very thought there might be a need for such a rote, scripted policy.
“How could anyone not know what to say when greeting someone at the front desk or on the phone?” I thought.
And try as I might, my Irish tongue could never stick to the script. I couldn’t help myself. When on the phone or greeting people at the entrance, my poor Irish brain wandered off into the depths of small talk and conversation innate to my very Irish being. The nursing home administrator would just smile as he heard me rambling.
And here’s the reason I had such difficulty sticking to the “have a nice day” scripted salutations ….
“The Irish take time to find the right words,
the most apt and evocative images,
the most precise phrases in which
to state their views on every topic under the sun.”
~ Brendan Kennelly
And this my friends rings true, even when we are simply saying ‘hello.’
An Irish Appreciation Of Individualism:
Another reason for my inability to conform is probably related to my deep seated appreciation of individualism. Being unique is greatly prized in Ireland.
Many years ago I drove my parents from Florida to New York. We passed rest stops, and highway exits over 1,000 miles of Interstate 95. After passing possibly the twentieth fast food restaurant belonging to the same chain, my father just sighed.
“This country (referring to America) is uniformity gone mad.”
And do you know something? I agreed with him. Alack and alas some of that same uniformity is creeping into Ireland, as large chain restaurants tap into what once was an untapped market.
But overall we still embrace individuality in Ireland. We love to describe someone as “a great character,’ which means that person is one-of-a-kind, a person who never conforms, but speaks his or her mind with gusto. Trust me, Ireland is full of great characters, so-much-so, the topic may deserve a blog post all of its own.
Here’s how Kennelly sums up this Irish love of individuality ..
“In Ireland you are, on the whole,
cherished for your uniqueness.
After all, that’s what you deserve
because that’s what you are.
There’s nobody quite like you;
no story quite like your story.”
~ Brendan Kennelly
My prayer for our young folk today, is that they will no longer be consumed with the overwhelming desire to conform. The “selfie generation” exists on both sides of the Atlantic. Today teenagers are obsessed with looking a certain way, constantly photographing themselves to prove their conformity to so-called friends.
Help me, Lord. I have one more year before my eldest hits the teenage years. And one true Irish lesson I plan to teach him is to be himself, to forget about conformity, and to rejoice in his uniqueness. That my son, is part of our Irish heritage.
Rejoicing In The Memory Of The Departed:
Our Irish celebration of individuality even reaches beyond this life. If you have ever attended an Irish wake, you will understand what I mean.
Irish wakes are not merely somber affairs, but a true remembrance of a person’s life and personality. They provide an opportunity to celebrate with others who knew and appreciated the individual. A scene of both sadness and joy, a wake not only marks the end of life, but the very life and the way it was lived is remembered and treasured.
Here’s how Kennelly sums it up ….
“I knew in my heart that one of the greatest Irish qualities
is the passionate refusal to commit a dead friend to oblivion;
instead, there is this eloquent loving insistence
on talking about the strands of his personality,
the events of his life, his favorite phrases,
the quality of his humor,
his outbursts of temper,
his loves, prejudices, weaknesses,
virtues, vices, stories.”
~ Brendan Kennelly
Yes, we Irish recognize and celebrate the good, the bad, the ugly and the unique in each and every one of us. And after a loved one has departed that memory is recounted and cherished through stories.
The Richest Corner Of The Earth:
And so, I hope you have enjoyed today’s little ramble, trying to sum up what the essence of being Irish truly is. I know this post has merely scraped the surface of this topic.
But in conclusion, let me quote Brendan Kennelly once again, to try to put a finger on what the essence of Ireland might be …
“The more you get to know this little country,
the more fascinating it becomes.
It is, in the deepest sense,
one of the richest corners of the earth.”
~ Brendan Kennelly
Thanks for joining me today on my further explorations of Ireland and our Irishness. And as always, this is a topic we definitely shall continue at a later date. I’ll file it under the subheading “The Irish Psyche,” together with all my other ramblings on this topic.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings),
Irish American Mom
Reference: I read Brendan Kennelly’s essay in The Irish: A Treasury of Art and Literature by Leslie Conlan Carola.
Here are some more ramblings you might enjoy…