Monday, January 30, 2006

Sure we're a grand little country!

Many of our own Irish writers can be critical of Ireland and our relationship with the outside World. I often do see where they are coming from. But like the cliche of the glass being half empty and half full I usually like to dwell on the positives.

Our neutrality for example is frequently criticised. I know it was rather odd during WW2 for us to be neutral. Britain and later the USA effectively protected us. We still saw Britain as the old enemy and didn't see beyond them in fighting what seemed to be their war. So we locked up both the British and the German militia in the Curragh if they landed. If Hitler had annexed Britain we would have been toasted next! I read somewhere years ago that a secret document had been uncovered whereby Hitler thought Ireland was interesting agriculturally but it's people unnecessary. His idea was apparently to have us all exterminated. I can't exactly verify how true this was. However 3 million Irish at the time was probably a minor challenge to him compared to the 6+ million Jews he had killed.

Nevertheless, all we can do now is look at neutrality in 2006 terms. It's much better overall for a nation our size to team up in the UN concept to help others and ourselves. This is constructive use of neutrality. Now the UN itself has flaws but that's another story. I do think we play the international relations game in a beautifully balanced way. We are the cutest feckers in the World! Keep everyone liking us. We didn't like the Bush/Blair policy on Iraq as it went against the UN and we spoke out on it. We were right. But we still kept the British and Americans firmly on our sides.

As a nation we've never invaded other countries, we have little or no baggage internationally, pissed nobody off.

[Aside: only thing I vaguely recall from my history lessons was that back in 12th century one of the High Kings (Ruari O'Connor maybe) had been thinking of invading the Isle of Man. Only thinking of it mind you! Then like many Irish after him our wonderful laid-back attitude kicked in..."ah, feck it, I won't bother my arse!"]

I believe Ireland falls into the "kill them with kindness" category of international relations, which I think is good. Even the awkward French like us..once they realise we are not British. When it comes to providing aid abroad we are in a class of our own. We are much more generous per capita than almost any nation in the World. There are so many Irish abroad giving their time to all sorts of charities and re-building programs.

Yes, the British empire suppressed us and also divided us - particularly with the plantation of Ulster. But let's be honest, the British did us a lot of good as well, albeit unintentionally. Apart from considerable infrastructural improvements we had been given the most useful language in the World. If Irish was spoken as only language by the vast majority we would be an isolated and remote little country indeed with little foreign investment. With each generation we have been getting more and more comfortable in our relationship with Britain. It even looks likely we will have the Queen over this year. Also, although still a very important neighbour, Britain is not as crucial to us as before. Our economic wings have spread in all directions and we even embraced the Euro currency without Britain.

We Irish are liked for our warmth, humour and enjoyment of people's company. We love to chat to people. It also shows in the massive amount of phoning and texting we do. And I actually don't think we are particularly racist. We object to people of all types sponging off the state..including our own. It's still a bit new too us having large numbers of people actually wanting to come here to live and there are undoubtedly small sections who still get bitter. But I believe in general we've always had respect for the working Chinese, Indians, Africans and others in our community. It's not racist to object to big numbers of people coming in illegally and not pulling their weight here. I object just as much to the Irish doing the same illegally in USA and elsewhere.

In 2006 Ireland are considered a well educated and wealthy country with good confidence in our dealings with the international community. I was only 8 years old when President Kennedy came here in 1963 but I still recall the unbelievable euphoria. As a nation we were so humble, poor and introverted and a US president amongst us was as if God had descended from Heaven. There were pictures of Kennedy in households alongside the Sacred Heart for a decade or more after the event! Contrast that to a US president coming today - it hardly raises an eyebrow and we have strong opinions and protestors out in mass.

Let's stop beating ourselves up so much. Ireland today is a great nation, punching well above it's weight in business, foreign aid, sport and other areas. We have managed our independence, economic growth and our alliances quite well and have spread ourselves in all parts of the World. For sure we have made some errors in the past and we are still adapting as a nation to many changes. However I do believe our future looks brighter and brighter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Kevin Myers and Irish Independence

I read and enjoyed the Kevin Myers opinion article in today's Irish Times re. 1916 and independence and how we fared before and after.

As usual with Kevin Myers articles there is much to agree with. He offers a good clinical analysis of what was really happening at 1916. I agree that it was all rather misguided and I don't believe it did anything to help independence except for maybe the mistake of executing the leaders. But I do think it is very hard to offer severe black and white judgments on the organizers actions at that time based on today's knowledge. Much was different ninety years ago and considerable frustrations abounded in every way. Be that as it may I'm not in agreement of celebrating the bloody event of 1916. Solemn remembrance yes, but it's not like celebrating independence. I've written on this before and I haven't changed my view.

My main point of contention is with the Kevin Myers logic on what transpired post-independence. He almost reduces the aspirations for freedom at the time to ticking YES/NO boxes on a form called "The List of Public Benefits after Independence" If it were all measured by wealth, radical social change and purity of language, culture etc. then of course it was a mistake. Yes, we would have been better off economically up to recently being part of UK. But this has some vague similarity to saying that hookers in a harem are better off than the purer and poorer girls working in factories. Did we not deserve independence if we aspired to it? How many businesses would ever be born if the founders didn't put up with some form of hardships in the early years. Indeed many folk in smaller businesses formed are happy never being as wealthy as they were in a previous stuffy big corporate entity. Things don't always end up exactly the way we dreamed but often it's just as good and it's certainly no reason to criticise those with the original aspirations.

I've also a problem with the Myers statement of Ireland in 1910 being better off than most in other countries with the brief caveat "emigration notwithstanding". Terrific well researched text book statement. I wonder how that wealth was measured. I'm sure those in rural Ireland at the time suppressed to within an inch of their lives would have welcomed an elaboration. And the "emigration notwithstanding" comment does not do sufficient justice to this massive problem provoked by unbearable poverty and which created layers and layers of further problems, frustrations and depressions for those left behind. Poverty is about much more than what's in your pocket as measured by insensitive economists.

In summary, I'm beginning to see through much of the Kevin Myers view of the World. He is an excellent scholar of history, knows all the facts and in general has a logical interpretation of events and directions. I actually really agree with most of what he writes and I've great respect for his views. But it's sometimes rather robotic, I don't think he always sees into the hearts, fears, dreams and aspirations of humanity in all it's complex diversity.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A quick thanks for a Christmas gift....

Before I do any other writing this year I just want to publicly say a word of thanks to one of my relations and a great long time friend.

My sister-in-law gave me a most unexpected and treasured gift this Christmas. When I unwrapped it I wasn't sure at first what exactly it would be. I was looking at a beautifully bound A4 sized hardback book and inside was about 40 stiff pages in nice beige background and all the writing was in a lovely font. In the slight wine induced haze following the St. Stephens Day extended family dinner - something looked familiar about the writing. When I looked inside the opening cover at the title the wonderful truth dawned. My sister-in-law had produced a book containing all my "Earth and Universe" blog articles of 2005. What a cool present.

I must say that I felt both humble and honoured to receive such a gift. My sister-in-law had been commenting on my articles at family gatherings over recent months. I've always respected her opinion. She holds a PhD and is exceptionally well read on a plethora of books and topics.

Thank you my dear, I know there was a lot of work in putting it together, it was a brilliant present!