On being Irish enough

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I like celebrating St Patrick’s Day. Who can object to a merry pint of Guinness or three, a convivial slurp of the Bushmill’s or clinking Sláinte with a slug of Jamesons? Pass the potato bread, the soda farls and the wheaten loaf! I’ll have a crisp from Mr Tayto too, if I can find a packet. For me it’s a celebration of my Irish heritage. And that’s something of which I am intensely proud.

As a child I spent sublime holidays with my Dublin cousins and also with my granny and aunts in the countryside of County Down, not so very far from those Dark Mournes. My granny, a tiny little woman, may as well have been ten feet tall. She was powerful, argumentative, clever and commanding. I wish I had spent more time with my old granny now and I regret that I can barely recall my granddad, her husband, at all.

Granny taught me a whole lot of things despite being (as so many women of her class and age were) largely unschooled. The darkness of her rural home meant she could point out the stars and constellations of the night skies to us wee ones from the back garden. She grew much of her own produce in her garden and was a sensational baker. But most of all she liked some silliness and mischief. At Easter time she’d take us to roll hard boiled eggs down the hill. I’m convinced she enjoyed that more than anyone.

We also saw our share of The Troubles from her house outside Newry. (It is so Irish to refer to the horrid things that happened in those grim years as simply, ‘The Troubles’.) We weren’t that far from the border so patrolling soldiers were commonplace. The local Dunnes was bombed one day and we watched the plume of smoke rise up from Newry having been there not so many moments before

Yes. My mother and her family come from those 6 counties of Ulster that we have come to call Northern Ireland. But I have no qualms about claiming my Irish heritage. St Patrick is Saint of all Ireland. He’s buried in Downpatrick after all, north of a border set less than a century ago. He wouldn’t worry about how the island of Ireland has been divided up these days. He’d see one Irish island, I think. I hope he’d be pleased that things have been getting that much better of late.

I’m certain my granny would be in favour of the peace we’ve seen. I like to think in these better times that I could persuade her round to my hope for a united Ireland. We’ll never know: but she did like a good argument. I know where I get that from

Not long before she died, my granny paid me what I’m certain was a compliment: “You’ve got the blarney.” And, for me, that makes me Irish enough.

11 thoughts on “On being Irish enough”

  1. Just how I feel Dan! I’m 3/4 Irish and I will continue to keep Grandad and Granny’s surname but still feel like I need more justification and explanation for celebrating St Patrick’s Day. Lovely to read about your memories of her and you have definitely captured her cheeky spirit with the Easter eggs! x

  2. Post corrected at my mother’s suggestion. St Patrick is actually (reputedly) buried in Downpatrick, Co. Down not Armagh as I previously posted. But the point still stands: both are north of the border.

  3. Do McConnell - Dan's aunt

    Great to see your comments about your granny – my mother- and your Irish holidays in print without us having the opportunity to correct what you’ve written! I wonder what you’d have made of Grandad John if you’d really known him – that would have been worth reading. All I can add is that she may have been more of a nationalist than you’ve given her credit for only she knew what side her bread was buttered on!!!!!!!

    Thanks for writing it

    Your aunty Do

  4. Grannies rock. And Grandpas. Grandpa’s lost his glasses..

    (actually he’s been kicking off recently – aged 95 – demanding photos of his great grandaughter immediately and accusing the postman of losing them). More attitudinal than ever!

  5. I’m sure that your great-grandpa and also granny and granddad are thrilled by your new arrival. I am.

    Heck! I’ve lost my glasses!

  6. Dan

    Are you aware that tayto crisps are different south of the border from those here in the north? I used to wonder why they weren’t so nice here then I read an article which said they’re two different companies who never had any connection – and they have never argued over their right to the name!I love the southern ones but the ones here are just average – no better than Walkers.

  7. Do,

    We did a taste test once in Kilburn. A guv’nor there claimed to get his from Eire. We got some from the shop. And yes, totally different! It’s true!

  8. Dan

    Sorry to be a pedantic bore but you are should only use the word Eire if you are speaking in Irish Gaelic. Best term for not getting into trouble is probably to call it the south of Ireland but then that excludes Donegal which is politically part of the south but geographically part of the north. I could go on here about our curious variations in terminology and its socio-political connotations but you might get confused/bored/politically correct/politically incorrect/turn off your computer – (delete as appropriate) You know where I am if you want a lesson!



  9. Aunty Do,

    I’m not sure I need a lesson.

    As an englishman who thinks he is ‘Irish enough’, you can be sure that I have never been sloppy with terms in my adult life (see above). It’s a bloody minefield, but thankfully no longer literally.

    Where I refer to Eire above, that’s the Kilburn guv’nor’s term and not mine. Eire is too problematic a term for me to use personally.

    I will quite clearly refer to:

    Ireland: An island in the North West of Europe.

    The Republic of Ireland: to mean the sovereign state of Ireland. (I dislike the term Southern Ireland because Donegal is clearly the most northern county on the island and also part of the Republic.)

    Northern Ireland: the six counties of Ulster that form the area of Ireland governed by the UK.

    Ulster: Nine counties. 3 of which are governed by the Repubilc of Ireland and 6 of which make up Northern Ireland.

    The Free State: A term I use to annoy people and amuse myself.

    Also, I know about Granny’s pragmatism. I have cited it a great deal. I’m certain that a lot of people in Northern Ireland would vote for unity too if their British pension rate was guaranteed. ;o)

    Dan x

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