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Column: This is a unique island – and it’s time we regained our pride

Ireland has a heritage that is the envy of the world, writes Jillian Godsil. We should remember that when building our future.

Image: Daniel Flower via Flickr

SINCE WE LEARNT we were on an island, we have expended as much time getting off as we have expelling invaders.

Our monks have sailed boats in far flung adventures, while invaders became a part of our lives. When we couldn’t get rid of any influx of unwanted visitors we often resorted to downright low-down tactics and married them. Think of the Normans; more Irish than the Irish themselves. We consumed our invaders while simultaneously sending forth our under-the-radar colonists.

The only difference with our colonising is that we used words and song and music to grab emotional land-banks across the world. A recent comment on WorldIrish.com had one (non Irish) commenter suggest there were 40 million living today on this small island. The sheer weight would of course have sunk our patch of green but it is a testament to the vast emotional imprint of our people over the years.

For an island race we are an interesting mix of conflicting characteristics. For an island race, we don’t really swim that well; we could argue we don’t have the weather. We don’t really eat fish very well; and I’m not including the breaded variety. We often marry our own and while world-renowned for being friendly, that can be closed to people outside our community.

Where we do excel is in carrying our culture, words, songs and stories – with us when we travel and down through the generations. And we have a strong sense of who we are. Moreover the world has a strong sense of who we are.

While some of the adjectives liberally applied to being Irish are not so flattering – such as the drinking and fighting – others are striking. The musical nature of our people, the cultural heritage we assume as our birthright and the energy of a people who have faced much but come back for more.

There are few nations in this global village that have such strong brand. Step back a moment. Think about other countries, both bigger and smaller than ours, and think about how much we know about them. Think of our national day. What other country gets to celebrate their national day on a global basis, in cities and towns across the world?

‘We have exported the best of us and the worst of us’

What other country has exported so many people that have left their mark wherever they travel? Other nations aspire to be Irish in a way that is out of the commonplace, out of the norm.

Over the years, we have exported the best of us and the worst of us.

When I left Ireland to work abroad some two decades ago, there were very few jobs at home. The main difference to 2012 is that my parents were not wracked with debt that threatened to drown them – theirs, or from a toxic bank. I also left a very proud Irishwoman.

We were the darlings of Europe. We had an educated population that was in demand on a world stage. We had positive legislation to encourage inward investment. We had entrepreneurs and thinkers and world leaders. We had world beating sports people, authors, inventors, creators, innovators, dreamers, musicians, poets, filmmakers and scientists.

We still do.

We have let the workings of a few distort the work of the many. We have not changed as a nation. We are still those heady, creative, intelligent, warm and educated people.

What we have to confront is the short but lethal legacy of the banks and developers and politicians and trappings of greed. In two short decades we have been pulled down by cronyism and arrogance.

No island race in the world has the energy and the persistence of ours. That dogged nature and love of natural justice will come back and dominate again. We have been the underdog too long to let the minders of greed take away our pride.

It is time to stop being the underdog. It is time to examine what we have. It is time to build a new future.

Jillian Godsil is on Twitter at @jilliangodsil.

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