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The Irish For: Is Ireland more progressive now because we didn’t have baby boomers?

Did you know that Nigel Farage and Keanu Reeves were born in the same year? It’s hard enough to accept that they are the same species, writes Darach Ó Séaghdha.

Darach Ó Séaghdha Writer

This is the latest dispatch from our columnist Darach Ó Séaghdha, author of the award-winning and bestselling Motherfoclóir. Every Sunday morning, Darach will be regaling (re-Gaeling?) us with insights on what the Irish language says about Ireland, our society, our past and our present. Enjoy.

THE IRISH WORD glúin can mean a knee or a generation.

There are two men who have been in the news a lot lately who appear to have nothing in common – but they do and it is rather surprising. 

Yes indeed, John Wick 3 star Keanu Reeves (Keanu meaning ‘cool breeze over the mountains’) and the snake oil salesman Nigel Farage (farraige meaning ‘the sea’ – a body of water that he should get back in) are the same age, both born in 1964.

It’s hard enough to accept that they are the same species.

However, 1964 is an unusual year birth-wise in that it is frequently identified as the cusp between the last Baby Boomers and the beginnings of Generation X and these two men clearly landed on different sides of that generational crack.

You could say that made-up generational labels like Boomer (glúin an bhabaíbhorrtha in Irish), Generation X and Millennial (mílaoiseach) are really just astrology for sociologists and that other factors are far more important.

But time is money and generational conflicts around the world are fueled by economic differences exaggerated by the times children were blessed or cursed to be born in.

The idea that different generations have their own identity and common causes is alluded to in Irish: the 1916 Proclamation puts the struggle for freedom in this context “in every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty” and Dinneen’s entries for aos and díne advise that these words can refer to generations or tribes of people.

However, global labels aren’t a good fit here. In particular, the socio-political-historical-economic factors and unifying experiences that defined both boomers and Gen Xers in America and her NATO allies did not apply in Ireland.

A side effect of Irish neutrality was that there was no post-war generation, nor was there much by way of a Marshall Plan and city-rebuilding jobs boom with attendant inward migration in the 50s. Decades later it would thankfully mean that there was no wartime legacy for conservatives to sentimentalise and mythologise.

When Time Magazine made the boomers Person of the Year in 1966, they did so tellingly by naming them “The Inheritor”.

What were Irish people born in the 1940s inheriting?

Generation X is usually contrasted with the one before by growing up in smaller and different family units on account of their parents having greater access to contraception and divorce – again, things that were not widely available in Ireland.

However, this generation was in prime position to benefit from the Celtic Tiger, the Peace Process and liberalisations introduced on foot of EU membership and was less likely to emigrate than those that came before and after.

You could say that in many ways, these are Ireland’s real boomers.

Lyra McKee, who was murdered this April, wrote powerfully about her generation, the Peace Babies - the children born in Northern Ireland without a memory of the darkest days of the Troubles.

Hopefully, such tragedies will be things that my own children will only read about in history class and not see on the news, as they mock me for being old fashioned and I roll my eyes at how easy they have it.

I hope so. I really hope so.

Darach’s book Craic Baby is the follow-up to his acclaimed Motherfoclóir and is out now under the Head of Zeus imprint.

He runs @theirishfor Twitter account and the @motherfocloir podcast.

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About the author:

Darach Ó Séaghdha  / Writer

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