What does it mean to say “I’m Irish”?
A recent discussion on a Facebook page I check in on, Pride of the Irish, inspired me to write this piece.
The page owner, who very proudly calls himself Irish, was challenged with, “you’re not Irish because you weren’t born in Ireland”. The person very quickly learned that they had barked up the wrong tree!
A flurry of replies started rolling in. Some funny, some with a touch of hostility, some from people wanting to show their connections to Ireland, and more from people who just want to join in on the ensuing banter. But almost each and every comment (and yes, I read all 400+ of them) was from someone who very proudly call themselves, ‘Irish’.
So what does it mean to say “I’m Irish”? It’s so often said by people who were not born in Ireland, or have never even been to Ireland. So when these people say “I’m Irish” what exactly do they mean? One person said “My heart is Irish and that’s what’s important to me” another noted that for her it was “a state of mind” and others indicated that to have Irish heritage was to be, Irish.
And why do Irish-born people resent it when people born in other countries call themselves Irish? Admittedly when I first came to America I found it a bit irritating that almost every time I opened my mouth and my accent was recognized, someone spoke up to say “Oh I’m Irish too”. Maybe naively, I actually thought many of them were like me, born in Ireland, but more often than not, I found that to be false. They had this affinity to Ireland, a sense of belonging to it, or it belonging to them.
These days, I fall in line with some of those Irish-born Facebook commenter’s who say things like “to see these people’s eyes light up when you talk to them of places they have only heard or read about, it’s a joy to behold” and with the ones who say “I’m just glad they love my country”. It makes me proud that so many people want to be connected with Ireland.
I certainly am not part of the “Plastic Paddy” brigade! I particularly dislike that phrase actually. Are my kids Plastic Paddy’s because they were born outside of Ireland? Why would Irish-born people want to make people feel like the lady who said “We all have yearnings to go back to our homeland, it’s a shame that we aren’t as welcome as I’d have hoped”?
But I still often wonder why people say it. And so passionately too. I mean, I don’t often hear people refer to themselves as being of other nationalities. What is it that makes people not born in Ireland want to say “I’m Irish”?
I really am hoping my Irish-American, Irish-Australian, Irish-anything, or just plain old Irish, friends can help me out. Leave your comments below.