Sunday, August 25, 2013


As a tour guide, my work day is never routine. I may have a tour in the morning then nothing for the whole afternoon, as many as three in the one day, or none at all! But I'm always in tour guide mode: walking the streets of Dublin, reminded of the history on every street with every step; a tweet here, a Facebook photo there; a frequent glance at my to do list. Even looking at the time reminds me of work. But in a different way than what you might think.

It's 19.13 now, and I just put on the washing. (Most people would just say 'quarter past seven', but accuracy is a tour guide's calling card / pet peeve, so when I say 'I'll be there in 5 minutes', I mean 5, not 6. Well, ok, not 7, anyway!) This time of the day reminds different people of different events. For some it might mean they've already missed the start of their favourite show. For others, simply that they're overdue for dinner. But for me, for me it reminds me of Jim Larkin and the Lockout in the year 1913.

Having watched Odyssey, the 1997 film today, it inspires me to persevere and keep reading the 'modern' modern dead tree version. And so, feeling a bit Joycean, I wish for you to join me through one day in the life of a tour guide in Dublin:

If I wake up in the morning in Dublin and the Vikings have already established it, t'will not be the most productive day. During my coffee break, I'm enjoying the last century before the Normans come to Ireland, but before I know it they've already built St. Patrick's Cathedral according to my watch. Give or take a minute or two.

"Oh, look it's '1:23'", a girl on Grafton st shares with her friends. I look at my watch. 13.25. Damn! I missed the match. Scotland were playing England on Irish soil. They both lost. Oh, and Ireland lost too.

The start of Irish dinner time. The best time to be in Dublin. No fresh pizza today so should be a longer process than the Irish Houses of Parliament, but hopefully not as complicated.

I try to make sure I'm somewhere else when it's quarter to seven. Ah, sure I'll do a bit of planning for me travels. Little more than half an hour later and I'm already in Germany gift-wrapping some presents for the lads back home.

"Should have thrown out this fruit!" It's rotten. Been here too long. "Wait, sure I only brought it home seven hours ago!" And it drips all over the floor. Some cleanup!

It's 20.13.

The washing must just be finished.

Only took a hundred years.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I used to think it was gold.

The orange part of the flag, that is. I thought it was something like ‘green for the 40 shades’, ‘white for the sky’ and ‘gold for the all gold’ (or Golden Age of Irish monasticism, would be more fitting). And when I found out it was ‘orange’, I was in denial. I refused to give up the lustre of gold for the rust of orange. Of course, I really had no idea what the Irish tricolour actually meant.

 For those still favouring gold, you should know that ‘green is for those who regard themselves as Irish on the island of Ireland’, ‘orange (after William of Orange) is for those who regard themselves as British on the island of Ireland’, and ‘white is for the peace between them’. Some would say that it’s more so a religious divide than a cultural one, but some would also say that the white is not peace they share but ….

The story of the flag is that it was inspired by that of France, which similarly has disputed symbolism. White represents the clergy, red for the nobility, and blue for the bourgeoisie. That just gave me an idea to add to our list of symbols for the Irish flag: white is the church that has separated the two groups. Ah, tis all a bit political for me. Personally, I would prefer a different flag:

This flag does have gold. Hurray! But it’s more than just that. The golden harp has been a symbol of Ireland for around a millennium (see here). The harp is our national emblem and I interpret its place on this flag as representing not only the importance of the harp in Irish history, but the importance of music in general, and, with that, all the arts. All the arts of Ireland: Irish music, poetry, song, story - our heritage. These are what have made our country unique. The gold symbolising our culture’s richness. That, not political boundaries, was what united our country.

The green is a deeper, solemn shade. A shade for wisdom. For centuries’ learning of our monks, our brehon’s (judges) 20 years of aural memorisation of every detail, poets’ and story-tellers’ ability for something new nearly every day of the year, for education for Catholics after O’Connell abolished the Penal Laws.
All that speaks to me more.
So why isn’t the flag of Ireland? Well, because it’s already the flag of Leinster. 

You see, during the Eleven Years’ War, a self-governing body was established in Kilkenny which remained loyal to the British monarch throughout its duration. From 1642 to 1649, the Irish Catholic Confederation governed most of Ireland and basically wanted freedom for Catholics in Ireland under the crown of England, as opposed to free from it. Their flag was a gold harp on a green background, supposedly incited by Owen Roe O’Neill (one of the descendents of the ancient Irish ruling dynasty of Uí Néill) who flew it from his ship’s mast and who would become the Commander of the Confederate Army. Thenceforth, it became associated with Kilkenny and its province, Leinster.

Our tricolour was first flown in public on the Mall in Waterford City on March 7th 1848. And we commemorate its anniversary today. So it’s a more suitable day than most to buy a wee Irish flag.

Don’t know which one, though. ;)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Anniversaries - reasons to celebrate.

Or to commemorate. 

Or… not.

In Ireland we have important anniversaries every week of the year. Things like the birth or death of Irish martyrs or battles or the first time an abortion will be legally rendered in this country. But, generally, it seems, Irish people don’t like anniversaries. We have far too many – a result of having too much history.

Furthermore, as a whole, the Irish nation does not celebrate its history or identity. (St. Patrick’s Day is the exception, of course, but even on that one day of the year when we openly celebrate our Irishness, I’m sure many Irish people celebrate our thirst instead.)


So, why is this? 

The Irish have an inferiority complex: having been told by the English for so long that our language, customs, dress, law, society, manners were second to theirs, we believed them. And though it seems like the oppression of the English has been gone 81 years, we still have that sense of inferiority, that lack of pride in our nation. It had been inculcated for so long that it still remains for the next generation. Albeit, this sense of inferiority is subconscious, hidden, but, to an outsider, puzzlingly evident in an apathetic form – Irish people don’t know why, but they don’t seem to want to celebrate their Irishness as much as they should.

The Irish language is the best example. Terrible primary school teachers aside, the Irish language should be thriving in Ireland. People don’t want to speak it, not because they can’t or are afraid of making mistakes, but because, deep inside, they’re ashamed of it.

Like the generations before us, speaking Irish was a symptom of your poverty. Those who held onto the language could not represent themselves at court, could not be employed by the landlord, and would die in destitution and starvation. And, in order for the Irish to survive in this English-engineered world, they had to regard their language and culture negatively. It was necessary. We were able to survive, to raise ourselves up by pulling the Irish language down, under us.

Then there’s the whole ‘if you celebrate the Easter Rising with anything more than a nod, I’ll consider you a radical and a Sinn Féiner’ – another consequence of The Troubles. But hopefully this will dissolve when the 100-year anniversary of the 1916 Rising in celebrated.

As for the other anniversaries that should be celebrated, time will tell.

Happy Irish Independence Day, by the way.