Culture Wars

Migrant crisis

Anyone watching recent events in Europe and Southwest Asia has opinion about the waves of refugees fleeing Syria/Iraq/Libya brought on by imperial wars. People with compassion, still view with concern what the influx of large amounts of people with a different culture will do to the makeup of their country. I think this is a very valid concern but I don’t think the responses being discussed are the right ones.

The first question I think about is why would an influx of Muslims, whether from North Africa, SW Asia etc have such an impact on a European country like Ireland.  The bigger question is how strong is your culture?  I watched a show extolling the virtues of moving to Dubai where Irish regularly commented on how you did not cross cultural boundaries and rules or you would be deported.  This means that they actually have clear boundaries on which is acceptable in their culture and what is not and they protect it.  Countries support their own cultures to varying degrees but in reality most people here in Ireland and the UK, Canada etc refer living the Imperial culture.  As imperial subjects, such as the British Empire of the American Empire of Chaos, you are superior to others and you don’t need a “indigenous culture” because you are a citizen of the world.  You speak English, you watch American movies and British music and when you travel abroad, you expect people to serve you in the manner you are accustomed to. Expatriates like in communities like Dubai where they can pretend they don’t have slaves/maids by calling them “helpers”

So I believe that they first thing we all must do is throw off the imperial culture if we want to have anything worthy of protecting.  The UK and Ireland have 10 indigenous languages which capture the heart of the culture but most people ignore them even if they learned them in school.  If you are afraid of Sharia Law being imposed in Ireland, then maybe its time you dropped Imperial Law (English Common Law) for the native Irish Behon Law.  Maybe its time you stopped treating Irish culture as a tourist attraction and more as the beating heart of the country.  Culture doesn’t have to stagnate.  It is grounded in the geography, the weather, the location, the resources of a place with the traditions and practices but it can evolve.  I watched the recent festivals in Scotland and Ireland around the fire festivals and it gives me hope.


Samhain bonfire County Meath

So if you are concerned about Muslims taking over your world, start by stopping the invasions of their world and respecting and honouring your own culture.

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Two years in Ireland ..

Its been a while since I have written..  suddenly we crossed the two year mark!   The house is better..  we have a wood stove and attic insulation and some actual furniture.  The garden is looking better as it grows out so we are staying for another year anyway.

I don’t know that my Irish is much better but its slowly sinking in.  I don’t miss the US at all.. but miss aspects of Canada, though not the obnoxious Harper conservative government.  I do like it here but it will take a while longer to really fit in..

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Its been over a year since we moved to Ireland and we slowly gain a better sense of the place.. This weekend we drove down to the the Hill at Tara, home of Irish High Kings for generations… I guess I was hoping for some connection.. but it was quiet, beautiful with stunning views… but no murmurs or signs …. just quiet. I suppose any of the old Tuatha de Danann are long gone, even if they lived for a thousand years.. but one can always hope

I asked how long it took to become “Irish”… I am thinking its probably about 10 years to become acclimated if you work at it.. the language, the music, the food… the stories…. but I’ll always be Canadian Irish… I don’t think I picked up a lot of American culture, even after decades.. at least if I compare myself around my contemporaries

The modern world is coming to a head… the capitalist/banker/imperialist elite lead by the US is in a last desperate attempt to conquer the world nad hates Russia for standing in the way… I don’t think its going to end well

I try not to dwell on it as there is nothing much I can do.. except learn about living in this land… learning its language.. and enjoying the sunshine and the soft rain…..

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From Canadian-American to Canadian-Irish

I was thinking about how we describe ourselves.. and I propose that basically two terms be used.. the first is the dominant national culture you were raised in.. and the second is where you live (as a permanent resident or citizen, not as a tourist or seasonal visitor).  This has the advantage of clearing up your background when people ask.   The first, is what forms you, usually the culture of your mother in most cases, as its where you learn your basic approach to life.  My mother (and father) were Canadian so thats the way I grew up, even though we moved to the US when I was 6. So… Canadian-American.  What happens when you have mixed parents?… usually there is a dominant influence.. but it could be split.. My kids are culturally American as were their moms … though maybe a bit of my culture rubbed off on them.

The other interesting aspect of moving to a foreign country, like we did moving to the US, is that your cultural context retains your culture of the time.. So I was Canadian culturally, but more like a Canadian in 1963. So when we moved back to Canada in 2012, I was not in sync with 2012 Canadian culture..   You see this in immigrant populations in the US for example, many Irish-Americans retain a culture perspective of Ireland from 1800s-1950s so the modern EU Ireland is a bit of a mystery.  Of course, tourists are fed the vision they are happy with and the rest is hidden away.. you only get to see it if you live here.

So did I pick up American culture after living there for around 40 years?   .. Apparently not much as I seem to disagree with almost all my American friends on just about everything.. especially issues like socialism, capitalism, libertarianism etc etc.. I favour a much more equitable, compassionate, cooperative society than most American’s are comfortable. They all want to be rich and powerful.. and are afraid of anything which might. hinder that pursuit.

So now that I have made my home in Ireland as an Irish citizen, its Canadian-Irish with lots of experience with Americans 🙂


Canadian recycling bins in a mall.

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Banging my head slowly…

I watched a few people leave or company and I get a bit confused. To me this is a dream job that I have found after years of trying various career options. Once again, I get this sense of people here no having a good sense of what it means to be Irish…. How valuable that is not only for those born here, but for those who come here to make a life. I want to start this national dialog and get people to think about what is important to the about living here.. What makes it special and what qualities are worth supporting and fighting for. I a alway gratified when I see people around who recognise the importance of bring the Irish language back into daily conversation. A language is only dead when its people are dead and gone… Or when they have been obliterated by an invader. Ireland has survived much and it’s people are not gone but it takes care to heal the Irish psyche and culture.

In Scotland, they will be voting on whether they want independence from the UK next year. Oddly enough (in my opinion) they want to remain on the sterling system and not go onto the euro as a member state. I think they really need to think about what independence would mean.. What different choices would they make as a separate country? The same is true in the North. Here in Ireland, we are already independent, from a hard fought struggle so what do we why want to be? The fact that most discussions end with “only those born in Ireland are Irish, really leaves out the people who choose to live here and speaks more to a lack of qualities that we associate with Irish than anything else.

So I try and ask the questions and have the conversations and do my best to understand this place and its people and its language and history.. And extend that into the future to suggest ideas

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Learning Irish

For two weeks now, I have been going over to the village of O’Meath where I join a group of mostly locals at the pub to spend a couple of hours learning to speak Irish.  The teacher, who comes down from Belfast, very patiently, teaches us the language by repeating phrases over again and asking us questions without ever using English.  The first week it all just soaked in and then when I went back the second time, phrases started to hold so I remembered them days later.  Not that I understood exactly what I was saying because I could say it, but I had little idea how to spell it so I couldn’t look a lot up.  I checked in with my friend Dan at work, who does speak Irish for some translation help.  If I keep it up, hopefully I will be able to carry on a conversation when we visit Connemara!   The interesting part of the class was that the first week about 15 people showed up and then about 30 people last week so it was well attended.  As far as I know, its all free and part of an effort to revive Irish as an everyday language for the same reasons I have talked about previously.  Interestingly, I am not the only one not from the area, a woman from England, a man from Scotland and a couple others of us who have moved into the area and are looking to help rebuilt the Irish identity.  The group was encouraging in its diversity as well, with young ones 12-14 to 20’s and 30’s, 40’s and those of us older ones as well…

I plan on staying with it….

The biggest obstacle is probably the Irish as well.. there are plenty of young people who see it as an anachronism.. like old clothes that should be burned so they can wear shiny new ones.  The problem is not that they want to learn and incorporate new ideas, but they don’t understand how important retaining your cultural identity is ..  (they should talk to young Sioux or Navajo about trying to reclaim an identity).  I really believe it is up to us not only to work to reclaim the culture but to show the next generation how it can be an exciting future, not a depressing past to be forgotten.


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Language as the foundation of culture…

Most of my friends here speak Irish gaelic to some basic level as its required for your Leaving Certificate (the equivalent of high school or A-level qualification ,well a GOOD high school anyway). Very few admit to actually Irish in any normal conversation and rarely see a need to.. writing it off as an anachronism.

So when I tell them that I am attempting to learn Irish, they kind of look at me.. like Why?

So I explain that to me, that language is a foundation of culture.. and it shapes behaviour and supports community is way very central to cultural and community identity. Its no accident that the tightest communities in Ireland are in the West where gaelic is still spoken in everyday conversation. Its not accident either that the first thing an invading people do in occupation is to ban or marginalise the language, food, dress of the native people. This is true in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the US and Canada among others. To reclaim your culture, you need to revive and tend to these elements. The French understand this which is why both in France and Canada they fiercely protect their language.

So it is important to me to learn the Irish language as a part of my personal journey to becoming “Irish”. I was sitting in on a local semi-trad music sesiun in the village of O’Meath (pronounced O’May in Irish) .. and one of the musicians told me about a local beginners class held weekly at the next pub. This past week, I headed down there and walked in to the side room (pool table, darts etc) and there were about 15 people sitting around the edge of the room and two men standing in conversation .. . in Irish. I sat down and they are all talking …. in Irish. I know just a few greetings so I listen. The one gentleman starts to talk to us in Irish without any props or aids, just hand gestures.. and repeats sentences describing an action.. he then goes around and asks us a question to which we answer based on what he was telling us.. ie this was a FULL immersion lesson. Although it was confusing at first, I started to recognise the words and use them. We went on from 7:30 to 9:30 with a short break so my brain was full by the end.. I talked to the teacher during the break (in English) .. he comes down from Belfast ( Beal-fierste) and the people of O’Meath are trying to revive Irish as a everyday language. I am liking O’Meath more and more…..

So while I don’t think anyone for a moment wants to abandon English, I am hoping that the Irish language comes back into daily use.. so when you travel to Ireland, you actually hear Irish 🙂

Yu Ming is ainm dom


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What is it with fake tans?

As we are living across from one of the more popular nightclub pubs in the area, we get to observe the weekly spectacle of hen parties, with lots of fake tan, stiletto heels and heavy makeup. admittedly this is a bit of a generalisation but it is common enough to fall into my queue of cultural keynotes. Beyond the basic question of whether I consider it to be attractive, I find it interesting that so many young women are trying hard NOT to look Irish. If you look at the classic imagery we are shown of Irish women (long flowing red hair and pale complexions).. this seems to be the exact opposite! Maureen O’Hara these women are not.. but maybe that’s the point. Most Irish women I see have dark to black hair and pale complexions.. which makes sense given the climate and we know red hair is an adaptation to increase vitamin D intake in low sunlight conditions. Could it be that they have had these images thrown at them in television and the movies (mostly US Disney portrayals of Irish life) and so are looking to be more European or mediterranean..anything different?

Maybe its time we stop promoting stereotypes and publicise strong Irish women, from the modern musicians, business women, artists, writers, engineers.. and accept them as they are .. unique products of a long heritage and unique geography…..

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What do we want it to be to be Irish?

I sat in a cultural training class where were learning how cultures shape different behaviours and how to learn to work with that. In the process, we listed attributes of the other country as we aw them, then listed the attributes of the Irish as we thought they saw us..

What resulted was a lot of positive characteristics for the other side.. but not very many from the Irish side.. and this was from a room full of Irish! What does this say about our perception of ourselves (I am including my self as a committed “new” Irish).

I think we need to change this.. and start by thinking about what characteristics we think Irish should be known for.. things that we can be proud of. Again this starts for me at a personal level.. what kind of person do I want to be.. how do I want to be know? If we can get everyone to think about this.. maybe we can find common core attributes which we can support. After all the Scandanavians weren’t always know for good design.. they consciously made that choice back in the 50’s and then supported it with government policies, education, and associations. We could do the same..

So here is my list of what I think we could be known for.. (digging back into Irish history)

Science and Education
1. Irish are well educated and well trained at all levels
Ireland in the early Middle Ages was THE centre for education in the West..

1. Irish engineers and companies are practical and efficient and develop sustainable designs which respect the environment and make best use of local resources

1. Irish musicians come from a long tradition of community based music but incorporate new ideas and influences to write and play music which reflects contemporary experience

1. Irish films look closely at people and relationships and how they fit into the world. High quality independent films which focus on quality writing and amazing settings without resorting to excessive effects

1. Irish artisians are known for high quality work which combine indigenous forms and simplicity with elegant design and ornamentation

1. Irish farmers and fishermen produce high quality produce and diary and fish that are sustainably produced with minimal use of artificial methods and toxins.. producing healthy , sustainable products
2. Irish chefs produce high quality cuisine which reflects indigenous traditions while creatively incorporating world influences
3. Irish restaurants provide high quality food and dishes at all prices to serve all income levels.. so you can get high quality, good tasting food, whether its at a chippery or a gastropub

1. Irish form strong communities where people support each other
2. Irish form strong families
3. Irish welcome newcomers to the communities, no matter where they come from

1. Irish sports are not for the money but are talented amateurs who play for the love of the sport and are fully supported by their communities

Ok.. thats my starter for the list.. some of these attributes are already strong.. some are emerging in various places in Ireland.. but all are things that I see as being Irish…

So.. whats your list look like?

Could be a good pub quiz!!


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Plastic Paddy’s and Footballer Rules..

Norman Castle

Norman Castle

There is a certain passive aggressive attitude to Irish of the Diaspora… They (especially Irish Americans) are enticed to come visit Ireland with Disney-esque visions of warm pubs, thatched cottages etc etc.. but at the same time they are miffed at anyone not “born in Ireland” claiming to be Irish.   Last year the Irish beauty blog ran their annual ‘50 Fine Things’ poll to find the 50 hottest Irish men of the year. They stated in the official rules stated that “football rules didn’t apply” and candidates “must be Irish”. They specifically ruled out the Irish American comedian, Des Bishop which was pretty amazing. Bishop, whose parents where Irish, came to school here when he was 14 and lives here and has made major pushes to learn Irish and encourage others. But because he wasn’t “born” in Ireland, he wasn’t considered to be Irish. They later relented and made a specific exception but no other foreign born Irish we welcome to apply.

So is the place where you are born the ultimate indicator of your native culture? My grandfather was born in County Cork to English parents and I am sure he was raised English and probably never learned Irish .. does that make him more Irish than Bishop who is immersed in the culture? I have heard arguments on all sides .. and it occurred to me that the foreign born ones aren’t the only ones struggling with our identity… I suspect the young Irish do as well.

Just as I spend years defining myself by what I was not, living in the US, I think the Irish have spend lifetimes defining themselves as not being English and fighting the influence of that culture. The GAA, the amazing sports organisation here, was started to maintain Irish culture in the face of pervasive British influence. Irish place-names were Anglicised by the Royal Ordnance and Irish was discouraged to the point it is struggling. Somehow it is made to feel irrelevant in an age of iphones and internet culture. Traditional music is seen as dated so the pubs rock to vintage 70s/80s/90s rock and pop. I have heard far less Irish music since moving here that what was available around Phoenix.

I suspect generation in the 20’s broke out of the British occupation then the next generation adopted the US Disney view and nothing moved so as not to break the touristy image. I think the current generation is breaking away from the older traditions but they haven’t worked out their new identity as Irish in the 21st Century. The modern urban European people with deep roots in Celtic culture.

I think that the culture is first shaped by the land and the climate.

Then it is shaped by its language and spirituality. (Anyone who read Issac Azimov’s classic Foundation trilogy will understand the connection of language and culture). The prehistoric Irish people of the passage tomb culture built amazing structures which hug the ground and align with the stars and seasons. There is a strong egalitarian streak in modern Ireland that I suspect mirrors what was in the early culture before the feudal / hierarchical Normans showed up to impose their order.

So in future posts, I want to explore what aspects of the culture I think are important ..

In the meantime, I am learning Irish ..bit by bit..

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