The other day, amidst a rather chaotic week, I found myself trying to find a stream for the Ireland-Austria World Cup qualification soccer match. It was to no avail, and given the game ended 1-0 it was probably for the better that I spent 90 minutes doing something else.
But reflecting upon the day that evening, I got to asking myself: Why did I bother to try and watch the soccer game in the first place? This led me down a rabbit hole that ultimately had me pondering the question of why I like Ireland so much—and in some respects certainly do deify the Emerald Isle?
I don’t openly flaunt it too much, but you could play a game of 20 Questions with me and come to this conclusion. My favorite movie is The Wind the Shakes the Barley. My soccer clubs are Celtic FC, a club founded to alleviate Irish immigrant poverty at the turn of the 20th century, and Liverpool FC, a club that boasts a large following in Ireland and of course plays its ball in an English port many Irish chose to restart their lives. When I get drunk, I am liable to listen to Irish rebel music which instilled me with a bit of an anti-English sentiment before I had ever met any of her citizenry.
The pejorative term for the American, or I suppose any non-Irishman really, who goes out of his way to emulate stereotypically Irish traits is plastic paddy: a central irony that was not lost on me while I lived in Scotland for two years dawning my new name that was thrust upon me: Paddy.
It was something I was mindful of when I was, for example, ordering a Guinness to watch an Irish 6 Nations match, or something of the like. Patrons would be skeptical of an American kid pulling such a maneuver, perhaps keen to pounce and be readily hostile if you gave them a reason to be. Thus, it was imperative to put in the time to learn the rules of rugby or hurling or what have you, and to learn some of the names of the guys on the roster. If you cheered at the right times and could actually hold a conversation with these Scotsmen on the merits of a player or two on the squad, you were no longer the potential American douchebag drinking a Guinness in his country. You might just be the most worldly son-of-a-bitch the guy had ever come across. Little does he know, my only motive was to watch a country I like play a game I like while drinking a beer I, you guessed it, like.
I’m also enthralled with Irish history. Rebel movements, bombing campaigns, the rise and fall of various political parties and movements, the famine and the mobilization of the working class, the IRA and the Provisional IRA, the stranglehold the Catholic Church had on Irish society, all of it is incredibly interesting. There’s so much information to digest, and you feel like you’re just scratching the surface. Overall I just can’t get enough of it, and there’s something comforting in the fact that I can continue to study the historical record for the rest of my days and still be looking forward to the next thing to uncover, the next question to answer.
So Ireland’s a good topic, good sport, good beer, good people, I hear it’s pretty (I somehow only managed to pass through Dublin’s airport to and fro Scotland). But still, I wonder why I have gravitated towards identifying with it so strongly. My heritage is no more Irish than it is Italian, and it is my Italian relatives who I have actually had the pleasure of meeting, but nevertheless I’d much more readily jump at the idea of considering my ancestry to be of the Irish persuasion.
In one respect, I just like underdogs, and Ireland feels like the ultimate underdog story. Always up against the heavily armed Crown, always facing drought, managing to jump over a hurdle to only find two more taller ones waiting in the wings. I am drawn to movements that aim to overthrow the morally empty status quo, and Ireland offers no shortage of tales where men and women rallied together to try and achieve these very ends.
But perhaps it extends even deeper than this, and relates to an aspect of the human condition within me—within us—that longs to deify something outside of the self. It is not wholly unlike romanticizing death. Its very unknowability is what makes it scary, Shakespeare illustrates this more succinctly than I can, but the unknowability can act as a temptation, an allure. More bluntly, if we are working with the logic that anything that is knowable will inevitably be flawed, then that which we can’t know is the only thing we can hold out hope for isn’t flawed.
Returning to Ireland and my love for its story, as much as I read up on it, at its core it will be unknowable. Maybe not so much contemporary Irish development, its sports teams and its political power struggles, but the developments that have given way to the chapters of history—the battles in solidarity that are lionized—these aren’t directly knowable. Thus, I can comfortably worship what these stories have become, and look the other way (or never know of) aspects of the Irish resistance that are flawed. It isn’t that I’m not necessarily aware of the flaws, but rather I have no reason to embrace them and every reason to ignore them. As such, I tread on in that manner for the most part.
When the agent lives during times he perceives to be morally suspicious—at worst, morally corrupt—then I think it is natural for him to be drawn to that which isn’t in existence during such times. A hard-line view, but one that’s touted nonetheless, is that to exist during bad times is to be complicit in the badness. If we were to carry on with this viewpoint, then it would be irrational to worship anything in existence (or the self for that matter). This can lead some people to adopt religion—to deify He who which cannot be wholly knowable and as such isn’t tarnished.
A lot of views are less rigid than this, people fall everywhere on the spectrum. The argument can be had, obviously, that just because there is badness does not mean that everyone is responsible for it, and therefore pockets of life, stretches of woodland, a significant other, can be worshiped.
I’m not sure where I fall, and conducting a complete self-analysis may lead me to conclusions I’d rather not draw, but perhaps this begins to scratch at why I feel a strong connection to Ireland.