Just in time for the 1916 Rising centenary on Sunday, The New York Times has been busy “Inventing the Irish.”
It's a compassionate act on their part and timely too, since it permits us to exist, which is a magnanimous gesture that I hope we will appreciate.
The Times heralded our latter-day existence in a piece edited and published on Thursday that, when you consider it, probably should have attracted more attention than it did.
If you thought Ireland and Irish culture were a longstanding distinctive integrity well, The Times piece countered, that is really just wishful thinking on your part.
In fact, author Barry Kennerk informs us, “the Irish have always had a British heritage.”
That point was quite lost on my grandfather. He frequently found himself on the business end of the rifles of a regiment of brutal soldiers who, it transpires, were really his kinsmen all along.
At least he was spared the disheartening news that he was part of a culture that doesn't really exist.
Isn't that just like Ireland, though? One minute you're dancing a jig to a lively traditional air or chuckling through a classic satirical novel and the next minute – whoops – you discover they were only the distorted echoes of a pulverized past.
Worse, they’re pastiche. Oh, well. So much all for that lost authenticity. We had all better catch ourselves on and realize that Finnegan will never Wake and just accept the fact we were West Britons all along.
Kennerk argues that culture only became a problem for the Irish when we sought to oust the authors of our 'heritage' from their centuries long campaign of ruthless colonial exploitation.
We had to invent a sort of contrarian culture and tradition, he suggests, in order to conjure up the necessary atavism to drive out the British (who were really ourselves). Talk about mental gymnastics. Literary unionism is quite the intellectual workout.
It now looks like there will never be a shortage of trolling academics and journalists eager to remind us that our traditions are imperfect and mostly in our heads. Each month seems to throw up another gleeful threnody on our history and culture.
We can no longer be authentically Irish, they assure us, because that's a portal that closed centuries ago, and it's absurd to think otherwise. We're not special. We will be assimilated.
So let’s give an enthusiastic forelock tug to The Times editors for this timely article. In particular let us thank their Ivy-educated editors who I bet, can find their way between Davy Byrne's and The Shelbourne Hotel, if not quite to Tara.
We should be edified that such august intellects have had the compassion to conjure us in time to celebrate our little revolution.
Lets also heed Kennerk's warning that it would be unfortunate if we said anything mildly critical about the nation that exploited us and significant swaths of the planet for hundreds of years whilst enriching itself.
To hear the New York Times tell it, we were almost lucky to receive their attentions.
This week I'm in Dublin. Since I'm here to mark the centenary of the revolution I will take terrific care not to surrender myself to Fenian chauvinism. I mean, how dare I.
I suggest we all take Kennerk's advice to heart: Don't let's be beastly to the British. Heaven knows they’ve never surrendered to flag waving jingoism themselves.