What a difference a week makes.
Since coming to New York to start my internship here last Monday, so much has changed that it would take an entire edition of this newspaper to give a proper account of what’s going on.
But let me try, as best I can, to introduce myself and tell you just a little bit about what I’ve been up to in the space of this first installment of my bi-monthly column.
My name’s Daniel O’Carroll, I’m 21, and studying law at University College Cork in Ireland.
I’m interning at this newspaper and am also working on this paper’s sister website: IrishCentral.com.
And so far, it’s been amazing.
But just before you begin to warm to me, let me tell you something that mightn’t go down so well: before I came here, I was a little suspicious of Irish-America and Irish Americans.
Who were these people, I wondered, whose fourth cousin twice removed came from ‘the County Mayo’, and who had an odd affinity to pints of Guinness and the Ring of Kerry? And just how truly Irish were they after all?
I had my doubts, but after just one week in an Irish-American newspaper, my perceptions of what ‘Irish American’ means are already changing.
Yes, there are plenty of phony ‘Irish-Americans’ whose knowledge of Ireland doesn’t extend far beyond Guinness, Ted Kennedy and Riverdance, but there’s also a majority of Irish Americans whose connection to the ‘old country’ is iron-strong, and who have been able to marry that impressive loyalty to Ireland with a surprisingly robust commitment to American ideals and values. These are the Irish Americans who I’ve found most impressive in my short stay here so far.
Perhaps my most unexpected observation about this culture, though, is that Irish Americans are often more enthusiastic about Ireland than the Irish themselves.
At New York’s many Irish bars, where the intersections between these two similar cultures are perhaps most easily seen, this becomes almost worryingly clear.
For us Irish, Ireland is often no more than a place that rains a lot. A place we inwardly love but outwardly love to moan about. For Irish-Americans, though, Ireland is a Utopian realm of happiness: a boundless expanse of green fields, little men with bowling hats, an of course, plentiful pubs.
Perhaps the often stark differences in our perceptions of the country we share heritage from come from our varying experiences there.
For current citizens of Ireland, it’s often hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Job cut follows job cut and we seem lumbered with a host of untalented and unchanging politicians who seem incapable of steering our fate in a better direction. Just yesterday Enda Kenny reacted to an internal challenge to his leadership by firing the challenging party. It’s hard to have hope.
Nothing seems to ever change and once more we look to the proverbial emigrant ship, which although now assuming the form of a Airbus 330, still carries us to the same destinations where we’ve traditionally sought refuge when the economic and political storm has blown strong.
It’s not that we don’t like Ireland, we just have to get out.
Perhaps it’s only once we leave the Irish shores and get infected with a jolt of that trademark American optimism that we can see Ireland for what it really is.
At the end of the day, despite political turmoil, economic ruination, and a never-ending series of Atlantic squalls, Ireland’s not truly a bad place. For all those negatives there’s something unique about Ireland and the Irish that makes us one of the best loved cultures in the whole.. It’s just a pity that it sometimes take Irish Americans to make us see Ireland for what it is.
For that, though, we should be grateful.