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This is your brain on Shamrocks - what makes us Irish?

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A road sign in Gort, Co. Galway
I was ambling through Co. Clare en route to Athenry after landing at Shannon Airport not long ago, and smiled at the sight of the familiar “Welcome to Gort” sign that announces your entry into Galway.

“That place is gone to us,” said the driver. “It’s just full of foreigners taking our jobs away from us.”

Indeed, some 40% of the residents of Gort are non-Irish, according to the 2006 census, a massive majority of these being Brazilians. These people originally came to work in the meat processing plants in Gort where the pay is generally much higher than in similar plants in Brazil.

I could smell a strong whiff of xenophobia in the pubs throughout my last short stay in Ireland. There was a loud cry of foul over how immigrants from Poland and Algeria either took jobs from the Irish, or sucked on the Celtic Tiger boom years like vampire bats that drained their blood and then flew away when the cat got sick.

There was a high resentment of these outsiders intermingling with “the natives” was how it was delicately put -- as if Ireland has its own thing going and we don’t appreciate outsiders messing it up.

Really?

Does anything belong to Ireland anymore? It begs the question -- what makes something Irish in 2012?

It could be debated that the land on the island itself is no longer theirs.

The self-inflicted banking crisis forced Ireland to swallow its pride and accept loans and bailout money from their neighbors to stay afloat. It’s debatable as to who actually owns Ireland now.

The Chinese? Germany? France?

It makes you want to take to the pub and have a good drink, but you won’t find anything Irish in there to whet your whistle.

Bushmills and Guinness are both owned by the Diageo corporation, whose offices reside in downtown London. The lifeblood of Irish culture is owned by the Brits!

Irish breakfast tea, or “tay” as they call it in the auld sod, is actually a blend of Assam tea leaves from the carmelia sinensis plant that lines the Brahmaputra River in India!

Not even the Celtic Tiger was born in Ireland! American companies like Baxter, Microsoft, Boston Scientific and IBM have been fueling the job growth in Ireland for many decades, ever since Ireland aggressively marketed the highly educated nature of its natives and cut corporate tax rates.

The influx of American companies makes the big cat that made Ireland roar more “Tony the Tiger” than Celtic Tiger.

Much of the stuff you buy in an Irish shop nowadays is made in China, especially the tschotkes that were sold at the Cliffs of Moher gift shop.

Even my most Irish memories have gone up in smoke, so to speak. I remember hearing stories about my father’s hardscrabble life growing up, in which he described cutting turf in the bog as a means to provide fuel and heat for the house.

Europe and the Irish government recently introducing laws planning to prevent families (domestic turf cutters) who have been cutting turf for fuel for hundreds of years from doing so.

This seems ridiculous to have a natural resource lay idle and force the Irish to find costly fuel alternatives, and downright criminal when one considers how it tears at our very Irishness! 

I host an annual holiday open house for the family each New Year’s Day, and I was struck by how many nationalities have infiltrated our Irish brood.

My girls are half-Jewish and so is my godson and his sister. During December, we all hosted Christmas dinners and Chanukah menorah lighting get-togethers in the same week.

My brother married an Italian/Polish woman. My cousin’s twin boys are half Jamaican and do a credible Michael Jackson moonwalk.

I grew up in a Catholic enclave in Jersey City in which Irish, Italians and Polish were the nationalities of choice. I didn’t meet a Jewish person until seventh grade.

Genetics and technology guarantee that my family’s next generation will have a broader view of the world than I had growing up at the expense of some Irishness, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Even though there were plenty of races and creeds huddled around the piano singing as my daughter played “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” during our open house, the chorus of voices was evidence enough that the tradition of tight Irish family ties was stronger than ever before.

(Check out Mike Farragher’s essays on www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com)

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