The truth is that the Irish are always having arguments. From Malin Head to Mizen Head, it's one of the characteristics that absolutely define us.

First there's the argument we have with ourselves, then there's the argument we have with history. After that there's the argument we have with the wider world, and finally there's the arguments we have with our loved ones.

I bring this up because I long ago noticed the only thing we ever agree on in Ireland is that we don't agree on anything. In Ireland there is no such thing as a consensus. The only truth that's universally acknowledged is that there is no such thing as a universal truth.

The stronger you feel about an issue there, the more certain it is that you will be instantly contradicted there. I used to find it remarkable and a bit uncouth, this disagreeable instinct, which growing up I witnessed everywhere: in families, in pubs, in politics and public life.

Adults argued, children argued, teachers argued, and it was every day and nonstop and no one saw anything unusual in it.

The sheer variety of the things that the Irish could disagree about were endless. We didn't agree what country we were in, or where the borders were, or who should run the place, or whose flags should fly. We didn't agree about the Civil War or who the taoiseach (prime minister) should be or who hit who in which long ago battle, or who would win the All-Ireland even.

We didn't agree on the big stuff, we didn't agree on the little stuff. We were happy to tell you that you backed the wrong horse, you picked the wrong wife, you said the wrong thing, you kicked with the wrong foot, you went to the wrong school.

Of course you did, and we lined up to remind you.

In fact the only respite, the only time that hostilities ceased, was is in the hours it took between your wake and the cemetery. Then – and only then – would Irish people agree to agree.

It didn't last long and it went like this: you were a grand man, you always had a kind word, you were willing to help, you weren't the worst of them.

That tense truce only lasted till they reached the cemetery gates. Then -- what a relief -- the bets were off and it was back to bickering.

Someone may say that you were mean to your mother once, someone might say you were quick to take offense, someone will remember you left once before your round was called, and someone will recall you couldn't sing.

Listening to us, foreigners often assume that we all despise each other. Those Irish, visitors say shaking their heads, they never have a good word to say about each other.

This is generally true, but it doesn't mean what our literal minded visitors seem to think it means.

In Ireland we love nuance. We much prefer it to unquestioning idolatry. We particularly like to uncover other people's feet of clay, because it brings other people down to earth, and because they're not our own.

No Irish person thinks that anyone anywhere is better than themselves, and secretly they suspect they may be the best of the bunch anyway.

So how do you convey all that complexity to outsiders? You can't really. That why when tourists visit Ireland they think it's not a country so much as a bewildering debate.

Everyone has seen it, the hapless German or American blow in trying to make sense of concepts the Irish take for granted. They rarely ever succeed.

It turns out that one of the great things about Ireland and the Irish is our disagreeableness. It's what saves us from being Holland or Denmark or somewhere equally tranquil and a bit dull.

After all, when everyone is in agreement what craic is there? If you live in a country where no two people can agree on where they actually are standing you can expect fireworks.

So having to fight to have your own say isn't always a bad thing, and learning how to defend it isn't necessarily a bad thing either. For all it's antiquity it's still a new nation, it's still a work in progress. Ireland may be small but all that friction can make diamonds. Your friends and family are the proof.