This is part of a series of articles in which I intend to look at various aspects of Irish cultural and social life through the eyes of a foreign onlooker. It is intended to be a cultural autobiography of sorts, a journey of belonging and adaptation for a person not born here.
Born and raised in England, with an Irish parent, the latter was what eventually brought me to come and settle permanently in Ireland in April of 2009 as an adult. Whilst many adults and their families migrate largely for economic purposes, my decision was primarily cultural. I was spurred by a willingness to be further immersed in the Irish ancestry that flowed within me.
Indeed, the whole idea of the Irish-American or the Anglo-Irish person “going back to his roots” can be the topic of cultural cringe for those born here. This resentment can be driven by many things. There is of course the newcomers’ lack of understanding of their new “home”, its history, culture and traditions.
There is also the baggage that comes with it; having not lost my accent I have been viewed several times as if I were a relic of the old regime that the pantheon of the Nationalist movement worked valiantly and tirelessly to throw out of Ireland. For those who did engage that who don’t know me, my knowledge of Ireland would come across as quite disarming.
For some of those who wished to keep hold of their resentment, this manifested in the form of a narcissistic jealousy, characteristic of the East Yank (an overtly Americanised Irish-born person, or a West Brit (a native Irish prone to Anglophilia) dressed in a shroud of green. For all his or her boasting about their autonomy from “the English”, they were largely deracinated by global and Anglocentric cultural norms.
Their tokenistic pissed up singing of “Come Out You Black And Tans” was rendered obsolete by their constant drip feed of British and American television and mass media. The vigour of their “parish pride” in the local GAA stakes was rendered less vigorous by their pseudo-religious, infantile fondness of The Late Late Toy Show.
As I grew more familiar with the contemporary Irish cultural and media landscape, starting when I moved here in 2009, it became quite clear to me that what once was a more parochial culture rooted in the land had become a bizarrely false “second religiousness” of boomers and millennials endlessly bickering about what words were uttered by, and not limited to the following; Gerry Ryan, Pat Kenny, Ryan Tubridy, Gay Byrne, Ray D’Arcy, Joe Duffy, Miriam O’Callaghan. The list could go on.
There is a saying; that you become the average of the five people you spend the most of your time with, be it in person or otherwise. The “otherwise” is significant; for this can also include individuals who proliferate the media airwaves. I indeed recall the death of Gerry Ryan. I cared little for him or who he was, as I was not “reared” on Irish media, but one person I knew at the time literally said to me “he was literally like my dad”.
I was becoming familiar and fine-tuned into the world of the Irish millennial; preoccupied by “the sesh”, “cans” and music festivals such as Oxygen, and as I have stated earlier, a fixation on Irish television and radio presenters tantamount to a postmodern pantheism. As much as contemporary mass media culture is abundant with fads, and a lack of authenticity, I never saw the average Yorkshireman talk about their media talking heads the same way contemporary Irish people do.
Yet there was, and continues to be a sense of pathos sugar-coated in bittersweet nostalgia. It manifests when many of these people undergo an annual rite of infantilisation at the end of each November known as “The Late Late Toy Show”. Once presented by the late Gay Byrne, now presented by Ryan Tubridy, this Christmas themed variety show was once the show that kids could stay up late to and have sweets.
If I ever feigned obliviousness or expressed my disdain to this ongoing “tradition”, it would be met with the notion that having not grown up here, I would not understand it’s appeal. Speaking from experience, that is true, maybe I don’t. Another frequent comment would be that there was nothing else worth watching on television, and that there were hardly any channels outside RTE “back in the day”. The same millennials would also reminisce about their “inner child” through memories of Dustin The Turkey and Podge & Rodge, though these would not solicit the same level of mania that the Toy Show still continues to invite.
This all first came in the year of 2009, when the cold and abrupt shock of the global economic crash had been adjusted to. The “fun years” of Ireland’s late period Celtic Tiger years were over. The pubs were less joyous, more people were on the dole. A mass exodus of culchies towards the former British colonies of North America and Antipodes was in full swing. Much like the meme which states “good times create weak men”, I had arrived when many Irish had awoken to a long hangover after far too much craic. As to how much cocaine some partook in the use of, I dare not estimate.
I had bore witness to the beginning of a long, existential crisis which Ireland long continues to find itself in the midst of. It is still a small “global” village of a country, with the Republic holding roughly half of New York City’s population. Society is still heavily parochial in some respects. As opposed to a small village where “everyone knows everyone”, in Ireland everyone knows someone whom you might also know.
But that has been rendered schizoid with the advent of contemporary mass media and the lifestyle choices that come with it. It has rendered a country that proclaims its autonomy from British rule far more malleable to the effects of British and American media and mass culture. Why be occupied territorially when the telly, radio and the internet can literally annihilate physical space?
To paraphrase Eamonn De Valera’s prophetic RTE speech in 1961, television (and other mass media) is like nuclear energy. It can do great good if handled right, yet can also do great evil. And much of the liberalising mass media that has dominated the Irish airwaves since then has worked with great success to splinter and atomise the population. This is a process of division and control that continues relentlessly to this day.
But who am I to judge? For surely, I am just a blow in, who can never fully be nor understand.