It’s an odd thing being an Irish Catholic over in Britain on the Queen of England’s Jubilee weekend. Whereas it’s always good to experience a country en fete, the abundance of union jack bunting has a disconcerting impact on someone of my cultural background. Still, I went out with my camera this morning with the intention of capturing the natives celebrating their Britishness – but to my disappointment, most were just shopping, eating ice cream and enjoying the few hours of sunshine – and not doing anything remotely Englishy or Britishy or Queeny.
I’ve always found that watching other nations investigate and express their identity allows me to regard my own with fresh eyes – and this fact feeds my writing. I write endlessly about Ireland and my Irishness. I don’t particularly want to – attempts have been made int eh past to focus on other locations where I have lived or spent time, but my writing always revolts, and brings me back to the land of my birth. And I have not lived in Ireland for a long, long time (I’m in good company, James Joyce put himself into exile for twenty years before he produced his masterpiece set in Dublin on June 16th 1904…)
Other nations’ relationship with their identity that has always held a mirror. It was through grappling with the extreme, blinkered, inward looking nationalism of elements of Eastern European culture that I began to see parallels with a certain promotion of Irish culture in the arts. Can I count the number of twee, riverdancy depictions of us all as mystic Celtic fairies? Oy vey. I’m far more a follower of the school of Synge and Playboy of the Western World and it’s investigation of the dark and surreal side of the Irish identity.
So, I’m here in Norwich on the Jubilee weekend watching a native people largely apathetic to the event – but enjoying the four days off and (weirdly) I’m rather annoyed that they’re not being more British about it all because that would make more sense to me. And now I have to go think about why I feel that way, and why we Irish have to have a St. Patrick’s Day and Riverdance type cultural promotion? Or why Irish writers often feel that they have to write about Irish identity – when British writers rarely feel the same obligation? It’s an interesting question and not quite the one I expected to pop up from today’s excursion…. I feel a short story coming on….