It seems to me that there are certain attributes that make up the Irish psyche:
1. A deep suspicion of ideas. We’ve never been great on the abstract concept or ideology. An Irishman would think little of going from being a Communist to a Capitalist, as long as there was something in it for him. And the English were in the other camp. Even nationalism, the most powerful political concept in Ireland, has more to do with hating another country than thinking through what it means to be Irish. Yet in our core we are deeply conservative, electing the same centre-right minimum change possible duopoly at EVERY election since 1921.
2. Grouphate. Whereas we don’t do ideas well, we’re Olympic class at hating a designated group. It’s almost impossible in Ireland to separate passionate nationalism from Anglophobia. Just count how many union jacks you have seen in a single week flying in Ireland, before Elizabeth II’s visit. Or have a detailed discussion about what a united Ireland would look like with its most passionate advocates. Once you get past “the effin’ Brits this” or “the bastard Brits that” they’re out of ideas. You’ll get a few slogans at best.
3. Masochism is a national sport in Ireland. Only the Irish would come up with a phrase like “If I had your money, I’d burn me own”. A boot to the throat and a face in the cold wet mud reveals a mind that’s thinking “As soon as this bastard gets off me and walks back to the big house, I’m going to give him the glaring of his life!” Whether it’s the Brits, the IMF, the EU or our own potatoes, someone is always plottin’ agin’ us, and winning too. Curiously, we kinda like the sense of helplessness, and the idea that nothing is really in our power.
4. Hypocrisy is a form of cleverness. Waving your fist at the departing British monarch, before turning to give your son a belt for not getting down on his hands and knees in the dirt as the archbishop passes in his finery, that’s us. Whether it’s abortion, the Irish language, child abuse, neutrality or nuclear power, saying one thing and doing the other is regarded as perfectly normal to the Irish. Only an Irish emigrant can return home to Ireland and start complaining about foreigners taking Irish jobs, and be regarded as being perfectly reasonable. The saddest part is that we approach these issues like a dog with his head under the bed: because he can’t see anyone, he assumes he’s being clever, and no one can see what he’s up to. The problem is that the whole world can see the Irish arse sticking out from under the bed.
5. We are genuinely shocked when other countries act the way we do. We go to Brussels to defend our national interest (read: Money). Yet when the French or Germans do the same thing to us we are stunned, and regard them as bastards for, well, being like us.
6. Loyalty is the trait we rate above everything else, the source of our strength and most of our problems. If one of our friends told us they’d murdered someone, our gut instinct is to find out why, listening carefully for a moral nugget to latch onto to preserve the friendship. It is a noble trait which has kept our communities strong. It’s also why we hardly ever jail anyone for corruption.
7. We assume that rules are a good idea. For other people. Only in Ireland can someone shake their heads in sadness at news of “the carnage on our roads”, shake their fist at the government for “doing nothing”, and then flash their lights at other drivers to warn them not that they are speeding, but that there is a Garda car or a GATSO van parked up ahead trying to catch people breaking the speed limit. Why else would most Irish be happy to choose Catholicism as a religion, other than we have the absolution of the confessional, the “a la carte menu” of religions?
8. We will accept things in other countries that we’d never accept in Ireland. People who sniff at the minimum wage in Ireland will wait tables in Boston, London, Berlin or Melbourne. Go figure.
9. We take greater pleasure in the failure of others more sucessful than us than we do in our own success. Better us all be living in the shit than some of us break out.
10. Yet we can be pragmatic and clever (defeated the British), creative (U2, our comedians), intolerant of total nutters (A democracy since 1921, deposed the Catholic Church eventually) and this is not, in the grand scheme of things, a bad country to live in. Go figure.
Note: A variation of this post was put up in 2011.