For over 20 years I have been an Irishman abroad. My Irishness is part of me. It’s important to me. At times it consumes me. And now that I’ve started a podcast for the Irish community in Sweden it is perhaps more important to me than ever – but what is it, really?
It is something that I have pondered and considered and quantified and questioned. It has been tested and teased, probed and appraised. It has changed, because it had to. Something so precious needs to be pure, but pure in the right way.
It has been distilled and refined, and this is what it is.
My Irishness is inclusive, not exclusive. It is the fire that warms my house, rather than the kind that might burn it down. It is a sense of belonging, the respect for others that comes with helping my neighbour to bring in his harvest and asking for nothing, but knowing that the meitheal will find its way back to me somehow.
It is what connects me to others, but it does not set me apart. It is the music and melodies that infuse every moment of our moods, the words of our poets, the shared history, written and unwritten, and the future we all dream of. It is our myths and legends, our athletes and warriors, our thinkers and drinkers, the saints and the scholars, the poets and philosophers through the ages, at home and thar lear. It is not something that makes us better than anyone else, nor does it make us any worse; it is something that we can be part of, at the same time as we are part of other things, or nothing.
My Irishness is my tribe, the tribe I stand with where everyone is welcome; should I ever leave it, it will always welcome me back. I can be within, but I will never be without. It is open to all; it is to look in the eye of another and to say, “I’ve got you, and you’ve got me, and whatever this world throws at us, we will face it together, come what may.”
It is grief and pain and laughter and joy, burdens and bounties, shared equally.
It is respect for the wonder of nature, of this planet and those who inhabit it; it places no demands on the natural world, carefully using only what we need to survive and to thrive; it is something we are, not something we have.
It is the togetherness that needs no words, the ability to cross a threshold for the first time and still be made to feel at home. It is the warmth of belonging, wherever in the world I may be, of knowing that our tribe is never far away because we carry it all in our memories and our words and our hearts.
To me, being Irish is to belong – not just here, or there, but everywhere.