Identity is something many people have struggled with at some stage. Within our culture however, there is an ever-present sense of identity. Irishness. To identify as Irish isn’t a single, clear-cut definition. It has evolved over time, away from stereotypes of the past to the current evolving world we live in. Irish identity is what binds us together in the best and worst of times. It is this identity that Marie-Claire Logue decided to look further into, in her book ‘Being Irish, 101 views on Irish Identity’. In this book we get to hear from leaders, idols, and role models of what their Irish identity means to them. The following extracts are some of our top picks:
Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste (329)
I was born in the Rotunda and grew up in West Dublin and it never occurred to me that I was anything else except Irish. This was my home and my heritage. As I grew older, however, I realised that some others viewed me as different, because of my surname, because of my skin colour, because of differences that I had never imagined would affect my Irishness. Being Irish came to mean more to me precisely because some people tried to deny it to me.
The people who shout loudest about someone not being Irish enough, who cling to a rigid conception of identity, and attempt to deny it to others are cowards who are afraid of what being Irish really means. They are insecure about their own identity and try to over-compensate by lashing out at others. They are really at war with themselves.
There is no one version of Irishness. Our strength comes from each other, everyone bringing their own talents, ideas and dreams. We draw inspiration from the past, but we are not bound by it. We are all colours and backgrounds, every religion and none. Some of us do not drink, we like different kinds of music, we follow foreign sports as well as our own, and we eat our dinner in the middle of the day as well as in the evening. We disagree about politics and have our occasional fights. But when it matters most, we are there for each other. It’s there in the camaraderie and good behaviour when we travel abroad for major sporting occasions. It’s seen at home when we look out for each other during a pandemic. Being Irish means our nationality is never a burden. It’s the opposite. It lifts us up, it provides a sense of belonging and, in the darkest of times, it gives us a feeling of hope. To me being Irish simply means that you are someone who calls Ireland ‘home’.
Teresa Lambe, Co-Developer of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine (306)
I ’m from Ireland but have spent most of my adult life living in the UK. The dreaming spires of Oxford, that were so intimidating at first, are now my home, feeling both familiar and welcoming. When I first emigrated, I didn’t expect there to be such a difference between the UK and Ireland. Of course, I had heard of Twiglets, Marmite and ‘real ale’, but it was more than that. Historically, and culturally, the two countries see the same events through very different lenses – with the truth often somewhere in between.
During the pandemic, I have worked a lot (and I mean a lot) and again, it was a decision that I made – I needed to do what I did. I needed to develop, test and progress a vaccine against Covid-19. I missed my kids, my family, my friends. I missed my life, but it was a decision I’d happily make again. For me that’s part of my ‘Irishness’ – a ferocity, a tenacity, a determination (mixed with a good sense of humour). An ability to make mistakes – to get knocked down – but also a fire to get back up and go again.
None of this is possible without support, without family, be that through blood or through friendship. The people who support you, shape and mould you.
Oxford is as much in my blood as my Irish roots; it’s where my children were born, where I choose to live. My friends, my family, my job, my home – all these things shape me into who I am. I’m a mom. I’m a scientist. I’m Irish. I’m an OBE. I’m a mix of all these things and more.
If I could tell my early self anything it would be, ‘not everyone will like you and that’s okay; you do you and be proud of everything that means’.
AP McCoy, Former Champion Jockey (361)
I grew up in the small Catholic village of Moneyglass in County Antrim, one of two counties in Ireland with a Protestant majority. I considered myself Irish then, still do and always will. That is not to say that we were sectarian or hostile to the Unionists of the surrounding area. In fact, one of the most influential people in my young life and career as a jockey was a local Protestant horse trainer, Billy Rock. It was through Billy that my love of horses began and was nourished. I was so obsessed with horses that Billy’s religion didn’t matter to me at all. What Billy told me about horses was more important to me at that time than what I heard at mass on Sundays.
In 2002, I passed Gordon Richards’ total of race wins and afterwards I received an invitation from the Home Office to receive an MBE at Buckingham Palace. I rang my mother and talked it over with her. She was a woman who had strong Republican views, and she understood the complexities of the invitation. Having thought it over, she eventually advised me to accept it, saying that I had lived in England a long time, was rearing my family there and that it was the right thing to do. But on every invitation date that was sent to me for going to Buckingham Palace I was busy racing.
Then in 2010 I won the Grand National and received another letter from the Home Office to award me an OBE. So, I said to myself, I had better attend this time. I went up and stood in front of the Queen and my jaw dropped when she said, ‘it’s nice of you to show up this time’. I made an apology about my racing schedule, and she smiled and said, ‘You don’t have to apologise to me. I read the Racing Post every day, I knew exactly where you were’.
When I retired in 2015, I got the news that I had been awarded a Knighthood. I rang my mother who, upon hearing this, said: ‘I’m going to have to go into hiding around here now!’