Hello. It’s been a while.
I make my return to the blogosphere just ahead of one of my favourite days of the year.
St. Patrick’s Day is a wonderful indulgence in Irishness. It was a particular joy at University, when I’d rise, don the green jersey and tricolor, cook a full Irish breakfast for my lucky, lucky housemates, sink a pint of Guinness, then head out where I’d continue to get the black stuff down my neck until the early hours of March 18th. Even lectures weren’t a particular barrier, as anyone who witnessed me staggering into the University of Lincoln’s Cargill lecture theatre one year will testify (it’s not big and it’s not clever).
It’s been a less hardcore affair in recent years, what with pesky work preventing the all day benders, but I always make the time for a swift couple of pints and a soda farl or two.
Here’s the thing, though (and this is essentially the point of this blog) – Irishness, to me, is far, far more than donning a funny hat and getting royally pissed once a year. And yet, some people remain seemingly hellbent on denying me my heritage.
It’s often jovial, but it occasionally takes the form of sneering derision, people almost hauling me over the coals as to my claims to Irish heritage, before, inevitably, coming to the conclusion that the fact that 50% of the blood sloshing around inside me is Irish isn’t enough for me to justify any significant link to the Emerald Isle.
It frustrates and confuses me in equal measure. Why are they so determined to make light of my roots? I hate to come across all Daily Mail, but a person with black skin wouldn’t have to face a similar inquisition over their claims to have African or Caribbean heritage, because there’s tangible evidence literally looking you in the eye. As my mom often likes to say when she, ridiculously, faces a similar challenge to her right to claim Irishness: “If Irish people had green skin, I’d be green”.
And she would. My mom was born Helen O’Shea and raised in a distinctly Irish household in Birmingham. My grandparents, Cal and PJ hailed from the small, picturesque village of Kildysart, Co.Clare, before venturing across the Irish sea to make a life for themselves and their children in Blighty.
Life has dealt me a largely lucky hand, but I think the thing that makes me feel sadder than anything else is the fact that my granddad was taken from me far too soon, only a week after my first birthday. All I have are the tales from my family, their recollections of a truly great human being.
Nanny Cal also went too soon. I was 11 when we lost her very suddenly to a stroke, and words don’t accurately describe how much I miss her to this day. She was an enormous part of mine and my sister’s childhood, picking us up from school most nights, looking after us until mom got home, and one of the kindest, gentlest human beings to ever walk the planet – the quintessential Irish lady. I’ve never known a shock like the enormity of her passing, and never a day goes by when I don’t think of her.
It’s the untimely loss of my grandparents which I think makes me cling on to my Irish heritage all the more, a passion to respect their legacy, ensuring their memory will never be forgotten. It’s hard to explain how you can feel such a belonging, such a connection with a nation that I’ve never called home. But it’s something that burns inside me, which should go some way to explaining why I don’t take kindly to somebody questioning it.
This is probably as good a point as any to clarify, for the avoidance of any doubt, that I’m not denouncing my Englishness by any means. Half of the blood inside me is English, courtesy of my dad, and I’m hugely proud of that part of my heritage too. (I just don’t support the English national football team anymore because most of them are dicks, innit?)
Of course, in the eyes of the law, I’m 100% British. Going back to the smug idiots who love to question my claims to be Irish, the one thing I hate to be asked is “Do you have an Irish passport?” – because it’s a question I can’t answer ‘Yes’ to.
My citizenship is British, my passport is British, and, in every official piece of documentation I ever fill out, I’m duty bound to list my nationality as such. It may seem insignificant, but I always do so with resignation – I yearn to write English/Irish, to formalise what I feel I am, my own sense of identity.
I was recently able to do just that when filling out my census form. Thanks to the ‘How Irish Are You?’ campaign, I learned that there’s a difference between Nationality and Ethnicity. And so, while I had no choice but to list ‘English’ under national identity,the ethnicity section allowed me, finally, to list both of the nationalities I feel a sense of belonging to. I doubt there were many people to take as much joy out of filling in their census as I did, I can guarantee you that.
Having done it once, I’m eager to do it again. And thus, I’m currently looking into going through the process of registering my ‘foreign birth’ with the Irish authorities, gaining dual citizenship, and the right to carry both a British and an Irish passport.
It’s a long and arduous process, which costs a considerable amount of money and requires me to submit an almost prohibitive amount of paper work, including the original copies of my parents’ and grandparents’ birth and marriage certificates, as well as my own birth certificate – even surrendering my passport for a period of time.
People may question why I’m going through it. There are no obvious benefits or incentives to do so, but I WANT to do it. I want to honour my grandparents, I want that link to them, I want something tangible to prove what I feel so deeply inside, my commitment to my roots. And, as much as anything, I want that official bit of paper to silence the begrudgers once and for all.
So please, enjoy the Craic tomorrow. Drink, wear a leprechaun hat, do a little jig if the mood takes you. But, please… don’t call me a Plastic Paddy. Because I’m not.
You know I’m not. I’m really not.