Being the week that’s in it, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ireland and my own sense of national identity as an Irish woman. One of the things I noticed during my ponderings was the strong connection between my own sense of Irishness and items of pop culture which, oftentimes, have absolutely nothing to do with Ireland.
Allow me to put this into some kind of perspective. I was born to Irish immigrant parents in Melbourne, Australia and only moved to Ireland when I was 5-years-old. Effectively half of my childhood was spent in a different hemisphere, with only vague ideas as to what Ireland looked like. From parcels that had been sent over by my Irish relatives, I gathered that Ireland had knitted jumpers and recordings of The Late Late Toy Show on VHS, but apart from that my knowledge and understanding of Mother Éire was relatively limited to what I saw on TV. This was not, as I’m sure you know, an ideal way to learn about one’s culture and heritage.
To begin with, I recall a news report from St. Patrick’s Day 1994 (or thereabouts). The network had a correspondant reporting from Dublin, so this is the earliest memory I have of seeing real life Ireland on-screen. However, there was one flaw. A flaw that (quite literally) coloured my perceptions of Ireland. The entire broadcast was shot through a green filter.
Immediately upon seeing this, a younger me thought, “Holy shit. That’s awesome”. (I’m paraphrasing myself, of course. I was far more foul-mouthed at 4-years-old). Being the precocious child I was, I asked my parents to confirm my belief that Ireland was entirely green and, even more remarkably, had the ability to turn you green. It’s worth noting here, before I go any further, that my parents only ever meant well. Either that, or they enjoyed making a fool out of their child. Either way, they answered yes. Absolutely fucking everything in Ireland is green.
That would’ve been fine. I could’ve lived with believing Ireland and its inhabitants were entirely green. I would’ve gone to Ireland a year later, seen that it wasn’t green, and thought nothing of it. But somehow, somewhere in my skewed little child-mind, this idea of green leaked into everything else and before long a strange mental collage of images formed.
I had just learned Ireland was green. Grand. I also knew, having heard from my parents, that Ireland had horses. Fantastic. I also watched a lot of films as a child. Brilliant. And so, the following equation occured:
Green + Horse =
Part of me knew, it must’ve known, that the Emerald City was not the same as the Emerald Isle. But for years the following scene made me swell with pride (and, if I’m honest, it still kind of does):
Other films from my childhood became permeated with my warped imaginings of Ireland. For example, when I think of Ireland I often find myself thinking of Willy Wonka. Unlike the Emerald City, I can throw my hands up and say this one truly leans towards batshit insanity. Having seen the tricolour at some stage during my time in Oz (see? I was fucked from the get-go) I must’ve taken note of the colours and applied my sense of patriotism to the nearest thing mirroring them:
That’s right. Oompa Loompas make me think of home. In my defense, I currently study in Dublin 4, so there’s very little difference in terms of appearance between the inhabitants here and the Loompaland refugees (A fake tan joke? I know, I’m so sorry).
Perhaps the worst offender in the cinematic stakes for warping my notions of Ireland at an early age was this:
Though from the outset it looks safe and sane: it’s actually set in Ireland and engages with Irish folklore. However, having again asked my parents for confirmation as to whether or not these Leprachauns were actually real (I never asked if they were actors though, mind. I suppose I assumed Disney was going for a gritty, Neo-Realist approach by hiring leprachauns off the street) they said yes. They were real. Thanks, mum and dad. But they didn’t stop there. They went as far as to say that not only was it shot in the same village from which my dad’s side of the family originate, but also that my very own great-grandfather acted in it. As the fucking bartender no less.
Again, I never actually questioned if he was an actor or not. Disney was all about the realism in them days.
So in 1995 I arrived to find Ireland coloured much the same way Australia was, devoid of people who can dye your hair to match your gown or churn rivers of chocolate. Instead of a great-grandfather who lived in a town plagued by leprachauns, I had an extended family I’d never met before. And it was still great. And still is. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is, despite the fact that Ireland wasn’t the fantastical imaginary island I’d created in my head with the help of films and television, I wasn’t disappointed. I can watch those films back and feel the same jolt of pride, all the while enjoying what Ireland really is. So before I get sappy and sentimental, I’ll end with this. It may just be an ad for an airport terminal, but it’s the best piece of propaganda this nation has ever produced. Happy belated Paddy’s Day.