Sunday, 16 September 2018

Irish

I think I'll take Leonard to yoga with me tomorrow, rather than skip it - and he appears to be quite keen. Today, as we drove down the road from Comadai to Diggers Rest, I was talking to him about my yoga group and describing to him the other people who will be there, and when I said Sandra is from Ireland, he said 'Wait, there's a country called Island?' In the one or two minutes it took to share his amusement then clear up the misunderstanding and confirm that yes there is a country called Ireland, I thought, well right here is a choice; I could go either way with this.

Here's a fork in the road. I can plant a seed and actively cultivate an identification with something understood as Irishness, or I can leave it unsaid, and wait and see what happens in the absence of a directive of that kind. It was startling to suddenly realise that this young person just doesn't understand himself as having a blood connection to a far away but familiar place. Or, maybe, what startled me was noticing how much everything that I do and think is done and thought through the lens of that understanding. Well, children Len's age are just beginning to be developmentally capable of forming a concept of the past as something that caused the present and at some point he'll need to explain to himself just how this applies to the fact of his own undeniable presence in the world.

I did say to him 'You're a little bit Irish', without being able to explain this at all satisfactorily. I know it was an unsatisfactory explanation I gave because it was obviously very boring. But I also don't exactly know what I meant. Obviously the St Patrick's Day kind of Irishness, not even tribal, just a particularly pissweak kind of globalised identity-mongering triggered by not much more than happening to have an Irish surname (which Lenny does not) is just a complete embarrassment, and while I have Irish citizenship, and many first-degree relatives born in or living in Ireland, and a great fondness for Ireland, I was born and grew up in Australia and that's the end of the story. I would never call myself Irish and it sets my teeth on edge when I hear that claim made by people kinda like me. And yet, I think the psychic universe of the Irish diaspora in Australia is still everywhere, permeating everything; it's often silent, or unrecognised, but it's there, in the fabric of the culture.  The memories and mindsets and energies and struggles that carried my relatives here and shaped their family life and relationships, and defined the upbringing of their children, are the same ones that embedded Irish experiences and ways of seeing into the life of the Australian community, and because of this, I've lived with the memory of Irishness shaping my feeling of belonging in Australia, a post-imperial Australia, without this country being the be-all and the end-all.

I hope Lenny will take better care of his Celtic skin in the sun than I have done with mine. In complete honesty, I am reckless. I love that moment which comes with the start of every summer when I glance at my forearm or look in the mirror and see that my freckles have woken up again. What I should be thinking of at these times is not how great it feels to be pulsing with warmth and colour again after the pallid misery of winter, but of the people in my family who survived into old age and and how the skin on their hands and arms and faces eventually looked. I had almost black hair when I was young and I am a little more olive than Lenny, who freckles big and orange, and is probably going to have a string of adolescent summers where his nose has more freckle on it than unfreckled area.




my grandmother's passport







1 comment:

ernmalleyscat said...

I think part of Irishness is delight in absurdity, not just for the humour, but also for the comfort of knowing it's a normal part of life. My mother, an O'Connor, had it and gave it.
I just saw Ardal O'Hanlon recount how after filming the scene at the Crazy Golf Course he was too soaked to the skin to get in a car and go home so he walked to a nearby house and said 'hello can I have a bath?'.