February 3, 2007

IPPN Interview

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[audio:DavidMc_IPPNInterview.mp3]

Runtime: 11min 45s, Size: 2.7MB, download mp3 file direct here.

Damien White: It’s David McWilliams, and you’re here at the Irish Primary Principals Conference, perhaps addressing the people who are most interested, along with the developers and builders, in your prognosis.

Take me back first to your own primary schooling, it was a murder machine?

David McWilliams: Not at all.

Damien White: Careful measured guidance through your formative years.

David: Well, it’s funny because my first ever teacher was there this morning.

Damien White: Yeah?

David: A woman called Roseanne O’Neill, who was then Roseanne Buckley in a national school in Bray called St. Patrick’s, where it was my formative, my first years. The little bits I remember from it, I think it was something that I really enjoyed, and it’s funny because the image of your teacher really does stick in your head from a very young age.

To an extent, the teachers in maybe the junior infants and senior infants and first class has a disproportionate impact on you. Because, I suppose, you’re absorbing in so much and your brain is working overtime.

So it was good to see Roseanne there, and she was exactly like she hasn’t aged at all. But she’s a lovely person. I think that my memories from school were always pretty good, pretty good.

Damien White: Very good. The conference team Changing Ireland and a number of us had an input into that title because it threw up a lot of possibilities. One that occurred to me while you were talking up there. Which is more significant in terms of its effect: the influence of new Irish, or changes in the habits of the old Irish?

David: I think our talents, I mean… What is interesting is if you read a lot of stuff about immigration to Ireland, there is an underlying supposition, I think, on the part of journalists, but within an ace of today or tomorrow there’ll be a racist backlash here. That’s nonsense.

Think about what’s happened in Ireland. We’ve gone from pretty much a mono-cultural society, OK, to — I wouldn’t even say multi-cultural — just to a society that’s been hit by a wave of immigration. And most of us have dealt with it. And I think in an exemplary fashion.

If you had said back in 1992, or 1956, or whatever, that this country will absorb in more immigrants per head than any other country in the world, everyone would have said, “There’ll be huge race issues.” There are not. Get on with it.

Damien White: Right.

David: I think that we should be very proud of the fact that in our own typically Irish way – i.e. with no plan or no great strategy – we have dealt with a huge influx of immigration in an – I wouldn’t say exemplary – but in a reasonably decent way.

I can’t remember the last time I heard of huge race issues, anywhere. And as far as I can see unless the economy turns down, we’ve done quite a good job.

Damien White: You spoke of America in that light, I suppose which is one of the greatest examples in our world of a cultural melting pot, a racial melting pot. Is it really an example of how our education system should proceed in terms of how America has gone, how our whole society should proceed?I’m thinking of the word “inclusion” which was introduced by Sister Mairead there.

David: Who should have been wearing her crucifix.

Damien White: Who should have been wearing her crucifix?

David: Scare the bejesus out of everyone. -laughter-

Damien White: And do you think, is America the model?

David: Well, I suppose, what is interesting is America is what Ireland is becoming. But it’s actually not the model politically, so despite our political constituency, Irish people are displaying very American habits with the way we live.

How we live, what we buy, where we live, what we watch on television, the literature we read, a huge disproportionate amount is a cultural influence from the United States, which is not surprising, because in many ways the Irish footprint in the United States has added enormously to American culture.

So what I always find very intriguing is anti-Americanism in Ireland. It’s like actually being anti-yourself. Because, you know, we are part of the four or five big building blocks of the United States, the Irish in America. And I think we are becoming more like the States. I’ve much more in common with an American than with a Romanian, or a Bulgarian.

And, I’ve no problem with saying that America is, understandably, closer to us than Bucharest.

Damien White: Well, my first and only trip to America to date was on a honeymoon 12 years ago, and I thought I was carrying a few pounds at the time of the wedding, but when I sat up on a waterslide in Florida, and saw the person before me…

David: You felt like Brad Pitt. -laughter-

Damien White: I looked like Brad Pitt. Well, I saw this person before me; I had never seen a more enormous person in my life. About a 15 year old boy, very obese.

David: It’s horrible.

Damien White: There’s one bicycle in my schoolyard every day, a principal of a school in County Offaly, just outside the Kells Angels belt. There is a call in the school for a car park for parents, reducing the playground in the process. Is that progress?

David: No, I think that’s nonsense. I think that’s nonsense. I think that the point is very well made. If you look at surveys of obesity in Ireland, it is one of the creeping, creeping health problems. We spend 400 million Euros a year on diabetes, which is largely linked – except in exceptional cases – to the wrong type of diet, progressing through your life.

So, there is undoubtedly a problem with respect to obesity. This is all over the western world. If you think about it in the past, only the rich were fat. Now, only the rich are thin. It is actually a class issue. A lot of education has to go in there. The problem starts with not teaching nutrition in primary schools. Tell the kids “this is bad for you.”

But, a lot of it too is the parents. Parents aren’t saying, “No you can’t have a Twix going out the morning. You can’t have McDonald’s. You’ve got to have this.” Parents are too busy. The kid will go on the warpath, and it is the path of least resistance.

But, it is a world-wide problem, not just an Irish problem. If you look at obesity in Germany, which would be the leading light of European thinking, it is considerably worse than it is here. So, it is happening all over the world.
Damien White: So, the breakfast roll phenomenon has hit Germany before it hit Ireland.

David: It is the -inaudible- -reversed phenomenon. -laughter-

Damien White: “The Pope’s Children”, the book which has put you on the shelves, I suppose literally. Your views have been well articulated before in “The Big Bite” and various other programs. Much analysis in “The Pope’s Children” of the Deck Lander or the High Cause Hibernian Cosmopolitans. Perhaps, primary teachers are…

David: Are in the middle I think.

Damien White: In the middle, maybe. I thought maybe a good example of High Cause are clever and well-read, but not rich enough to live like Deck Landers and perhaps a little bit jealous.

How would you classify the primary teacher, now that they look less like Eddie Gallagher and more like Noel Gallagher?

David: Very good. I think they are more likely to be in the Hi-Co tribe from what I can see. And, the reason is, as you say, is a disproportionate weakness or strength to reading. I think we probably have in Ireland – if you look at the demographic of teachers – what I find very, very interesting is that the teaching profession is where the smart kids went in the ’60s, ’70s, or ’50s.

If you look at teaching now, you have much fewer teachers in their 30s and a high percent in the 20s. What is happening is that when the economy boomed in the late ’90s, people said, “I don’t want to be a teacher. I want to be an IT character.” Right? You probably got a less smart teacher coming in the 1990s. What I think has happened is that teachers in Ireland were probably more intellectual than teachers in most other countries because of economic reasons. There weren’t other opportunities, so you went into teaching. You find teachers with huge mental points in the leading search. That puts them in this Hi-Co bracket and also into appreciation of things Hibernian.

As the political wing of the Fianna Fail party, the National School Teacher. No, the educated wing of the Fianna Fail party.

Damien White: My dad would be pleased to hear you say that. That leads me on to the next question I had written down. What has caused the seismic shift in the approach to Irish culture, place names, Christian names, languages?

David: Gallaghers and Setantas. I think it’s great. I think it’s good. I think you see it in every culture. I think what happens is the flip side of Americanization we’re talking about. When you think of teacher being the solid middle class of this country for arguably 60 years. They suddenly start to get priced out of the market, by fellows they might regard as their inferior. I think it’s fair to say.

Guys buying big houses, buying second houses. Fellows who worked on the sites. What I love is the social anarchy that is happening in Ireland. Right? That all the old, respectable professions are having to fight for their position. One of the ways I think people fight for their position, if they can’t do it financially, is culturally. They throw up barriers to the new money that the new money simply can’t surmount.

Because they’re actually based on things like language, history, culture, reading, like this deep Hibernian stuff. This is what I think is happening in Ireland. It is a very, very glacial process, which has elevated that which can’t be bought and denigrated that which can be bought. That is the way people achieve status.

Damien White: 2016 is around the corner, the hundredth anniversary of the rising. We’re doing a lot of reflecting now, and so we’ll certainly be doing a lot of reflecting then. Will we be reflecting on a society and a country of which we will be very, very proud? Or, perhaps, I can put it another way. Who would be the happiest, Pierce, Collins, Connelly, DeValera, or Adam Smith?

David: Well, I think, the Irish people, in general, run the risk of commemorating ourselves to death. Right? With everything. We’re always commemorating things that happen in the past. It certainly won’t be Connelly. If you think about it ideologically, this is not a socialist republic as Connelly thought of it. Is it a pure, Piercian Irish Hibernian culture? No, it’s not. DeValera, as an immigrant, may well find himself repeated.

We could well have immigrant tea shop in 20 years time. The first lad was. Not the first lad, what do I call it? The Deer Leader. The King of the Soul. Of Irish history. You could be right. It’s sort of a hybrid Adam Smith, but it’s an Adam Smith, none the less. I think the vestiges of the socialist side are waiting. I’m not too sure if they’re going to come back or not, but they’re certainly not very evident today.
Damien White: David McWilliams, it’s been a pleasure. You had a great impact.

David: Damien, absolute pleasure myself. It was great fun.

Damien White: Good. We hope to have you back.

David: If you’ll have me back, I’ll come back.


  1. Conor

    Whoever wrote the transcript out for this has (a) never read your book ‘high cause’? (you mean hi-co’s) and probably has never eaten a currywurst in Germany.

  2. Liam Mulligan

    I Just Got Back Ireland a couple of weeks back and was on the Subway in Downtown Boston. For a Moment I thought that I was on the Luas, I counted 8 people from Ireland doing their Christmas Shopping, I got talking to a few of them and directed them to a nice Lunch Place(6, 7 and 8 Dolllar Luches plus 2 Dollars for a pint of Coors or Bud, HONESTLY.) I noticed a Huge American influence in Ireland with the casual dress, Baseball caps, Jeans and sneakers(if you will) The American expressions(i.e. The Heavy Hitters, Stepping up to the Plate, Baseball talk actually).

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