March 16, 2008

Networking the Irish Tribe

Posted in Ireland · 23 comments ·

Originally published in The New York Post, 15/03/2008

This St Patrick’s Day, consider: What exactly constitutes an Irishman?

Is it enough to have Irish blood or do you have to be born in Ireland? What about those Irish who live in Brooklyn or Boston, who speak with Cockney or Australian accents?

The Irish who are born in Ireland seem to have forgotten that the other Irish are our footprint around the world. And, for the home country, the global Irish tribe is our biggest asset – and the key to our prosperity going forward.

For years, Irish-Americans sent money back home, invested in Ireland and gave refuge and jobs to successive waves of Irish emigrants who arrived in the US looking to share in the American Dream. Now all that has changed – not because Irish America has changed, but because Ireland has been transformed.

Ireland has become enormously wealthy. We’re no longer emigrating; in fact, it’s the opposite: Ireland is receiving more immigrants than practically any other country in the Western world. The challenge now is to reinvent the relationship between Ireland and the Irish Diaspora.

The next chapter of the Irish story will involve harnessing Irishness and turning our worldwide family into the greatest commercial network the world has ever seen.

Some 3.5 million Irish citizens live outside the country, but the greater Diaspora is considerably bigger – 70 million strong. These are the people who keep the Irish flag flying in the remotest parts of the world, the people who suffered most under our colonial past, who sent money home to Ireland when we hadn’t a bean and who took other destitute Irish into their communities when wave after wave arrived on the docks from Boston to Buenos Aries.

Now Irish around the world have a great opportunity to re-imagine ourselves where the island of Ireland is the mothership and the global Irish Tribe is the nation. This will involve copying the Israeli example of actively, rather than passively – cultivating the relationship between the Diaspora and the ancestral homeland.

Ireland should see itself as the battery where Irish Americans can re-charge their Irishness. We could do this by extending passports to people of Irish descent, offering their children the chance to come on exchange programs and giving them a “sense of place” that links them back to the place from which their ancestors fled. This would then become networking for the nation – a sort of “Facebook” for the Irish tribe, with membership open to all of us who are willing and curious.

By using Ireland as the dynamo, we could transform an emotional and ancestral yearning into a worldwide financial network.

This would complete the historical cycle – with a successful modern Ireland reaching out to the sons and daughters of those who were forced into exile.

As the returning Jews have done in Israel – which extends citizenship to every Jewish person around the world – the “linked in” Irish exiles would inject vibrancy and enthusiasm into both our contemporary and traditional culture while opening up economic opportunities all over the world.

In a globalized world, emigration is no longer a permanent decision. People come and go – spend time in one country, move home, then maybe head out to another country. This is why creating a global network with the homeland at the fulcrum is so attractive.

The time has come to see Ireland in the 21st century as the cradle of a global nation. We should institute a “right of return” policy and extend citizenship to people of Irish descent, beyond the current cut-off point of two generations.

If we do this, globalization could be the golden era of the Irish.

For years, the exiled Irish reminded us of our economic failure. They were traditionally the victims of a failed Ireland; in our globalized future they will be the saviors of a successful Ireland. All we need is the courage to imagine a Greater Ireland that transcends geography, where being Irish is a global brand.

  1. Stephen Kenny

    I fear that the Irish will only return if it is in their own interests to do so. It is one thing to sit in a bar in Boston, and dream of the ‘Old Country’, eulogising about the ‘Emerald Isle’. It is quite another to degrade your own standard of living, were that to be the case.
    Several years ago, I attended a Greek party in New York, with a Greek friend. They were singing songs, some of which my friend had faintly heard of, dancing Greek Country dances my friend had never heard of, and wearing clothes that he’d only seen in pictures.
    On leaving, he turned to me and said “Flipping heck, they’re so very Greek – they’d hate it at home”. And so they would.
    I have a cousin who emigrated to Australia in the late 1980s and hadn’t been back since, when he visited a couple of years ago. He was mortified by what he found. Having visited family and friends, he headed south, vowing never to return.
    If someone decides to emigrate for economic reasons, it would seem to me that they will take the decision as to which country, and indeed which part of which country, they will go to, based on their view of their personal prospects of economic advantage. Otherwise what is the point?

  2. John Q. Public

    The diaspora in the end will think with their wallets. David, for an economist you are nieve if you think we can all come together as one just because of ‘Irishness’ and so on. You need a few tips from Gordon Gekko:


  3. Dan Hayes


    It was interesting to see that this previous essay was later posted on Murdoch’s New York Post.

    What you’ve said has been true and remains true.

    Granted, for those who return to Ireland it won’t be a rose garden, but for most it will be better than where they’ve come from (or more precisely racially fled from). Perhaps the returnees will alert the native Irish about the demographic time-bomb they are sitting on.

    For those who remain at home, it up to them to tip the scales for Ireland in their business and cultural endeavors.

    Wishful thinking? I don’t think so. There are plenty of examples of people who help out their one- or twice-removed countrymen (e.g., Armenenians, and of course the Jews).

  4. Garry

    Jeasus David, I almost have some sympathy for you…. though theres worse ways to earn a crust than swanning around the globe connecting with the “diaspora” (that word reminds me of a sanctimonious Mary Robinson, …oops, there goes the sympathy).

    So which is tougher? Being a lonely voice in the wilderness for the past few years shouting stop at the property madness, and being cheerfully ignored.
    Or now trying to get people to stop crying into their beers and pointing out that its not the end of the world, we have options but we need to be brave and shake some lard out of our collective arses ….. and getting the old “it’ll never work” responses.
    Its almost like us Paddies suffer from collective manic depression.

    Keep it up!

  5. AndrewGMooney

    00:01 17/03/2008:
    England 33 – Ireland 10

    “The feckin‘ cheek of him! Just as the ‘St Paddy’s Party Like It’s Still 1999′yawn-a-thon starts: He taunts and jeers us by reminding us ……“

    Oh, just grow up! Take it like a ‘real’ Irish Man / Woman / Inter-Sex Person should. As painful as this may be, I want you all to watch the link below. Just for a minute. I promise. It won’t hurt…too much…trust me!…just one minute? Come on baby…don’t read on till you do, ok?

    Well. What did you notice? Did you spot the opening shot of a Black Englishman? Who said ‘There ain’t no Black in the Union Jack’? There fc-uk’in is now, my racist ex-mate! Phil Lynott is laughing out loud. Somewhere.

    What else? Did you notice all those historic traditional English names like, er…..Vainikolo and Cipriani? Are they ‘imposters’, these people? Or are they actually as ‘English’ as me? Am I English? Or am I ever so slightly, vaguely ‘Irish’ as I flick screens to the picture of a young boy in Mountjoy Square in 1970 in a Non-Tartan Kilt (Remember? When Irish dancing was ‘poofy’, not heroic and manly and, er….Flatley-esque?) A picture taken the day after I was raped by ye olde frightening Catholic Priest monster-paedophile. Sad, but true. Hey! I’m over it…..

    ‘An Irish Childhood In Birmingham‘? Or ‘A Cod-Oirish Load of Plastic Paddy Parody‘? In a parallel, non-physical, borderless domain, someone is stood atop a ‘metaphysical’ Hill of Tara with Mary Robinson. Guess who?

    In Birmingham: “Ta-ra!” is as ubiquitous as ‘Cioa!’, ‘Laters’ and ‘Too-Rye-Aye’? Come on Eileen! Surely you’ve got it by now? Never mind: It’s OK Johanna. May The Road Rise With You. Etc. But some of you ’Over There’ may be smirking and know this, having once been ‘Blessed By Birmingham‘.

    Is John Lydon ‘English’? Is he sitting here with me, Kevin Rowland and Shane – ‘marooned’ in a pub on the Isle of Man? Are we all watching with bemused (dis)interest as a scrap breaks out between some Scally Wags and Dubh-Skanger-Knackers……? Which side will I wade in for? Either. Neither. I’d rather remain ‘Manx to the Max‘: Fact. Neither ‘Here’ nor ‘There’.

    Scene 1: Busmen’s Party. Birmingham. 1968. Handsome Mayo Man in Uniform and Peak Cap: “Hello there, young Andy Mooney! Will ye be ‘going home’ this year?” Where’s HOME? If you’re neither ‘here’ nor ‘there‘. I’ll tell you where ‘home’ is:
    Home Is The Future. I’m not ’Authentic Irish’, that would be a G.A.A calamity. Why would I want to be! ‘Hybridity Is The New Authenticity‘. Irish? Oirish? You’re avin a larf, innit? Post-Irish. Post-English. The Birmingham Irish from 1949 to 1999. We were a brief, unrepeatable vortex of colliding cultures and we were incandescent in our alienated glory even as we were extinguished in:

    The Fires of November 1974.

    Is that ‘your’ history? ‘Their’ history? Or, possibly: Ours.
    Trust me, being ‘Young, Engl-Irish and White’ in Birmingham in the 60s, 70s and 80s was ’Even Better Than The Real Thing’. Sorry, Uncles Paddy and Jack: I will love you always, forget you never: But there’s only so many scallions you can pick in your pristine Oxford Bags and Platforms, or so many times you can watch Uncle Martin strangle a chicken before you think:

    I’m bored. I want to go ‘home’ to Birmingham. To bus-stop blow-jobs sound-tracked by Bowie & ‘Sugar Baby Love’ -and to all the other ‘satanic’ temptations that Breda thought I was prey to. She was not wrong! One Smart Cookie Aunt.

    Just think: Your kids are going through all that sh1t right now. Are you still claiming ‘cultural, linguistic and nationalistic purity’? What have you got to offer my kids? Why should I even consider suggesting to ‘Harry’ and ‘Lyra’ that they go to Trinity rather than Oxford or Cambridge or The L.S.E or?….repeat ad infinitum….Answers on a postcard.

    I’ll see what the reaction is on Tuesday when I arrive in Dublin just as ‘the big clear-up’ from ‘The Authentic Celebration of The Exorcism of Snakes’ that is The Ides of March 17th gets under way. I love a good hangover! Will it be the usual drivel? English Until Proven Otherwise? Will I get ’shot by both sides’ yet again as a ‘traitor’ for being too English with too ’Irish’ a name. What? Like…..Clooney…..Rooney? Fc-uk me with a baseball bat if you must, but stop being so clueless: We are THE REAL IRISH. If you don’t like it: Retreat back to Nationalist ‘fog’-land. See if ’We’ even notice. Like the N -word: I refuse to use the B – as in ’trotter’ word. Dad would rise from his beef grav-ey if I did. LOL! *rollseyes*

    Listen: Either I get banned, or someone vaguely resembling Damien Dempsey comes out – ‘Celtic Fists’ a-flying. Otherwise: I’m off. This is getting boring. I may even end up having to return to Morrissey-Solo pretending to be a C21st Oscar Wilde. Never knowingly undersold, hey? A fate worse than fish-baited breath……

    PS: I mentioned ‘The Fifth Freedom’:

    Anyone interested in pursuing this? The graph given by Tom Kirwan should give any sane Irish Citizen the heebie-jeebies.

    Fantastic post, Tom. Nail on head….but is it a coffin?
    Bebo and Nimble is great fun when I’m pretending to be a 15 year old girl to elicit all you perverts, but really: Just like Bailey’s Cream Vomit: There’s only so much pleasure to be gained out of ‘txt’in ur mt8’s’: Real wealth comes from an ‘entirely different place‘: As David’s charming article so personably suggests. Well done, young David!

  6. [...] corned beef and cabbage, but instead Ryan did it — totally by himself. lottakids1961.blogspot.comNetworking the Irish Tribe Originally published in The New York Post, 15/03/2008 What constitutes an Irishman? Is it enough to [...]

  7. John Q. Public

    David, I’d like to be the first to wish you and the rest of the Irish out there going through an identity crisis a very happy St. Welsh slave’s day!

  8. Observer

    Hello David,

    I fully agree with your idea and I think it is practical but there needs to be strict critireans:

    > The Irish Diaspora who wish to return to Ireland need to make committed efforts inorder to re-assimilate with the population. These sacrifices would have to be made as so to prevent any problems

    This would include for example:

    Abandoning their citizenship/nationality – Argentininans being an example should give up their pasports for Irish ones, this would apply of course to all the others and their should be no exceptions.

    Speaking only the Official languages of the state – They would have to speak only english/Irish as their first tongue when they arrive as new returnees and abandon the spanish but use it as a second language for business.

    Dialect training- You’ll always find some ignorant people here who’ll treat them badly and see them as not truly irish because of their accent, sad but true. There’s no harm with the Americans because we are so used to them and we’ve deal with them for generations and we at times sound similar, but we’d need to help our other friends out should they stand out massively to some of our troublemakers- that would keep them under control.

    Practise only Irish Traditions and Customs- They’d need to conform to us and remember that they need to compromise, we don’t need to see a repeat of the consequences for germany when the volga germans returned only with imported customs and norms from Russia (not german as rightfully expected) – Elements of the german population didn’t take kindly to that and showed their displeasure.

    Lastly, encourage the promotion of the irish language by actively speaking it – When Israel was established Hebrew was revived through the efforts of the Jews who arrived back, we can do the same and the mentality of people who believe it is a dead language should just quit wining and make the effort. There are 26,000 Americans who comestically speak the language in the US(,Canada even has a gaeltacht ( , why not let these people arrive first and get the cycle started.

    Pockets of people in Argentina also speak it, so we just need to resolve this once and for all.

    Des Bishop as seen on RTE has made the effort to try and God praise him.

  9. Observer

    Domestically* Last Paragraph

    Dealt* 3rd to last paragraph & “keep them under control” refers to our own bad eggs

    I hope this is clear and concise, I support this idea and we need to plan the event to the last detail.

    Its a long way off but it can happen, so there’s no reason to doubt it can’t.

  10. Garry

    I’m all for integration over single culture ghettos but I hope observer that you are taking the piss. Why not make them all eat only bacon and cabbage, give their missus a bit of a dig after a nights drinking and keep a pig in the parlour when you’re at it… As long as people are contribuiting and respect the laws of the land (i.e.; we arent storing up problems where peoples human rights are being abused), whats the problem? Weve plenty of silly accents here, a few more wont hurt.

    I for one welcome our new Argentinian overlords (if only for the sake of our rubgy and football teams).

  11. John Q. Public

    Garry, don’t worry about it. Anybody from far-flung places coming here would be horrified anyway. They wouldn’t need Observer imposing rules to make them feel out of place.
    Our drinking problem, violence, cocaine, poor infrastructure, traffic jams, phoney dort accents-middle class neurosis, high prices of rent/houses and crap weather etc. would send them running home anyway.
    Let’s be honest, 90% of people that come here have no arse in their trousers. Sure, a lot do jobs that the Irish won’t do and that’s good for our economy but could we have got 300,000+ of the diaspora to come here instead of Poles and East Europeans? I doubt it.

  12. Observer

    Garry, if you think integration for people every culture except that of the idigenous Irish who rightfully have precedence (or at least should) would work in this country you are overly optimistimistic or very niave of how flawed that idea truly is. I would suggest you live in the UK for 20 years, like I did from childhood and see the number of communities who’s inhabitants don’t even learn the language or interact with the public.

    John, I’m not imposing by putting forward the rightful suggestions above- If I was part of the Irish Diaspora still (No Longer as I came back because I was Born in this country and my family came from here- An example for David) I would believe those criterions above would be firm yet very fair.

    There is nothing wrong with having High Standards about who you would like back in this country – Learning the native tongue, Conforming to the culture and making the effort to be like the native population allows you to assimilate (Problem is that can only work if you actually identify with the population Ancestrally – It worked for me at least).

    If you both have better ideas then please put them forward as I will gladly listen, unless of course you couldn’t care less about this country which is a sad state of affairs.

    Marisa Tomei is one example of Italy’s right of Return law as she has Italian Citizenship aswell as her US Citizenship, Japan also has a right of return law that enables people of strong Japanese extraction to claim citizenship which made them very successful and they as a country have the tightest immigration laws in the world.

    Let’s keep cheap shots towards myself or others out of this please and be respectful

  13. Patricia

    The point is that people has to be free to move and live in the part of the world that they feel better and well identified: because of their own economic interests or for their heritage. Freedom is the point.

  14. coldblow

    AndrewG: At our Catholic primary school in S E London in the 60s a good half of us would have been of Irish stock but not everyone. So assemblies always struck me as comic when once a year, under the glare of our fierce Newry headmistress, everyone joined in the hymn to St Patrick: “… dear saint of our isle, on us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile…” Maybe a bit of reverse colonialism there. I suppose nobody minded when we got 17 11-plus passes in my year while the other two schools on the estate only managed 3 between them. Then the exam was abolished – I understand that the middle classes couldn’t take the shame of seeing their own kids condemned to secondary moderns and metalwork while the likes of us took the grammar school places.

  15. AndrewGMooney

    hello ‘coldblow’
    I’m sitting in an internet cafe on Talbot Street. Apparently I’m in Dublin! Although it’s hard to tell. Just like London, everyone is speaking all ‘weird’. How have all the ‘New Irish’ managed to learn gaelic so quickly? When I couldn’ t even manage, ‘open the window and shut the door’ or whatever it was Mom was trying to teach me long ago and far away. Please note: Irony.
    I went into a pub called ‘The Celt’ last night for a larf, for a bit of the ol’ Irish craic, innit? Well, having missed the ‘real’ Dublin of St Paddy’s Day: I thought I’d console myself with some ‘traditional’ Irish entertainment. *rollseyes*. If only I’d known, I would have flown in a day earlier and caught the bus to Finglas for the ‘impromptu’ yet, utterly authentic celebrations!

    “I’m awoken by a…Handbrake turn outside, I knew lads who died,
    That sound chills me inside still.”

    Other than the barman and a couple of GAA refugees I may well have been the only English speaker in the pub, full as it was with the detritus of the International Tourist Trash-Class, in their ‘funny’ leprechaun hats. NB: I said English speaker, not ‘native speaker’ for all you fundamentalists out there. What’s gaelic for ‘I really couldn’t give a fc-uk?’. For future reference…..Usual bollocks/bollix: Brit till surname casually dropped into conversation. Then, ‘suddenly’, ‘magically’: It’s ok, then: I’m Irish, not ‘Oirish’. As for the idea by another poster that I take ‘Shane-type’ lessons on how to learn ‘the brogue’: I can speak a perfectly reasonable Irish Midlands accent, ta very much! I learnt it arguing with my Dad, who was a ‘real’ Irishman. God Bless. Rest In Peace. Most Dubliners seem to fall for it. Everyone outside of D4 is a tourist, after all…ouch!
    If and when some nutters start wielding stanley knives when I’m in ‘the wrong part of town’ – for whatever dubious purposes- I can always pull the Irish passport from the other pocket and beg forgiveness for my ‘foreign’ accent. LOL!
    Am I ‘Northside’ or ‘Soutside’? Northpaw/Southpaw? Listen pal: ‘Liquid food through a straw in your wired jaw for a month, is that ‘authentic’ enough of an answer for you, you little tyke….’? I hope this story of some hapless English pianist being punished for 800 or 10,000 years of imperialist oppression is wrong.

    I’ve spent the day ‘mellowing out’ in various hostelries, and apparently his story keeps changing. So maybe he just ‘fell over’ and is hallucinating about this ‘altercation’.
    Let’s hope it’s ‘all a misunderstanding’. Can’t afford to damage the tourist trade. I was in a good mood after reading DMcW’s latest hilarious article about drag queens only to be brought crashing back to the damp sod by the headlines of the Irish Daily Star glaring at me, even as I attempted to enjoy my £3.50 cup of capuccino in D4.
    Reverse cultural racism against English citizens is so…… 1970s. Birmingham Pub Bombings and other equally boring, redundant forgotten moments of the diasporan story. As for your sweet headmistress, she sounds a gentle soul. I was under the care and tutelage of The Birmingham Oratory, where ‘Faith of Our Fathers, tra la la la dee’ was the dirge-like commandment at every feckin assembly. Oh, for ‘the good old days’! Anyway, I didn’t miss St Paddy’s Day. In Birmingham, it’s impossible not to notice it *rollseyes* LOL! etc


  16. GOM

    Late commentary – again! But I guess I get the benefit from seeing the opinions written earlier. I strongly object also to some of observer’s comments – asking people to give up their passports is not only ridiculous but an obvious barrier to people making a decision to relocate, so too is the objective of having them learn Irish customs (what does that mean anyway!) and the language. If we do want to create an Ireland that would attract talent then consider that the section of other overseas Irish populations we want to attract are young 20+ to 40+ people who can contribute to creating value. These are people who have college degrees, may have some work experience they can transfer and teach here and enable us to acquire skills we do not have.
    Take the value that has been created by Irish people returning home with experience and skills. From these people we have better restaurants, better run small businesses and in general, better advice on how things have been done in other countries that have been successful. Think now that these people left the country not to relocate permanently but to acquire these skills and someday return to Ireland. What I am pointing out is that we can acquire MASSIVE value by creating an environment that allows people to come here, not give up their citizenship, not have to learn a new language or become a native, i.e., we should be comfortable that educated people will come, contribute and leave – as long as they do add value, and we can maintain this environment (which I believe is possible ONLY if we assure a good experience to those who come first) then why should we care if they stay or not?
    I speak from experience, I started a business, a very specialist, science based business and through mechanisms that the EU created, attracted PhD scientists from around Europe and the US. I doubled my R&D efforts in doing so. happily 80% of the people that came stayed longer BUT several left and now work for partner organisations in their original homeland – companies we have created ties to! I strongly believe these mechanisms can be implemented at a national level and be focused not just on Europeans and foreign citizens in general, but tailored for disaporic Irish in a way that does not fall foul of equality or discrimination rules. I agree we should cherry-pick but America, Canada and Australia do it too so there is precedent and not much to re-invent. This can only happen if we are clever about not creating cultural barriers – and as any business owner or manager will tell you culture is the hardest thing to manage, probably unmanageable.

  17. GOM

    Isn’t it fantastic that the two lads in Limerick created their business and brought it to the point of being able to sell it on – that is no mean achievement for any entrepreneur.

    This seems to fly in the opposite direction to the theme of this article though. When you think about it we are now losing a very talented young man to Canada and he may be followed by his brother. So not only are we, in Ireland, not doing a tap in creating an Irish diasporic brain gain, we are actively cultivating the next wave of brain drain. This is a shameful blot on the country and the agencies that should be promoting indigenous business. In fact, given the right support and resources the lads probably could have indigenously grown this business and gained tens of millions.

  18. Observer


    thank you for respectfully disagreeing with some of my ideas above.

    The idead should at least be optional for those who wish to be Irish and have no intention of going back say to America or Argentina as examples, but I see your point that they don’t need to be compulsory. I still think it is a neccessity that should be in place, should there be demand for a fool-proof plan if ancestral right of return policy is established for those who want to stay indefinitely.

    Irish customs are important to those who wish to be assimilated like the rest of the Native population, we shouldn’t take our culture for granted because its what makes us dinstinguishable from everyone else. Please remember – I lived in a country that doesn’t have an identity anymore because they kept washing down everything in society. We are still rather spoilt that we have our traditions and norms, because as a former Expatriate others are not so fortunate elsewhere in Europe and as a result there is alot of resentment.

    Barriers of all kinds are unfair (I completely agree) but we should acknowledge that you do have to give precedence over others in certain circumstances. Discrimination shouldn’t exist but sometimes its rightfully in place to ensure that it leads to order of some kind and a greater good, if you outlawed all discrimination then the control and order is weakened.

    It’s really a way of helping us prevent a brain drain which affects our own Hard & Soft Power and having an Enriching Brain Gain that strengthens the National Identity and prosperity.(A Double Benefit that keeps a nice balance)

    Immigration how it is practised at the moment only has the economic growth, but it weakens the National Identity. (It has only one benefit which is not enough to level the scales).

    I hope that is more clear

  19. steve g

    Seeing as unemployment is increasing at its fastest ever rate, the last thing we need is yet more immigrants squeezing grads and schoolleavers out of the labour market.This aint the usa.

  20. [...] the map. Yes, we have a long long way to go, but already we can see by exploring the map that those who see themselves as somehow Irish are from many different countries and [...]

  21. [...] be considered Irish, is it enough to have Irish blood or do you have to be born in Ireland asks David McWilliams in his article ‘Erin Go Global’ (New York Post, March 15)? Well clearly, from our point of view [...]

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