September 8, 2010

The Irish Diaspora: We want something important in return if we are to help Ireland

Posted in Your Ideas · 11 comments ·
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Hi David
Like many of the 2nd generation Irish in Britain, I have fond memories of the summer holidays in Ireland in the 1970s, when our parents used to take us on their compulsory holidays back to the West. No Costa del Sol for us, instead we had our two weeks in rain-drenched Kerry. While our English friends were getting sunburnt while munching on paella, my brothers and sisters and I were in our wellingtons, chasing our uncle’s cows down the field at milking time.

And do you know — we loved it. We’d count down the days every May and June until we were back in Ireland. Our chance to be away from the tower blocks of Kilburn and get back to the green fields, where we had lots of relations and everyone was Irish.

I recall being amused too, the first time I went to Dublin. It seemed a complete novelty — a city full of Irish people. Coming from London, where there are about half a million Irish-born people, I was more accustomed to Irish people always being a minority, little scattered islands in a sea of English people.

Of course, so much has changed since then — in both the UK and Ireland. Our parents’ generation have become old and many have fallen on hard times. The Irish have mostly moved out of areas like Kilburn and Cricklewood and been replaced by other ethnic communities. Kerry has changed too and many newcomers have arrived in seek of work. Before he passed on, my uncle sold his house to a young Polish family. I felt sad that our link with the past had been broken but I guess we all have to leave childhood behind us sometime.

So when I read about your ideas about energising the Irish Diaspora for the economic benefit of Ireland, I couldn’t help but think that while it is an exciting an idea, it is one that is doomed to failure simply because of some very important obstacles I have noticed during my time in the Republic.

Firstly is the idea of extending Irish citizenship to the 50 million members of the Irish Diaspora on the premise that many will return to Ireland and contribute to the economy. You seem to forget — there are over 2 million Irish citizens on the island of Britain who have always had the right to return. Most are only 2nd generation Irish, as opposed to being 4th or 5th generation that are found in the U.S. Why did they not all return en masse to the land of their parents during the days of the Celtic Tiger?

It is simple – despite having a strong connection to Ireland, most prefer to stay in England or Scotland because the attitude towards the Irish Diaspora in Ireland is very hostile. It is fair to say this hostility is endemic. Only the very determined could live in a country where you are persistently remonstrated in your everyday life for having the arrogance to claim an Irish identity just because you have Irish parents.

Don’t underestimate the seriousness of the effects of the hostility towards the Diaspora because it is the cultural cancer of Ireland. Once Irish-Americans realise how scorned they are as ‘plastic paddies’ in Ireland and it is not some light-hearted ribbing but real, irate anger, they too will lose interest in reconnecting with their roots. And believe me, I’ve already met Irish-Americans who have been to Ireland and discovered this for themselves. Nobody will want to go if word gets out that they might get the same level of welcome as Tom Berenger’s character did in the film ‘The Field.’

The Irish are shooting themselves in the foot. Hardly anyone of I know of Irish descent bothers going back to Ireland because they know they will just routinely get a hard time about being a ‘plastic paddy’ or a ‘tan.’ Think of all those tourist revenues lost simply because of bad manners. If we meet Irish people, especially if they’re under 40 in the UK, we generally give them a wide berth. Why? Because we know through harsh experience that the instant we let slip that we are of Irish descent, it will unleash a Roy Keane-style torrent of scorn.

This is especially sad because so many young Irish now are heading once again to Britain, because Britain is the only English-speaking country that lets the Irish in without any visa restrictions. As much as they like to imagine they will have to head for America because there’s no work in Ireland, the reality is that since the U.S closed its doors in the 1920s, the vast majority Irish have traditionally emigrated to the UK (a fact that is swept under the carpet in the whole ‘Irish’ narrative). And thanks to this ‘plastic paddy’ bashing culture among today’s Irish, there are no established networks waiting to help those newcomers coming to our shores. If the young Irish-born fall on hard times or feel culturally isolated, we cannot help them because they refuse to see any ethnic kinship between us and generally don’t want to be tainted by our plastic paddyness.

The Irish Diaspora in Britain are an part essential of the Ireland narrative. We produced James Connolly, Jim Larkin, Shane McGowan (to name but few) and half the Irish football team when they were actually winning things. The Irish Americans produced JFK, Michael Flatley, James Cagney and many more. We need you and you need us. The synergy of the global Diaspora has produced great things but any attempts of harnessing it to change the flagging fortunes of the Irish economy then the culture of Ireland must change. We must remember that Article 2 of the Irish constitution says “the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.” I believe if this part of the constitution was enforced and the Roy Keane Diaspora-hating mentality eradicated then Ireland could enjoy a period of cultural and economic prosperity never before seen.

T. Keogh


  1. gaa1303

    The Popes Children bale out.
    The Popes children are victims of the economic crisis; most bought their homes because they were encouraged to do so by the system, by greedy bankers and because if they did not buy this week, gazumnping etc, ensured house prices were rising each week. As part of on overall solution to our economic crisis, I am prepared to see my income tax raised to bale out all those young people, (first time buyers only). A first time buyer who bought a house this millennium should have 25% cut off the top of their mortgages, the next 15% in a “nama” system, which these people could pay in time. This initiative would 1. Ease the intolerable pressure on this generation, and provide a widow of hope. 2. Perhaps enable those unemployed to hold on to their houses. 3. Free up disposable income which would provide a stimulus to the economy. 4. Demonstrate to this generation that we actually care and help to keep this generation in our country. 5. Probably cost no more than 5 billion, which is minimal in the grand scale. I do not have access to the exact figures, but would certainly be minimal comparatively. 6 Provide that the bankers, bond holders, developers etc take part of the pain, endured by this young generation. I just wish politicians would stand up and speak out for their people and not their political parties. We need to see more of the type of people as on the Front Line, on Monday 20th and much less of clueless politicians who are only interested in preserving their political lives and parties before our country. I think political commentators and people like Pat Kenny and Vincent Browne need to give more air time to ordinary people to ensure we bring about an immediate Social revolution.

  2. Michael

    My mother immigrated from Ireland to the USA in the 1950s while her two brothers moved to England, giving me a dozen English first-cousins. The good-will and affection for Ireland we all learned growing up in two distinct Diaspora communities is a natural and understandable outcome of having an Irish parent. Why is that difficult for many people in Ireland to accept?

    The Diaspora’s embrace of its Irishness is not an American, British or Argentinean characteristic per se — it is a distinctively Irish characteristic that has to do with the pains of immigration and the memory of a family’s migration. The Irish pre-occupation with themselves and their own national identity over the centuries is what begets Diaspora communities two, three or four generations later. It has little to do with the host nation where the Irish settle.

    So scoffing at Irish-Americans or British-Irish for their so-called plastic paddy Irishness is a form of self-loathing at the end of the day. Or, more likely, it’s simply the height of hypocrisy and begrudgery many Irish have fine-tuned to an art.

    The disdain of the Celtic Tiger generation toward the Diaspora is on permanent record, since so much of it is posted on the Internet in the forms of offensive blogs, chatroom blather and media stories. It must make it difficult for the Irish tourism industry to sell Ireland as a friendly destination. Irish people love to slag the Americans and British for buying Irish sweaters or piles of bog dirt, while they themselves build leprechaun parks and heritage centers for American presidents with scant Irish connections. Moneygall indeed.

    Why all this hostility and hubris toward the Diaspora? Perhaps because Ireland has never been able to stand on its own two feet. Irish communities in the USA, Britain, Australia et al have been sending money home since the 19th century, propping up Ireland in the face of political and economic hardships. Today’s Ireland — cosmopolitan as it reckons itself to be – resents its own welfare status, even while depending upon Diaspora largesse.

    Ireland is killing the gold and green goose, as it were, by its greed and nastiness toward the Diaspora.

  3. mulcahy

    I left Ireland for the US at the age of 25, 10 years ago. There is tremendous goodwill in the US towards Ireland and unfortunately I have to agree with this post that many in Ireland poo poo the “plastic paddies”.

    We should be flattered that 50 million people worldwide consider themselves Irish, and we should embrace that with open arms. How could you not be filled with pride to see a country the size of the US come to a stop on March 17th each year, mid-week work days included. The New York Stock Exchange volume of trade hits the floor on the afternoon of March 17th each year as traders leave work early to celebrate Ireland.

    Growing up I was not immune to the odd bit of “plastic paddy” bashing among friends. I guess I can blame it on youth, not knowing better and the fact that it was endemic. It needs to be addressed. It affects our tourist industry and it must feed into our business. If it were not for the US multinationals in Ireland there would never have been a Celtic Tiger, and then there would never have been a boom & bust and we’d still be back in the 70′s with an insular economy. As bad as this bust is our standard of living was propelled over the past two decades.

    Is our disdain for the Diaspora a subliminal embarrassment for our struggles of the past? Or is it a lack of patriotism?

  4. slightlywild

    What has happened in ireland, is the country has been taken over by a corrupt political, union and business alliance. Lack of honesty of a significant proportion of irish people, plus there lack of innovation and acceptance of gombeenism, cronyism, obstruction of justice etc is at the heart of the matter. Cute hoorism! This is a small country, we don’t need gombeen politicians lecturing others in the U.N or anywhere else, or flying to america on our behalf. There are hardworking expert expats in UK and States that could such tasks on our behalf as well as a plethora of embassies. Smart economy, maybe our ministers would learn to use video conferencing, that might be a small step.

    The sooner, the IMF come in here, and clear out the dead wood the better. What expats don’t understand, I think is the deceit of irish politicians. I came across it myself in the UK, living there for 16 years. I worked in the house of commons for a few months, and later lobbied the commons re ethnic broadcasting. What I can say about the annual event regarding the irish embassy was laughable. The sooner, the political parliamentary system so called is changed here the better. 30 patriotic, intelligent people would run this country. After all, its about the population of the US state of Rhode Island. Leno was right in laying into Cowen, two years two late in my opinion.

    This has been a failed state since inception, it has been continually bailed out for the diaspora, and has evicted a sizable proportion of its population every generation. We must be the only european country to elect an pretty much a blind, deaf octogenarian as president, slavish support for really if the truth be told in history, 3rd rate politicians who wanted us all to be dancing at the crossroads.

    Might do well to remember, that ‘Micheal Collins’ was considered a plastic paddy when he came back in 1916, and was just used to guard an insignificant staircase at the GPO in easter 1916.

    We need a group of people to fundraise for a new party to settle on the 5 or 6 top objectives. 30 elected in the next parliament would hold the balance of power. People are so angry to change the political mix in this country, if a strong cohesive group of people is assembled, anything now is possible! People that have left ireland in the last two or three decades need to be allowed to vote.

  5. persilschein

    Could we give emigrants the vote? Slightlywild, that’s very sensible. An East German once told me that people who can’t submit to a society leave it. How true.
    I’ve been reading foreign press and the shredding of the Irish reputation. That includes the chimp noises allegedly made towards Brian Lenihan during an investor call. That’s the kind of psyching up that accompanies a killing.
    The highest position an Irish person can achieve is to live like an English lord and pay no duty to their country. That objective hasn’t changed, even if we are bankrupted because of it. And patriotism used to mean picking up the armalite.
    Patriotism has got to mean rallying around the future of this country.

  6. uchrisn

    “Hardly anyone of I know of Irish descent bothers going back to Ireland because they know they will just routinely get a hard time”
    It’s regretable to hear this. Irish people are known to generally like debating and often offer strong points of view in order to get a discussion going. Just be prepared to offer your own strong opinions right back at them.
    However of course it can be tiring to have the same debate over and over.
    Canadians on the other hand are known for their tolerance and avoidance of debate on issues people might take offence with.

  7. waverider

    I’m a pretty untypical Irish American. Although I’ve got the American accent, thanks to my childhood in Donegal, I have a pretty Irish attitude. Forget the begrudgers. Who care what anyone is to be frank. Einstein said that nationalism was the measles of mankind. It’s not just the plastic paddies that Irish people ostracize. In a recent article in the New York Times, Matt Gross complained about tight Irish social groups leaving him feeling lonely in the pub. None of the tricks he used to get social in other countries worked here! Say goodbye to the tourist industry as well as the diaspora.

  8. Land n Gold

    Good interview n
    Doesn’t agree with bailouts,usa is already neck high in the #### we/ECB better not follow

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lVDS9hwKs0

  9. P. McCormick

    Hi David,

    Just before I came across T Keogh’s excellent analysis of how the Diaspora have been alienated by the attitude of the Irish born I read this offensive little passage in The Independent;

    Martina Devlin: St Patrick’s envoys may just deliver crock of gold

    Thursday March 17 2011
    We keep hearing about the damage done to Ireland’s global brand and how we must market ourselves as a competitive place to do business. I have no quibble with that, but if we are to make a success of it, we also need to change our mindsets.
    This means we must stop making fun of the semi-detached Irish. Instead, we should leverage their goodwill, targeting them to come here, either for work or pleasure.
    When I lived in England 15 years ago, we used to laugh at the ‘Plastic Paddies’ — second-generation Dermots or Siobhans who spoke with London accents and had a Glocca Morra view of Ireland.
    We called them theO’Phoneys and the O’Wannabes and dismissed their version of Irish identity as shamrockery. We didn’t regard these children of emigrants as Irish, no matter how much Guinness they drank or how many Claddagh rings they wore.
    In truth, we were flippant about their version of identity. Not that we showed it to their faces, of course: the Irish long ago learned the value of pretence as a survival mechanism during tough times, though we have remained too attached to it for our own good.
    It wasn’t just the British strain of Irishness that we trivialised — we were just as dismissive of American or Australian O’Phoneys. They believed the grass was greener in Ireland, whereas we knew it as a country that couldn’t provide a living for all its citizens. So our viewpoint was less romanticised. But parochial to the core, we never grasped how useful they could be.
    March 17 is a time of year when we go global, however. It’s a date that brings out the Sean in John — in the US, which becomes the living incarnation of a Lucky Charms cereal box; and in Britain, where one in 10 people is said to have at least one Irish grandparent.
    These are our two most substantial trading partners and a brace of ministers apiece has been posted out to each of them in recognition of it.
    It’s tempting for us to mock those international parades watched by people in leprechaun hats and shamrock face art. But they generate goodwill and there is a chance it could be translated into something more concrete.
    While it’s too much to hope for crocks of gold, some business opportunities might not be impossible.
    http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/martina-devlin/martina-devlin-st-patricks-envoys-may-just-deliver-crock-of-gold-2582899.html

    No regret shown, no apology for offence caused to the Diaspora, no concern about damage done or goodwill lost, just a recognition that they can now be used as a financial resource to bail out the Irish born as did their parents and grandparents – the remittance men and women.

    ( Have to agree with Martina about one thing I don’t like the leprechaun hats and shamrock face art – favourite attire of Irish Rugby fans at Lansdowne Road – SORRY now the AVIVA Stadium ! Doesn’t it make you proud to be Irish?)

    On the subject of crassness it doesn’t get much worse than constructing a motorway through the Tara landscape – as Seamus Heaney said – a ruthless desecration. It was the Irish born who were behind the M3 and the Diaspora who protested were told to mind their own business. Now the motorway is not meeting the traffic guarantee we UK taxpayers through the bail out loans are funding the shortfall.

    When that road was being bulldozed through our ‘Valley of Kings.’ the eyes of the world were on Ireland. What a wow that would be – come to Ireland and see the new discoveries in our ‘Valley of Kings.’ A great tourism opportunity was lost rather than re route 5 or 6 miles of motorway.

    I wonder if David would perhaps investigate whether scorn for the Diaspora and scorn for our collective heritage have been a huge own goal for the Tourism Industry.

    According to the new Tourism initiative Tourism Opportunity

    1. Tourism in Ireland is in crisis following the collapse of overseas demand over the past two years. Urgent action is needed if the industry is to recover.
    Tourism 30% down since 2007
    50% drop in UK tourists since 2007.

    2. The downturn in tourism to Ireland over the past two years has been sharper, deeper and more prolonged than that in other European countries.

    What has caused the downturn in Ireland to be so much worse than in other European countries?

    What % the British tourists who have turned away in the last three years are members of the Diaspora?

    Tourists and the Diaspora are spoken of as different entities. Do they overlap and by how much?

    Thank you again T Keogh for highlighting this issue.

  10. rapier0954

    Mr. Keogh has hit the nail on the head. I am a Canadian of Irish descent. The only time I have been in Ireland was when a flight I was taking to Italy had to stop at Shannon due to engine trouble, so in reality I have never actually been to Ireland. I have thought of going but I have read so many negative comments by Irish people on the internet, particularly Youtube, that I doubt I will ever bother to go. And now after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger these people who only yesterday were calling us in the so-called Diaspora names want us to come and spend some $$$ in the old country, there’s talk of getting locals organized to the point they could take us to see the plot of ground our forefathers farmed etc. I hope no one I know falls for this BS. This is as phoney as a 3 dollar bill, these people do not like you they just love your $$$. Keep your $$$ in your pocket or go somewhere else where the people and the weather are more agreeable. Look at Ireland and ask yourself are you proud of this place!! It’s nothing but a sad sick joke of a country. When people ask me what I am I say Canadian. When they ask me isn’t Farrell an Irish surname I tell them it is but I unfortunately had no choice in the matter.

    • Rand-de-lis

      I agree and feel the same way. I’m an American of Irish descent, with an Irish surname. I have met many Irish born people and very few had anything positive or neutral to say about the diaspora. That’s not including the negative YouTube videos/comments, internet forums, and a lot of blogs and opinion articles. Even Dylan Moran (Irish comedian, who was in the movie Sean of the Dead) made fun of Americans of Irish descent in his stand-up. I constantly hear or see the insults similar to “Your great-great-great-grandad’s cousin’s next door neighbor’s dog is Irish, etc.” The only thing the Irish care about the diaspora is the money. The government is now trying to sell an “official certificate” of Irish heritage that’s outrageously priced. I saw right through that nonsense. It does nothing. My dream growing up for a very long time was to visit Ireland. I have absolutely no interest in doing so anymore. Ireland is really nothing special at all. Australia is the new dream. A lot of Americans (of Irish descent) I know never heard of the term “plastic paddy”. Once they catch on to this, hopefully they’ll spread the word to know how they are thought of in Ireland. It once bothered me, even hurt, but now I’m over it. It’s too little too late.

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