It’s become a cliché to remark on the friendly demeanour of the Irish and as an Irishman, a statement that I’ve always contested. Not with any kind of vehement hatred but more an understanding that friendly and hostile people exist in equal measure everywhere – you sometimes just have to find them! However, in my most recent homecoming, I’ve found there is a lot of truth to the stereotype.
I’ve been living in various countries for many years now and feel capable of viewing my hometown with the objectivity of an outsider. It’s a strange feeling being both a part of something and distanced from it. But it has allowed me to gain some interesting perspective. What I’ve found is that people – speaking generally – just are very friendly here.
It’s something that’s build into the very diction of the Irish language. For example, ‘welcome’ in Irish is ‘cead mile failte’ which translates as ‘a hundredth thousand welcomes’ and ‘thanks’ in Irish is ‘go raibh mile maith agat’ translating as ‘a thousand good things to you’. It terms of brevity the Irish language is impractical but in terms of amiability it seems little short of beautiful. As a child these phrases were little more than the blur of nonsense my Irish teachers attempted – in vein – to force-feed me. However, looking back on them as an adult, I can’t help but see the inherent beauty in them.
However, it’s a sentiment that is followed through on – not merely suggested. There were a number of sweet little incidents, which really exemplified this. The waitress in a restaurant that put her hand on my forearm to whisper that she wanted to get our small order through first or we’d be waiting a long time because there was a big order at another table. Or the woman in a photography shop who recommended the competition would have better products despite it being her store. And the amusing old randomer who just started chatting to us outside the cinema. There was nothing forced or contrite about any of them, no sense that there was an ulterior motive behind any of it. It was purely the normal way to behave.
Although, these are merely anecdotal and it seems that the most beautiful sentiment comes from the fact that the Irish people protested the amount of Syrian refugees the country would take – because the figure was too small! The government initially agreed to take 600 people through the EU reallocation scheme. However, after outrage from the public, this figure rose to 5000! In a time when world leaders are calling them a ‘swarm’, it’s wonderful to see that they are greeted with ‘cead mile failte’ in my homeland. When European powers and IS are intent on a pathetic holy war at least humanity reigns in Ireland.
I think I might have found my – somewhat reserved – patriotism in Ireland this Christmas.