Taking Ireland first. Wherever green is worn, wrote William Butler Yeats in his most famous poem, Easter 1916, when he foretold of a new Irish nation to rise like a phoenix out of the fire and rubble of Dublin’s O’Connell Street. But he could never have envisaged that the wearing of his beloved green would come to be dominated by giant shamrocks and even larger leprechaun hats.
Shamrocks and leprechaun hats. Sadly, those two icons seem to denote Ireland on the world stage. In America, in particular, the “ould country” has become a caricature of itself, the equivalent of a Simpson’s cartoon. That irks me. And I’m certain it irks not a few quiet Irish men and women. Yes, it’s good to see people enjoying themselves on Paddy’s Day, to give it its increasingly popular, dumbed down name, but there’s so much more of Ireland to celebrate. Its rich and inspiring history. Its magical, mystical landscapes. Its music. Its literature. Not forgetting the story of Saint Patrick himself.
And what about global perceptions of the other half of my national identity? Well, Scotland used to have a rather twee Brigadoon, tartan and shortbread image. But if that wasn’t bad enough, the image now seems to have shifted to one of self-mockery, emphasised by See You Jimmy hats and deep-fried Mars bars. Like Ireland, it’s becoming a caricature. Yet, also like Ireland, Scotland has incredible pools of history, landscape and culture to be proud of and boast about.
So my advice to both nations is to resist your obvious Celtic propensity for self-mockery. Please stop taking the Mick and Jock out of yourselves. It’s high time to renew how you are seen by the world. It’s time to downplay the shamrocks and leprechauns in Ireland. And in Scotland, it’s time to dispense with the See You Jimmy hats, which in any event were an invention by a not-so-funny English comedian designed to insult Scottish people. By all means, continue the tradition of celebrating your Bard’s birthday with a Burns Supper, a wee dram and recitation of Tam o’ Shanter, but enough of the shooting haggis jokes already! And remember what your Bard told you:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
This article first appeared in The Scotsman on Tuesday, 21st March.