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I love Ireland, its quirks and idiosyncrasies, its sociability and energy, its cultural backstory and in-built irreverence
As vivid as a sprig of March shamrock in a coat lapel, the flower of our Irishness is again poised to bud and bloom.
There is something stirring about St Patrick’s week – beyond the kitsch and the infantile Paddywhackery – that awakens emotions lodged at our very core, the essence of who we are.
It can be as warm and consoling as a dram of patiently distilled 12-year-old whiskey.
It is true, of course, that only the foolish or hopelessly sentimental would collude in any twee fiction that depicts our ancient island as an unblemished Valhalla, a blissful Shangri-La, an irreproachable land of milk and honey.
Yet, if Ireland offers a superabundant supply of frustrations and inequalities, these darker forces of the everyday co-habit with an authentically uplifting rush of glories.
From the jaw-dropping natural beauty of Atlantic seas pounding remote western shores, to that rare and beautiful capacity to strike up rich conversation with a stranger.
I love Ireland, its quirks and idiosyncrasies, its sociability and energy, its cultural backstory and in-built irreverence.
The way its voice is heard across the globe, the megaphone of our national personality permitting a tiny chunk of overachieving emerald rock to make a rich contribution to the planet’s most important artistic, sporting, technological and innovative discussions.
I thrill at the essential decency encapsulated in that simple act of thanking the bus-driver as we exit from public transport.
Or in the consoling empathy of an Irish funeral, a community constructing a scaffold of love around those who might otherwise collapse with grief.
It is the way the fire of national hope is lit when one of our tribe rises above the ordinary, the surge of support and heartfelt well-wishes from 8,000 miles east that will tonight accompany Barry Keoghan and Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson along the Academy’s red carpet.
It is the fathomless depth of Luke Kelly’s singing voice, the spine-tingling shiver as we walk with the ginger colossus down the Raglan Road of tortured memory.
It is Paul McGrath rising into the Giant’s Stadium upper atmosphere, as towering as the distant Manhattan skyscrapers as he decommissions Roberto Baggio, a man of colour, a kind creature often besieged by demons, uniting Ireland in a way no Celtic myth could hope to match.
It is the aqueduct of tears, the choke in the throat, the need to hug somebody dear as Katie Taylor dances around a London Olympic ring, a euphoric relief pouring from her newly golden core.
It is Vicky Phelan and the bottomless reservoir of courage from which she drew. It is Charlie Bird living each available moment, determined to squeeze every last drop from the tube of life.
It is Tayto, Barry’s Tea, red lemonade, a proper cholesterol-laden breakfast of Irish sausage, rasher and pudding.
It is that moment in the year when James Last’s Sunday Game theme tune awakens from its long winter hibernation and propels us back in time, to younger, carefree summers.
Scorching Munster final afternoons in Liberty Square, the main Thurles drag swaying with manic energy, as densely populated as Grand Central Station at rush-hour. The childhood wonder of Croke Park looming like a Leviathan before young, hypnotised eyes.
It is the drive toward Dingle on a Friday lunchtime, the awe as Kerry’s intoxicating cocktail of mountain and sea, its stoic and untamed majesty, unspools before you.
It is feeling tiny and joyous peering into the watery depths from atop the Cliffs of Moher.
It is the intangible sense of place walking through the listed building landscape of Dublin’s College Green, Trinity, like an eternal Portland Stone sentry standing guard in front of old Parliament House’s colonnade of ionic columns.
It is the eye-twinkling mischief and underdog spirit that form a sturdy national bedrock.
It is family, the bonds of blood, cosmic attachments that even death is powerless to thieve.
It is the way we all go stark, raving bonkers on the three days of the year when the sun shines, the madcap urge to expose milky, freckled skin to the heavenly furnace, to barbecue every piece of meat within a three hundred mile radius, to drink every can of beer ever brewed.
It is the devotion of hospice staff as loved ones fade, their journey made easier by the impossible kindness of these caring strangers.
It is sitting on a high stool with the dearest friends, raising a glass, remembering, the priceless camaraderie of a shared walk down’s life’s endless avenues an unspoken, unbreakable bond.
It is re-reading Con Houlihan’s wise, lyrical columns, the fallen genius who dressed like a vagabond and wrote like a prince.
It is springtime apple blossoms and daffodils, summer roses, autumnal oranges and browns, December lights.
It is an evening strolling hand in hand by the river as the lights decline, enriched by the vitamin of love beyond measure, feeling like a part of Dublin – of Ireland - in these rare oul’ times.