I’m off to see Flogging Molly tonight. To amuse myself at work, I’ve been reading around my subject a bit – interviews with Dave King (their lead singer), works by Irish poets, interviews with Shane MacGowan, critiques of Joyce, that sort of thing.
This may seem like a bit much, just to go and see a celtic-punk act for a few hours on a Friday night, but y’know, it’s a subject that fascinates me – the cultural hertiage of Ireland. One of the support acts last time I saw FM have a T-shirt that reads “It’s a second-generation Irish indentity crisis thing – you wouldn’t understand”, and as much as I shy away from identifying myself as Irish these days, there’s a part of that in me.
Watered-down mutant of a Belfast accent notwithstanding, I’m a London boy. I don’t even qualify as “London Irish” – I was raised in a nice middle class suburb in South London, and went to school with South London kids. I’m more familiar with Belfast than the Kilburn High Road. At school, yeah, I identified myself as Irish, as much because everyone else did (even if they knew I was born and raised in the same area as them), and it was easier to go with the flow. It took me until my early twenties to get past that.
But still – if I say I’m going home for Christmas, I mean back to Northern Ireland. I’m keenly aware that as much as I’ve inherited my father’s temperment, I’ve inherited my mother’s background. And for all the rest of my family isn’t terribly ‘Oirish’ (because, y’know, they actually live there), there’s a cultural heritage there, a mindset and a way of thinking that fascinates me, and that shows through in the literature and music, and the circumstances surrounding it.
Irish comedian Ardal O’Hanlon has a joke in one of his stand up routines: “The pubs in Dublin are full of writers and poets – in most other countries, they’re called drunks”, but in point of fact, most of the people whose writing about Ireland interests me are the ones who’ve left it, as much for the commonality one finds in them as for the writing itself – they retain their love/hate relationship with the place, and nowhere else quite matches up, but they can’t write about the place while they’re actually there.
Ireland (and I’m generalising, based on my experience of the North – I can’t imagine the South is much different, based on the writings and commentary I’ve enountered) is often a parochial place. If you don’t fit in, you’re going to have a hard time, and the only place in the world that matters in the nearby area, which is partly, I think why so many of them had to leave. Even if they themselves weren’t given a bad time, it’s not a place that supports reaching out of oneself, one’s immediate environment – which is surely the point of any writing – to communicate with a wider world – very well.
To return to Flogging Molly – there’s a transmuative quality in King’s song writing, perhaps the very essence of the Irish custom of the wake, something that turns sadness and mourning into a party. It’s there in Shane MacGowan’s work, too levied with MacGowan’s darker edge, or even in the works of James Mangan, Ireland’s answer to Poe, and it’s tempting to draw a connection between this tradtion in Irish culture, and the need for Irish expatriates to go at length about Ireland – at attempt to get past their own sadness at having left the place (because for all they’ve left, you can bet there’s a small, parochial part of them, wishing they were back there) by making the distance into a virtue, using it to write about the place with a greater clarity.
Well, that’s more then enough nonsense for now. As you were.