In a strange twist, the Viking invasion of Ireland in 795 AD and Covid-19 have more things in common than their respective plundering of our riches.
The “invasions”, though different in their execution, violated our quintessential Irishness.
A study by Trinity College Dublin recently identified 23 new genetic clusters in Ireland, proving the Vikings indelibly altered our DNA map.
Even after Brian Boru’s army defeated the Scandinavian beasts in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, some of our genomes remain from the land of Old Norse.
Sure, other seismic things have occurred in the meantime, like the Cromwellian conquest, English occupation, Catholic Church oppression, the internet, but none of them infiltrated our fundamental core. Even narcissistic social media merchants, identity politics and the almond milk militia couldn’t turn us into mono Europeans.
Then a virus came from the east and our national identity – built upon our ability to communicate with one another over a pint, a cup of tea, in a Portakabin at a gig, over the garden fence, at a GAA or football match – is under attack.
No other country’s mentality has been dealt a greater blow.
The Germans have managed to be more German – efficient, level-headed and innovative under the calm leadership of Angela Merkel.
The French have treated Covid-19 with the same nonchalance as they did the recent threats from IS – by continuing on as normal, more worried about what they’re having for dinner than faffing over “le virus”.
Even patriotic flag-waving Americans, whose individual liberty is paramount to their being, have bought guns, ridden motorbikes and protested the wearing of masks – with support from their president.
I’m pretty sure isolated Finnish-ness isn’t on it’s knees. But in Ireland, we’re bereft. We are the spiritual home of randomness. Collectively it allows us to be infuriatingly non-committal, suit ourselves and cancel plans without guilt.Link to article in Irish Independent here
In return, we are the merchants of craic who charm ourselves out of trouble, have unplanned Tuesday laughs, random anecdotes with random people on the street, in cabs or local pubs and the world loves us for it.
Even our creativity hinges on the banter. Last week, I stood outside John B Keane’s closed pub in Listowel. The plaque on its red wall reads: “John B Keane’s writings were often based on characters and events encountered while running his public house.”
Despite loving comedy, entertainment and theatre, we have a problem providing it ourselves at the moment. These past months, many a staycationer will have surmised Ireland without randomness and banter is like a big loose end.
The murky side of our personalities – which enjoys shaming people, curtain twitching, judgment and snitching folk out – seems to be doing well, but our core is left wanting.
“Ireland doesn’t Covid-19 well,” an Irishman living in France informed me. “We’re sh*te at it.”
It made me think. This is true. We don’t have good weather, outdoor culture like climbing, skiing or driving big distances cross-country to hang with friends. Most people don’t like going for walks when the pub is closed. I know this because I have only seen friends who like walks and outdoor swims in the last six months.
Half of all pubs could be closed forever. Winter is coming. It’s seismic stuff, so we need to make an effort to communicate with each other and nurture our greatest gift. Let’s not forget the funny people who end up drinking at home alone, because they can’t afford a €9 starter.
I loathe isolation. I’m pretty sure they do too.
So what do we do to replace random chat, cups of tea with friends, and indoor fun? People live far apart due to high rents (why are they still high when pubs and bars are closed?), Zooming is tired, while messaging people you haven’t seen on social media is dull now.
As it gets cold outside, our options will be limited so we must dig deep. Outdoor swims followed by whiskey chaser perhaps? Street heaters and seated areas with partitions and prose or poetry provided in a Covid-19 unfriendly fashion. Call it “Word on the street”?
We, as patrons of this great pub that is Ireland, need to make sure we don’t bury our heads in the soil and communicate with each other before we lose this precious gift. We are creatives, who have a way with words like no one else. Let’s think hard and long about saving ourselves and our banter culture. The world needs us to.
I’ll rewrite the words of Oscar Wilde to suit my point. “There is only one thing in life worse than talking and that is not talking at all.”