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Are you interested in Irish culture? How would you define it?

Did you attend Culture Night anywhere around the country recently?  Someone asked me in the last few weeks:

Have you any interest in Irish culture?

I was a little taken aback at the question, but even more taken aback that my own initial reaction was actually in the negative. It did get me thinking a lot about the question, and my answer, mainly because I felt a bit guilty about giving such a negative response.

I don’t think it’s right for me to say that I’m not interested in Irish culture – interested yes, but maybe not well practiced? The last Irish poetry I read was for my leaving certificate. The last Irish music CD I had I leant to someone 7 years ago and they haven’t returned it. My spoken Irish has deteriorated much more than my ability to still listen and read.

Maybe, somewhat in my defence, my initial answer could have been to the question – are you interested in traditional Irish culture?

But what then does it mean to be interested in Irish culture in 2009?

The last Irish authored book I read was The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin – but that was a long time ago. But we Irish are famous for our literature and our reading, and I read a hell of a lot of other stuff. Does that count?

We’re also famous for our theatre, but I’ve only once seen an Irish play – Stones in His Pockets, when it was performed in London several years ago. Well, unless you count Alone It Stands. Is a play about Munster rugby part of our culture?

Recently though, purely by coincidence, I’m going to the theatre twice for the Dublin Theatre Festival. I’ve already been to see the Manganiyar Seduction at the Gaiety which I sort of enjoyed. However, I’m seriously looking forward to seeing The Birds in the Gate. Does going to see non-Irish theatre in the world famous Irish theatres count as having an interest in Irish culture?

We talked about this a little over lunch during the week at work where one of my colleagues asked if going to the pub counted as having an interest in Irish culture? Isn’t the “Irish pub” part of our culture, no matter that we may or many not like that association. How about going to the pub, but not drinking Guinness – still cultural?

How about the fact that I’ve no time for U2 – putting them up there with the Dubliners, the Jurys Irish Cabaret and Daniel O’Donnell. But I’ll listen to Christy Moore till the cows come home? I lament the demise of an Emotional Fish and A House, but Turlough O’Carolan is nothing more than a bad school memory. Where does that leave me in the Irish music cultural stakes?

Or where does having the misfortune of being a Mayo GAA supporter fit in? Is going to Gaelic football and hurling games a sign that you show interest in the sporting aspect of Irish culture? But where would watching Irish teams playing the foreign game of rugby fit into that culture?

Our Irish Culture took centre stage at the recent Global Irish Economic Conference in Farmleigh where Dermot Desmond, in particular, highlighted its importance in getting us through our current economic travails. Gerry Godley ( of Improvised Music Co and a member of the National Campaign for the Arts) recently wrote an indepth article on this very topic – Five ways culture can save us (though you must remember the angle he’s coming from in much of the article).

I’m going to come back to this topic (and the Global Irish Economic Conference which I wrote about here previously) in a couple of ways in the coming weeks, but I’d love to know what your thoughts are when it comes to what it might mean to you to be able to say that you have an interest in Irish culture in 2009?

3 comments On Are you interested in Irish culture? How would you define it?

  • Irish culture is, like most cultures varied and hard to pin down. It’s in the music (traditional and modern), writing, film, television, plays, art etc. Perhaps even the internet and you-tube. For me a nation’s culture is how it’s people portray and represents life in the nation through these mediums.

    Of course O’Cuiv and his fellow language fascists will tell you that Irish culture is only represented in the Irish language. Traditional musicians with an insular view will insist that the likes of U2 add nothing to “Irish culture” and unless the song is 300 years old it’s worthless. The Tuxs coming out of the Abbey will tell you that there can be no culture without champers at the interval so a new play in Ballymun community centre by a local playwright doesn’t count.

    Basically within each “branch” of Irish culture there is a desire to dominate all rivals (especially when budget time comes around) and the best way to dominate is to wrap the culture flag tightly around you. That is where the row over definitions of culture comes from.

  • Diarmuid
    I tried years ago to brush up on my gaeilge and Gael Linn was some enormous amount of cash that I did not have at the time to do a course. I looked through the courses on offer for Sept. again and no course. Recently I tried to buy tourist cards as gaeilge and again could not find any..I did get them at one stage, a funny onion told me to go to the Gaeltacht for one! and finally I thought I would like to learn some solo Irish Dancing and I rang around a few registered teachers, NO, they do not teach adults. So much for having all EU documents written in the Irish Language.
    I get quite angry around this.

    Try reading Let the Great World Spin, Irish Author Colum McCann – excellent


  • apologies, that should have read that Gael Linn wanted wads of cash!

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