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Doc Sportello

Doc Sportello's Journal
Doc Sportello's Journal
March 17, 2023

Hey, Irish Americans: Your "Celtic" tattoo isn't Celtic -- because that whole idea was made up

I post this as an American of Scots-Irish (mostly) descent. I enjoy trad music from the Isles and Guinness beer. But O'Heir makes substantive points about the celebration of "Celtic" culture and how off-base most of it is. An easy, fact-based read that some won't like but here it is:



Let's have a little talk among ourselves, Irish Americans. Let's celebrate our diversity. No, I'm serious; that's the real story of our heritage. There is no pure ethnic identity to be found deep in our ancestry, or in anyone else's. To quote the Harvard geneticist David Reich, whose research on ancient DNA has upended the study of human prehistory, "Present-day populations are blends of past populations, which were blends themselves."


Where I'm going here with all this, my Irish-American friends, is that the real and endlessly complicated story of Ireland's past is a lot more interesting than the search for some made-up "Celtic" essence that never existed, and which always ends up at two connected destinations: blatantly fake racist B.S., and somebody trying to sell you something. This ever-frustrated quest for plastic-shamrock authenticity is one of the big reasons why so many Irish Americans feel bewildered or alienated by the realities of contemporary Ireland, a small island of abundant contradictions and deep historical ironies that doesn't want to be a misty stereotype of itself — but is still willing to play that role for the Yanks if there's enough money on the table.

There is a darker side to Irish-American bewilderment, although we're on friendly terms and I won't accuse you of that: I mean the retrograde right-wing tendency exemplified by Sean Hannity and Mick Mulvaney and Kellyanne Conway and any number of other Trump-affiliated Republicans, which remains attached to an idealized, nostalgic vision of Ireland as a Gaelic-Catholic-nationalist (but English-speaking) monoculture, the land of saints and scholars and "comely maidens dancing at the crossroads," to quote the 1943 St. Patrick's Day address by Éamon de Valera, the American-born, half-Hispanic leader who shaped 20th-century Ireland, for better and (mostly) for worse.

When those "make Ireland great again" folks look across the Atlantic today and see a country whose current Taoiseach (i.e., prime minister) is a gay man of Indian ancestry, and where the starting goalkeeper for the national soccer team is Black, I can only hope they feel outraged and baffled. They should be: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, how did Ireland turn woke? That's the world telling them that their understanding of Irishness is bound for the rubbish bin of history.

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