Patrick Semple also speaks for me. I am Irish but international. I love the diversity of man.

The Irish Times – Tuesday, July 17, 2012
I am neither Gaeilgeoir nor Catholic – but I am still Irish


RITE & REASON: JAMES JOYCE in Portrait of the Artist says: “When the
soul of man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold
it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language,
religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”

During my life I have had a sense of wanting to “fly by those nets”,
to avoid the constraints of nationality, language and religion.

My family came to Ireland in the early 19th century from Scotland. My
paternal grandfather was in the army in Ireland and in India. Having
come home from the famous Nile expedition, he was posted to Wexford,
where he died in 1909. I was born there 30 years later.

My parents, who were adult in 1922, as citizens gave the new State
their full, but not uncritical, loyalty. Since I was a boy I have
wanted to free myself from the narrow, self-conscious and extravagant
national pride all around me.

I was born just 17 years after Independence, so as I grew up, I heard
at every turn the espousal of Ireland and everything Irish, but always
felt that self praise is no praise. Some teachers indoctrinated
children with a nationalism that amounted to hatred of Britain – and
we wonder why violent republicanism still rears its ugly head.

I once heard a language enthusiast on radio say that unless you spoke
Irish, you were not a proper Irishman. According to this principle, I
am numbered among the 95 per cent or more defective Irish people.
However I am in favour of preserving the spoken language as far as

Two native-speaker friends independently told me that sometimes so bad
is the Irish on radio and television that they have to turn it off.
Having been brought up a member of the Church of Ireland in the
post-Independence period of triumphalist Catholicism, I was made to
feel an outsider. For so many people, in Ireland and outside, Irish is
synonymous with Roman Catholic. Brendan Corish, leader of the Labour
Party in the 1960s, went even further and said publicly: “I am a
Catholic first and an Irishman second.”

I resented being seen by fellow countrymen as being Irish but not the
full shilling. I resented that being Irish, foreigners expected me to
sit lightly to the law and to have an ongoing affair with alcohol. How
then am I Irish?

I am Irish pure and simple. I am as Irish as the most extreme
republican, as the greatest enthusiast for and most fluent speaker of
the Irish language and as the most fervent Catholic.

I am neither proud nor ashamed of it. I am glad I am Irish and I know
I could never live contentedly outside Ireland.

There are characteristics of Irish people that I appreciate:
generosity to the afflicted, welcome to the stranger, relaxed approach
to living and a particular sense of humour. However, none of these is
exclusive to our people.

We are not God’s gift to the world. We are one of a multitude of
peoples on the planet who live together within particular national
boundaries. There are characteristics of many Irish people I do not
appreciate: for example, the selfishness of being so laid back as to
be unreliable and believing that the destructive use of alcohol is

I’m not a Kerry republican, a Dublin 4 nationalist or an Ulster or any
other kind of unionist. I’m not a Gaeilgeoir or a Catholic.

On the other hand I am not Anglo Irish in any sense – I don’t possess
or ever did possess, a horse! Neither have I an emotional home in
England. I don’t want to be other than Irish. I am simply a human
being who was born on the island of Ireland – and I’m glad that I was.

Patrick Semple is a former Church of Ireland clergyman and writer. He
teaches creative writing at NUIM
His website is