When you live abroad and your children go school with 62 other nationalities, there is one day that comes up every year, ‘Wear your national dress day’, and for some reason this day puts me on the defensive straight away.
See, unfortunately for me, the very mention of traditional Irish national dress, conjures up an image of a laughable leprechaun, a laughing stock, a shillelagh flailing drunken little man who is expert at tricks of trivia but little else. Just not able to suck up the ridiculous even for one day, I refuse to tog my 4 year old out in a 3 foot high foam green velvet hat, a plastic crock of gold and a red wig and beard. Even the sight of others donned in this ridiculous attire makes me flinch however the issue is still live and I have still to create an outfit reflective of our national heritage.
The fact that in the class alone, there are Portuguese, Spanish, Arabian, French, Greek, American, English, Welch, Swedish, Lebanese, Egyptian and South African kids, you would think that would ease the pressure, after all, all of these have to do the same, but no, I cannot escape that deep seated fear that we’ll get laughed at. Years of Paddy Irishman jokes have left irreparable scar tissue with the result that on days like this, I always feel under pressure to portray the best image possible of us Irish, not a joke one, possibly an unfair responsibility to lay on the shoulders of an unsuspecting four year old but laying feelings of inferiority, guilt and the possibility that the whole town is laughing at you, is what us Catholic Irish pass on best to the upcoming generation.
So I started to think of what other images have truly shaped the Irish people of today and perhaps we could use a different attire as our National Dress. As an Irish emigrant and an immigrant to Qatar, I began to think of all the emigrants that left Ireland over the years and how emigration itself played a large part in forming us as a culture.
Take the humble Irish emigrant back in the 1850’s , that landed on the boat at Ellis Island, a tweed trousers, white grandfather collar shirt, braces and a cap. Eyes filled with the sadness of leaving home and promise of a bright future, as they leave the thatched roofs and turf fires of home. But this only reflects a period in time, it doesn’t reflect the progress we’ve made as a nation since. Also difficult to convey the sincerity needed to pull this off to a four year old who is busy making a booby trap use a skipping rope and a plastic swing ball.
So I fast forwarded a hundred plus years to when people were emigrating to England, a more suave bunch, sick of kicking stones at home and eager to ‘make a go of it’ in London, they headed over for a couple of months, years or decades to make their fortune, of course some never came back and never made their fortune, but thousands did and for decades to follow, making the leap to London was considered a natural progression. Flared jeans, wide necked shirts, sideburns and pageboy haircut, would have depicted this generation of Irish well as they left the familiarity of the Formica and lino of home and their 6 other siblings, but it just didn’t encompass what it means to be Irish today.
I fast forwarded another few years to recent times where the usual destinations for emigration are no longer Liverpool and London, instead they are Dubai and Doha. The image of the ‘eager to please’ emigrant is gone and is replaced by a relaxed figure, disembarking an Etihad flight with an air of ‘because I’m worth it’. The apartment in D4 is rented, the house in Maynooth is empty, ready for Saoirse and the kids in summer and if the job doesn’t work out they can stick it, you’ve a back-up plan in Brunei anyway.
So I rinsed out his favourite Canterbury Irish rugby top, picked up his Tommy shorts from the Ironing Parlour and got the maid to get the toothbrush to his sailing crocs, and voila, we have it, Ireland’s national dress, Doha, 2015.