herald

Saturday 19 August 2017

Being Irish is something uniquely special

Actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers has revealed that being Irish helped him cope when he was struggling to make it in Hollywood.

Speaking as he was accepting an Irish Post Legend Award, the former Tudors star said that when he faced rejection and ups and downs in his career, remembering that "being Irish was special" was what got him through.

I'm sure many people will connect with this sentiment. We often can't bring ourselves to admit it, lest we be laughed at for expressing our feelings too much, but there is something uniquely special about being Irish.

The peculiar thing is that we sometimes don't really appreciate this fact until we live somewhere else.

When I moved to London in the 1990s, I was sure that I was far too cool and cosmopolitan to let my Irishness have any bearing on my life. Very quickly, however, I was surprised by how much my heritage affected my day to day interactions with others.

From my Gaelic name to what my colleagues thought was my sometimes hilarious turn of phrase, I stood out in the office where I worked.

I have to admit that this fact was a little nerve-wracking to begin with because, far from wanting to stand out, I wanted to fit in.

But my attitude changed when I discovered that being Irish was actually working in my favour. For one thing, it seemed everyone I met had Irish roots, and they all desperately wanted to tell me about them.

Amazingly, lots of people thought being Irish was very cool. This was a real eye-opener for me. It wasn't that I was ashamed of where I was from, far from it. But like Jonathan, and thousands of others, part of me thought that I had to leave Ireland to make something of myself.

SHAMROCK

Suddenly, I was seeing things from another perspective. I went from being slightly embarrassed about Paddywhackery things like St Patrick's Day to dedicating myself to sourcing fresh shamrock for the occasion.

Likewise, I found myself becoming oddly proud of my second language - the same one I had hated at school. In fact, speaking 'as gaeilge' became my party trick on work nights out.

Luckily, I don't think anyone ever realised that I was just reciting the Our Father or asking permission to go to the bathroom over and over again.

Even my name was something that I came to love. Yes, I had to explain its spelling and pronunciation every time I was introduced to someone, but that wasn't a negative. It was the perfect icebreaker.

Ironically enough, I later went on to give my own children traditional Irish names too. I'm sure they'll go through a period of wishing they were called something far cooler instead, just like I did. I'm also sure they'll travel and spread their wings.

But I hope that they'll realise that Jonathan is right and that being Irish is something to be proud of and something to hold dear - whether they're at home or abroad.

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