I’m often asked what I miss about Ireland. The fresh air. I certainly miss that. But it’s not just the big vital things, standard humanitarian requirements essential to keeping a human’s bronchial passageways pink and healthy. No, often it’s some small element. Take accents. I miss the pitch and tone of foreign voices that are so part of my home city’s aural tapestry.
To walk down the main street in Galway is to be overwhelmed by a league of nations babble reverberating hither and tither in sweet euphonic delight. Poles! Americans! English! French! Spanish! Cameroons! They’re all there, and not as tourists, but an essential part of the day-to-day social structure. Indians! I have an Indian friend called Sahas and by God does he like Guinness – ‘come, let us get a pint of your country’s most famous beverage,’ he’ll say in flawless English. ‘And afterwards Peadar, we’ll get a Big Mac and Fries.’ What? No curry Sahas? ‘God no! I hate it! Wouldn’t you hate a food that looks like it’s been eaten by someone else before they spat it out onto your plate! Come man, let’s get the Guinness!’
And you know who else likes Guinness? Nigerians. Galway is full of west African refugees. They started coming around the same time as the Poles, but unlike the vast majority of Slavic immigrants, you will regularly see Nigerians in Irish pubs holding up a pint and proclaiming, ‘It’s always nice to come to a country and find out that the national drink is black!’ Which is a nice way of looking at it, as I’ve always viewed Guinness as one of the most racist drinks on earth, with its small layer of white dominating a huge obsidian mass – truly our most popular alcoholic drink symbolises all that was unjust about South Africa during the Apartheid era.
But it’s not only migrants and refugees. We have hordes of Swedes too, with their perfect, angular beauty, their humble social economic superiority and their funny muppet voices. God knows why they come – perhaps it’s embedded in their DNA, after all their Viking ancestors were regular visitors to Irish shores, indulging in the quaint habit of raping and pillaging, most notably in and around our fabled monasteries circa the 7th and 8th centuries. Or could it be they visit Ireland because of all the serial killers they appear to have? And to make matters even worse, they only have one policeman there to solve everything. Poor old Kurt Wallander, so overworked it’s no wonder he’s such a depressed diabetic old fart.
Naturally, we have great quantities of Germans also. They love coming to Ireland as we are the exact opposite of these punctual, efficient, resourceful and industrious people. Visiting Ireland is like a trip to the circus for them as they get a great kick out of watching my countrymen pratfalling and hurling custard pies at each other as we generally go about our business of ‘being Irish’.
And now, happily, we have a good supply of Syrians to add to the mix. As you undoubtedly know, Ireland welcomed the refugees unconditionally. We may be an idiotic slapstick nation at times, but we’re also open, and relaxed and friendly, understanding that if 140,000 Poles didn’t negatively alter our fabric of life with their ‘Catholicism’, a religion Ireland has all but eradicated since the early 2000’s, then a couple of thousand hungry and displaced Syrians wouldn’t be detrimental to our core values of ‘Irishness’ – pratfalling and throwing custard pies.
At some level we probably also understood that accepting the Syrians wasn’t really going to put us out. Even we Irish could do the maths – these people come from a country with 350 days of perfect sunshine. How long do you think they’ll survive in Ireland, the country of eternal, biblical sideways rain? At best, I’ll give them a month. And this is where the Poles, usually so clever in such matters, messed up. You could have accepted the Syrians without any of the hysterical bigotry, showing the world what an open and progressive society Poland has now become, secretly knowing that all you had to do was relocate them in Zabzre. They’d be gone in a week, telling each other,
‘Oh sweet Allah, and we thought we had problems?’