Hawk-eyed readers will have noticed that this blog is called the Irish Papist, and that the photo shows a statuette of Our Blessed Lady against a background of the Irish tricolour. I am also aware that I have had many posts with a papist theme, but few with a specifically Irish theme.
Patriotism, it seems to me, is very unfashionable. It is out of favour with almost everybody. Liberals dislike it because, well, they are liberals, and they tend to frown on anything that might be considered tribalistic or exclusive. Socialists dislike it because it distracts from the economic conflict, which they consider the real axis of history.
Conservatives? They emphasise it much less than they used to, since the term "conservative" increasingly seems to mean "a champion of the free market". And what does the free market, with its multinational companies and its intercontinental trade flows, have to do with patriotism?
In America, patriotism still means a great deal, of course; but even there, it increasingly seems to signal support for "the American way"; which, on closer examination, turns out not to be the essentially American way at all, but an eminently exportable system of free markets, personal freedoms, democracy and so on.
Islam, resurgent across so much of the world, is said to lack the Christian distinction between God and Caesar, between the city of man and the city of God, and thus seems essentially internationalist. (I may be wrong, as my knowledge of Islam is limited.)
Even Irish republicans, now that they have accepted British rule in Northern Ireland is not going to be brought to an end by force, seem to have turned their attention to various other left-wing causes, while waiting for demographics to achieve what the men in the balaclavas never could. (Considering the hostility of ultra-liberal Sinn Féin and of so many Irish republicans to the Catholic Church, their former confidence that nationalists have procreation on their side might have been misplaced.)
In any case, patriotism-- and by patriotism I mean the romantic, sentimental, aesthetic love and celebration of your country, because it is your country, and the desire to preserve and strengthen its traditions and distinctive culture-- seems to be in abeyance today.
When I visited America, I was surprised and pleased at the amount of American flags I saw everywhere, principally flying from house porches and over the aisles of supermarkets. I understand that this was, to some extent, an expression of support for the troops abroad, but I think it also showed a casual, everyday, unembarrassed love of country that Europeans would do well to emulate.
So, when I got home, I bought two little Irish tricolours in a Carroll's tourist shop. I hung one in my bedroom and I stood one at my desk in work. After it had been there some time, one of my colleagues said, "I keep meaning to ask you. What is the flag for? The rugby, is it?"
This, to me, is the whole problem; the idea that patriotism has to be for something; that the flag should only be flown in times of war, or at times of high political drama at home, or to support the national team at some sporting event-- or perhaps when Ireland win something like the Eurovision Song Contest.
The flag is for life, not just for Euro 2012.
I do think this whole mentality-- that patriotism only applies at times of crisis or challenge-- is symptomatic of a deeper human fault. It is the malady that Chesterton never tired of addressing; I think he described it somewhere as "losing every good as soon as it is gained".
Why do we only love what is new, or what someone is trying to take from us, or what is in danger? Why do we only pine for what we don't have? Why are we so blasé about the nation and traditions that so many Irish people worked, fought and died to preserve? Why did Adam and Eve lose Eden for the sake of the one fruit they were forbidden to taste?
Irish Catholics often seem as uninterested in patriotism as everybody else. This is understandable, to some extent. In the decades following Irish independence, there was something of a holy (or perhaps unholy) alliance between Church and State, Irish patriotism and Roman Catholicism. The motto of the Irish Christian brothers was Do chum glóire Dé agus onóir na hÉireann, "For the glory of God and the honour of Ireland". A fine motto in itself, but one that has suffered from its association with the Christian Brothers, who are now identified in the fickle public mind with sexual and physical abuse.
Yeats depicted, in The Municipal gallery Revisited:
An Abbot or Archbishop with an upraised hand
Blessing the Tricolour. "This is not,’ I say,
"The dead Ireland of my youth, but an Ireland
The poets have imagined, terrible and gay.’
De Valera, in his (unfairly) infamous "comely maidens" radio speech of St. Patrick's Day 1943-- the speech that never used the phrase "comely maidens", but has become the expression of everything modern Ireland rejects about its recent past-- left no doubt that the Ireland of his dreams was a Christian Ireland. ("The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live.")
So the marriage of the Church and the flag seems, in retrospect, unfortunate. The Church was blamed for all the faults, real and imagined, of twentieth century Ireland. Irish Catholics, for their part, might well feel that the Church was used as a kind of focus for national sentiment, a stick with which to meet the Protestant or Godless English, and then discarded when independence was safely attained.
But, as mainstream Ireland drifts further and further away from Christianity-- or even comes to ardently reject it-- I think it would be a shame for Irish Catholics to react by losing their patriotism.
For one thing, the Church enjoins us to be patriots, as we can see from the Catechism (where it is brought under the heading of the Fourth Commandment):
It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. (CCC 2239)
It often seems to me, too, that Christ's fullness of human nature included, not just friendship and filial emotion, but patriotism. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not?"
Be that as it may be, it seems to me that patriotism is something that humans are always getting wrong-- in times of war and occupation, we elevate it to an idol, a substitute God. In times of peace, we seem to all but forget about it.
How, then, would I have us remember patriotism?
By giving our children Irish names. By giving our houses and boats and pets and private companies names that celebrate Irish history, mythology and culture. By preserving Irish traditions such as Wren's Day and the Irish aspects of Halloween ("Help the Halloween party!", not "trick or treat!"). By choosing uncial script when we have occasion to use fancy lettering-- for instance, in a shop sign. By choosing, at least sometimes, to holiday at home rather than abroad. By reading about Irish history and traditions and culture. By memorizing Irish ballads. By flying the tricolour for no reason.
I'm not much interested in debates over what constitutes "genuine" or "authentic" Irish culture, and what is merely Celtic Twilight fakery manufactured in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Personally, I am for anything that emphasises and strengthens our distinctiveness- or any other country's distinctiveness. I believe that thinking, talking and writing about Irishness, in itself, makes us more Irish. The very reaching out to our national past, no matter how clumsily or unlearnedly, enriches our nation. To seek to be a patriot is itself patriotism.