I AM not offended by the term Plastic Paddy. In fact, I am very proud to be a Plastic Paddy if by “plastic” it is implied that my Irishness is artificial – something that has been manufactured.
When “plastic” is supposed to suggest that someone is without justification in calling himself or herself Irish it is probably worth disputing the authority of the person uttering “Plastic Paddy”.
Most likely, they are the kind of individual to whose club you would not want to belong if they were in charge of its membership. It is risible, not offensive.
That was my thought anyway when my cousin started referring to me as “his Protestant cousin” just because I was born in England. I am in no doubt as to my Irishness and am not left offended or jarred by a suggestion to the contrary.
But it seems to me that this debate is being made too simple.
I do not think that my Irishness is the very same as that of someone who was born and raised in Ireland. For one thing, I would think it ridiculous if my Irish passport alone qualified me to vote in the Irish general election if “the Irish abroad” ever got a Dáil representative.
It was not the yearly trips to Donegal Town that made me feel particularly Irish and it is not the fact that I lived in Dublin for two years between the age of two and four. It was the fiddle, the football and the sliotar that turned me around.
At St George’s Catholic Primary School in Sudbury I was the keeper for our Gaelic football and hurling teams, both coached with memorable vigour by Johnny Wilson. After training during the week, I would then trek to Hillingdon for Irish music lessons with Brendan Mulkere, which I loved and regret giving up at 15. We played on St Patrick’s Day floats and even in the House of Commons for some MPs.
The point of this is to explain why, when the 2011 Census form arrived, I ticked the ‘Irish’ box with the same unthinking ease as I stated my address. If I had not done the above, I probably would have had little reason to do so. I would not have felt particularly Irish.
I would not dream of arguing that these factors make me “more Irish” than any other member of the second generation (if such a thought even made sense), but it does lead me onto a different point.
Like Rob Brennan, whose piece on the pains and perils of the second generation has sparked a hitherto unseen response from the community – I went to Cardinal Wiseman Catholic High School in Greenford. But the observations I took from the school are different. In particular, I was always struck by the appearance that for many of the people I knew who had an Irish parent and associated strongly with their Irishness, ‘Irish’ was just a place-holder for ‘not-English’. It was the outward manifestation of a contrarian inclination.
If my Irishness was defined negatively in this way and I still wore the green jersey during the six nations, I would probably be offended if someone called me a Plastic Paddy. “I have Irish blood and have every right to support Ireland,” I would probably argue with undue vigour while asking myself internally: “Why do I actually feel Irish?”.
The response to Rob Brennan’s piece indicates that many have a very good reason why they feel Irish. It would be interesting to see the response to a survey held in Ireland asking: “Why do you feel Irish?” My prediction is that most would either be confused by the question or answer: “Because I was born here.”
If that is what it takes to be “Irish” as opposed to “second generation Irish”, I know where I stand. My proposal is simple: We take Plastic Paddy back with pride.