stereoroid.com

music, opinion and technology

race of tralee

with 11 comments

It’s happening again: every year, the town of Tralee (co. Kerry) holds its annual Rose Of Tralee festival. Before I say anything else about it, I first want to quote what the official website I just linked to has to say about the festival:

The Rose of Tralee International Festival celebrates modern young women in terms of their aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage.

The official application form gives the following as one of the eligibility criteria:

Be born in Ireland or of Irish origin by virtue of one of her ancestors having been born in Ireland.

Am I the only person in Ireland who finds this just a little disturbing?

Reading between the lines, I see a claim of racial superiority: to be of ethnic Irish origin is something to be proud of, and celebrated. I had a hopeful suspicion that I might be wrong about this, and in previous years there may have been more ethnic diversity, but looking at this year’s International Roses was not reassuring. Each girl’s blurb details her county or counties of origin, and explains her surname when it is not obviously Irish. The hair colours were varied, but that was about all. They all just love Irish dancing, of course – at least the ones I looked at.

This is not some obscure provincial festival: for the next week or so the Rose of Tralee festival gets prime time coverage on RTÉ1, the main channel of the state broadcaster. (This is the same broadcaster who charges a license fee and shows advertising.)

In case it wasn’t obvious: I live in Ireland, but I’m not Irish. I’m Scottish, and knowing a bit of Scots history, that means there’s a fair chance that I have some “Irish blood” in me. I would not be concerned about that, however, mainly because I know there’s no such thing as “Irish blood”: Ireland was but one stop on a longer Celtic ancestral trail that goes back to Africa, possibly via ancient Egypt. “Irish origin” is, to be blunt, a transient delusion in historical terms.

More importantly, I don’t place much stock in one’s ethnic origin, not in this world of mass emigration and immigration. I’ve written before about my Scots heritage, which I identify as more of an attitude, or a way of viewing the world. It is the attitude that produced the Scottish Enlightenment, and I do not know or care whether David Hume, Adam Smith, Robert Burns or James Watt were of “Scots origin”. I know that William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), was born in Ulster, but he made his home in Glasgow.

Why is it so laudable to be Irish? Wikipedia carries lists of Irish-Americans, created by its users. Everyone knows that John F Kennedy was of Irish Catholic stock – his father Joe made sure everyone knew – and the Irish papers are quick to latch on to any hint of Irishness in a celebrity. (It’s highly selective, naturally: legendary comedian Spike Milligan, and delinquent rock “star” Pete Doherty, were known as English with Irish parents, but which do you think has the Irish label attached in news reports?)

By way of contrast, how many Americans know that the steel magnate & philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose generosity established Carnegie Hall and Carnegie-Mellon University, was Scottish by birth? Heck, even fans of the TV show Dallas – a Scots name, just like Houston and Austin – failed to notice the Scots ancestry of the Ewing family, despite the fact that the family patriarch was nicknamed “Jock”.

I don’t see what the Irish have to be so smug about: the shadow of Tammany Hall still darkens the mayorship of New York, and when director Martin Scorsese shifted his focus to Boston, in The Departed, he found stories of Irish organized crime to rival the worst Mafia excesses.

I can understand the need to celebrate Irish culture. It’s this celebration of Irish ethnicity, of Celtic racial purity, that offends me, by what it is, and by the way it is seen as harmless. In my view it is representative of the Irish government’s institutional racism, which reflects a superiority complex that the Irish have exported to all corners of the globe. I simply don’t see what they are doing to justify it.

Advertisements

Written by brian t

August 21, 2007 at 11:38 pm

11 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. “Why is it so laudable to be Irish? Wikipedia carries lists of Irish-Americans, created by its users.”

    Wikipedia has those lists for nearly every nationality, it isn’t a reflection of the attitude of users to Irishness.

    “By way of contrast, how many Americans know that the steel magnate & philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose generosity established Carnegie Hall and Carnegie-Mellon University, was Scottish by birth?”

    At the bottom of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Carnegie is a link to a list of Scottish Americans and Scottish immigrants to the United States. Scottishness isn’t being treated any differently from what I can see.

    “In my view it is representative of the Irish government’s institutional racism, which reflects a superiority complex that the Irish have exported to all corners of the globe. I simply don’t see what they are doing to justify it.”

    To me, it seems you’ve mixed up cause and effect. In most of the countries the Irish emigrated to in large numbers, their nationality – ethnicity if you prefer – was constantly pointed out to them and often held against them. That they came to set a lot of store by it in the circumstances isn’t surprising. Of course, most of this emigration took place before the Irish government even existed, so I can’t in all fairness blame them for exporting racism.

    There’s something in what you say about the superiority complex, but I’d suggest that it came to be largely in response to the parallel inferiority complex. Take the Irish language for instance: a lot of Irish people view it with a kind of apologetic embarrassed that would be impossible to imagine from a Spanish or English speaker.

    The stereotypes aren’t all flattering, either. Aside from the fighting drunk or the grafting politician, even the positive ones are often redolent of the leprechaun.

    prospectus

    August 22, 2007 at 12:44 am

  2. I think you are completely going on some kind of over politically correct derived rant. Or perhaps like the media you just needed something to fill your web space. Fair enough. I do thast myself all the time 🙂
    The Irish people have traditionally for 600 years been a put down,repressed and discriminated against people yet due to their own irrepressible nature, hard work and efforts with no help from anyone they have become successful. They have every reason to ber proud of themselves and to den them a national identity while at the same time praising everyone who is ‘different’ and ‘other cultural’ is ridiculous. Your article clearly singles out Irishness apart from other identities among the vast number of identities on this planet.
    Its’ impossible to pigeonhole Irish behaviour in any category beside other more imperialist cultures. You appear to be confusing national pride with racism which are completely separate concepts especially in the Irish case where national pride is associated with decent behaviour unlike in some countries where national pride can be associated with minority right wing racist political parties.
    The Scottish bought into the British Empire along with all the behaviours towards indigenous peoples while the Irish resisted it. Immigration in Ireland has been a relatively new thing in the Republic over the last 10 years yet there are still many people of ethnic origin e.g descendants of Vietnamese boat people and various refugees who have been born in Ireland and are entitled to participate in the Rose of Tralee.
    If the Irish were as racist as you suggest then why have these kind people given the opportunity of living and working in the republic to a couple of hundred thousand foreigners? Surely they could have easily done as Denmark has and shut the door.
    On a final note. I think absolute statements are always wrong. Hence stereotypes are always wrong.

    Joxer

    August 30, 2007 at 9:13 pm

  3. ps this applies to all stereotypes whether they come from the PC brigade or elsewhere.

    Joxer

    August 30, 2007 at 9:14 pm

  4. Like Brian, I have always been aware of the underlying Celtic racial purity thing and the way that it is unashamedly promoted during the Rose of Tralee festival. I have always justified this to myself as an unconscious need to assert our ethnicity as a reaction to centuries of colonization and oppression.

    But after traveling around Europe, and more recently during a visit to Dublin, it struck me that the idea of a festival based on such principles does seem a little odd in the 21st century. In a country that has changed so much in the last decade and where close to 10% of the population is not Irish, the festival seems to be stuck somewhere in the past. Maybe it is time for a rethink.

    Imagine a similar festival taking place in Germany or England, where one of the entry criteria was that you had to be of the approved race or origin. You can imagine the reaction. I don’t think the organizers are being racist though, just rather insular. This will change over time as other cultures are absorbed in to Irish culture. After all, we don’t even question the right of Irish culture to be appreciated all over the world.

    As for the allegations of sexism, the famous episode of Father Ted with its ‘Lovely Girls Contest’ pretty much sums up the perceived attitude towards the contestants.

    P.s.Dont’ really understand Brian’s point about being Scottish.

    Dara

    September 4, 2007 at 7:29 pm

  5. “This will change over time as other cultures are absorbed in to Irish culture. After all, we don’t even question the right of Irish culture to be appreciated all over the world.”

    Having well-established immigrant communities doesn’t rule out strident patriotism – the USA is a perfect example. Immigrants or their descendants often have no trouble at all being intensely nationalistic both about the old country and the new. Perhaps it’s the binary attitude to nationality we need to rethink rather than attachment to nationality in general. Is there any reason why it’s a conflict to be proud of being Irish and of being Indian?

    prospectus

    September 4, 2007 at 9:04 pm

  6. I mentioned Scottish culture in comparison because it’s my basic reference point on things cultural. We have culture, and plenty of it, but we generally manage to avoid claims of racial superiority. (Yes, I’m sure you could find some, especially humorous claims, but nothing like The Rose of Tralee’s straight-faced claims.)

    I’ve talked about the Irish language elsewhere, and I used to complain about calling it “Irish”- because it’s spoken in parts of Scotland too, called Gaelic – but I’ve changed my mind: you’re welcome to it.

    The Scottish bought into the British Empire along with all the behaviours towards indigenous peoples while the Irish resisted it.

    English is spoken worldwide… what’s this about Ireland’s lack of imperialist history? They could be talking Irish in Venezuela, had ye built yerselfs a decent Navy… 8)

    I guess you didn’t get my point about the Scottish Enlightenment, then. Yes, we accepted the Acts of Union in 1707, then we changed the system, from the inside. Some Irish philosophers – e.g. Hutcheson & Burke – were influential in the wider Enlightenment of the age, and Jonathan Swift was widely read in London – but your own John Toland had to flee to England, to escape hanging in Dublin, after he dared to criticise the Catholic Church in 1696. With him went the Irish Enlightenment, before it could get started.

    As for being “politically correct”… with these remarks, in this country? Hmmm?

    brian t

    September 4, 2007 at 9:50 pm

  7. “…your own John Toland had to flee to England, to escape hanging in Dublin, after he dared to criticise the Catholic Church in 1696.”

    Criticising the Catholic Church was quite popular in the Court of the King’s Bench in 1690s Dublin, I suspect. 🙂

    “I’ve talked about the Irish language elsewhere, and I used to complain about calling it “Irish”- because it’s spoken in parts of Scotland too, called Gaelic…”

    Well, sort of, but Gaeilge and Gàidhlig are slightly different, although similar – as the names illustrate.

    prospectus

    September 4, 2007 at 11:01 pm

  8. A binary attitude to nationality would be a good thing.

    However, when it comes to the Rose of Tralee festival, this wouldn’t work. The red haired, pale skinned Celt is the racial ideal and nothing else will do it seems.

    Can you Imagine an African or Indian girl (with the required Irish credentials) being a finalist?

    There is no good reason why this shouldn’t happen as the Irish nation is no longer an exclusively white one.

    Dara

    September 5, 2007 at 1:39 pm

  9. “Can you Imagine an African or Indian girl (with the required Irish credentials) being a finalist?”

    No – because of the assumption that if they are African or Indian they can’t also be Irish. However, I used “nationality” deliberately, since descendants of non-Celtic Irish ancestors have probably entered in the past. How can you prove a “racial Celt”? I’ve just done a Google search for “Rose of Tralee” and this picture came up in the first page.

    I’ll bet if you saw her in San Francisco or Edinburgh or anywhere else, you wouldn’t think “Oh, she must be a Celt!”

    prospectus

    September 5, 2007 at 11:29 pm

  10. “No – because of the assumption that if they are African or Indian they can’t also be Irish.”

    You can be of African or Indian descent and be Irish. Assume you had emigrated from Nigeria and qualified for Irish citizenship. You are then Irish – it says so on your passport. Your children will be born and raised Irish.

    My reference to red hair and pale skin was probably a little unfair. Maybe I should just have said white skin.

    I suppose it all leads to the questions, “what is a Celt?” or ,“what is Irish?” in the 21st century and beyond. Racial and national references are increasingly ephemeral as the worlds population emigrates and races inter-marry.

    Maybe the Rose of Tralee festival is the wrong place to start such a discussion. Due to the booming economy and small population, the only sure thing is that Ireland’s racial profile will change more profoundly than any other European country.

    Dara

    September 6, 2007 at 5:49 pm

  11. There is absolutely nothing wrong with one certain branch of humanity wanting to retain it’s identity…it is a despicable thing to mix all of humanity up and lose our distinctive variety and culture…the only thing we need to avoid is being disrespectful to other ethnicities from us..that is where our problems start…who would want to mix all the variety of any species into one monochromatic dull mess…ugghhhh!!!…I AM Celtic-Irish(American citizen)…and wish to meet and marry another of the same and raise the same children and allow other ethnics groups the same pleasure…

    Brian

    March 28, 2008 at 10:00 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: