Ireland as Universal State

Monday, March 17, 2008


Written by Tristan Dineen

Stereotypical views of Ireland run deep and misunderstandings abound: an emerald isle awash in myths, legends and faerie stories, and steeped in a highly marketable (and misleadingly uniform) “Gaelic” culture hardly does justice to the complexity of this land and its people. Few people would consider Ireland to be a universal state (basically a multi-ethnic state with an inclusive ideology) but its history makes it a surprisingly good candidate for this status. While there are those in Ireland who wish to keep that land exclusively for Celts (“the real Irish” as they mistakenly say), they are blind to their own ancestry and the intermixing of blood and culture that gave rise to the Irish people and made them what they are today.

Ireland really isn’t a Celtic land so much as a melting pot where Norse Vikings, European missionaries and exiles, Norman Knights, and the Celts themselves (who were not the original inhabitants of Ireland it must be remembered but intermixed with the original inhabitants when they came in around 1000 B.C.) intermingled and forged a uniquely composite culture that has proven amazingly persistent and resilient in the face of immense pressures. It would be a mistake to label this culture as being the product of one people – for it is as multi-faceted as any. The reason why immigrants seem to find far more acceptance in Ireland today than in many other areas of Europe where racism is increasingly rampant, is because Afghans, Slavs, North Africans and others are basically following the trend of Irish history and intermingling with the peoples already present in Ireland – a process that can only reinforce and increase the dynamism of the ancient Irish composite culture. Indeed, the Dublin St Patrick’s Day parade now embraces Muslims thus contributing to the all-encompassing and universal tradition of Ireland by drawing in new peoples and new cultural traits. Those who would see Ireland shut out foreign influences would rob Ireland of its greatest and most defining feature – its universality. Without its universality, Ireland has nothing – losing its cultural dynamism just as many Eastern European countries did when they attempted to “purify” their countries in the 20th Century by expelling everything that their narrow-minded leaders considered “foreign”. This must not happen and I have faith that in Ireland, the universal spirit will restrain nationalism and prevent its excesses while extending a hand of welcome to all who come there.

The Irish composite culture is truly unique – for it occurred on an island far away from the traditional seats of European civilization and yet it was its monasteries and monks who largely saved European learning when it vanished almost everywhere else. In a place that the Romans referred to as the “farthest shores of the earth” – a nation was born based not on any one people but upon humanity: and that is what Ireland has been for so many centuries – a bastion of humanity that has suffered so much but has always endured and to integrate even the most violent of invaders and I bear the marks of this composite culture – of this human nation – upon by own body.

The bigotry and strife that has characterized Northern Ireland for the last century – spurred on predominantly by the exclusive and extreme ideologies of the Orange Order – happily can be considered an anomaly in the history of this most unique of universal states. Exclusivity is weak and naked before the greatness of spirit that drives the universal state to embrace all the peoples of the world within itself in all their unity and in all their diversity. The course of human history has always been shaped and the dynamism of civilization made possible by the free flow of human migration and to stand in the way of such demographic currents is all at once foolish, regressive, and ultimately fruitless. Immigration is something to be embrace because it increases the vibrancy of any society and prevents it from stagnating. There is no such thing as purity of blood or purity of culture, nor should we wish there to be, there is only a continual intermixing and interchange as cultures meet, clash and ultimately merge.

This is the story of Ireland and just as the Vikings, who came as raiders and plunderers, merged with the Celts and just as the later Norman invaders merged with the descendents of the Celts and Vikings, so too will the immigrants from Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East merge with the descendents of all three. The Orangemen too will ultimately see the folly of their ways, once Ian Paisley and his band of fanatics finally leaves the scene, and they too will be embraced by Ireland and contribute to its evolution. The Catholic Church never has and never will define Ireland, in fact it is a late comer to the emerald isle – the Celtic Church existed for centuries before it merged with Rome and Pagan beliefs flourished in Ireland long after they had crumbled most everywhere else in Western Europe and still exist today, and now Islam has arrived in force along with Eastern Orthodox Christianity – the Protestants have nothing to fear. The shamrock does not represent a single people, language, culture or creed, it is universal. – Friday January 25th 2008

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