“..and on the way back in Dublin port, don’t forget to pay attention to what is exported from Ireland: children and priests, nuns and biscuits, whiskey and horses, beer and dogs. » (Heinrich Böll, Irish Journal, Translation Pauline Chatelain)
Yes Ireland exports its children, I named the diaspora.
Many countries have a diaspora. But as far as Ireland is concerned, it holds a crucial place, both in terms of number (it is estimated that the Irish diaspora, including descendants, is 10 to 15 times larger than the 5 million population of Ireland, more than 70 million people), in terms of influence (look at the USA: the Irish are very often present in films and series, often to embody both sides of the law btw.) but also in the collective conscious and the collective unconscious. It’s simple: absolutely every modern Irish family has a part of its family abroad some in the UK, some in the USA, some in Australia. (Much rarer is the diaspora living in non-English speaking countries on the other hand).
So certainly, the History of the country is not the same. However, in 2021 and as members of the European Union, the Irish still have anchored in them a strong culture of emigration.
What is constitutive of the Irish people, more than attachment to the ground, is attachment to the blood. Most of the Irish nation lives outside the State of Ireland but retains a sense of belonging to the « old country ». What does it mean, be Irish? It’s having an Irish origin, it’s feeling Irish, even if you hold a different passport. Whether you are an emigrant or the grandson of emigrants, culture is then being passed down through several generations. This allows you to claim your ancestry if you want to recover an Irish passport. John le Carre is the latest prominent personality to have done so.
In the melting pot of the USA, the largest part of the population of European origin, are neither the Irish nor the English but the Germans. Only the Irish have continued to cultivate and claim their culture, which the German-Americans did not do. And so, every candidate in the U.S. presidential election must try to win the Irish electorate.
The Irish Times regularly devotes articles to the diaspora, in a column entitled « abroad »: whether it is their life abroad, their holiday plans, their bad conscience of having left the « old country », their eventual return to Ireland, or more recently during the pandemic their inability to return home.
The Irish call their diaspora « emigrants », where the French would speak of “expats” or « French abroad », and who are not perceived as a diaspora anyway. French « expats » only become interesting to the media and the community in the run-up to important elections. In any case, they are expected to return to France as soon as their contract is over, or they risk arising jealousy or disregard, at worst they are considered traitors.
But for the Irish, the people abroad remain Irish above all. The diaspora is simply part of the DNA of the Irish.
Hence the importance of pubs for that matter. During the presentations of my second-year students on the different cities of Germany in which they will spend the following year, there is systematically a description of the Irish pub of the city in question with name and photo. And in the only partner city where there is no Irish pub, the fact is always mentioned.
At Christmas time, we see two interesting forms of mobility: postal mobility and human mobility. Human mobility: It is for Christmas that Irish airports experience their biggest traffic, by far. Postal mobility: While it is common to see the number of packages sent in December greatly increase all over the world, in Ireland the content and destination are particularly interesting to look at. These are Irish products, especially food products. The Irish of Ireland send cookies, breads, jams, relish, cheese and whiskey to their families and friends abroad (cf.picture). Moreover, some companies have even specialized in this special trade and can prepare and send ready goodies boxes for you. Given what they charge it is a lucrative business.
In the spring of 2021, the only thing that really made the Irish government reluctant to introduce its sinister and expansive 12-day hotel quarantine in rooms of questionable cleanliness, was the possible return of Irish emigrants. Who might not be able to afford to pay for quarantine and who have a family home anyway, in which they can spend the quarantine in. The rest of the planet, on the other hand, didn’t matter, the case of other nationalities living in Ireland, business or tourist trips has not even been addressed that is to say.
For the record, what emigrants miss most, the equivalent of gherkins for French expats, are TAYTO crisps… the thing is, that there are very few school and professional cafeterias in Ireland, therefore it is the lunch box that predominates, the said lunch box often consisting of a sandwich, a fruit or candy… And a little packet of TAYTO crisps, so it’s become lilke a Proust madeleine for those who leave..