Ireland in Identity Crisis?

St Patrick's Day 2009

It's strange celebrating St Patrick's Day this year. I don't think that it is the way we imagined that it used to be. In the past we were very clear about our identity. We knew who we were and we were proud of who we were. Maybe today we are going through a bit of an identity crisis. Maybe we are not as sure or as confident about who we are as we were in the past. In the past we were the surviving Irish. We were the celebrating Irish. We were the brave Irish. We were the pioneering Irish. We were the religious Irish. Often we were the poor Irish.

While some would say that this list is simply a romantic image of the past there does exist in history evidence for each of these descriptions. The Irish survived - we survived the famine. The Irish celebrated - this is not a reference to drink. Through our distinctive music and dance we had a tremendous ability to celebrate. The Irish were brave - our missionaries went through the world proclaiming Jesus Christ. The Irish were pioneering - many of our forebears emigrated and transformed the countries that they made their home. The Irish were religious - from the High Crosses to the Mass Rocks to the whispered rosary around the hearth - faith was central to our lives. The Irish were poor - many lived in poverty - many had to emigrate due to poverty. Then there was also the poverty of peace that has marked our history. So often in the past we struggled to live with each other and we struggled to live with our neighbour. This poverty of peace was our greatest wound and over the last decade or so that wound has begun to heal and we are celebrated around the world as people who can make peace. We have given hope to many places in conflict. Then last week our confidence in our peace was shaken in a most horrendous and evil way when Mark Quinsey, Patrick Asimkar and Stephen Carroll were murdered.

So today on this feast of our national saint - Patrick we need to ask are we still survivors? Are we still able to celebrate? Are we still brave? Are we still pioneering? Are we still religious? Or are we willing to allow ourselves to be gripped by poverty again - material poverty and a poverty of peace? Who are we as Irish people today and who can we be?

To answer these questions we need to look at our patron - Patrick. Patrick was not born an Irish man but he became an Irish man - probably the most famous Irish man ever. In Patrick there are two very distinctive attributes that capture what Irish at its best means. Those two things were the ability to listen to the voice of God and the ability to act in a life-giving way. You can argue that every Christian no matter where they are from should do this and that is true but history shows us that the Irish did it in a very distinctive way. We did it through our missionaries in the first millennium. We did it through the Penal Laws. We did it when we emigrated. No matter what country or city we went to the first thing that emerged was the Church. In so many ways we were life-giving. We knew the value of community. We knew the value of family. I think that we had a great awareness of our call to serve and our call to welcome. Even though much of our history was tragically scarred with fighting evidence points to the reality that our call was to be peacemakers and we could do that too and do it very well.

So at this time in history we should not allow ourselves to be sucked into a bland global village where everybody is supposed to pretend that they are the same. Let us reclaim our heritage where the bodhran and the lambeg drum can beat together. In the present time let us not put on the mantle of victims where we blame everybody else for the economic situation. Let us be inspired by our forebears and especially Patrick so that we will be survivors but more than survivors - that we will be brave and pioneering and able to celebrate. But more than anything else let us be religious so that like St Patrick we can always hear the voice of God and be life-giving in all that we do. Then we will not have an identity crisis. We will be clear what it means to be truly Irish.


31st July 2019 The Guest House
21st June 2019 The Glorious Abundance of the Almighty
25th March 2019 Shrinking
15th January 2019 Balance is All
19th November 2018 The human hunger for beauty
9th October 2018 Shifting Perspectives
19th June 2018 Thank God I was wrong
16th May 2018 "Today is a new dawn, new, clean and fresh - and so are you, my dear! Don't worry. All is well."
26th March 2018 The Long Winter
7th March 2018 The Gift of Tears
19th January 2018 An Understanding of Kindness
14th December 2017 Do You See This Woman?
17th October 2017 We Are All One with You
7th September 2017 Gaps
20th June 2017 "Love is not loved."
25th April 2017 I Hope You Dance
21st March 2017 From Darkness to Dawn
27th October 2016 The Bright Field
27th June 2016 The Enemy Within
31st May 2016 The Little Way to The Almighty
25th January 2016 Love Immeasurable
11th November 2015 Letting Go
21st May 2015 The Gift of Loss
6th May 2015 Walls
24th November 2014 Leaning into Winter
24th October 2014 Crossing the Road
25th June 2014 Fetters of the Soul
30th April 2014 The Power of Gratitude
10th March 2014 The Darkling Thrush
11th February 2014 Spring
10th February 2014 Masks
3rd February 2014 Dancing in the Wind
21st January 2014 Chains of nostalgia
13th January 2014 Forgiving wrongs darker than death or night
7th January 2014 Singing out Loud
17th December 2013 CHRISTMAS FOUND
9th December 2013 Withering into the Truth
2nd December 2013 The Celtic Prayer Garden
25th November 2013 Missing Dates
18th November 2013 NEARER GOD’S HEART
12th November 2013 Night
27th April 2010 Healing God
25th November 2009 Our Poverty
1st September 2009 Which of the two tigers will win the fight?
1st June 2009 Be your own role model
25th May 2009 The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
18th May 2009 Power of the real presence
7th May 2009 "Lessons I did not learn in School" - by Bill Gates
30th March 2009 The Long Walk to Freedom
23rd March 2009 Become a Friend
16th March 2009 Ireland in Identity Crisis?
9th March 2009 Love to Pray
2nd March 2009 Life - Giving Words
16th February 2009 Exclusion Policy
9th February 2009 Somewhere the Child
2nd February 2009 The Conversion of St Paul
12th January 2009 Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
22nd December 2008 A Christmas Parable by Louis Cassels
15th December 2008 Work – from In the heart of the Temple by Sr Joan Chittister
8th December 2008 Am I at home when the doorbell rings?
1st December 2008 Street Corner Christ
17th November 2008 How Did I Get This Busy?
10th November 2008 A Homily for The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – 9th November 2008
3rd November 2008 John O’Donohue taken from “Benedictus - A Book of Blessings”
27th October 2008 Charles Peguy 1873-1914, French poet and politician
20th October 2008 The following is an extract from a talk given by Bishop George Lungu of Chipata in Zambia in Africa, to the synod of Bishops being held in Rome this month.
13th October 2008 Excerpt from ‘A Door of Hope’ by Jean Vanier
6th October 2008 A Reflection on Matthew's Gospel 21:28-32
29th September 2008 The Daily Decalogue of Pope John XXIII