It used to be that Irish culture meant story telling, playing traditional Irish music, playing Gaelic Games, Irish dancing and most importantly; ag caint as Gaeilge. But in this ever blending mix of race, culture and politics into what is essentially becoming a united states of Europe; what is Irish culture?
Some would argue that now more than ever, the things that set us apart as a unique people are the things we should be promoting. Then others argue that we are citizens of the world and world culture, and that it is our similarities to other peoples that strengthens these bonds. Society’s view of nationalism has changed considerably over the last century. National pride is now reserved mostly for sport and the arts.
What is culture now in western society? For the most part everyone looks and dresses the same according to the fashion. Fashion and style have always been a part of different cultures. The difference now is that it is not a part of domestic cultural fashion but global or western fashion. If you look at any group of teenagers in Sydney, London, Dublin or New York, they will probably all be dressed similarly, listening to the same types of music and talking about the same types of films.
French or Spanish teenagers may have a slightly different outlook because they are speaking a different language. With language comes a cultural identity and a unique way of thinking. Language not only expresses our thoughts; the actual structure of a language influences the thoughts we are trying to express. The English language is the predominant language in the western world and dictates what is popular in western culture. If you speak English you are more likely to listen to bands who perform in English, or watch English speaking films.
How can there be any growth in domestic culture if every thing is global? The more everything mixes the more it becomes the same. Even our national sports so long a part of our identity and culture can not swim against the tide of global commercialisation. The drain on a finite pool of talent from other sports is forcing the GAA to become increasingly commercial and even global. Capitalism and money are becoming not only the new religion in the west but also dictating what is becoming popular and defining culture. Ireland is part of a capitalist English speaking western culture that is a far cry from its own cultural roots.
What is deemed culture and heritage is often decided by the popular ideologies of the time. The GAA was only established in 1884 during the Celtic Revival. The Celtic Revival was so closely linked to Irish nationalism that other sports played here at the time such as Rugby and Cricket, were deemed to be anti- Irish or anti-nationalist. This was the other extreme in a time of oppression and rising where our own individual culture as a nation meant everything at the behest of anything else. While this may not have been ideal, during the Celtic Revival there was a renaissance in Irish literature, art and sport which no doubt helped preserve our national identity.
The biggest difference now is that every thing seems to be ever-increasingly driven by money. If it doesn’t sell its not worth maintaining. This is not always a bad thing especially when it comes to tourism. It is probably no coincidence that traditional Irish music is as strong as ever in the west of Ireland but the Irish language is in decline. Traditional music sells and it is a selling point for the millions of tourists that visit the country each year. Again Irish dancing exploded in the last 20 years due to the commercial success of Riverdance. But is this really Irish culture or just a pseudo capitalist version of it? It could be argued that we always had a strong tradition of music and dancing in this country and there is no harm in selling something like Riverdance. Purists would argue that we should be playing traditional music and Irish dancing for our own cultural enrichment and pleasure and not because it sells.
Has the death of our culture been on the cards since our language has ceased to become relevant in this country? There is a counter argument of course that the English language gives us as a people a way to communicate or own unique culture and way of thinking to the rest of the world. Could the likes of Joyce, Behan, Beckett or Heaney have written so beautifully and exclusively in Irish and if they did; how many people would have been able to enjoy it? Our own traditional music and culture has mixed well into the popular culture of other countries where the Irish have emigrated. The Irish influence on punk music and culture is clear to see from bands such as The Pogues and The Dropkick Murphy’s.
The world is becoming a relatively smaller place all the time due to constant improvements in transport and communications technology. Is it inevitable that the more things mix, the more they will meld into something that is different. But are the birth of new forms of global music, literature and culture somehow less than the sum of their original parts?
What do you think?