Sobering lessons for young Irish abroad

  • Post category:News

By Michael Clifford in the Irish Examiner.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

THINGS ain’t what they used to be.

Last week, we received the latest missive about how the Irish are conducting themselves abroad. The owner of a hostel in North Queensland in Australia has made it known that it doesn’t want any Irish nationals staying there any more. What gives the story greater ballast is that this proprietor is an Irishman.

Thomas Dunne is a Dubliner who has been living in Australia for the past 25 years. He runs a hostel and adjoining bar near the famous Airlie beach resort in Queensland. Yesterday, in the Irish Examiner, he laid out why he no longer wants to put up with his countrymen or women.

“The Irish are the only ones to have caused deliberate damage,” he said. “This year we have had eight Irish backpackers. It’s only the start of the season and already six have been thrown out. Two of the Irish lads were kicked out at 2am. We had them arrested and charged for damage done to our accommodation.

“It’s the last straw and we will not be taking anymore… It’s sad really because the other nationalities say the same about them at the other hostels. It reflects badly on us as we have to live up here.”

Dunne also mentioned that some of the local farmers, who employ backpackers, are shying away from the Irish.

Over on the west coast of Australia the song remains the same. Two months ago it emerged that police in Perth were specifically seeking the assistance of GAA clubs in the city to combat anti-social behaviour by young Irish emigrants.

An email circulated by one club said police would be visiting all clubs to advise young Irish people that a zero-tolerance policy would be applied to any anti-social behaviour. “The WA police are extremely unhappy and appalled by the antisocial behaviour which is taking place all too often on the streets. Even rental agencies are not as willing to rent properties to Irish people here in Perth as they are getting destroyed during parties, and left in terrible conditions once vacated.”

Then, last month, a similar message came from the police in New Zealand in relation to Irish people attending the test matches of the Irish rugby tour. Sgt Scott Banfield of the Christchurch police told a local newspaper that most of the trouble at a test match had been caused by Irish supporters.

“It was the silly things, like some people sitting in the wrong seat, that sparked a fight,” he said. “Maybe if people weren’t intoxicated they would have dealt with it a bit more maturely.

“We’ve got our own drinking culture in New Zealand which we’re trying to sort out, and if that’s a representation of what they do in their own country they’ve got big problems over there.

“I think they just have to understand… If they’re in Rome do as the Romans do. We don’t drink to a point where we fall over so much in our country.”

So it goes now on whenever the Irish wander out on the world? Not quite. The European Championships in Poland and Ukraine was not an occasion when, to paraphrase WB Yeats, “we disgraced ourselves once again”.

On the contrary, the thousands of Irish supporters behaved themselves impeccably. Dispatches from eyewitnesses and participants confirm that plenty of drink was taken. One middle-aged supporter who confided in this column described the level of drinking as frenzied. Irish supporters, most of them in the full flush of youth, got falling down drunk all over the centres where they gathered. That in itself may be cause for concern, but in reality it is merely a reflection of the longstanding place of alcohol in the Irish psyche, which is a matter for another day. But it is noticeable that, by and large, everybody was on their best behavior.

It might well be that a tradition has been forged that is quite unique to the followings of the Irish soccer team. Since Joxer went to Stuttgart back in 1988, a particular integrity has informed the partying that takes place. It’s as if there is an acute sense among the supporters that they are there not just to enjoy themselves, but as ambassadors at large.

Consequently, if anybody in a green shirt looks likely to stray out of order, there are always others in attendance to rein them back in, remind them of who they are, and what they represent.

This stuff has its drawbacks, particularly when the media latch onto the odious “best supporters in the world” horse manure, but it’s all a lot better than the drunken rampages for which the likes of the English fans are known.

So what gives? The soccer supporters make a point of behaving themselves when abroad, yet other swathes of young Paddies are gaining a reputation for acting the maggot.

In some ways, the latter group are going back to the future. Older generations of Irish immigrants were notorious for getting drunk and fighting. The paddywagon received its moniker on account of the frequency with which American police had to to sort out the fighting Irish.

There were mitigating circumstances. Drink was a refuge from loneliness; displacement from rural Ireland to the major metropolises of the western world cannot have been easy. The lot of the uneducated immigrant in a world with scant communication was not easy. Plays such as Tom Murphy’s Whistle In The Dark have depicted what it was like for those who found themselves thrust out of their safe, albeit impoverished homeland.

If the dispatches are to be believed, today’s immigrants are going back to the future, to a time when the anger at displacement came to the fore violently under the influence of booze.

Except today’s immigrants are not uneducated, and they have recourse to the likes of Skype, which squeezes the distance between home and their displaced location.

Where they do differ is that they grew up in a different Ireland. The Ireland of the Celtic Tiger raised its cubs to be confident, even if the base of that confidence was built on sand. It raised the children to expect more from life than their parents when they were being reared for export decades before. It reared them in a country that believed its own spin, that it was an extraordinary place, peopled by extraordinary citizens, who were punching above their weight.

And then when reality kicked in, maybe a lot of those newly minted adults began to find out the truth, which was not pretty. Is it any wonder they appear to be angry? Still, that might be an explanation, but in today’s world it’s no excuse. If today’s immigrants are as bad as they are being painted in some quarters, they’d better cop on pronto.

Being Irish is just not as sexy as it was for those few illusory years when the world looked in on a Celtic miracle.