IT IS at times like this, with Gaza burning and the Ukraine on a war footing, that Ireland seems like the small island it is. Seems like, in fact, a small land mass out in the Atlantic.
A country of little global importance, an insignificant part of the world, a place that carries little political weight and is an afterthought, if it is thought of at all, in the minds of the world’s movers and shakers. The world news, on a sunny day in the Irish countryside, seems very far away.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing. There’s no harm in being small. That is, after all, truly what we are. It would be far, far worse to be a modern day Britain, another relatively small state but one burdened with a history that forces it to act like the world power it no longer is.
One of the reasons, surely, why the British Conservative Party has been so obsessed with Europe for so long is that the EU shows more clearly than most things that Britain is a minor power and for Tories who still dream of the days of Empire that is impossible to accept.
Ireland, of course, has a different history and is therefore free of the delusions of grandeur that still beset the British. Not, that is, that we do not have delusions of our own.
No other country, for instance, seems quite so obsessed with proving that every American President is the descendant of Irish immigrants. Which is essentially harmless enough. Less harmless is our supine attitude to those same Americans when it comes to, for instance, military use of Shannon airport.
In that case we make ourselves as small and insignificant a country as possible to the extent that in recent times an Irish Tánaiste, Mary Harney, suggested we had no right to even question American use of Shannon because of the role they played in our economy.
If that is not an acknowledgement of your own insignificance I don’t know what is.
Of course, there is only one thing that gives Ireland any kind of global presence and that is the fact of it being an island of mass emigration for so much of its history. That is Ireland’s peculiarity, the fact of Ireland’s failure to support its own population, whether it be the 1840s, the 1950s, the 1980s or the 2000s, is the very thing that has given it an international profile.
The failure of Ireland and the success of Ireland are the same thing. Any global significance we do have is merely because we couldn’t support our own people. Not because we have oil, wealth, military power or a strategically important land mass. No, because we leave.
Some people will, obviously, disagree with this and point to our international reputation in the fields of literature and music and they would, of course, be right. I can’t help thinking though that no international politician halts and thinks about what the Irish are saying because they’ve got Seamus Heaney and The Chieftains.
So when an international crisis erupts and we are faithfully told that the Taoiseach or the Tanaiste have called upon the warring parties to stop, it always seems almost comically pointless, like a performance that the state media reports out of habit. I’m sure that Enda Kenny wants them to put down their guns just as I am sure that they all have no idea who he is.
Let’s be honest here, when an international crisis erupts no one bursts out of a room shouting, quick, phone the Irish.
But there’s no harm in that, no harm, indeed, in knowing and realising that. That is who we are. We do our bit, have a good record on international aid and have exported our people across the globe. You only have to listen to an RTÉ commentary on a GAA match to realise that there is someone listening virtually everywhere in the world.
Yet, even with social media and the world being only a pushed button away and every bit of news being instant, Ireland still seems a small rock out in the middle of the sea. The weather in the next townland sometimes seems as important as the events on the rolling news channel and sometimes even Dublin seems very far away, never mind the Ukraine.
And that is neither good nor bad but just the way some days are when you live on a small island. Ireland doesn’t really matter. And that’s okay, isn’t it?