I think this fuss over difference started when I was young and foolish enough to tell my grandmother an 'Irish joke'. I'd heard the joke from a mate who lived over the back fence, and it went like this, "Why did the Irish banana factory go out of business? They threw out all the bent ones."
Now, when you're seven, jokes like that are gold. But, my grandmother did not approve. When asking her why I shouldn't tell Irish jokes, I received the reply, because I 'had Irish in me'. What? I thought. I might only be seven, but there was no way in the hell I considered myself Irish. Christ, my awareness barely stretched beyond the beach and school, let alone trying to expand out to a country I'd barely heard of, and would probably never go to.
I figured that she was most likely trying to wean out the racism early, which is ironic, considering that she was a hard-arse old Catholic bitch with a penchant for hating 'the Maoris'. But, I figure they like to start them on the right path early those Catholics, and I duly learnt my lesson. Didn't stop me telling racist jokes, I was only seven, but it did provide me with ammunition to stave of the accusation of racism, because I was making a joke about my own people, after all.
And that might well be the most important lesson of them all.
To stick with this question of the Irish, it's a good example of how when you're from what can only really be called a bastardisation of cultures, as New Zealand is, you're essentially given the choice of identifying with any number of backgrounds as the occasion permits. I've never actually been told which part of the family was Irish, I think maybe it was a great-Uncle or something, and he was a policeman, but other than that, no idea. But every St. Patrick's day? I'm as Irish as shamrock.
So how come I don't feel Irish? Or for that matter, why don't I feel British? After all, if we weren't Irish or Scots, then we must be English, or British, or some such shyte. But no, there is no way I was ever identified with any of these nationalities. Ever since I was little I've always been baffled by the attraction of my seniors to things like Coronation Street, the Monarchy, and the British Empire. To this day remember the pride the Grandfather carried his in voice when speaking about seeing the Red map, and being part of an 'Empire Upon Which the Sun Never Set'. Seemed like a lot of fuss about nothing to me.
As I grew older I came to realise that all that pride was something the oldies carried because it gave them a place in the world, and a tether to an Empire of glorious deeds. It was the nation of Winston Churchill, Admiral Horatio Nelson, the Battle of Waterloo. It was the nation that had brought civilisation to the globe. And hence all the red.
I still didn't identify though, because the myth of Empire had faded at Singapore, and disappeared across the horizon with the withdrawal beyond the Suez, and all before I came to search for my place in the world. And that place was no larger than the town in which I grew up. So my people? My people were always the New Zealanders who I found around me, who I saw every day at school, who ran the corner dairy, who occupied the houses around ours, and flocked to our town during the summer.
And none of them were British, and sure as hell none of them were freaking Irish...