There were three things you always heard foreigners say about Ireland and the Irish when you were growing up.
And being actually Irish, and knowing everything, you knew they were talking nonsense, and you would yawn at how tired these wisdoms were.
The Irish eat a lot of potatoes. The grass is very green in Ireland. And there are tons of red-heads in Ireland.
I still don’t like to hear people say any of these things to me. Try it, and just watch me inflict swift pain on your favourite pet. And among Irish people I am not alone.
But anyway back then, balderdash is what you would cry. We don’t eat a lot of potatoes; we eat a normal amount, the normal amount that anybody eats when they have meat, two veg, and potatoes for dinner.
Plus we eat things like pasta and rice now too. And unleavened breads from all over the world and Dublin 8. And we sometimes eat vegetables only, often before we have boiled them into a vapor. Vegetables that melt in your mouth, not in your hand.
And the grass is very green? How green can green be? Isn’t grass green? Do you have blue grass, we would wonder of these casually labelling foreign people?
Look, on a clear day from the Sugarloaf you can see Wales. Snowdonia waves to us across the Irish Sea;often a green sea as it happens, but anyway the point is that we can see that Wales is green. So why are you talking about us being green?
And many Irish people have been to London. We know it has a green belt. Grass is green. Stop telling us Ireland has very green grass; that doesn’t make sense, we proclaim.
And red-heads? I have 27 siblings and none of them have red hair. Yes I have seen people around Ireland with red hair, but they’re scattered around, like cow-pats; you can walk from A to B without getting too close to one.
If everyone had red hair then why would we call them names? Did Ireland have a system of hair apartheid where a minority of blond, and dark-haired folk (with acquiescence from those with colored hair) ruled and abused the majority of the population who happened to have red-hair. Did the Brothers who taught me hide this fact from me. Even Brother Frank, the red-head?
Then you grow up. You emigrate, because nobody told you that you would be rich or even employed if you stayed in Ireland, and you find out you were wrong. About everything.
I have had many dinners in America where I am given a potato. A potato. And not a big one. Not even a medium one. But there it is again, that word. One.
When this happens I always sit in silence, my brain racing around my skull trying to make sense of the scene. A potato. All alone. A single potato. Like a postbox. A delicacy. A side dish. Like a slice of beetroot, or corn on the cob.
It was a side dish at home too, but it was the left side or the right side of your plate. Because it had company. A lot of company.
Even after Spaghetti Bolognaise invaded Ireland, around the same time something called a curry did (a gravy-based meal with apple pieces and sultanas), and potatoes disappeared from a meal, or even two, a week, when you had potatoes, you had potatoes. But even then I didn’t realise how much.
Before moving to the US in the late 1990s, I accompanied some Americans on a trip around Ireland. Near the end of the week I caught two of our visitors laughing, and they were clearly laughing at us. At what, I asked, because I like to laugh at us too and I hadn’t seen anything funny, and they were just looking at their meals. So they told me.
Nonsense, you crazy Americans with your Irish cliches, I said. To what? Well they claimed that in every meal over the seven days of touring, we had two kinds of potato. So they reminded me of every single meal.
Seems I wasn’t counting the croquettes along with the roast potatoes, or the roasties along with the mash, or the chips along with the boiled, or the hash browns along with the fried, the baked potato with the shepherd’s pie, the potato cake with the coddle. I could go on.
Green grass? Kansas City is in the middle of the US. Fly here from any direction, in any season, and look down. That ain’t green. Oh there’s the odd pocket, especially by the big rich houses, but from the sky the grass is brown. And despite the green vegetation in other parts of the world, from the sky nothing carpets with green like grass.
No amount of sugar palm trees or rice fields can compete with the density of green that grass gives. And for all the planting of rapeseed in Ireland’s sunny south east, from the sky, Ireland is still green. I hate to admit that almost as much as I miss having grass under my feet. Even if I did grow up with one foot on concrete.
And then there’s the red hair thing. The BBC has a feature on the abuse of red-heads, for some believed to be a uniquely British phenomenon in its most virulent form, which I thought was nonsense but then again did you know there was such a thing as “anti-red hair hate crime” in the UK? A 20-year-old stabbed in the back in 2003. For having red hair.
Mind you I knew a blonde fella in England who was shot in Mexico in the 1980s. Headlines in the British tabloids all took the same approach: SHOT BECAUSE HE WAS BLONDE.
I can’t quote you figures, but wikipedia can - if you believe it.
Scotland is the country with the highest proportion of redheads in the world. 13 percent of the Scottish population has red hair and approximately 40 percent carry the recessive, so-called “ginger gene”
Ireland has the second highest number of redheads worldwide; as many as 10 percent of the Irish population have ginger or strawberry blond hair. It is thought that up to 35 percent of the Irish population carries the recessive “ginger gene”.
And this is kinda obvious when you travel around other countries. While not everybody in Ireland has red hair, the only slavs I’ve come across with red hair, got it out of a bottle. The same bottle.
And as much as I don’t have red-headed siblings, I do have more red-headed first cousins than I can count. And among the dark-haired members of my family, the beards and sideburns have a tendency to go the auburn route. And that’s just the women.
Give or take the rapidly increasing grey, my own beard is a dark one. But if you look really, really close you will see the very odd auburn hair. Then again if you look really, really close at my beard, I will lick your eyeballs.
See More of Irish Truths:
• Hosting American Tourists in Ireland (and vice versa)
• Do You Eat Turkey at Christmas in Ireland?
• Irish Place Names and Illegals
• History of an Irish Pub
• Fun in Ireland versus Fun in America
• Do You Travel By Train in Ireland?