Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Diaspora: Ireland at the Winter Olympics

Cue up John Williams... Hold On...

We are well into the 2014 Winter Olympic Games now, and I am in the American Olympic spirit.  Sochi, Russia is only four hours ahead of GMT, so I can watch some early events when I first wake up and follow the big medal evening events while I'm making dinner.  It's great.

I'm sad not to have the classic American NBC coverage out here.  I see photos of my favorites like classy Bob Costas in the studio and Mary Carillo sent out on wacky and uncomfortable assignments, but I can't watch them live.  Also, the BBC olympic coverage doesn't use the famous NBC olympic bumper music.  Roll it!

Speaking of great Olympic themes, roll this John Williams classic while reading the rest of this post.  You won't regret it.

Go Team Ireland(?)

Naturally, I was curious to check out and follow the Irish delegation to these winter games.  Ireland isn't a nation known for its Winter Olympic domination like Norway, Russia, and, (ahem) The USA- but I thought it would be appropriate for me to support the home team while I'm here.

I found a news article published by RTE highlighting each of the five (!) athletes representing Ireland in this year's Games.  As I read through the article, I noticed that none of the athletes live in Ireland, and only one was born here.  Of course, it makes sense that winter olympians would need to live in a place with... well... winter sports.  This island isn't exactly packed with high peaks, ski slopes, waist-deep snow, and ice skating rinks.  But to see all the Irish representatives born and raised in America, Canada, and the UK was very surprising.

As I often do, I took to the comments section for a (very unscientific) glimpse at the feelings of the people here, and there I noticed a word pop up over and over.

Diaspora?  Some Kind of Deadly Fungus?

Diaspora was the term in so many comments, and it seemed to be a word understood by all the Irish users.  I could only guess from the context that it meant international people of Irish heritage or ancestry.  When I did some digging, I found out it has a lot more cultural meaning than that.

The word is used to describe the descendants of any population that left or was forced from their homeland in times past.  Interestingly, it is most often used for descendants of Jews displaced from Israel, African people descended from slaves, and modern-day people of Irish descent living all over the (mostly Western) world.

Ireland is known as a nation of emigrates.  We all know (even from American history classes) about the Great Potato Famine and the resulting mass emigration- but I did not know until recently that people have been leaving Ireland (and prospering outside of Ireland) long before and ever since the famine.  

With all these people leaving, we would expect a large number of people with Irish heritage in the world, and indeed we do.  More than 100 million people when interpreted broadly, it seems.  The Irish government even has special recognitions and provisions defining different levels of "Irishness" among The Diaspora- from people with full citizenship rights to acknowledging "...people with Irish ancestry living abroad and sharing its cultural identity and heritage."  No rights or privileges, but a nice nod, to be sure.

Plastic Paddies or Hometown Heroes?

Another term used in the comments section of the RTE article and in the Irish Diaspora Wikipedia page is, "Plastic Paddy."  It appears the Irish population doesn't always appreciate foreigners claiming to be good old Irish boys and girls.  It seems to be particularly often used in sporting events to describe non-Irish players representing Ireland in soccer and rugby.  From personal experience on the ground, I have met Irish people of many differing opinions of all these international "Irish" people celebrating their idea of what "Irish" is.  So many American cities have St. Patrick's Day parades and celebrations of wild drunkenness, green beer, and green-dyed rivers.  I have yet to see the River Liffey dyed green in Dublin, and I suspect that St. Patrick's Day will be fun here, but most of the party crowd will be tourists.

What about people who have Irish heritage and make it big in the world outside of Ireland?  Well, of course those folks aren't Plastic Paddies!  Why would they be?  The only Plastic Paddies are the ones who aren't world leaders or celebrities.  Muhammad Ali?  "The Greatest of All Time!?" Proud Irish lad, through and through.  Don't you know he was from Louisville, Kentucky Ennis, County Clare?  

You Mentioned the Olympics?

Right, Olympics.  We haven't noticed a lot of enthusiasm for the Games here.  Maybe it's part of a classic vicious cycle...

Little Enthusiasm > Little Funding > Little Athlete Development > No Local Television Coverage > Little Enthusiasm.

The one exception I noticed happened during the Men's Skeleton event airing on BBC.  Sean Greenwood was proudly representing Ireland, and I was happy to see the Irish tri-color flag draped over the railing next to the flags of so many other nations.  A message was written in Irish on the flag, I can only assume they were words of encouragement, ending with the name Sean.  After his first Friday slide, the camera (and the BBC announcers) directed their attention to the two green and orange clad fans jumping and cheering.  It was nice to see that enthusiasm and the exposure on BBC's powerful multinational coverage.

Sadly, Greenwood suffered a crash in his second run, finishing safely but losing a great deal of time.  His third run was clean, but wasn't enough to get him into the top twenty and the final run.

We were at a sports bar last weekend in the prime time of the Games.  All televisions were tuned to various sports, and not one was showing Olympic coverage.  Most of the sets were tuned to various continental soccer matches until the main event of the day, and Ireland's real winter sporting interest, Six Nations Rugby.

There it is.  Ireland does love her sports, just not those involving skiing and skating.  The rugby fans are as rabid as they come, and the city (and I imagine the country) virtually shuts down when Ireland takes the rugby pitch.  

Check the comments on that RTE article, they are very interesting, and much more intelligent than the comments section of most American news articles.  Some rail against the use of these Plastic Paddies when there are perfectly capable athletes living in Ireland.  Some believe any representation of Ireland in the Winter Games is better than no representation given the unfriendly winter climate here.  Some, of course, are just cheeky.  Here are some of my favorite from all camps.

If you consider the amount of money Ireland would have to spend to produce winter Olympians what with sending them overseas to train and go to school, I think we are getting a very good deal out of this. All their early training has been provided by overseas funding. Good job Olympic council doing it on the cheap! 
Wish them all the best ...are they choosing Ireland as they couldn't get a place with GB , Canada , US ?
 If we could get the Kilkenny hurling team use to the ice skates I reckon we would do quite well in the Ice hockey
Shouldn't be going for Ireland. Conor Lyne's accent was clearly faked and an insult
Jeysus the country can't even produce summer olympic athletes these days .
Its all downhill after this! 

Let us close with the highest rated and maybe best-put comment on the board.

I congratulate them on representing Ireland. I've heard some of them being interviewed and they are very proud of their Irish heritage. It is a big part of their lives. There are about 50 million people around the world with Irish genes and many of them have a huge sense of Irishness. Best of luck to these five Irish Olympians. We should be proud of them. 

I agree.  Go team Ireland in the 2014 Winter Games.  Now if only they could get Rugby, Hurling, and Gaelic Football in The Olympics, Ireland could be bringing home some major Olympic hardware.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment, we'd love to hear what you think! Comments are word verified to prevent SPAM.