I think it may be something to do with being first landfall across a wide Atlantic Ocean that has created an obsession with us inhabitants of these British Isles with the weather. At one time I thought this was a peculiarly English preoccupation, but this is not the case, the Irish use the weather as a precursor to conversation just as much as we ever do at home.
I am in Dublin where the locals have a description of the kind of weather I experienced this evening on my stroll from Trinity College to my regular berth at the St George Hotel. They describe this as soft. It is so soft that it bounces from the pavement and soaks my trousers to the knees. My umbrella releases a torrent that creates an effect akin to peering out from behind a tumbling waterfall, and the wind, funnelled along O’Connell Street is doing its best to turn me inside out. Apart from this it’s another fine day here in this beautiful city.
I appear to have an affinity with countries beginning with the letter “I”. My visits to Italy have always left me wanting more, my affection for India has been regularly expressed on this blog and if I had to live outside of my native land I think I would be very happy here in Ireland. Perhaps I should try Indonesia and Iceland, destinations as yet unexplored, but with an initial capital letter that encourages me to believe they would make me welcome.
Over the past ten years, as a regular visitor to Ireland I have visited every county and in my estimation at least forty schools, and have always been overwhelmed by the fabled Irish hospitality. Whilst every nation is subject to its stereotypes, the legendary warmth of the Irish welcome, far from being a myth is something I experience wherever I go here. Another image of Ireland is that of a land of celebrated poets and scholars fostered by a nation that values education and nurtures talent. Here again my experience of the Irish education system tends to reinforce this picture and I find teachers who value their national culture and celebrate the creative achievements of their native sons and daughters in their teaching.
Perhaps the pride that is taken in their national heroes may be attributed to life on a relatively isolated island with a small population, but it does seem to me that the Irish have much to celebrate in their creative genius. Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Edna O’Brian, Jack Yeats, Francis Bacon, Seamus Heaney, Brendan Behan, Susanna Drury, John Field, Brian Friel – the list goes on, and Ireland appears to have given the world a collective intelligentsia disproportionate to its size. Or maybe there is another reason why this may appear so. Whenever I visit schools here in Ireland, I gain an impression of the great standing that Irish writers, artists, musicians and thinkers hold within these establishments. Children appear knowledgeable about the men and women who have created their independent nation with detail that I seldom find elsewhere. I suspect that the struggle that this nation had to assert its independence, has had a significant influence upon this situation, and that this assists greatly in the process of instilling a national identity.
There is always a danger of course, that this focus upon national identity could lead to a narrow perspective of the world beyond. But here in Dublin at least, this is evidently far from the case. A glimpse at the local newspaper shows that this week alone I could enjoy the work of the American playwright Arthur Millar with a performance of The Price at The Gate Theatre, the music of Berlioz and Tchaikovsky at the National Concert Hall, a screening of a film about the life and work of the artist Bernini at the National Gallery, or an exhibition by the German photographer Kathrin Baumbach at the Copper House Gallery. The opportunities for learning are considerable and the recognition of international creativity significant.
It seems to me that to imbue our children with an appreciation of their cultural heritage is a critical responsibility of schools. To then expand on this and to provide them with an opportunity to look outwards to the wider world is an obligation, if we wish them to have an appreciation of what other cultures can bring to our understanding and develop a respect for others. Here in Ireland this appears to be a healthy approach. Let’s hope it is maintained and that others may learn from this example.