Here at The Corner Shop, the spirit of our friendly Irish local (Philomena’s) has infiltrated the office. With St Patrick’s Day upon us, and with Easter Week marking the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, we round up ten things we owe the Emerald Isle for.
1. Tasty snacks
The Irish have a knack for finding the perfect flavour. Unable to bear plain crisps with only salt for flavouring, Joseph ‘Spud’ Murphy of Dublin created the first cheese and onion flavoured crisps in 1954, followed by barbecue and salt 'n' vinegar. The Irish are also responsible for the creation of milk chocolate! Mmm.
2. Excellent beards
Sure, the bearded leprechaun hats that make an appearance on Paddy’s Day aren’t exactly a fashion statement, but don’t tell me that famous Irishmen from George Bernard Shaw to Michael Fassbender haven’t inspired the current beard trend.
You thought they were an invention of the preppy-cum-normcore fashion establishment circa 2012, but actually brogues were invented in nineteenth-century Ireland as a hard-wearing shoe for farmers. The holes were perfect for a climate so wet that there was no way to prevent rain from getting into shoes, so the best solution was simply to allow it out again.
Everyone loves a British apology, and we’ve got a lot to feel bad about on our ancestors’ behalf. Ireland, its colonial status often forgotten because it was so completely subsumed by the Crown from 1801, formed a core part of Britain’s imperial past, and often suffered terrible violence at conquering hands. Oliver Cromwell’s massacres at Drogheda and Wexford in 1649 are well-documented and now recognised as war crimes, but even in more peaceable times Ireland served as a nearby testing-ground for some of the oppressive legislation later imposed on eastern colonies.
5. Military innovation
Long before the Troubles ripped through Ireland, the nation was known for its advanced discoveries in military technology. County Clare native John Philip Holland was responsible for the first successful submarine, which was commissioned by the US Navy in 1900 and changed the face of sea battles. Irishmen are also credited with inventing the tank and the first ejector seat.
Yeah? Yeah. Enough said.
7. The best Eurovision commentators ever
No one can beat the late, great Terry Wogan, but in recent years Graham Norton has done an admirable job of bringing much-needed cynicism to the campest reality TV show around.
8. The Irish pub abroad
Little beats the jarring commingling of cultures that you find in an Irish pub outside Ireland. Countries with large Irish emigré communities, like the USA and Australia, make a good stab at authenticity, but in Dubai – where alcohol is strictly regulated – the challenge is greater. The real joy is seeing large Slavic men down Guinness as if it were water, while misguided tourists squint at a menu trying to decide whether it’s written in the Cyrillic alphabet, or just the auld Celtic font.
9. The best literature in the English-speaking world
Seriously – I challenge you to find better. The Irish were instrumental in creating the modern novel form as we know it today, with early experiments including Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Fast-forward to the twentieth century and Irish authors were titans of modernism, from James Joyce to Samuel Beckett, with Elizabeth Bowen and others in between. But, lest you think it’s all pretentious codswallop, let’s not forget such gems as Artemis Fowl and P.S. I Love You, both penned by Hibernian authors.
10. The perfect English gentleman
From Pygmalion’s Henry Higgins, who delivers the inimitable ‘Why Can’t the English Learn to Speak?’ in My Fair Lady, to the perpetually ill Bunbury in The Importance of Being Earnest, a surprising number of English gents in fiction were imagined by Irishmen. (George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde respectively: both lived in England for the majority of their adult lives, the better to observe their subjects.) So there you have it. There’s no one who can create a scarily accurate stereotype quite like an outsider.
- Jessie Anand