March 17, 2008

Brand Me, I'm Irish

Regardless of where in the world you're reading this (and you'd be surprised how well-travelled my mother is...), you're unlikely to need reminding that today is St. Patrick's Day, which is celebrated everywhere in many more than the proverbial forty shades of green.

Over dinner on Saturday, illustrator Kevin McSherry reminded me that in Ireland we can be harshly elitist in our definition of 'Irishness'. Those who put down their roots in the fertile soil of England, America or Australia are in turn put down by the native Irish as 'plastic paddies' who 'try too hard' to prove their claim to their heritage.

What a pity that we're so narrow-minded. Our cousins across the water have no difficulty in making the American dream all-embracing. This generosity throws our own pettiness into sharp relief. We've been blessed with an appeal that reaches far and wide but are in real danger of squandering it through a misguided sense of purity or authenticity.

This is a sad failure of hospitality. There's not much point in throwing the best parties if our guests are left pressing their faces up against the window, looking in on the merrymaking.

Apart from the social faux pas (that's Irish for putting your foot in it...), there's a huge opportunity being missed to confirm our unique role in the commercial world. No other country has its national day marked in such a memorable way. Our politicians rightly recognise that, come St. Patrick's Day, it's access all areas for a statesman with an Irish accent. This allows us a word in the ear of kings and kingmakers across the world.

Never mind countries, few other brands own a day in the way Ireland does March 17th. Perhaps only Coca Cola comes close in its association with Christmas. We cannot afford to shut the door on those who want to join in the celebrations. Just as the United States appointed Lady Liberty to guide the way to the American dream, we must set our own light in the parlour window for all those who want to join in our unique brand of revelry.

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