Between my posts on the Irish language and Patrick Mitchel’s detailed series on the history of Irish national identity, it seems that evangelicals are the go-to group if you want to find out about what it means to be from this island.
I read with interest a piece of opinion in a Catholic magazine out of England that a friend of mine posted on Facebook. The author, writing about Obama’s visit to his ancestral homeland in Offaly had this to say:
The most interesting part, for me, was the attempt to establish his own Irishness. It was an interesting exercise, which very carefully sidestepped the point about the “Irish” vote in America that he was so assiduously courting: that it is, essentially, at least tribally Catholic … So Obama was treading on potentially dangerous ground when he seemed to appropriate an Irishness of a kind that would actually induce (Catholic) Irish Americans to vote for him in large numbers.
That is suspicious, is it not. It seems that the author, William Oddie, is suggesting that there is something about the kind of ‘Irishness’ that Obama possesses that must be sidestepped. He doesn’t mean the remoteness of his Irishness, four or five generations removed. He doesn’t mean racially in the sense that before Paul McGrath, few people connected darker skinned people with Ireland. He is suggesting that Obama’s religious roots need to be side-stepped. He quotes the “amusing” Eoghan Harris, a journalist situated in one of the weirder and more pompous niches of the Irish right and reveals what he is really suggesting:
‘There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama,’ says the song. Steve MacDonogh’s [book] “Barack Obama—The Road from Moneygall” proves that this is partly true—but only if you believe that the President’s Irish Protestant ancestors were as fully Irish as their Roman Catholic nationalist neighbours.
See what just happened there? Protestant is separated from Roman Catholic. Then Roman Catholic is conflated with nationalist. Hence, Protestants are not nationalist and our conclusion is drawn. It’s not that Obama is a Hawaiian born to a Kenyan father that makes him not-Irish. It’s his ancestral Protestantism.
Reject this wherever you find it. Especially if you are a Catholic. On a historical level it is a nonsense. On a sociological level it is offensive. And on a theological level it is lethal. The Christian understand their identity in the church as being part of a universal movement. Their membership is a gift of grace, something they are called in to, a vocation. It is not something we self-select. And when it is tied to something as fragile and contingent and fabricated and disposable as a national identity, it is cheapened, diluted and spoiled.
Protestants are not “less Irish” than Catholics. Even Unionists are not less Irish than Catholics, disregarding the vast number of Catholics who are functional Unionists. Even writing sentences this basic is making me feel queasy and yet it seems it needs to be done. Getting our passports confused with our church only serves separation and violence.
Your Correspondent, A black-hearted, left-footed turncoat traitor for becoming convinced that God was triune.