Ireland for Asians

by Terence MacNamee

Today is St Patrick’s Day. Throughout the English-speaking world and even beyond, the Irish people are celebrating their national holiday – Irish-Americans most of all. The Irish government has started an advertising stunt of bathing famous buildings and landmarks in green light to mark the day – or the night before and after. This year, it seems, they have bathed the Great Wall of China in green light. The Chinese or other Asians are not likely to know what all this is about. They have no background as regards Ireland, a little-known small country on the edge of the European land-mass. Though at least Chinese leader Xi Jinping was in Ireland, so he knows something.

In the past twenty years Ireland became the Celtic Tiger and then suddenly lost its prosperity as a result of a crisis in the financial sector. There was little wrong with its economy, and it now seems to be successfully rebuilding. The unspoken Irish desire behind things like the greening of the Great Wall is to become the Celtic Tiger again.

Ireland is a bit unusual as small countries go. It is on the periphery of Europe, out in the Atlantic. Indeed, it is not only peripheral, but centrifugal. It is a member of the European Union, but it looks out rather to the Atlantic and to the English-speaking world. Historically it used to be bound to England, but now it is bound even more to the USA. “Fifty-first state of the Union” is not a bad summing-up.

Ireland is in fact where the US and Europe meet. Ireland’s prosperity has been based on large American companies having a foothold there at low corporate tax rates. It still is. Ireland is the back door to Europe. Not a bad place to be. It could be of advantage to Asians to be there too. And they can be sure of an Irish welcome. The Irish are hungry, and ready to sell their souls for economic benefit. Another advantage of theirs: they speak English, the language of business.

Ireland is part of the English-speaking world – but on the periphery of that, too. The country has its own language to which most of the population now prefer English, but there is something un-English, un-Anglo-Saxon about the place and the people that they can never quite lose.

That, if anything, is the secret of Saint Patrick’s Day.