While on a late evening chocolate-biscuit-run (that’s picking up biscuits to accompany a cuppa, rather than knocking out a quick 5k to offset calories from previously consumed biscuits) to our local grocery store recently, I picked up a tube of Hobnobs. That may not clear the increasingly high bar of things to write home about, but before I left I also picked up a box of Yorkshire tea. When questioned by Christina on why I did this, my response was a rather defensive “Because I like it!”
“Are you cheating on Barry’s?” Christina asked, somewhat incredulous.
“No, I’m cheating on Ireland,” I realized, shame enveloping me like the brownish color in a mug of hot water that has recently obliged a teabag.
Her reaction was similar to my own – faux outrage that actually had a slight tinge of concern beneath. Irish people are very particular about all things tea-related – squeeze the teabag or no? Milk before or after tea? If there’s sugar involved, is it still actually tea? – but they are most particular about the type of teabag used. I’ve been involved in many the heated argument as to whether Lyons or Barry’s teabags make the better cup of tea. There are also those who believe using a bag at all makes you a fraud.
Whatever side of the argument an Irish person falls on, it is universally accepted that this is an argument for best and second best, a fight to see who is first among equals. Kind of like in American politics (pre-2016) where two bitter political rivals come together post election and help the party/nation to heal, extolling the many virtues of their worthy opponent.
It’s been over a year since I had the best tea of my life, brewed in a little pot in a tiny tea shop in a small village at the edge of a National Park in the heart of Yorkshire. I won’t go into gratuitous detail as to why this was the greatest cup of tea in my living memory but suffice to say it ticked some boxes that I didn’t even know applied for a humble cup of tea.
Little did I know that this “mug o’ shcald” (as a college friend used to call it) would be the catalyst for an awakening inside me, a little tea seed that was nurtured by pouring tea on it and is now sprouting little tea leaves… I have no idea how tea grows and have completely lost the run of this analogy. It gave me the stunning realization that maybe Ireland isn’t the best at everything – or at least I don’t have to think it is the best at everything. I really love and enjoy Barry’s and Lyons tea but it is also okay to enjoy Yorkshire tea – and God forbid even like it better.
I travel more now than I have before and this is teaching me a lot about what I like and making me less ashamed about it. I feel like a little Irish Catholic boy who just discovered masturbation and realized that my palms remain hairless and I can still read the eye chart from all the way across the room.
Ireland is still the best but we can learn from other cultures. A national identity is constantly evolving. St. Patrick, in all his wisdom, didn’t give a flying fuck who was a Barrys or Lyons household when he invited himself into their huts to spread the word of God.
When the Vikings landed on our shores to rape and pillage a thousand years ago, they weren’t greeted by a chorus of Guinness-swilling, potato-growing, God-fearing luddites. They were probably really getting into the whole Catholicism thing considering the venerable Saint Patrick had landed on our shores a mere 200 years earlier, but Guinness was just a glint in his father’s eye at that pint… sorry, point, and the first potato only preceded Guinness by a single lifetime.
We only need look to bucks like St. Brendan and St. Columba to see where Irish people get their sense of travel and spirit of adventure. It enriched their lives and improved the lives of their countrymen, but also the world. In the same way the Irish and Italians and Jews and Mexicans have shaped Americans culture to what it is today, the Irish have the Vikings and the Normans and Anglo-Saxons and the fucking Spanish Armada for what we are today.
De Valera, in 1934, said “No longer shall our children, like our cattle, be brought up for export” but I find it tough to argue with it being a bad thing. Over generations, we have borrowed from all of these cultures and all of these different peoples have integrated into our culture (becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves, as the saying goes), leaving little markings of their own behind.
I had a meeting with a man from Ireland today with a view to partnering with the chauffeur company he worked for. He couldn’t hide his excitement when he heard my Irish accent and expressed his absolute amazement at the amount of Irish people he had already met today – but he was still really excited to be talking to me. This man has chauffeured Sean Penn and Mel Gibson around Ireland, and spent a full week with Kim and Kanye on their honeymoon. He’s clearly seen some shit – and yet this quick to Boston was eye opening to him as to how spread out the Irish are around the world.
We’ve found our niche on the world stage and are embraced throughout. That wasn’t always the case, and we all carry that – and many other chips on our collective shoulder – across the world and impart our many historic sufferings with a dry wit and a poetic humility. It also helps that we’re mighty fuckin’ craic!
I’ve decided to forego my Catholic guilt over this particular crisis of conscience and enjoy my Yorkshire tea from time to time. I’ll try not to beat myself up when I take down the bottle of Laphroaig instead of the Kilbeggan, or when I order a Lagunitas over a Guinness. I can enjoy bacon and eggs instead of bacon and cabbage, or prefer (some) Icelandic Eurovision entries to our own. I can even dream of a vacation in Montenegro over one in Mountbellew – although that is an unfair comparison as Mountbellew holds all the aces. One think is for sure though – if you ever see me drinking chamomile “tea”, you have my express permission to revoke my citizenship on the spot.