Rory Fellowes

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The Irish Sense of Community 1

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I have lived and worked on every continent except the Americas and Arctics, not isolated in some ex-pat community, but living in local communities. Every community has its peculiarities. It is the product of a culture and every culture is the product of daily experience, the regular life, and that changes in its nature and detail every twenty or thirty miles (what used to be for thousands of years a day’s journey on foot or horse), so it changes a lot when it is thousands of miles. In other words, I’ve had the opportunity to observe a wide range of communities, all different if not exactly unique.

I first came to holiday here in this community 48 years ago, and to live 8 years ago. What distinguishes Ireland’s particular sense of community is its all-encompassing compulsion. It is as intense as family, with all that implies in terms of concern, interest, engagement and love but also fierce competition and animosity. First and long before they belong to any sort of national community, everyone in Ireland belongs to a local community and they know it from birth. An Irish community can be anything from the smallest of groupings, such as the people in your block of flats, up to the entire town and its townlands. But it carries obligations far beyond the simple bond of friendship. Not only are you aware of and often attend  the celebrations, wakes and funerals of your relatives and dear friends but of your enemies too, and everyone in between. Everyone in your community, in fact.

This spirit of community obligation added to the sardonic sense of humour and poetic sense of language, is a large part, I think, of what makes it such good craic to be part of an Irish community. I should mention that in Kerry, at any rate, while we so-called “blow-ins” are made welcome, it will be as visiting strangers with a home to go to for at least another hundred years before my family are considered locals, and then only if they in turn come to live here to sustain the connection. But that’s all right. It is rather comforting to be amongst people so conscious of their shared origins and heritage as to make it difficult for them to allow a newcomer to consider himself part of it.

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