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I’m a blow-in and have been for the past thirty six years. So like all migrants nobody is aware of my pedigree. Or lack thereof.
Thankfully such concerns have never featured greatly on my radar. I grew up in a family where you made your own way and whilst my siblings and I didn’t leave these shores for pastures new, we nevertheless stumbled across county boundaries and settled in new communities.
But for many of my contemporaries staying within the confines of family influence was very important. How else would people know that your mother or father was a local dignitary, from good stock, well-bred, living on what was essentially a ranch or alternatively in a Victorian mansion, spoke with a mysteriously acquired West British accent and was awfully well connected to the ruling classes?
Money wasn’t a prerequisite, but having the ‘name of money’ was paramount. And ‘old money’ was the stuff of dreams.
And it didn’t matter that said mansion was a crumbling pile of mortar, hanging by a thread to the semblance of grandeur. As long as you could greet your guests, of similar pedigree, with an English, well-modulated accent and refer casually to the horses in full view of your glorified shack, you were ‘made’.
And within that circle Pippa married Toby, Esmerelda shackled herself to Oscar and Poppy announced her nuptials to Rupert in the personal column of the Irish Times. Oh, and all belong to them sported double-barrelled names. That was de rigueur.
The cycle was perpetuated in the next generation and Mr and Mrs Toby’s son, Bozo, lived happily ever after with Petunia Magnolia the second, daughter of Mr and Mrs Rupert. And so on and so forth.
And all was well with the world.
And you thought free education and easy access to college would liquidate such social hierarchies. Not so.
An acquaintance recently told me that her son was engaged to a young woman from Tipperary and announced breathlessly, “You must know her father! We’ve met her parents several times on skiing holidays.”
Nope. Never heard of them.
And now we have an added complication in the social mix. The son of another acquaintance is soon to be married to “a very clever girl, very highly qualified”, even more qualified than her betrothed. Cue gasps of astonishment and hopefully a little envy? And a tilt of Mammy’s head as if to say, “Beat that.”
But of course there is the other side of the coin. The child at school who is viewed with suspicion because an older sibling is “doing time.” Sure this fella will be trouble too.
Then there is the teenager who is to be avoided because “I’m not letting my son run around with the son of a jailbird.” The daughter who is forbidden to have anything to do with ‘Dean’ because an uncle never worked a day in his life.
And to make matters much worse the cachet of double-barrelled names is beginning to lose its lustre as soubriquets such as Cunningham-Hennessey begin to rear their ‘ugly’ head.
Then there’s the all-important address. “You’re not seriously suggesting that we should live beside x, y or z.”
Everybody belonging to them was either odd or rakes. They probably had a ‘want’. They could simply be bad news or had no class.
See? I’m a nobody, in the very best sense of the word. People have to take me at face value. There’s no point in judging me based on my seed, breed and generation. Sure, people have been known to take Sunday drives to check out the origins of their migrant neighbours who are now swanning around in designer clothes and languishing in one of the biggest houses on the road.
And even if they succeed in locating what they initially hoped were humble origins there is a palpable sense of disappointment if they discover that these homesteads are actually adequate and any ambitions of taking the new neighbours “down a peg or two” are dashed.
Who would be bothered?
Well, to a lot of people it matters an awful lot.
So, ‘bring on diversity‘ is my mantra. Embrace strangers and immigrants. Shake the cobwebs from the rotting edifices that for too long stymied progress and integration, a way of life that engendered suspicion and upheld “notions of upperosity”.
Sons and daughters now emigrate and later return with partners of a different nationality. Our grandchildren will be an exotic mix of the most diverse cultures. Walk down any street in Ireland and you will encounter people of every race, creed and culture. And the most wonderful aspect is that most of them are Irish. And, for an extra ten points, nobody asks who was Mammy and Daddy.
No, I’m not the daughter or sister or wife of…
I’m a nobody.