“A grand little country – if you could only put a roof on it.” This is the preferred phrase of the common, heroic Irish citizen who can suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, who can endure the national pastimes of melancholy and despair, who can survive on this peculiar island on the edge of the Atlantic with little more than the hope that, tomorrow, it may rain less. And it must be little more than hope that sustains us against the consistently teased sequel to the biblical deluge. For as fond as we are of discussing our rainy climate, the Irish citizen has contributed significantly little to counter-rain technologies. Not since John Phillip Holland Junior invented the modern submarine; which is intended for sea-faring, granted, but keeping water out is keeping water out, whatever way you choose to look at it.
On a grand scale, there has been no substantial attempt to put a roof on this country. There are an abundance of individual structures with roofs, but clearly the necessary political will to bring these roofs together is lacking. Another example of shortcomings in our local and regional planning authorities, no doubt. Needless to say, individuals are not at fault in this matter, of that we can be sure. It is a fact well-known to all those who know it well that if two separate Irish properties even consider joining roofs, Dermot Bannon parachutes in to convince one or other of the households to keep their separate walls and install a double-height space instead. Nor can we consider digging down and using the natural surface as our roof. After all, that surface is permeable and even if it wasn’t, there’d be rising damp to deal with and high water tables and all sorts. There can never be a roof over Ireland as long as architects, planning authorities, government, and – rather crucially – nature itself are all defiant. All of this is before we can account for Northern Ireland, including the additional complication of Brexit. Can we agree to put a roof on the whole island or will it be (an EU-funded) roof on the republic and… just cheap decking out of B&Q on the north? Working that out seems like more of an impossible task than putting up the roof, frankly.
On a smaller scale, every Irish citizen learns to be well-equipped over time. Experience shows us all that we should not emerge from underneath our roofs without rain coats or jackets, water-proof layers of clothing, and boots or wellingtons. Sad though it is that some Irish citizen has not provided the next technological leap-forward in rain protection, these items are the best available. Wearing these, we say “It’s a grand little country – so let’s get out and see it.” Yet, there is that voice in the recesses of some people’s minds that refuses to let go of the notion, “if you could only put a roof on it.” Unfortunately for us all, these people pursue the notion and ultimately ask, “what if you could bring the roof with you?” It is an utterly imbecilic notion. Unless you are prepared to be attached underneath a solid section of roof with the essential guttering and drainpipes, you are living a deluded lie. That is not a roof. What you have is a despicable sham of an object that has no structural integrity against above-average winds, that randomly deflects rain at other pedestrians, and that poses a significant health and safety risk to others who are equal to or greater than you in stature.
In short, what you have is called an umbrella.
Imagine an average Irish man. Let us call him Patrick, after our Patron Saint, the Welshman. Patrick is a decent sort of person. He works a 9 to 5, provides for his family, helps out with his son’s football club, and has a direct debit to a charity each month. He’s a decent person with sincere intentions. But, if you place an umbrella in his hand, Patrick is a danger to society. Contrary to all sound reason and logic, only an over-sized golf umbrella will do. Anything smaller yields to the wind, Patrick maintains, as he laughs at the poor, unfortunate people whose umbrellas have turned inside out on them as they attempt to resist the breeze. Patrick scoffs as he passes small, discarded umbrellas on the side of the path. They chose poorly, he thinks.
Patrick is a different man under his umbrella. He’s an asshole. You’ve probably met the business end of his over-sized golf umbrella, gouging you in the eye on a narrow path or offering no way around, directing you into the walls on one side and moving traffic on the other. Ordinarily, Patrick is a mild-mannered administrator for 8 hours a day and devotes his evenings and weekends to his family. Something goes awry as soon as he opens that umbrella, though. Like the Range Rover driver on the road, it provides Patrick with a sense of grandness, a greater entitlement to occupy space and to be accommodated by all as he does so. Patrick goes out of his way to unsettle others with his umbrella. Commuting through Dublin city centre, his preferred route takes in the quays and crosses over the Ha’penny Bridge. Does he take the umbrella down out of consideration for others on this crowded pedestrian crossing point? Not a chance! He’s an entitled asshole when he has that umbrella.
Something gets into Patrick’s head when he has an umbrella. Worse still, it need not be open. On these occasions, when you would think the threat of the umbrella has been neutralised, Patrick finds a way to hold the umbrella that is a public hazard. Held by his side and pointing directly behind him, Patrick walks with the umbrella thrusting back and forth. Anyone who is not completely attentive as they try to walk around Patrick will get a sharp stab of the end of his umbrella. Now, this is but one example of the entitled umbrella owner in the nation’s capital. There are many like Patrick all across the country who regularly say, “A grand little country – if you could only put a roof on it,” as they turn and whack you about the head with their umbrella, leaving you with a desire to put a roof and four walls with no windows around them.
All in all, the Irish citizen suffers enough without being stripped of their aspirations. If we cannot aim for a roof, we cannot settle for umbrellas. For tomorrow, it may rain less, but there is always room to improve. (Damn you, Dermot Bannon…)