'A slap on the back is only six inches from...'
Despite our lifelong preoccupation with 'tall poppy syndrome' there is fierce pride is seeing our own playing such a lead role and representing the nation so well during COVID-19

My first pony was one my parents borrowed from my uncle who was a racehorse trainer. His name was Magic. My uncle used him to school the young horses over fences and he had a previous life pulling logs out of the forestry. He was a far cry from the ponies destined for the Dublin Horse Show. A dirty roan colour, with huge hairy hoofs, a Roman nose and sweet itch, meaning a permanent lack of a mane and tail – together these meant he wasn’t much to look at. But he would jump anything.

I found this very upsetting and while I tried to ignore it, it bugged me

When hunting, my biggest problem would be not passing out the masters, as Magic considered his rightful position to be up at the front. Every week a young lad, who was around my own age at the time and had a beautiful huge grey horse, would remind me of the aesthetic shortcomings of Magic. I found this very upsetting and while I tried to ignore it, it bugged me.

Years later I met him again and he asked me: “How is Magic? Do you still have him? I was so jealous of you with that pony. I was stuck, the grey refusing every ditch, and you gone like a bullet.” I nearly choked.

Magic wasn’t really one for waiting around whether I liked it or not

Of course I had never seen his big beautiful grey refusing anything as they were behind me. Magic wasn’t really one for waiting around whether I liked it or not.

A bit of jealousy and begrudgery, we are told, is part of the Irish psyche. The plan being to rid children of any “tall poppy syndrome” early on so they “don’t get too big for their boots”. Echoes of “it’s a far cry from such-and-such you were reared” or something a bit more passive aggressive like “you’ve done so well considering (add insult here)” may be familiar. There was almost a shame put on success.

I was not expecting to hear the voice of an Irishman but there he was

I was watching the news last Saturday night and there was an interesting segue from the normal COVID-19 reports. Wildlife in Africa is under renewed threat due to the pandemic. Tourism, which pays rangers and ensures the protection of the continent’s endangered species, has been decimated. I was not expecting to hear the voice of an Irishman but there he was, a UCD-qualified botanist living in Kenya was highlighting the issue. Colman O’Criodain is global policy manager for the WWF’s Wildlife Practice. And I was proud to hear the accent.

I feel the same when I hear the voice of Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) health emergencies programme speaking on TV. Who knew pre-COVID that we had a guy (cause we own successful Irish people abroad) at the top of the food chain in terms of pandemics, just when there is a pandemic.

We Irish are proud as punch

And who knew that he would be, what is generally referred to as, a “rock of sense”. There is our Mike, “telling it like it is”. We Irish are proud as punch. There is another one in America. Irish-born CEO of Northwell Health, Michael Dowling, picked by Governor Andrew Cuomo to be New York’s crisis manager for the US coronavirus response.

A few weeks back I got a lovely email from a reader saying we were doing a good job here in Irish Country Living. I mentioned it to one of my nearest and dearest who reminded me that “a slap on the back is only six inches from a kick in the ass”. I must email the Michaels and tell them not to get too big for their boots or they won’t be allowed back. All joking aside, we should all be very proud of our ex-pats, they are doing us proud.

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