Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The fabulous brand of the Emerald Isle

By Ilkka Malmberg

Finns like the Irish (in much the same way that they like the Greeks, as it happens). You know, those jolly fellows of the Emerald Isle with their red hair and freckles, and their moustaches white with Guinness foam - people with whom you can sing in a pub, nursing some inexplicable yearning for something.
Who would have anything bad to say about the Irish?
Who could be so heartless, listening to a tin whistle over a dewy heath, while watching a flock of sheep, with the aftertaste of whiskey lingering in the mouth?
But what happens after these half-dozen or so clichés of Ireland run out?
What comes after St. Patrick, the shamrocks, and the sacred potato?

Familiar Irish brands include Guinness, Jameson, Bushmills and Baileys, but if we leave out the booze, no Irish products come to mind immediately, unless we throw in U2 and Bono.
Yes, and then there is the cut-rate airline Ryanair, which caused an upheaval in air transport throughout Europe, and later threatened to charge people for using their loos.
For a few years, people flocked to Ireland to work and study, especially from the poor countries of Eastern Europe. The edges of Europe curled up toward each other.

Now that seems to be over. But the Irish brand will certainly prevail.
An Irish pub is as important a fixture in a small Finnish town as a kebab restaurant run by a Kurd, but the only part of Irish cuisine to have reached Finland is the relatively modern invention of Irish Coffee, and that is also an alcoholic beverage.
An Irish breakfast refers to a solid bacon breakfast with oatmeal added.
And what about an “Irish table” or "Irish bench"?
Many do not know this one. It is part of an obstacle course for military athletics: a table two metres high, which the competitor must climb over somehow.
Quite why it is associated with Ireland is somewhat unclear.

Irish terriers and Irish wolfhounds are familiar breeds of dog, and two unfortunate dogs - Lola and Tessa - who made news recently when they were thrown off a balcony in Finland following a domestic dispute - were Irish setters.
An “Irish kiss” is a word for a smack in the face.
It is interesting that a laid-back and relaxed attitude, rather than terrorists, predominates in the image that people have of the Irish.
The men with the bombs are not the same people with whom we link arms to sing Dirty Old Town.

The Irish are Catholic and their families are large. With that in mind, it is surprising that the population of Ireland is smaller than that of Finland. So many have emigrated.
Many famous people have their roots in the small nation. The best-known person of Irish origin would seem to have been John F. Kennedy, or might it have been Bono after all?

There is no point in even trying to list all of the Irish musicians and bands. This is a country that has won the Eurovision Song Contest no fewer than seven times.
There have been countless writers, even after we round up James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and William Butler Yeats.

No branding committee of the sort Finland has put together could match this achievement.
For a brief moment, the Europeans will grumble at Ireland and its humungous debts and how we have to shoulder them, and then - hey presto! - a little green man, a leprechaun, peeks from behind the tree, and all the cares end up like snowflakes that melt in the black waves of the Shannon Estuary.

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 21.11.2010

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