The Movie: The Commitments, 1991 (Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais and Roddy Doyle, screenwriters, from the novel by Roddy Doyle; Alan Parker, dir.)
Who says it: Robert Arkins as Jimmy Rabbitte, aspiring roots-rock impresario
The context: Jimmy explains to his bandmates that they have the right to sing the great soul standards, because “The Irish are the blacks of Europe, Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland, and the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.”
How to use it: To claim solidarity with an ethnic group you have no connection to.
My friend Maeve, a naturalized American who was born and raised in Dublin, can't help bridling when well-meaning Americans hear her accent and say, "Omigod, I'm Irish too!" I don't want to speak for Maeve -- maybe she'll comment here later today -- but I do see how that exchange illustrates two different ideas about what it means to "be" Irish, or "be" American.
The first and most universal human emotion, I think, is homesickness. We're born into this world in an act of violent separation, pushed from comfortable darkness into a bright, loud, chilly void. Many of us never recognize that free-floating sadness and anxiety for what it is: a desire simply not to be separate, to be somewhere we can call home.
People in industrialized nations have the luxury of feeling this even more strongly, because we're not so busy meeting our immediate physical needs. So we flail around trying to comfort this homesickness with all kinds of things: serial relationships, alcohol, drugs, food, television, endless activities and noise noise noise. The healthy comforts -- marriage, family, home, community -- form the basis of society.
But we Americans of Irish descent are lucky, because we get this one day a year that recognizes our exile, even if it's from a homeland that exists only in our imagination. And we give ourselves permission to medicate our pain -- which doesn't really have anything to do with Irishness -- with the beverages of our choice.
As the Pogues say, where'er we go, we celebrate the land that makes us refugees.
Happy St. Patrick's Day, y'all.