THE countries most proud of themselves are ex-colonies and new nations, and we're nearly at the top, we were told last week by the National Opinion Research Centre at the University of Chicago. Here goes the list of the top 10 out of the 34 countries surveyed: the United States, Venezuela, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, Canada, the Philippines, Austria, New Zealand and Chile.
These are serious researchers, so we should take this seriously. And, it seems to me, having looked at the evidence up, down and sideways, we have reasons to be cheerful.
What makes this survey particularly interesting is that the questions asked were specific and those being sampled were a proper sample. This wasn't 10 persons in a pub in a good mood being asked if they were proud to be Irish/ Slovakian/etc: it was a serious cross-section of populations being quizzed about questions that required thought. It was not "Hey, does it feel great to be Irish or what?". It was questions like "Are you proud of your country's social security system?"
So, here are the questions and this is how we answered on the specifics. Warning: Bertie will claim credit for our happy condition, but his opponents should check the small print. These Chicago people asked the same hard questions five years ago. Watch out for the brackets which tell what we thought then and why we're less upbeat now. But do not throw the paper away from you now on the grounds that I'm being negative about our great little nation. This time, I think the negative is the positive.
How proud are you of your country in each of the following areas was what was asked.
The first thing you need to know is that Venezuela was not even polled in the last survey, but has now elbowed us out of second place because it has a charismatic on-his-way-to-being-absolute-dictator Hugo Chavez. He talks the talk, but dictators don't walk the walk, so it will end in tears. But just for now, they're ahead of us in self-confidence.
Back to basics. We are a cheerful ex-colony and Bertie A, and even Michael McD, will not be taking absolute power, for our political culture will not allow it. Like most of the other countries in the top 10, we have reasons for thanking the Brits for leaving us a robust democracy. We should also praise ourselves for entrenching it. Eamon de Valera was not Robert Mugabe.
How proud are we of how our democracy works? Twelfth (5th) in the survey. How proud are you of your country's political influence in the world? Fifth (3rd). Of your country's economic achievement? Second (3rd). Its social security system? Ninth (5th). Its scientific and technological achievement? Fourteenth (11th). Its sporting achievements? Fourth (1st). Its achievements in arts and literature? Second (1st). Its armed forces? Seventh (3rd). Its history? Sixth (1st). Its fair and equal treatment of all groups in society? Eighth (1st).
What these figures tell me is that we are a steadily maturing society. Last time round, when the researchers recorded our only minority as Protestants, we thought we were top of the equality pops. Now, with Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and Nigerians, we realise there's more to equality and fairness than rhetoric, and coping decently with immigrants is difficult, so we're more realistic and hence more modest about what we're up to.
What fit of adolescence (we're-the-best-team-in-the-land carry-on) had us the proudest sporting nation in the world five years ago? Our history? Of what were we so proud to arrive at the top of the poll? Did we fight the Nazis? No. Five years on, we have a saner perspective.
We are the most optimistic and proud nation in Western Europe. Poor old Britain - at 11th place in this survey - is our nearest challenger, with respectively (for pride in democracy) eleventh (10th), (political influence) eleventh (9th), (the economy) thirteenth (7th), (social security) eighteenth (12th), (science and technology) twelfth (5th), (sport) twenty-eighth (18th), (arts/literature) twenty-first (15th), (armed forces) third (2nd), (history) eighth (4th) and (fairness and equality) twelfth (8th).
Great Britain, in which I live, is tired, jaundiced and underrates itself. Ireland, my country, is buoyant and self-confident. But what five years ago was bravado, is becoming much more tethered to reality. Unlike Venezuela, which is being hoodwinked by a confidence-trickster who will probably ruin its economy, Ireland has politicians who are too trammelled to hold us back. Let us be cheerful. We're doing well. And we're a new nation that is growing up.