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Sunday 26 December 2010

We're bruised and battered but we're up for the fight

There are many reasons to be cheerful despite what was our annus most horribilis, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

I WAS a great fan of rock-and-roller Ian Dury, whose zest for life permeated all his stomping performances and surreal lyrics. Although he came from a broken home and was crippled by polio, he fiercely rejected being cast as a victim.

In 1981, during what he felt was the profoundly patronising International Year of Disabled Persons, his song Spasticus Autisticus ('So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin/And thank the Creator you're not in the state I'm in') was so vicious and politically incorrect that the BBC banned it.

Among the many classics he left us was Reasons to Be Cheerful ('Something nice to study, phoning up a buddy/ Being in my nuddy/ Saying hokey-dokey, singalonga Smokey/ Coming out of chokey'), an eclectic hymn to the many pleasures of life.

Here are just a few random reasons why our bruised little nation should be cheerful this Yuletide. We have great assets as a people.

Largely because of its priceless Judeo-Christian inheritance, eventual acceptance of Enlightenment values and various kicks from the EU, Ireland is a free country.

On the Freedom House ratings for political rights and civil liberties (1, most free, and 7, least free), we score 1/1. By comparison, most of the world is enslaved. As we moan about Brian Cowen hanging on, remember that last week in Belarus, after 16 years of Soviet-style authoritarianism, Alyaksandr Lukashenka was re-elected president in a fraudulent election, and opponents and protesters were beaten up and incarcerated.

Truly, we should thank the Creator we're not in the state they're in.

We've been forced to confront and deal with many of our grubby little secrets.

We have got out from under the thumb of the Roman Catholic Church, but we still care passionately about such fundamental ethical issues as abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

We not only speak the English language, but mostly speak it better than the English.

We were nasty to our great writers in the past, which is why most of them emigrated, but now we treasure them; Beckett, Joyce, Wilde and the rest of them will go on bringing in the tourists.

There is a new and brilliant generation of writers who are putting Irish crime fiction on the international map.

Apart from some modern excrescences, we still have the best pubs in the world.

No other country has such entertaining taxi-drivers.

It was a sign of genius to set up a festival of comedy and economics. Only Jews challenge us for primacy in our mastery of black humour.

Not all our little towns have been ruined. John Betjeman's The Small Towns of Ireland still resonates. ('O my small town of Ireland, the raindrops caress you,/The sun sparkles bright on your field and your Square/As here on your bridge I salute you and bless you,/Your murmuring waters and turf-scented air.')

Unlike the unfortunate asylum seekers and economic migrants risking their lives, we have innumerable countries that will take us in. What's more, with computers, Skype and cheap flights, families can keep in touch.

We're still a haven for international investment.

This is no consolation to the private sector, but welfare benefits and public sector salaries are still much higher than almost anywhere else on Earth, so for a large section of the population, austerity is not as bad as is claimed.

Having screwed up royally on our great binge, we have had the time and impetus to think about how we want to live, and there are encouraging signs that we know we can do better. A delight in one's heritage, one's family, friends, love, laughter and a sense of belonging are worth much more than top-of-the-range mechanical phallic symbols for him and €15,000 handbags for her.

The Irish brand continues strong, mostly because despite all our faults, the world finds us good fun.

In The Sunday Times, last week, A A Gill, who is not known for his charity, described his gig for Failte Ireland and regretted that three-quarters of his audience in the hospitality industry would fail. Then he went out to "a very convivial lunch, but that was probably also something to do with Dublin, a city that is the very spring and source of conviviality, a definition of the word, with a green hat on".

Misty-eyed, after his visit to L'Ecrivain in Baggot Street, he described the meal as tasting "of hope and recovery, and stoicism, and humour, and poetry, and all those Irish things that are more important than money, including bollocks and blarney".

And the man's a teetotaller! Truly, we have much to offer and many reasons to be cheerful.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards