Ireland, Irish flags, Custom House, Dublin, Ireland
© Gript
I stay off Twitter/X on weekends (where possible) to try and reorientate myself to the here and now and avoid constant exposure to some of the more à la carte contributions on that platform.

There's always a short moment of reflection before I take a deep breath and touch the icon on my phone before diving back into the waters on Monday mornings.

This morning, I learned that people have been hotly debating what it means to be "Irish" and "Irishness" over my weekend of blissful ignorance.

Part of the conversation was stirred by a piece written by our editor, John McGuirk, in which he mistakenly said that in my case the name 'Gunning' was Anglo Norman. It's an Anglicised version of the Irish name O'Conaing, but that's for myself and himself to argue about in the work chat.

That aside, the topic of what it means to be Irish is becoming all the more relevant as Ireland's demographic makeup continues to shift at a dramatic pace.

Before I go any further perhaps I should point out that I actually don't like the idea of identity politics, but often find myself dipping into it now and then in hopes that my willingness to publicly confront and discuss issues of a sensitive nature will not be immediately dismissed as some kind of 'ism' or 'phobia',

Today is one of those days.

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen not infrequent comments left about my racial heritage. People - usually of the left -sometimes like to leave unkind comments about my late father having been from Pakistan.

I've been to Pakistan once in my life for two weeks. I don't speak any Pakistani language, and I had no influence from the culture of that land growing up other than eating the food, so although my DNA is 50% from that region I consider myself culturally 100% Irish.

All that was just to set up where I'm coming from as I now go on to respectfully disagree with some of what John said in his tweet and also the subsequent article.

"Irish" or "Irishness" is more than legal status in this country or having been born here.

This article isn't specifically about Rhasidat Adeleke. All I know about her is that she's a fantastic athlete and that she was born in Ireland to Nigerian parents and grew up here. However, her win representing Ireland has sparked a debate which will inevitably be repeated many times in the near future.

Until very recently everyone agreed on what "Irish" meant. It meant someone whose ancestral origins came from this relatively small island.

For example, Irish people who went to America to work and escape poverty (which was caused in no small part by hundreds of years of British oppression) are still called Irish-Americans today.

To put a finer point on it, it's about an inextricable link of ancestry and culture and it means something.

When I was a child in the 90s, I can remember people looking at me and asking my mother, "Is she yours?"

I didn't understand at the time but obviously they were curious about my somewhat unusual appearance.

Back then there were very few foreign people (that we knew about) living nearby, besides an African man married to an Irish woman who used to cycle past our house almost everyday with a Chiquita banana box attached to the back of his bike. Watching him whizz by our farm gate was a childish ritual for me.

I say this to illustrate the point that although there were foreign people living in Ireland even all those years ago - as far as I know - there were no conversations about whether those people were "Irish" or not.

For me, this all should be simple enough, I'm not "Irish" in the sense that both of my parents are not Irish. Does this devalue me as a human being? No.

Is someone who was born here to parents from Cambodia Irish? I don't think so. In my view that person is a Cambodian person born in Ireland. They may obtain Irish citizenship, and may take on Irish cultural attitudes, but the fact remains they don't have Irish ancestry.

In other words, I don't think that having an Irish passport or even growing up here makes a person with Cambodian ancestry Irish in the same way as a man from Connemara with Irish ancestry is. I'm pretty sure this is obvious to most people.

Does saying that make me racist?

I don't think it does, and here's why: It can only be 'racist' to point out the reality that someone does not have Irish ancestry IF having Irish ancestry somehow makes you superior, which I would argue it does not.

I don't think being from any country or racial group makes you better or worse than someone else. It's your moral character that counts here.

But it's also not wrong to acknowledge basic reality. If being Irish as a matter of identity matters then being Polish, or Moroccan, or Egyptian does as well.

I think the reason this conversation is happening at all is due to the sudden influx of large numbers of foreign nationals over a relatively short period of time.

People are coming to Ireland in such large numbers that it seems unlikely that a lot of them will be able to integrate successfully, that is if they even want to.

At the moment 22% of the population of Ireland were born somewhere else. That's a huge demographic shift and it doesn't account for people who were born here to foreign parents.

Is it wrong for people to want Ireland to remain majority Irish?

I don't think so.

The Irish as an indigenous ethnic group fought for their very survival under British rule for hundreds of years. The struggle to maintain not only the Irish language but Irish music, folklore, sports, and more is still ongoing.

I think it's natural enough for a nation that was founded on the blood of men and women who died for the very idea of it and its freedom to exist to ask questions when only 100 years after independence 1 in 5 people living here were born overseas.

It's not about disliking foreigners, it's about wanting to preserve Irish culture and ancestry.

I think it's fair to say that most people believe the Jews have a right to try and preserve their identity.

Israel is perhaps the best example of an ethno-state there is, although I know that non-Jews are also allowed in considerable numbers to work and live in the territory of Israel.

I'm not suggesting Ireland copy the Israeli approach, but what I am asking is why it's seen as ok for some people to be open about wanting to preserve their cultural and ancestral heritage when it seems like it's not ok for others to want the same?

Culture is important for everyone, not just Irish people.

As I touched on above, culture is important for everyone. I'm not sure if anyone asked Rhasidat Adeleke if she sees herself as Irish or otherwise, but the fact remains that cultural identity is the strongest force that unites (and unfortunately divides) people all over the world.

Interactions of various cultures do not always yield positive outcomes.

In certain historical contexts influences from other cultures have been disastrous for indigenous people. The cases of the North American Indian, First Nation People in Canada, the Aborigine in Australia, and the Ainu people of Northern Japan speak for themselves.

Not all blurring of lines along ethnic, cultural, and religious differences goes well. Anyone who's ever read a history book knows this. You don't even need a history book, you can just look at the current state of Sweden.

The unrelenting persecution of Christians and Hindus in Pakistan by members of the Muslim majority should serve as a cautionary tale of how minority faith groups often suffer. The very idea of Pakistan was to forge an Islamic nation for the millions of muslims living in the Indian subcontinent.

As a young man my Pakistani grandfather was tasked with holding onto the livestock of the Hindu and Sikh families leaving the newly born Pakistan to make a life in India and pass them on to the incoming Muslims arriving into their new Islamic homeland.

It's testament to how deep lines which run across the divides mentioned above don't go away overnight, or ever.

Do most Irish people know what being Irish is?

I would argue that many don't. I should preface this by saying that I was born and raised in the rather unique area between south Dublin and north Wicklow, well inside 'the pale', which is perhaps a bit of an Anglicised bubble compared to other parts of Ireland.

A friend of mine from Croatia who returned home after spending four years here told me that she felt Irish people (the ones she had met living in Dublin at least) didn't know what it meant to be Irish.

This was in comparison to the pride she said her Croatian compatriots show for their motherland and culture.

This Croatian pride inspired her to return home in hopes of settling down and starting a family to raise in the good old Croat way. Fair play to her I say. She knows who she is.

But was what she said fair? At a recent asylum centre protest I was reporting on, I witnessed an impassioned female attendee attempt to have her fellow protesters join her in singing Amhrán na bhFiann.

None of the others seemed to know the lyrics and so the attempt to sing the National Anthem fell flat on its face after the first three words or so. Perhaps this is a microcosm of a bigger issue which my Croatian pal noticed.

In the aftermath of centuries of colonisation perhaps this shows the level of damage that has already been done to Irish culture even in the previous absence of large waves of immigration.

The fact of the matter remains that the vast majority of Irish people are not able to have a conversation in Irish which obviously makes memorising Amhrán na bhFiann infinitely more difficult.

Despite the efforts made during the Gaelic Revival, Irish language fluency remains confined mainly to small patches of Gaeltacht areas which are now hosting migrants on behalf of the Department of Integration.

Irish culture is famous all around the world, but will it survive in years to come if the majority of those living in Ireland do not have Irish ancestry or even an appreciation of it? That's not to say that all Irish people care for Irish culture now, some clearly don't.

I have fond memories of a small band of Japanese musicians who used to play trad tunes in an Irish pub in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo. It was really moving to see how passionate they were.

So amid all this talk about what "Irish" does or doesn't mean perhaps for people who want to preserve Irish culture and "Irishness" participation is a good place to start.

If Irish culture is to have any hope of survival, discussions like this need to be had in an open and honest manner. It's not "racist" to care about the survival of our culture.