“I don’t know if there’s different ways of feeling Irish”
What she said.
In a lot of aspects, this chat with Jo Neary is a companion piece to last week’s interview with Adrian Lunney. Obviously, if you haven’t yet heard that one, then what have you been doing these last seven days?
Like Adrian, Jo is an old friend of some 20 yeas standing, and – like Adrian – is a second generation member of the diaspora who has carved out a niche for herself in an area where she is constantly inviting the scrutiny of the public. Like Adrian, Jo has amazed me with the depth of candour she has been willing to plumb for this interview.
However, the differences are there and they are huge. Yet at the same time they are nothing at all.
While Adrian’s Irish heritage was expressed in his musical choices and political stances (and a brand on the shed wall), Jo’s journey is a much more internal one.
In our interview she talks of her lack of awareness of the antipathy between England and Ireland in football while – on the same trip to Dublin – she doesn’t want anyone to think of her as a tourist when she downs her first pint at Neary’s. She’s not quite sure if it’s Euros her nan got from the Irish government for reaching 100, nor whether leprechauns rather than Cornish piskies roam the republic.
But none of this matters, because what Jo Neary proves, as Bridget Whelan mentioned in her interview*, is that being a member of the diaspora isn’t a test or a task. You don’t get a special shamrock for knowing all the words to “The Flowers Of The Forest.”
Shibboleths not required.
In many ways, she takes after her father: a Dubliner who found himself a black sheep within his own family and took his wife and children off to remote Cornwall rather than stay with the rest of the clan in Coventry. A man who has little interest in talking politics or lockdown, but instead takes a delight in the different colours of the stones on the beach (or in nude yoga).
The diaspora take a romantic pride in being outsiders, but what happens when one of you decides to go outside of being an outsider? In Jo’s case, her father’s choices seem to have taken her on a journey of constant wonder. Certainty here is not the thing – she’s not that sure the Cornish word is “piskie”, either – but instead it’s as though the feel of a moment is what counts rather than the facts of it.
Jo will probably blush again at this but to me she leads a truly poetic existence, whilst “Dugglydo” here is mired in the prosaic.
But that’s me putting words into Jo’s mouth. You should listen to hers, and savour their warmth.
*Not that one either? Boy have you got some catching up to do.
Wife On Earth (podcast)
Radio Amusant (on Bandcamp)
Photo (c) Steve Ullathorne