I’m not going for a short break, or a holiday, or even a wedding. I will be embracing one of the oldest and strongest Irish traditions. After rebelling, the favourite activity of the Irish is leaving the country. And that’s usually the chronological order it takes as well. I’m going to France. But don’t worry, it’s just for the winter season.
Oh, the histories I could tell you of Irishmen going to Gaul/France. I could start with John Scotus Erigena, a great 9th century Irish philosopher whose career culminated with service at the court of the French King. He is regarded as Europe’s greatest philosopher of the early Middle Ages. And then you’ve got Irish mercenaries sighted in France in the 14th century. But Irish holidays to France really took over in the 18th century.
In the 18th century, the number of Irish soldiers leaving for France reached its peak. They didn’t just go over there because of this mysterious season called ‘summer’, no. For the previous two centuries, at least, there was a great link between France and Ireland. It began as a religious link, with Irish students studying in France (before the Celtic Tiger in Ireland, generally if you were studying at university level, it meant you were studying for the priesthood!), but then blossomed into a military link with numerous brigades of the French armies composed of men of Irish descent. In some cases, an Irishman would join the very same brigade of the French army as his grandfather.
The reason France is not speaking a Gaelic tongue now –the reason for the decline of the strong Irish-French connection – is because the British army lifted its ban on recruiting Irishmen. And they lifted it well! By the end of the 19th century, there were, apparently, more Irish commanding officers serving in the British Empire than there were Welsh, Scottish or even English commanding officers!
And the axiom is still holds true today – Irish people become more successful abroad than in their own country.
So, come on Grenoble, give me a commanding position!