If, as Samuel Johnson proclaimed, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, in our media it tends to be mainly sportswriting scoundrels who are permitted to seek asylum there. Lately it's been with page-one ostentation.
National pride, it seems, is immeasurably boosted by the victory at Cheltenham of a racehorse owned by a man most of us are likelier to curse as we shove our way on to one of " his" cheap flights than to toast for his success. Those among us who work for him probably curse Michael O'Leary more and louder.
Then came the weekend, when Irish players were crowned second-best of a pretty bad lot – to full " nation held its breath" treatment from elite media that are loath to admit that most of " the nation" is indifferent or hostile to rugby. The Irish Times, at least, has demographic justification for pretending the world is oval-shaped; RTÉ simply reveals that its staff is drawn disproportionately from Dublin's middle classes, with a fair smattering of Limerick and North Kerrymen.
Ireland's dramatic final try even saw a revival of religious nationalism on RTÉ Radio 1, when the match commentator roared emotionally: " Thanks be to the Lord God Shane Horgan is six-foot-four and not five-foot-seven!" Sure it was rather providential of Him, wasn't it?
But while He might stretch rugby-players for Ireland's greater glory, the Lord God isn't getting much credit in non-sports chat about Ireland's spiritual and moral state. After a few post-ceasefire, Celtic Tiger years when casual nationalism became suddenly acceptable even in previously revisionist circles, the media conversation has turned cynical again.
The proximate cause is perhaps the image of hundreds of green-clad young men with a hard reputation, and weapons to boot, gathering in Dublin's O'Connell Street to affirm physically their loyalty to the nation proclaimed there. Yep, the prospect of a Defences Forces parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising has uncomfortable echoes of the 25 February riots. Expect the bewilderment in post-nationalist media circles at the thought of such a tinpot spectacle to increase as the date approaches. (Mind you, the Sunday Independent may ultimately take a McDowellian " stand up for the real Republic" line.)
Stranded between those riots and the Easter commemoration, St Patrick's Day didn't stand a chance, especially since it saw the nation's cities turned into police colonies to guard against more rioting. On the radio that morning, Ryan Tubridy kept slipping into a Barry Fitzgerald accent – to mock the whole, you know, Irish thing – and his panellists agreed this is a godawful place entirely, populated by a nasty, begrudging shower. Somehow, U2 don't seem like sufficient evidence of the nation's essential energy and creativity any more.
In the immediate aftermath of the February riots, Olivia O'Leary raged that Dublin's centre had been turned into " a gougers' playground". She meant by the rioters, but Meejit couldn't help thinking it was an apt description of the recent history of the cityscape, from developer-led dereliction to the profiteering, tax-break-gifted building-boom.
Hugh Linehan's eloquent Irish Times critique of the St Patrick's Festival, while exemplifying the mood of national self-loathing, was unusually sharp in suggesting the extent to which the festival is itself a " gougers' playground". For example, what he calls " the infelicitously titled GE Money Oíche" is all too commercially felicitous: it's the familiar tactic of titling an event so it's virtually impossible to leave out the sponsor's name, eg the Heineken Cup. In this case the sponsor is a multinational money-lender, as near a perfect definition of " gouger" as you're likely to find.
Linehan correctly identifies the nostalgia that now exists for the pre-"festival" Patrick's Day. We correctly sense, though the media rarely says so, that the small-time opportunists of days gone by (the ubiquitous ATA Security, tour operators with a coachload each of marching Yanks) have been replaced by full-blown corporate gougers selling a global entertainment product called " Ireland". At least this year it rained on their parade.