What does it mean to be Irish to me?

(Allen & Jay with the President Higgins and the first lady Sabina)


Ever since a young age I remember being puzzled because most if not all people around me were proud of where they were born and would often raise their flag with pride and honour, for example during the football world cup or such occasions.

When I was a very young age I remember instances where the national anthem was played in school and all the students would stand up, recite and put their palm over their heart, everyone would be standing up beside my brother and I who had no national pride or any interest in it. I remember clearly what I was thinking during those times. The thoughts I had at that time was an inner monologue how this national pride was very fickle and fragile, that it was founded as a result of a civil war that had happened less than a decade prior to the start of my scholastic education where entire populations were massacred in the name of identity.

There were monuments with the names of people from each town that took part in the conflict. I don’t remember how I developed this mind-set but I don’t remember a time before it. Perhaps you could say I felt ashamed to share part of that identity and the culture of the place.

This is not a monologue on the culture of what Croatia is, but merely an examination of my journey, a journey I knew I would have to take since I was about 12 years old. Today I am surprised what my thought process was at such a young age, it was one of that my ancestors land would keep all the opportunities from me and that people that had them would be given more of them. I wasn’t different in this way, the history of the world was written in this way; to those who have everything more will be given, to those who have nothing everything will be taken from.

In my naivety I thought there would be a place that is different, that would provide to those who try to change their life with an opportunity to do so.

On arriving to “The Isle of Éire” the first thing to catch my attention was indeed the culture, it was the feeling of “nobody's too good and everybody's good enough”. Every time I would bump into a pedestrian they would say they were sorry. I was shocked because I had always expected people to complain or speak in a derogatory manner, which I would later find out that every person that has grew up in the same part of the world as is baffled by the same thing and is the first thing they noticed.

Ireland is a land that is so green in both colour and attitude, surrounded by water and on that land is the most interesting history that has created one of the most special cultures and peoples that has given many gifts to the world, gifts like poetry, art, storytelling and most importantly the gift of the Irish people.

What does it mean to be Irish to me is more than to be born in Ireland or to speak Irish, its more than to have Irish heritage or to be Catholic. To be Irish to me is to care deeply about this special island, about this culture and the people that inhabit it. To be Irish is to protect people’s right and freedom regardless of the differences.

To be Irish is to give a helping hand to anyone that needs it, I believe it is my duty to represent Irish values domestically and internationally and it is all of our duty to work towards and contributing that Ireland keeps the ‘’small town’’ mentality as it grows and develops.

(Allen & Jay with Ryan Tubirdy)


I have always been fascinated with culture, history and how the two go hand in hand. The history influences the culture and vice versa. One could say we are all products of the culture that we grew up in and that we live in now.

They are like different flavours of an ice cream and each of these influence the way we speak, the way we sound and the way we think. Looking back at my life I see culture in all stages and how they have influenced me and the people around it.

The thing that marked my childhood is the absence of different cultures, this I believe is what was missing in the culture of the place. An outside influence and the riches and spoils of knowledge people from other places bring to a place. This was particularly evident to me as the Catholic Church played a big role in everyone’s life and there was no space to be different, to sound or look different. There was no space to stand out.

The idea of different languages, sounds, vistas and culture has called to me since the young age. I had a feeling that the world has something else in store for me, a different path, one that people around me would not understand. A path would take me to faraway places full of different smells, languages, customs and cultures.

I feel though that this would be a journey of a life time, a journey across decades and the world.

I did not expect to find such places this very soon, especially not in one place. That is what Ireland is to me, a place where the world connects, where cultures meet and most importantly where there is a place for everyone including myself.

My brother and I grew up in Croatia. That is at least, in my view, a place with a long history, melting pot of cultures but still has a way to go before reaching a more balanced society. Croatia is located in a region [Balkan Peninsula, former Yugoslavia] that has a lot of healing to do. It is a truly breath-taking place with tremendous potential.

I remember my first days in Ireland. I thought of the Irish to be very friendly and social people. I was pretty surprised by the pleasant etiquette. It was very odd to me how apologetic the people were and how approachable they were. This generosity and positivity was a pretty encouraging experience. It made me feel human and valued. I have many fond memories and a lot of gratitude for this.

(Statue of Michael Collins in Clonakilty)

"Being Irish is something like living a shared experience, it’s like living in a small town where everyone knows everyone.

Looking back, I remember how I felt in the first weeks. I felt as I was where In had to be. It felt like I was in a system that was based on equality, fairness, and merit. This feeling proved to be correct. I have had a lot of personal success and was rewarded for my hard work and dedication. I have come to live a good life here in Ireland. I feel very fortunate to live in Ireland and to be part of the culture. With time I was able to travel to different places all over the world. But I must say, every time I am headed back, I feel like I am headed home.

Tiglin Column, December 12th 2021