Begorrah. Top o' the mornin' to ya. The Black Stuff. Leprechauns. Large green windswept spaces. Chicago. Heavy drinking. saying 'FECK'. Punch-ups. Potatoes. Angry nurses in English hospitals. Dodgy teeth. Arms caches.
I could, of course, go on... Hunger strikers, murals, armed men in balaclavas, bombs. Growing up in 80s London, to the British the IRA were the Al Qaeda of their day. They were the terrorists who could strike at any moment to kill me, my family and my friends, because they wanted to liberate Northern Ireland in a hail of bullets.
200 years ago, the former kingdoms of Scotland and England (whose (First) Act of Union in 1707 created Great Britain) went on to merge with the Kingdom of Ireland, to create The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This was the January 1st 1801 (Second) Act of Union. This Irish Kingdom was sadly English anyway, seeing as we were ruling the state for nearly 300 years prior to the 1801 union. (Henry VIII had made himself Ireland's king after pushing legislation through the Irish Parliament, presumably because he didn't feel fat or wealthy enough. The Irish Parliament simply faded away. I'm so proud.)
"Ah, go on!"
Just prior to, and helping to prompt the 1801 Act, was the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798. The French even landed troops in Ireland - as they did during the American Revolution - to help the rebels beat the British, based on the principle that if France helped Britain's enemies, then she would eventually be the richest dominant force across the globe, such was the noble world view back then. Not that much has changed, mind you.
The Irish gained independence following their war for it from 1919 until the July 1921 truce. By 6th December 1922 the Anglo-Irish Treaty created the Irish Free State when 26 of Ireland's 32 counties left the UK (with the majority Protestant Northern Irish opting to remain British). It was this division, with the republican, Catholic IRA (definitely not these guys) determined to wrest control of Northern Ireland from British hands, in a campaign of violence known as 'The Troubles.' Thankfully, it's as good as over.
As a lad, the only Irish I originally came into contact with were gypsies, surface-friendly indecipherable lads who would gut you like a fucking fish if the mood took them. An old and slightly mad friend of mine recalls getting into fights with these lads involving chains and machetes. As a rule, they're best avoided and not really indicative of Irish people as a whole.
Ireland is no longer associated in my mind with terrorism or men offering to turn your front lawn into a patio. It is now the Emerald Isle that gave us Westlife, the ever-squinting Colin Farrell, and still drinking to excess, really. I should visit considering it's only an hour on the plane. Maybe if I spent a few days in Ireland I may break a few of my prejudices. But I doubt it.
Pros: Guinness, the craic, having fun.
Cons: Unidentified Beer Injuries, liver cancer, seizures.