It's hard to avoid Irish people if you're English. I imagine the Irish feel the same way about us.
I don't know if I've any Irish "blood" in me, but since my dad's dad was baptised a Catholic I would say there's a fair chance that I do.
If I ever have some spare time and cash, I'll go on a road trip around Ireland. So many Irish people have made the opposite journey, I think it's a shame that more English people don't return the compliment. Our two countries' histories are so intertwined, vexatiously on the whole, we should all take time to learn more about the effects each has had on the other.
And, of course, the big historical picture has affected personal life. There can hardly be an English person that hasn't had their life shaped in some way or other by an Irish person (and vice versa).
Before I mangled my brain studying for a masters about the European Union, I thought of mangling my brain studying for a masters about the sectarian nature of the UK education system. (I can't believe David Coleman's diatribe against multiculturalism, by the way, since his whole free school idea will encourage it in the form of more religious and sectarian education.)
I remember being educated in C of E junior schools, and seeing neighbours going to RC junior schools. Later on these two streams joined together in the secondary schools (well, for some they did). Catholic kids always seemed to have had more fun than we did, but that might have been a misperception. What effect did this "going to different schools" have on all of us?
I had some good friends from an Irish Catholic background when I was growing up.
My friend Theresa's dad was Irish. He worked for British Rail. He had a thick accent, and an unkempt appearance. When I was about 9 years old I waited outside the electricity showroom in Rochester for a bus after school. Theresa's dad coming from work would pass me on the other side of the road.
"It's Vicki da witch!" he would shout across the road at me, while I pretended not to know him. Of course, this attention was embarassing but also profoundly flattering. He was probably the first grown-up man I ever fancied.
Our next door neighbours were Irish. Actually, they weren't; I realise now that the lady of the house had a Birmingham accent, but her parents had come from Ireland.
For a few difficult years in my early teens an Irish boyfriend of my mother lived with us. He was a moody character, but I do remember some good times with him, when he would tell me about his childhood in Ireland - donkeys, nuns and rhubarb jam sandwiches featured heavily, I recall.
Now, was he moody because he was Irish, or was he just moody? If he was just moody, did his moodiness take a peculiarly Irish character?
Of course, all these things are mixed up: where we come from and who we are, and what we do with it. I've known as many very positive Irish people as negative.
A good friend of mine is of Irish descent; I'm somehow inexplicably proud that she's recently married an Englishman. If we can put all the shit of the past behind us, here's two peoples that can work their relationship out, surely.
To all the nice Irish people I've met, "Happy Saint Patrick's Day"; to all the horrible ones, "Póg mo thóin." (I'm grateful to Mrs Angry for doubling my Gaelic vocabulary with this last phrase.)