Earlier this week, our media, political class and native Twittersphere took into a flurry of excitement, as the sharp-jawed and silently stoic Normal People star Paul Mescal, at last, managed to attain the one true and verifiable credential of Irish celebrity status – the mark of international fame as an artist from our country.
Now, before some bemused streaming-addict skimming this article takes to the comments section to remind me that, in addition to this generation’s heartthrob, three other Irish people were also nominated for an Emmy, I would like to clarify that I am not, in fact, talking about the prestigious American TV award – but rather his casual, requisition by UK journalism as one of their own. A real Brit.
This, of course, resulted in the ritual dance of outraged children of the Gael taking to all corners of the internet to dispel the misapprehension, expressing their distress that the former Kildare minor player should be appropriated in this manner – much as Seamus Heaney, Saoirse Ronan and large swathes of India, Africa, Oceania and North America had been before him. Mescal himself curtly and classily rejected this unwanted offer of British citizenship in typical Connell Waldron minimalism with a two-word tweet: “I’m Irish.” Stanislavski would be proud of such devotion to method acting.
However, this latest geopolitical faux pas should not detract from the fact that our little island has performed quite well to US audiences and that Mescal, Lenny Abrahamson, Sally Rooney and Louise Kiely have helped put Ireland, and especially Trinity, centre stage in the television world.
Due to the dampening effect of coronavirus, we are as of yet unable to appreciate the impact of this on our own lives. We can only prepare for the worst. Expect an epidemic of tacky Normal People themed bus tours along the Sligo coast à la the north-east’s exploitation of Game of Thrones, soon followed by the flooding of College with nymphomaniac freshers, manipulated by promotional literature heavily implying life in Trinity will be a non-stop rollercoaster of emotionally repressed relationships riddled with class-based anxiety and long, awkward conversational pauses.
These incoming students may be disappointed when, in the place of glamourous intermingling with the upper echelons of Dublin society, they are instead presented with an overcooked Tesco steak and a bottle of €4 Aldi wine masquerading as a “dinner party” in their Cunningham House shared kitchen.
This said, the abundance of such cheap booze being given out for free at many society events in the first few weeks of the term may be less of a letdown, and will possibly prove to be one way of alleviating the built-up sexual angst of months of social isolation.
Possibly the biggest surprise, however, will be when they arrive at their first tutorial. Instead of being greeted with the clashing swords of sharp-witted attractive twenty-somethings debating Foucault or Derrida as depicted in the Hulu/BBC adaptation of Trinity life, they will instead face an insoluble wall of silence as a depressingly underpaid teaching assistant attempts to drag some shape of an opinion from a room full of people who’ve barely left secondary school.
All of this is of course contingent on the latest health advice. It is most likely, at least for the first few months of the academic year, that the closest most of the incoming cohort of freshers can expect of our Emmy-nominated lifestyle will be binge-watching the show on RTÉ Player from the comfort of their bedroom while ignoring their ever-increasing number of virtual deadlines.
Maybe, like that other Irish classic once popular in the states – The Quiet Man – the adaption of Rooney’s novel to the small screen will serve mostly as a reminder of a bygone age when we could pack hundreds of students into a tightly crammed lecture hall, go for a pint without also having to order an extravagantly priced ham-and-cheese toastie or get off with someone we vaguely know from campus without worrying about whether our ill-advised tryst could result in a fortnight spell in quarantine if they happen to test positive for coronavirus sometime in the near future.
If so, the few trophies that might be brought back from the USA would be little more than dismal miniature monuments to a very different time.