I’ve run the concept of national icons that are also personal through the muser and it’s surprisingly difficult to arrive at one that works with a majority. You’d think that the Official ones would have resonance, the Anthem, the Tricolor or the Harp. But I’d say no, they’re endured and not embraced.  Still having said it, that the music and the lyric in the Anthem cannot travel in tandem, such that no one can sing the thing tickles the Irish fancy. That NO ONE knows the words in either language is something we would never admit. But should the band at a game strike up the Star Spangled Banner or “La Marseillaise” most would have sung with gusto to the end before going ‘whoa, that’s not the one’. While if the English one starts up they draw in the before going ‘Ah no no no no’.   Our Flag is never hoisted. Yes, you see it on a building or two. And the GAA has hijacked it for games,  then forgets to lower them, but you’d never see a jack-staff in someones lawn like in the States. As to the Harp,  well you see it in the corner of the royal standard of the English queen, same one. The O’Brien harp. Nothing like a bit of recycling. And no one sees it even though it’s struck to every coin.

All in all, you have to go back one hell of a distance before you get above 50% acceptance. Something that doesn’t have people giving it a nasty look.You’d think the Christian Cross would give a rallying point. But no. While 95% of the Island might call themselves followers of JC. The very fact that following him for seventeen/eighteen hundred years (Pope Celestine sent Palladius as the first Bishop ‘to the Irish who believe in Christ’ in 431.) is only more opportunity to dream up new formations. Oh so certain of their correctness. The film Gangs of New York has a good scene explaining just this phenomenon.

These are kids from my old high school behind a kerbstone at Newgrange. This is the only image that has any notion of the scale of the art work involved. Takes a bit of doing to design in relief. Or in other words the design is like a fingerprint in that the design is raised. But it’s far far easier to draw something than it is to cut it out. But for me that kerb iconwise, rather than the usual one above it, calls to me.

The UK isn’t any better either. Yes, it has official icons. But the reality is the BBC has more connection to people’s affections than the Tower, the Queen or Parliament. And certainly the NHS for all it’s faults, rings well. But it’s the bell in the clock tower that nails it for me, not the chimes but the great bell, Big Ben. There are two times each year that this bell rings and memories flood in. It rings on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day on the eleventh month. And of course New Years Day, for the first bong is on the first second of that new year, hopefully laying to rest what might have been a horrible year.

When I think of the USA, its Mount Rushmore. I have not one clue why precisely. But that series of heads -European heads- cut into a hillside frames something a bit higher. The normal icons of the USA for those of us lucky/unlucky not to live within the borders tend towards the  extreme utilitarian, dams, bridges and the like. Whimsy isn’t something we connect with the America so when it pops up it tends to stand out. And I think the image resonance of the twin towers has run it’s course. Mostly because the buildings were brutally ugly, and soon there will be others on the site. But the general resonance will always stay but with a refocus on something like this.

Still I expect being within a country would blunt iconic images simply because there would be so many each having a resonance with an aspect of ones life. Or like in Ireland – Official Ireland – designed for a time that has little or no relevance anymore. If I still lived in England I might have other icons for the place. But it would never be Henley or Cowes. And the Boat Race would continue on the hope that ‘BOTH’ boats went nose first into the river, as it was when I went to Hammersmith in other days.

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24 Responses to Icons

  1. Kelly says:

    Like you, I think it’s pretty much a personal thing – whether for your own country or another. Though it’s not always the first object that comes to mind, I’ve always liked that harp for Ireland. For my own country, give me the flag or a Bald Eagle. The Star Spangled Banner? Well, many folks might break into song when they hear it, but few can do it well.

    • Vince says:

      At least you can make a stab at your one. With the Irish one we’re left in a permanent state of original sin. It’s truly not designed to match lyric to music.

      The Eagle doesn’t really connect outside I think. It doesn’t with me anyway. Frankly, if I go that road with a thought of eagles it would end up with Crazy Horse. It’s juxtapositional difficulty. We outside just cannot connect birds of any sort with NYC, DC or LA. Never mind one of the high places like a soaring bald eagle.

  2. R. Sherman says:

    I’ve found the Europeans I’ve dealt with tend to picture the USA as either New York, LA or the Grand Canyon. A lesser number on Florida. We tend to honor our State’s icons, or perhaps a City’s symbols, like the Gateway Arch for St. Louis. It probably is determined by the area to which one feels most connected. As for our view of Ireland, if asked, I ‘d have probably said, “A leprechaun.” Shows you what I know.


    • Vince says:

      Fair enough I suppose. The Leprechaun motif would be Irish or at least it was a bit of propaganda, but I think that was a nasty slur from about 1820 that was taken on and somewhat reversed as with Notre Dame. In the mode of the Jewish Shylock really.
      On the State icons; Oh yes, the arch on the bank of the river would be one. But for us over this side it would be 1970’s. There would be no real connection anyplace in Europe today.
      If I put it like this, the State of California is advertising in a very big way in the UK and by extension Ireland. But no place else is doing that. We never get ad’s for ski lodges in Colorado. Never for dude ranches in Montana and never for anything on the Atlantic coast including the Kennedy Space Center.

  3. Kimberly says:

    It’s interesting the take you and the others above have on the symbols here and there. Your flag, the harp, and the shamrock are the symbols I see representative of Ireland over here. And when you mentioned Mt. Rushmore, I had the thought of, “Oh ya, that is another US symbol,” but isn’t one that would first come to my mind. The Great Seal and the Statue of Liberty are the ones I initially think of. Regional and state icons are just as, if not more, prevalent. In my case, the Hollywood sign or Santa Monica pier for So. Cal and the grizzly bear and poppy for the state.
    What is the name of the the triple spiral thingy carved in the kerbstone? Did I miss it in the post? Years ago I was given a necklace with that symbol on it, but haven’t been able to figure out too much about it since I don’t know what it is called. I’m assuming it’s represents the Trinity?

    • Vince says:

      The harp&co are representative more outside than they are here. If you asked anyone if they had seen a harp lately they’d say no, truthfully. Even though they had a pocket full of coin with the harp on the reverse, and any official communication has it on the letter.
      We would never see the GSotUSA. While the SoL in NYC was the image until very recently, it’s never seen these days. Ditto the Hollywood sign, at one point there wasn’t a film or a program that the title segment didn’t have a sweeping helicopter-shot of the thing. And I don’t believe I’ve seen the pier.
      What’s Nebraska’s icon, and I don’t think Demi – much as she might like it herself- is the one for Idaho. Would people recognize San Simeon in CA and would people in Kentucky see a bear and think California.

      They dated the mound that cover the stones to 5000 year ago. Since the carvings are on all sides of the stones it is supposed that they were exposed for a goodly time before that. Say another 1000. Since the art at Newgrange and Knowth is younger again than that at Carrowkeel and Carrowmore with the latter going back near 7000 years from today. There is very little accepted as Art in Europe that’s older. And nothing like the volume and spread.
      Anyway it pre-dates the Trinity by a good 3500 years plus. Basically twice as far back again as Julius Caesar to us.
      And if a guy gave you that item -no one knows the name BTW, so in lieu triple spiral will do; there’s a double also- he was making an effort above and well beyond. He wasn’t just thinking about hittin-that-nice-thang. No, even here it’s a bit of an effort to get one of them. And design would be far from the first thing in a guys mind; that sort of designs anyway.

  4. Kimberly says:

    Look at you all gangsta!! 😉 Get out! +/- 3,500 years before? Thanks for the info…it’s very pretty anyhow.
    And no, there’s probably not much awareness of regional symbols (with the exception of maybe university mascots) outside of those regions…which was your point to begin with.

  5. Kelly says:

    I’ve been thinking more about this, especially since reading some of the other comments. If you go breaking it down by State, a lot more images come to mind. This is even more true since we had that State Quarter business which lasted about a decade where each State got to design their own Quarter for circulation. For those who noticed, it was a good way to learn more about each state. (anyone out there remember what Arkansas had on theirs?) I had younger kids at the time, so we enjoyed collecting them all and seeing how they represented each State.

    • Vince says:

      I wouldn’t have a clue. And I’d never have picked a Spa of the Baden-Baden type. And who knew you’ve diamonds.
      Mind you you aren’t Nebraska. I expect even Nebraskians forget their State when doing a 50 count and not just people living in Tipperary being stubborn and not looking it up.

      There is an interesting spoof one with a woman and a man behind a tree if you put Arkansas Quarter into an s-engine.

  6. Rebecca S. says:

    When I think of Irish symbols, this is what comes to mind: the shamrock, the Celtic cross, a pint of Guinness, an Irish tenor, and rows of Riverdancers. Thanks for showing us a few more lovely and interesting ones!
    Yes, each State seems to be represented by a physical symbol, at least from this side of the border, and of course The Flag is the biggie itself, as well as that seal thingy you always see.
    Canadian symbols all have to do with nature – bears, beavers, loons, Canada geese, maple leaves, etc. We also have a couple of iconic songs sung by a national comedy troupe called The Arrogant Worms: one is called ‘We are the beaver’, and the other “Rocks and trees, trees and rocks.’ There you have it.

    • Vince says:

      For Canada I’d have said the flag, if anything you have flag more visual than the USA. Then a totem pole. And I couldn’t pick a Canadian building if my life depended on it. There just aren’t any. Even the churches didn’t go nuts and come up with a Sacred Family.
      Who’s the Queen of Canadian culture ?.

      • Rebecca S. says:

        The Queen of Canadian culture? I thought that would have been obvious! 😉 Seriously, some would argue Celine Dion. Others would say the late Emily Carr, painter. I lean towards Carr.
        Yes, our flag has become very visual since the two Olympics we have hosted, that’s for sure. Totem poles are considered a bit out of date, as Aboriginals and historians aren’t that impressed with them being hoisted anywhere outside Coastal British Columbia, which is where they originate. The Parliament Buildings are iconic, but most likely only inside Canada. There are some very beautiful churches in Quebec, and places like St. Joseph’s Oratorio.

        • Vince says:

          Margaret Atwood, The Queen of Canadian cul-ture !.
          It was a line in one of those spoof Folk Songs that were so popular on the University circuit in the 90’s. Apparently at one point if there was a culture show on the telly and she wasn’t one of the talking heads it wasn’t a culture show. My College gave her an Honorary degree last year.

          And Oh Mother, the one hundred of Titanic is coming up. Gimme strength.

          Ottawa ?. (guffaws) How the holy hell am I expected to remember that place when MOST Canadians think of it the way we think on Strasbourg, a bloody irritant. It’s up there with Canberra for forgetfulness.

  7. I’ve always hated the British Nation Anthem, it’s just so morose, little wonder no one wants to learn the words to sing along to it. I kinda’ feel a stirring hearing Flower of Scotland sung, but I like to think it’s more to do with the passion of it, rather than to any patriosm it engenders in me. Talking of which, I’ve never quite understood my fellow Scot’s eternal (and vocal expressions of) patriosm when they find themselves transplanted in another Country, frankly it makes me cringe. If it is such a brilliant place to hail from, why the hell do so many of us choose to leave it in droves? I’ve never been much of a flag waver, but moving here we inherited a flagpole and hubby felt we should fly something. Bless him, he hoisted the Manx flag (which I’m sure made us a laughing stock to our Manx neighbours), but I totally get the sentiment, sure we are far from Manx, but since we have arrived here through choice, and no by accident of birth, I think it’s fitting to embrace the culture and to endorse what it stands for.

    Irish icons to me are Oscar Wilde, Guiness, Hurricane Higgans, and (a friend I loved dearly) a certain footballer who had an Irish airport named for him. ,

    • Vince says:

      Yeah, no one is going to bang in nails to the air of it are they. But I rather like the FoS and the Welsh one. (chuckle) you could do CPR to the Scots one. And remember Billy Connolly had a running joke about the Scots that sung maudlin renditions of the Wanderer Songs never having left the shores. But I kinda get the singing. It can be very lonely if things aren’t going well when you are living away from home. Mind you the drink doesn’t help the Celtic peoples one little bit.
      As to the Fella running the jack of Mann up the pole, I’d say the locals looked kindly on it. They might have teased the shit out of him. But they wouldn’t do that if they didn’t accept the sentiment.

      On Wilde, when I was growing, he was under anathema. It was one of the most disturbing periods of Irish recent history.
      Sad really, the second icon had much to do with the destruction of the last two you mention.

  8. sage says:

    When I think of Ireland, I think of four leaf clovers and Guinness! As for the USA, I’ve seen Rushmore a couple of times and wouldn’t care to go back (I wouldn’t have gone back a second time except I was with others who hadn’t seen it). I would probably think of the Washington Mall, with the Capitol and the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial as the icon.

    • Vince says:

      Yes, I do suppose Rushmore would be tacky. It’s four huge heads hacked out of a hillside after all. And had it been done as an act of governmental fiat I think it would be quite disgusting.
      But what I’m on about is the mix of popular, personal and iconic. But as icons tend in the main to be imposed, it’s rare indeed you get the three. Since to get all three it tends to come up from the people. And actually in some cases the very fact of them becoming officially ICONIC by diktat, be that Government, media or local tit doing the tatting, it invariably sounds the death knell.

      Looking at your list from DC, the only one that would hook outside nowadays would be the Capital Building. Most would pick that one from a outline. The others, meah, background would be the most charitable word. There is no ‘I have a DEARM’ or anti-Vietnam war connection these days. Which frankly is a bit of a pity for the body politic is thinner for the absence.

  9. Shrinky says:

    Yeah, I remember that skit of Billy’s well (grin). And yes, it can be a lonely place to find yourself transplanted into an alien culture, which I guess is why most immigrants tend to be found living banded together in clutches, on any foreign soil. But I do take exception when those who do choose to move away from their home of birth, then disbarrage the one which has adopted them, by holding their own one that much superior – and that’s something I’ve come across far too often with my own fellow Countrymen.

    That’s an astute observation about the Guinness, and sadly too true. I was also lucky enough to have met Alex, on the occassion of a “lock-in” he engineered at a pub in Dublin. I don’t believe he ever met a stranger, it’s little wonder folk loved him so well. As for poor George, he was pretty much served up on a plate and fed to the wolves, there were no entourages to leech off from OR to protect him from the excesses of a hungry public, not back in those days, and it was the beginning that shaped him. And ‘couse, like so many, it was also in his pre-disposed genes, wasn’t it?

    • Vince says:

      Yes, I have a notion that the Celtic peoples have a problem with something within the concoction that makes up any fermented beverage. I was lucky, and I freely admit it, that I became ill in that allergic reaction sort of way, that alcohol never took.
      I believe there to be a co-relationship with other peoples that have ‘issues’ like the American Indians and the Japanese that is not being served by research within the medical community. Any population with a problem with digesting milk seem to have correlating issues with other sugar types not just lactose.

  10. Crystal says:

    This was an interesting post to read. I also enjoyed peeking at the comments. I like to accociate music to a country. Music is what stirs my soul the most. Your harp actually rings true to me. As do our songs of freedom and what not. My mother’s Mexico and old corridos make me cry. Images do very little for me.

    Although, the picture of the men at 9/11 hurt my heart. And you’re right, a picture of the twin towers erect would not have nearly the same effect.

    • Vince says:

      Thank you Crys. And there is no need to peek. The comments of the others are at least as interesting if not more so.
      On the music. I hold that true also. But things can get to a point where good clean enjoyment becomes a chore. There are people that generate a fundamentalism about the preservation of traditions that is destructive by their attitude to the aims they espouse.

      Yes, and the one where the plane is hitting the building is negative also. But that one has a very positive message.

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