I am grateful to The Irish Times, an excellent organ, for a number of articles on the seemingly arcane subject of Ireland's relationship with Germany. I don't know what prompted this series, other than the fact that it was August and there were no sightings of a large mammal on the loose in Kildare.
It was based on an Ipsos/Mori poll conducted in both Ireland and Germany in an effort to understand what the inhabitants of each country think of the other. In Germany, they were asked if they'd ever been to Ireland, and a whopping 91 per cent said "No", while in Ireland, to the question "Do you have any plans or ambitions to visit Germany in the next two years?", some 83 per cent replied in the negative. So it's not unreasonable to conclude that some of the findings of this survey may be grounded in ignorance and a lack of interest.
Nevertheless, it is worth noting two issues. The Irish were asked this question: "When you think of Germany, what comes to mind?" Now, I don't know about you, but if this was put to me, I probably wouldn't say the well-run German economy, or fun, history and culture, or even Angela Merkel. Unless I was expressly told not to mention the war, I can't imagine I'd be alone in conjuring up some negative imagery. But the Irish have a younger, more outward-looking population, and the Nazi era didn't get a look-in: their responses included tourism, efficiency and, unsurprisingly, many of them chose beer. (I don't mean this to sound like the Irish are a nation of drunkards, but it is informed by a conversation I had with a friend in Ireland recently. He owns a bar in Dublin, and I asked him how the country's economic strife had impacted on his business. "It's never been better," he said. "What you have to remember is that we Irish live to have a good time. People would rather fall behind on their HP payments than miss a night out." I couldn't help thinking that, in some way, this was a metaphor for the management of their economy.)
The other curious aspect of this survey is how the Germans answered the same question about Ireland. Overwhelmingly, the first thing that came to mind was the Irish countryside, also its pubs, its weather (and not in a positive way: the Isle is Emerald for a reason), and agriculture. But, for 11 per cent of Germans, the first thing they thought of was Kerrygold butter. Believe it or not, Kerrygold is the biggest selling butter in Germany, with an export value to Irish dairy farmers of about €175m. The man who created Kerrygold was Tony O'Reilly, the former Irish rugby international who had the idea in 1962 to unify the Irish dairy industry behind a single butter brand. His marketing ploy was a famous TV advert that showed happy cows grazing in the lush, glorious green fields of Ireland. It's an image that, clearly, still has the power to move consumers in Germany. And the untold secret about the ad? It was filmed in Kent. Whatever you do, don't tell them in Mönchengladbach!Follow @Simon_Kelner