Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona Daoibh! It’s that time of year again when the Irish culture is both celebrated and bastardised the world over by well meaning ambassadors and not-so-well meaning drinks companies. Contrary to popular belief, our national pastime isn’t drinking porter and it frustrates me that with every passing year, our day to shine in the world’s spotlight is sabotaged by leprechaun hats and a drink that was invented by a unionist and is now controlled by a British multinational drinks company. And as the rivers run green and landmarks throughout the world are bathed in bright green lights, let us not forget that Saint Patrick was in fact, Welsh. Thanks Wales. Up to that point we were just a bunch of stoners honouring the moon and trees and stuff. Good times.
But I’m not going to spoil the party (much) with a long-winded rant. I have some very happy memories of St Patrick’s Day as a child. It was the one day when God, who had made a very Irish agreement with Patrick, gave us all the day off from Lent. All of us kids raced down to the corner shop as soon as the parade was over and stocked up on every kind of penny sweet we’d been denying ourselves for the previous few weeks, then proceeded to gorge ourselves on chocolates and sherbets for this one sweet day of reprieve. That, to me, is the heart and soul of the Irish psyche; we like to do what’s expected of us, but by God we’ll do it our own way. At least, that used to be Ireland before Europe got their hands on us. 800 years of British oppression and we never lost our ‘cute hoor’ mentality until the Germans got involved. Perhaps it was the bailout that did it. There’s nothing to shake a country’s confidence in itself than almost going bankrupt and losing its sovereignty. Although it was small signs of rebellion such as this that kept all our spirits up!
But the group of people to whom this day matters most is the Irish diaspora (or #teaspora as they’ve been lovingly referred to) who are probably celebrating our 17th March holiday this weekend. I’ve spent Saint Patrick’s Day in Athens, Toulouse, Montreal and London and I’m not ashamed to admit that nothing makes you pull on the green geansai quicker than a Paddy’s Day abroad. We are a maudlin lot and really hate to be away from home; yet we can’t get out of here quick enough! As our national carrier states: We are a nation with the travel gene. Still, it’s all fun and games until there’s an economic recession and we are compelled to leave (yet again) in order to make a living. Thankfully, we receive a kinder welcome now than our forefathers did (yes, there were signs that read ‘No Blacks, No Irish’). But we can be friends with England now, because the Queen said so, which is a relief as half my family are Londoners!
So, what does the future hold for our country? Well, on this very special 100 year anniversary of the Easter Rising, I believe that Ireland’s future lies (as it did back then) in the arts and creative sectors. The rebellion was fought by a group of dreamers who had the vision and the courage to shape a new Ireland, free from the shackles of the past. Today, we have so many talented storytellers, who don’t have to rely on the traditional ‘top of the morning, is it yourself that’s in it?’ image to get noticed. Just look at this years Oscars; we had two novels adapted for screen – Room by Emma O’Donoghue and Brooklyn by Colm Toibin; a best director nomination for Lenny Abrahamson and a best short win for Benjamin Cleary. A culture, when trying to reflect upon its own nature, will invariably have a jaundiced view. However, it is our stories that offer the greatest insight into who we are as a people. So if you’re a stranger to Irish authors, why not celebrate our national day this year by discovering writers such as Niamh Boyce, Martina Devlin, Ken Bruen, Anne Enright, John Banville, Paul Murray. There’s more to Ireland than Joyce and Yeats, and if we’re talking music, there’s more to Ireland than U2 and Enya! If you’re looking for a place where music, film and literature meet, why not check out Roddy Doyle’s timeless classic ‘The Committments’. Only after you’ve watched Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins so you can find out how the Republic of Ireland was born, in a Hollywood kind of way!
So Happy Saint Patrick’s Day everyone and I hope you’ll celebrate whatever ‘being Irish’ means to you. Maybe it’s just a time to welcome spring, from which all hope is eternal 🙂
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