News Letters

Sunday 21 September 2014

Global vitality of St Patrick's Day culture

Published 15/03/2014 | 02:30

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Irish identity is celebrated worldwide in March. Photo: Reuters
Irish identity is celebrated worldwide in March. Photo: Reuters

* St Patrick's Day parades will be in many countries and cities. The small Caribbean island of Montserrat is said to be the only country outside of Ireland to have the day as a public holiday. The first St Patrick's Day observance was held in Boston in 1737 by well-to-do Irish immigrants of the Charitable Irish Society of Boston. They attended a religious service and a special dinner. They didn't hold the next one until 1794.

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New York, meanwhile, had its first celebration in 1766 by Irish soldiers in the British army in the American colony, and in 1780 during the American War of Independence, General George Washington gave permission to his army, which had men of Irish descent camped in Morristown, New Jersey, to celebrate the holiday "as an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence". Morristown still celebrates St Patrick's Day.

New York is the largest parade in the world, with two million spectators watching a parade of 150,000 marchers on the 1.5-mile route along 5th Avenue, which takes five hours and is led by the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York). When asked, as is tradition, by the commissioner of the parade are they ready, the reply is "The 69th are always ready!".

Holyoke, Massachusetts, have their parade usually on the Sunday nearest St Patrick's Day with 25,000 marchers and 300,000 spectators. They hold a 10k road race and other events and give the annual John F Kennedy National Award to an Irish-American who has distinguished himself or herself in their profession.

The award was given to JFK as its first recipient in 1958. He was a member of the House of Representatives for three terms before being elected senator.

Butte, Montana, with their population of 40,000 host their parade to 30,000 spectators and at one stage in the 1870s had the biggest Irish-American population of any city in the US with its mines attracting huge numbers of Irish immigrants, and in Butte's early years Gaelic was spoken by these new immigrants. Many again later went there from Allihies in west Cork after their own mines closed.

It may not be well-known over here that March, since 1991, has been announced yearly as Irish-American Heritage Month in the US. For a man who came to Ireland in the 5th Century, Patrick had a big impact on our future identity and how it is celebrated and embraced worldwide. The irony is the experts are divided as to Patrick's birthplace. Scotland, Wales or even France – before it was known as France.

MARY SULLIVAN

COLLEGE ROAD, CORK

POLYGAMY DEBATE

* If we allow same-sex couples to marry, why, some people ask, might we not extend such a right to polygamists? What a red herring. The expected referendum next year will not be about the rights of polygamists.

We will be voting on changing the legal definition of marriage from a contract between a man and a woman to a contract between a man and another man or a woman and another woman – the only difference being the sex of one of the parties, not the number of parties. A crucial difference. If opponents of same-sex marriage argue that such a change is comparable to granting marriage rights to more than two people, it just goes to show how much they are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Some 76pc of people in Ireland are not in favour of allowing polygamists to legally marry in Ireland. On this issue, there is no gulf between the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of the people and the law of the land.

There is much evidence to support the proposition that the optimum environment for raising a child is that of loving parents in a committed, low-conflict relationship. I have never heard of a screed of evidence which extends the definition of parents in this context to more than two. Polygamous relationships (assuming one husband and more than one wife) is hardly an arrangement that lends itself to promoting equality and dignity for women.

Polygamy would result in an increase in the amount of unmarried men, which would not be a good thing for society. Male parental involvement would also diminish as men would be free to add to their list of wives.

It would also foster competition among wives, increasing insecurity, jealousy and unhappiness. Not to mention the legal and financial Pandora's Box that would open up in relation to dealing with the likes of separations, divorces, maintenance and succession rights.

Dragging polygamy into the same-sex marriage debate is nothing more than tilting at windmills.

ROB SADLIER

RATHFARNHAM, DUBLIN 16

TAOISEACH'S FAILURE

* Having just watched leader's questions, I am disgusted by the manner in which Taoiseach Enda Kenny refused to concede that the garda whistleblowers deserved an apology for their treatment at the hands of Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Commissioner Martin Callinan. He refused to even acknowledge that the whistleblowers had been slighted at all.

We have heard a lot of talk from the Government about reform, accountability and new politics. But central to any new politics should be integrity.

There is mounting evidence and reports that exonerate the garda whistleblowers. The description of their behaviour as "disgusting" and the claim that they "didn't cooperate" with garda investigations no longer hold water.

We deserve better than politicians who put party politics first.

SIMON O'CONNOR

DUBLIN 12

TRAFFIC TROUBLES

* When traffic tickets are issued, there should be no interference or cancellation of tickets allowed. Let us allow judges to judge on the guilt or innocence of the driver who was issued a ticket.

KEVIN DEVITTE

MILL STREET, WESTPORT, CO MAYO

SMOKING AT THE WHEEL

* In 2011, it was suggested that smoking in a car with children could be outlawed, owing to the dangers of second-hand smoke. This does not go far enough in my view, and doesn't encompass the other dangers of smoking while driving.

If you text and take or make a call on a mobile phone, you will be penalised with penalty points on your license. Why? Well, it is dangerous to have your eyes distracted from the road, and also for having your hands away from the wheel.

With that in mind, picture a smoker on a motorway, or perhaps more dangerously, on a hazardous country road. They lean to pick up their packet of cigarettes, fooster with the plastic and lid, pull one out and light it up, while travelling at speeds of over 80kph. They then hold it to their mouth, take a drag, flail their arm toward the window, tip it out, take a drag, tip it out.

This action is as dangerous as talking on the phone, never mind just the long-term hazard of second-hand smoke for passengers.

When laws surrounding this issue arise, penalties should be introduced for the act of smoking, and not just for the health risk.

JUSTIN KELLY

EDENDERRY, CO OFFALY

HOW TO SAVE CAPITALISM

* Newly found ability to produce everything in abundance with decreasing dependence on human labour could destroy us.

We must generate more jobs from less work or capitalism and society will crumble; shorter hours, longer holidays, earlier retirement.

Everybody's dream is the only plausible solution for 21st Century economic problems. The choice is simple: more people working less or less people working more. Yet no politician, economist or journalist/broadcaster will discuss it.

PADRAIC NEARY

TUBBERCURRY, CO SLIGO

Irish Independent

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