Tuesday 19 November 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Spare me the whole 'It's St Patrick's Day, let's go mad!' I think I'd rather we still had the snakes'

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly

Ciara Kelly

Happy St Patrick's Day! Yes it was Saturday but allegedly it's a whole festival weekend now so it's still OK to enjoy the wearing of the green today, have some wilting watercress stuck to your lapel, and get inexplicably annoyed about Americans calling it St Patty's Day - as if we can export it around the world in a national PR coup but still decide how people should talk about it. (In fairness they've put up with us calling it 'Chicargo' for years without much complaint.)

I confess - in much the same way as I never much liked New Year's Eve - I'm not that fond of Paddy's Day. My childhood memories of it revolve around wearing green oddities to Mass and the Dublin parade - which you caught glimpses of between the backs of people's heads. It was half indistinguishable from the traffic back in the 1970s - being mostly 'Able Alarm' floats then. And that was usually followed by Fanta and crisps in a pub on Westland Row - where me and my cousins tore around the place while the parents had a few drinks. It would be finished off by a plate of bacon and cabbage by which time you were feeling exhausted and a bit sick.

When I peeled off from the family experience as I got older it had that feeling of forced jollity that I've never liked. So as a teen I again remember the backs of people's heads - in the 1980s the parade trends were now mainly baton twirlers and big brass bands whose bass drum booms would reverberate through your chest. And then traipsing around town wondering where we would get served. And then spending the afternoon in some city centre bar drinking pints you didn't like the taste of, before heading home through the pools of vomit on the train feeling a bit sick.

The 1990s and college saw changing parade fashions - so now it was all Macnas and samba bands. But still a lot of hanging around and afternoon drinking. And fast-forward into the noughties when I had kids I eschewed the Dublin parade for the local one. Which looked confusingly like a throwback to the Dublin parade in the 1970s but still felt like an interminable day of hanging around, now watching - rather than participating with - people wearing leprechaun hats, getting pissed.

In truth, St Patrick's Day parades are mostly deathly dull. Being drizzled on while watching local sports clubs ramble up the main street is sort of an Emperor's New Clothes level of entertainment. And to be honest I've never liked seeing large groups of adults get drunk in front of kids so there's something about St Patrick's Day that doesn't really sit well with me.

I've also always found it long and aimless in the way Sundays were in my youth. And even if it's broken up by an occasional plate of tea brack and cup of tae it creates a feeling of ennui while it's happening and a sort of survivor relief when it's over that I can't quite explain.

Yes, our national pastime - drinking - when seen in all its glory as it was always going to be when Paddy's Day falls on a Saturday of a bank holiday weekend isn't my cup of tea. But I can't help but wish there was some other format to the day. Something else that said today we are celebrating being Irish, that didn't revolve around standing in the cold for hours inhaling petrol fumes or involve boozing with intent all afternoon.

The Ireland I love is the one where the people are full of spirit and chats and funny, warm, insights that they don't repeat over and over again because they're drunk. Particularly in front of their kids. It's talented, musical, clever, witty and kind. It's the Ireland that still reaches out to its neighbours especially if they're in trouble - as we saw recently during Storm Emma. We can wear green if we want to for the craic but it's not obligatory. There can be bacon. There can even be cabbage - a much underrated vegetable. There can even be parades. Although hopefully I won't be at them.

But spare me the whole "It's St Patrick's Day, let's go mad!" I think I'd rather we still had the snakes.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents Lunchtime Live on Newstalk, weekdays 12-2

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