Tuesday 26 March 2019

50 shades of green

John Costello on the Irish in far-flung lands who will celebrate in style on Sunday

Parades, parties and plenty of pints are nothing new on St Patrick's Day, but many Irish around the globe will be bringing their own unique twist when celebrating the day the world turns green with envy.

And few whacky shenanigans will match the spectacle running through the heart of Copenhagen this Sunday.

"We wanted to do something that brought people together rather than just sit in a pub all day," says Siobhán Kelleher, who leads the team planning what has become one of the Danish capital's must-see events.

"We wanted to do something a little different, so back in 2001 we came up with the idea for a three-legged race."

When the race began there was no official St Patrick's Day celebration in Copenhagen, despite over 1,000 Irish people living and working there. Now, over a decade later, the world's only 'St Paddy's Day 3-Legged Charity Race' is still going strong.

Last year, a whopping 700 people took part, raising over €26,000 for charity, but this Sunday, with a helping hand from one of the world's most famous statues, the organisers are hoping to do even better.

"We have organised the greening of The Little Mermaid, which is the only greening for St Patrick's Day this year that has not been organised by Tourism Ireland," says Siobhán, who is originally from Blanchardstown.

"This is going to help us build awareness of the event and help raise money for our three charities: the Hospital Clowns charity in Denmark, the St Francis Hospice in Dublin and the Cambodian Children's Advocacy Foundation."

With no organised parade, the race has become the focal point of St Patrick's Day for a country with a surprisingly strong diaspora.

"Many Irish came here in the 1960s and you have quite a lot of second and third-generation Irish living here," says Siobhán, who will be celebrating with her Danish partner Martin and brother John, who also lives in Copenhagen.

"People here have really embraced it and the majority who show up are Danish. I think the Irish and the Danes are quite similar in many ways, as we are both a fun-loving, social people. The day obviously means more to Irish people living away from home. However, living in Copenhagen, even if I get homesick, it is always nice to know I can jump on a plane and in three hours be sitting down with my mam having a cup of tea."

But while a jaunt home for a quick cuppa may not be a reality for the growing numbers of Irish arriving in Canada, their desire to celebrate St Patrick's Day while thinking of others is just as strong.

"The whole day definitely means more when you are away," says Caroline Fahy, who arrived in Toronto from Galway with her boyfriend Rob last July.

"The Irish community here is very organised and I think when you are arriving somewhere new this is incredibly important. So we are looking forward to not only celebrating on Sunday but joining the parade on a float to collect food as part of a charity drive to highlight hunger awareness in Canada and in Ireland.

"The food will go to the Good Shepherd Soup Kitchen in Toronto and any money raised will be split between this charity and a soup-kitchen charity in Galway."

There has been a surge in the numbers of Irish emigrating to Canada, with an estimated 10,000 Irish people already living in Toronto and thousands more arriving every month, according to the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre.

"D'Arcy McGee was an Irishman and one of the founders of the Canadian nation, so there is a significant Irish influence in Canada," says Cathy Murphy, the executive director of the Centre. "So St Patrick's Day is huge here, especially for the four million Canadians who claim Irish heritage.

Among those partying in the parade in Toronto this year will be new immigrant Colin Doherty, from Tipperary.

"I will be joining the festivities and going for a few drinks with friends afterwards," says Colin. "It's hard to get a very good pint of Guinness here but you can certainly get a good one if you know where to look. However, with work the next day I will be taking it easy enough!

"The day does take on a greater importance being over here and I think for most people abroad, making those calls home to the likes of your mother makes it feel a lot like Christmas Day."

While knowledge of St Patrick is also sparse in Rwanda, Mary Sugrue has been using the locals' love of Guinness to help explain the importance of the day.

"Patrick is a very common name here but people know nothing about St Patrick's Day," says the Cork native, who is close to completing a two-year placement with the VSO at a teacher-training college in the town of Kibuye in Western Rwanda. "But people in East Africa love Guinness – they actually mix it with coke to make an energy drink. So when you tell them it is a day when everyone drinks Guinness, they understand it's a very special day [laughs]."

However, despite being so far from Ireland this March 17, living in Rwanda surprisingly evokes strong memories of home.

'For me, it is like stepping back in time in Ireland to 30 years ago," she says. "When you are walking on the street, everyone says hello and people are not in any rush and are very polite. They will always ask you where you are from and have a curiosity that is familiar to Irish people. The scenery is also very green and lush, and quite like Ireland – apart from all the banana trees."

But even when feeling at home away from home, some things still get lost in translation.

"There is no word in the local language for 'like'," laughs Mary. "So I was on a bus one day talking to a man about Ireland, and when I told him I love U2, he thought I meant I was in love with him. Let's just say it was a very uncomfortable bus journey after that!

"I was surprised no one here has heard of U2, but Westlife are huge. So unfortunately everyday I am forced to hear Westlife blaring from speakers [laughs]."

And while Mary is no doubt hoping the boyband's music does not feature on the playlist for Sunday's celebrations, she is getting ready to join with over 1,000 people who are expected to come and party for St Patrick.

"We have had people sending us bunting and flags from Ireland," says Mary. "And there will be lots of dancing and singing. For me, it is important to show off our culture and I wanted it to be more than just about a gang of us drinking."

And like most Irish people living in far-flung places, the importance of St Patrick's Day rapidly takes on a greater significance.

"I remember last year that we started to decorate early in the day," says Mary.

"I left and returning later to see the flags and the whole place covered in green, white and gold. To be honest, it felt quite emotional.

"When you are away, St Patrick's Day becomes much more important than it ever was when living in Ireland," she says.

For more information on the VSO visit www.vso.ie The Irish Canadian Immigration Centre website is www.irishcanadian immigrationcentre.org.

Irish Independent

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