Tuesday 21 May 2019

Maybe it's time to cut St Patrick's Day some slack?

Fun and frolics: Spectators enjoying the St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin last year. Photo: Mark Condren
Fun and frolics: Spectators enjoying the St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin last year. Photo: Mark Condren
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Well, here we go again.

Get your drinking boots on, prepare to make your annual attempt to eat a bowl of coddle in a packed pub. You might take in the parade, then again you might not. You might even wear one of those silly hats, even though you'd normally sneer at anyone who commits such a crime against fashion.

You'll speak a cúpla focail if the mood takes you. You might talk to some foreign tourists and apologise to these baffled visitors who arrived on our shores only to find the capital city now resembles something from The Purge, as marauding gangs of 'youths' (to employ garda-speak) cause mayhem from Parnell Square to Stephen's Green.

That tends to be the usual Irish response to St Patrick's Day. It certainly tends to be mine.

As we get older, our enjoyment of Paddy's Day seems to be in inverse proportion to our age.

What was once a great day for us as kids - up there with Halloween in terms of knowing you could get away with murder - first became a bit boring, then a bit of a pain. Now it has reached the point where most of the people I know simply do their best to avoid the whole day.

That's understandable. After all, if you're not in the right frame of mind, this is the one day of the year virtually guaranteed to make you embarrassed about how we celebrate what is, after all, one of the most iconic occasions on the planet.

I distinctly remember trying to get into the office on Paddy's Day a few years ago. It was only about 11 in the morning (I was heading into work late, again) but there are few sights more guaranteed to quell one's patriotic spirit than passing by a young one squatting in a shop doorway and relieving herself. Ah, it makes you proud to be Irish.

But maybe the disdain so many of us have for the day that's in it is down to our uncanny knack to do ourselves down.

For every Irish person I know who detests today, I've spoken to Americans in New York who escape the madness of the parade in their own city to ... come to Dublin to enjoy our experience. It is, according to one couple I spoke to, their favourite weekend of the year and the baffling thing is that they're not even Irish.

Similarly, I've chewed the fat with people in Hawaii, which is just about the least Irish state in the Union, and, invariably, Paddy's Day - or Patty's Day as the Yanks tend to call it - is brought up, and brought up in glowing terms.

Of course, it's easy to dismiss the views of foreigners who can be accused of looking through green-tinted glasses. Lord knows, most of us have endured the uncomfortable experience of American relations lecturing us about the more complex parts of Irish history. But on this element of Irish life, if only this, their view is as valid as our own.

Perhaps the almost instinctive disdain many of us hold for the day is due to the fact that the parade has traditionally been awful.

A few floats sponsored by the local gombeen men. Troupes of frozen American cheerleaders from Alabama dropping their pom poms as their fingers react to the bitter March wind blowing in off the Liffey. And Macnas, of course. Always with the bloody Macnas.

But the last decade or so has seen massive demographic changes in this country. That's now reflected in the parades around the country where it often seems that those people from foreign shores who have chosen to make this country their home take to the day with far greater enthusiasm than the natives.

I suppose the rather confused attitude we have towards the whole green shebang is emblematic of the rather confused attitude we have towards anything Irish. It's as if we're saying to outsiders, 'you don't have to tell us this is awful, sure we already know that. Look at what we've been saying about it, ourselves.'

Except, when it comes to today, the 'outsiders' aren't actually looking on in horror. In fact, they tend to be having a bloody good time and can't understand why the natives are down on the whole thing.

It shouldn't be forgotten that no other country has ever managed to export its national day to the rest of the world with so much success.

The other two comparable events in the States, for instance, are Columbus Day for the Italians and Cinco de Mayo for the Mexicans.

Columbus Day has become toxified by its obvious connections to colonialism, but even the fraught debates surrounding that day are nothing when compared to the vicious tribalism which has been sparked in recent years by Latinos celebrating Cinco de Mayo in America.

Both of those special occasions have become weaponised in America's increasingly vicious and stupid culture wars.

The arguments provoked by those two days, particularly Cinco de Mayo, make the old rows about the Ancient Order of Hibernians objecting to gay floats at the New York parade look almost quaint by comparison.

But this St Patrick's Day is different. This is a day we should all be ready to embrace.

After all, not only are we looking at the prospect of winning a Grand Slam later on, but we're looking at the prospect of winning it in Twickenham, against the old enemy and against a coach who has just been busted for making some disparaging remarks about the Irish team. Sure, Eddie Jones's remarks were meant as a joke, and you'd have to be pretty dense to take them literally, but even a scriptwriter would struggle to come up with as enticing an afternoon as the one we're looking at.

Enjoy!

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