Students who get drunk and riot are just following an ancient stereotype
It is a sorry reflection on how we handle St Patrick's Day that when it's over, we're always relieved if we haven't made complete fools of ourselves once again. So, let's hope Mayor Bloomberg of New York has put aside that bizarre little teapot that Enda Kenny gave him, possibly referencing the teapot Charles Haughey gave Margaret Thatcher. Taoiseach, teapot – must be an Irish thing. At least he's not seeing any St Patrick's Day riots on his screen.
Now, what would the response in Ireland have been during the hey-day of the Irish joke, if some British comedian had quipped: "How do Irish universities celebrate the feast day of the man who brought Christian learning to Ireland? They close down, while students get drunk and riot."
Formal protests, for sure; a great deal of Hibernian huffing and puffing; reminders of the cultural debt that early Christianity in Britain owed to Irish missionaries; Irish columnists heatedly denouncing racist caricatures. The IRA, in a purely peaceful protest, would bump off a few off-duty UDR men and RUC reservists, and possibly an inconvenient wife or two. And, of course, there would have been endless allusions to 800 years of oppression, Cromwell, the Famine and the Black and Tans.
But as all campuses of Queens University and the University of Ulster re-open this morning, we know that the 'racist' caricature is an awful reality. They were closed for four whole days in order to avoid a recurrence of the St Patrick's Day violence of recent years. And we can narrow the abysmal stereotype down even further, because most of the rioters in the past have worn GAA jerseys.
It might well be that these were Protestants in disguise, trying to discredit innocent Catholics, who to a man were soberly observing their Lenten devotions. Thus, those imbeciles in Tyrone or Armagh colours trying to beat an armoured police Land Rover into submission by bashing it with their scrotal sacs could actually have been Roger and Malcolm, pretending to be Thick Fenians. But I somehow doubt it.
Hold on there a wee minute. All this sounds very sectarian: what about the Prods? A good question. But do you actually think Prod students go rioting to celebrate St Patrick's Day? There's no point in indulging any bogus equal-responsibility gibberish here. Prods and Papes behave differently. The former come over all strange in July, and start walking around with puffed out chests before they don sashes and go for long walks in the rain, whereas the latter have a highly developed sense of aggressive self-pity which explodes around their various feast days: St Patrick's Day, St Pearse's Day at Easter, and St Internment Day.
I presume the amnesia engendered by drinking 23 vodkas, 23 pints and 23 whiskeys – the Northern Catholic version of 69 – had not removed all memory of last St Patrick's Day, and that, therefore, students were not completely flabbergasted by the news that the campuses were closing for fear of riots. Indeed, I presume students actually plan to get drunk and riot. I also presume that no one will have the faintest idea what the 'cause' of the riot is, or why the undergraduate rabble feel free to risk the lives of honest police officers.
NOW, rather than capitulate to these thugs and close the colleges, I would urge the deployment, on foot, of the whaling section of the North Korean Army, armed with harpoon-guns with which to shoot and haul in rioters. Captured miscreants would have their ears promptly amputated with trusty Pyongyang bayonets, thereby giving North Korean soldiers their first square meal in perhaps years. And anyone who then turns up for a Queens or UU lecture minus a brace of ears would be expelled, and made to repay all grants.
A larger question remains. Why do these Northerners insist on conforming to the worst kind of anti-Irish, violent, Thick Mick stereotype? Is it that they get some bizarre satisfaction from doing what their fathers did in the 1980s and their grandfathers in the 1960s? Are they thus trapped in a behavioural loop that causes them to imitate the antics of previous generations, rather like flocks of sheep jumping over where a hedge once stood?
But surely this is what Irish society does anyway, with the endless public glorification of the past. We are currently seeing this in the one-sided 'celebrations' of the 1913 Lockout, as we did last year with the Orange marches to mark the Ulster Covenant. Alright, so the students who get drunk and riot are cretins – but they are nonetheless crudely conforming to an Irish addiction to celebrations of historical events that can, and often do, lead to violence. The cretins just cut out the hypocritical foreplay.