Thursday 23 May 2019

Keeping a safe distance from 'the craic' on St Patty's Day

A general view of the crowd during the 2015 St Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin
A general view of the crowd during the 2015 St Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin

John Daly

Being honest about it, March 17 is not one of my favourite days. Too much fake Celtic jollity combined with tidal waves of alcohol have long made it a date where keeping a safe distance from 'the craic' is my preferred position.

In recent times, it has become a day more about devotion to alcohol rather than our patron saint - an unappealing fact abundantly visible as 'the wearing of the green' takes its toll. My aversion was further enhanced recently when I spied yet another lurid green T-shirt in the city centre - 'Make St Patty's Day Great Again', it screamed - over an image of Donald Trump, complete with ridiculous bowler hat and swilling a pint of beer.

Bad enough that he's promised to deport the 50,000 undocumented Irish when he's elected president, even worse that he's actually teetotal. And while we're at it, can we petition the White House about banning the Yank-ism 'St Patty's Day'?

So annoying has this misnomer become that there's even a website dedicated to its abolition. It's mission statement is succinct: "It's Paddy, not Patty. Ever."

Other supposedly humorous St Patrick's Day T-shirt slogans that would incite Supreme Court injunctions in any other country include: 'Keep Calm & Stay Drunk', 'Fit Shaced', 'I'm So Irish My Liver Hurts' and, for American football fans, 'Let's Get Ready To Stumble'.

In the scheme of things, however, my petty prejudices are small potatoes against the 'special relationship' between Ireland and the USA on March 17. This is a love-fest any other country would kill for, played out for an envious global community like the anxious suitor meeting his sweetheart's folks for the first time - with shamrock substituting for orchids and the White House doubling for suburbia.

Having a personal parley with Obama in his front parlour is a favour granted to few in this world, and our Taoiseach tops the list ahead of heavy hitters like Merkel, Putin and Cameron. And it's all because of a nice guy called Patrick back in the hazy mists of time.

For the 1916 centenary, the 255th New York parade will be broadcast live on TV for the first time, added to by the presence of the Big Apple's LGBT community. "For years, Irish LGBT New Yorkers could not show their pride, but can now finally celebrate their heritage by marching in a parade that now represents progress and equality," said Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio, who is ending his two-year boycott of the famous event.

Being Irish is the epitome of cool everywhere on March 17, with green light spectaculars planned for Rome's Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Sacré-Cœur in Paris, Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio and Nelson's Column in London. At home, the Rebel County is adding a dash of ginger to the festivities with a Cork parade float celebrating the ultimate Irish accessory - a glorious red head. Supposedly one of the rarest thatch tones in the world, it's yet another national characteristic that sets us apart.

But March 17 wasn't always so hectic. Poet Brendan Kennelly remembers it mostly for dull inactivity during his youth in Ballylongford. "The day was really a non-event in the 1950s, everything was closed, it was all very dreary. There seemed to be little organised adventure anywhere. The only stand-out event was the Railway Cup in Croke Park - a huge game back in those days that we listened to around the radiogram in the front room."

Author Frank Delaney remembers being tuned in to Fifth Avenue in his native Tipperary: "There were major and minor keys to the day, and listening to the radio accounts of the New York parade was a huge highlight - it seemed to be the biggest event in the world. Legend has it that St Patrick himself founded our local church at Kilfeakle due to having lost a tooth there. Given the number of churches he founded around the whole country, the man was clearly a dental miracle."

Mind you, not all alcoholic aspects of March 17 are automatically cringe-worthy. The new Jameson advert, Be Original, opts to showcase another side of Ireland away from the overdone green fields and rugged mountain majesty. Backed with a funky soundtrack, it instead shows a street artist taking inspiration from stained glass; rockers Jape wowing ecstatic concert crowds; and a pair of contrasting road bowlers demonstrating a timeless tradition.

"We've done all right, considering our little island fits into Texas eight times over," goes the narration. "A country our size has no right to be celebrated across the world - but that's never stopped us."

I'll drink to that.

Irish Independent

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